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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Post-election thoughts in Australia

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.

6 comments:

NewEnglandBob said...

Pandering to the right didn't work in the US either. It backfired and we got some screwed up legislation due to the insanity of the right wing.

Fush said...

Well said.
When Gillard took over and announced her atheism, I was hoping we were finally going to see some humanist, humanitarian policies. To watch her unstoppable march to the right was heartbreaking.
I'm in Grayndler, I voted Green, and I'm still holding onto the shred of hope that the local candidate will get in on preferences.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Nothing much to say really -- I don't think Russell's position of why Gillard is in this position is anyway accurate; yes it may have been a factor in some voters but not enough to swing an election...

The problem simply came in how the media ran against Gillard along with Abbott so in that situation it was always going to be quite a nightmare.

My concern, and it has been this for a while now - who are we really voting for in elections these days? Aree we voting for people who we believe will do a good job or are we voting for people who the media has pre-sellected, as was the case in the SA state election and partially this time.

With the Greens and Independents holding strong and powerful positions how long will it take for the media to tuen on them and make their roles almost impossible to fullfill...

Liberal or Labor will not effect my life one little bit, but I know the changes in policies if they come will affect millions of Australians--

Gordon Campbell said...

Hi Russell,

I think your politics are very sound -- which, of course, means I have very similar view. I voted Greens first because of civil liberties issues, but I don't see people turning to the Greens and other more socially liberal parties as the cause of Labor's inability to gain a majority -- at least not in the House of Reps. Preferences for most of these voters would go to Labor anyway. Does anyone who supports gay rights and compassionate policies towards refugees put Liberal or National before Labor?

stuart peace said...

all i can say is that once again my votes went to the greens and the sex party. but it was a shame that abbott lead the election instead of turnbull. i probably would have voted liberal for the first time in my life had he lead the party.

Rupert said...

Having spent the weekend glued to ABC24, I think that we have a situation which has the potential to deliver something of real value.

I believe people who have traditionally voted Coalition returned after trying Kevin07. That was the first loss of votes for Labor.

Then we had the traditional Labor supporters who were not happy about the lack of an ETS and the treatment of asylum seekers. These people voted Green or informal. That probably pretty much accounts for the rest of Labors lost votes.

The three independents are screaming for NBN, and what did Abbott proclaim about that! So there's a good starting point for their discussions.

If the Coalition manage to form government, all it will take is one or two people to disagree and they're in trouble. Then they'll have the Senate to deal with. I honestly believe that an Abbott government would be unable to achieve very much at all in the parliamentary theatre.

If Labor, Bandt, maybe Andrew Wilkie and an independent or two (the most troublesome could be made speaker) form a government, the Senate is not likely to be a huge issue. Of course the Senate Greens may say 'sorry, can't read what you are proposing as I still haven't seen anything about gay marriage'.

I think the potential is there for a fairer and deeper thinking parliament with a longer term set of goals.