Well, that was a weird election, and a particularly weird election night. It looks like we'll have a new prime minister - Tony Abbott of all people - but we probably won't know for a week or more, since the outcome is too close to call, there'll almost certainly be a hung parliament, and there'll have to be recounts in some very close electorates.
I feel sorry for Julia Gillard, who probably could have been a good prime minister. She is likeable, talented, and gracious. I wish she'd been given a chance by the electorate, and of course there's still an outside chance that she'll survive in power. I hope so, but I'm not counting on it. I'm not as sorry for her as I could have been, however, since her whole approach has been to move to the right in order to fight this campaign.
Labor took secular, civil libertarian voters for granted in this campaign and throughout its term of government. There was nothing to excite us or even to attract our loyalty. No wonder the electorate of Melbourne fell to the Greens. That's a salutary reminder that the votes of people like me are not rusted on. In my own electorate, Charlton, there was no doubt that Greg Combet would be returned easily, and my own vote for the Green candidate flowed back to Labor as I put Combet second. But Labor is now on notice that it's possible to lose seats to the Greens even in the House of Representatives. The Greens will now have the balance of power in the Senate, and that's a very good thing in my opinion. As long as they don't start fielding left-wing social conservatives like Clive Hamilton, the Greens are going to be a progressive force in the parliament. Labor should stop complaining about competition from the Greens for left-wing voters and actually start adopting policies that appeal to its own core constituency.
In my case, I'm not an especially left-wing voter. I'm not a socialist, but more a Hawke-Keating social democrat. I want solid, fiscally responsible economic policy. I want wealth generation, though I also want to see some of the wealth redistributed into public infrastructure and a strong social safety net. I'm not an enemy of capitalism. I'm not out to dismantle the economic system. But I do want a government that is secular, that keeps out of people's bedrooms, that doesn't threaten to spy on our internet usage, that doesn't offer dangerous new censorship laws with endless capacity for scope creep. I'd also like to see a government that takes a compassionate response to refugees rather than treating them like foreign invaders. Labor doesn't have to move somewhere drastically to the left to get my first preference: it can continue in the tradition of Hawke and Keating with responsible economic managment and a consensus approach to policy. It doesn't have to be anti-business. But it certainly can't go on adopting social conservative policies such as beefed up internet censorship and an expanded chaplaincy program in public schools. It needs to be serious and consistent about climate change. It needs to abandon harsh and xenophobic attitudes to refugees. In this case, it had nearly three years to set a more compassionate tone and win over the electorate on the issue, but it thought better to pander to xenophobes and shock jocks. Well, it didn't seem to do much good in the end.
Memo, to Julia Gillard, or whoever is going to lead Labor for the next three years - most likely in opposition. If you want to win your natural voters back, if you want to get some passionate support from your traditional allies, if you are to have any chance of capturing the imagination of the Australian people, you need to change your tune. Pandering to conservatism and fear isn't going to cut it. You can't defeat the Coalition at that game. Labor once seemed like a party of freedom and reason, but it hasn't seemed much like that for a very long time. Rudd never appeared to stand for those values, and Julia Gillard rejected a great opportunity. Some people are asking whether Labor stands for anything anymore.
I feel sorry for Gillard, as I said, and hope that Labor still squeaks home. I don't want to see a deeply conservative man like Tony Abbott in charge of my country, and my preferences did not flow to him or the Coalition parties. The outcome we have at the moment is not something I wished for.
But Labor betrayed us too many times on too many issues that were too important. It reaped the whirlwind.