So here it is at last, the election that has obsessed me for so many months. Tomorrow morning, just one sleep away!, I shall arise at seven to begin watching the election results coming in from Australia. I have waited eleven and a half years for this moment, the first federal election since 1993 where it looks as though Labor will actually win. The polls have been indicating a Labor landslide all year, though in the last two days the results seem to have narrowed considerably. Still, a Labor victory seems the most likely result at this stage, and that is certainly where the money is going with the betting agencies.
The recent Galaxy and Newspoll figures indicated a breakdown of 52/48 to Labor in the two-party preferred vote – this ought still to be enough to get Labor over the line, but it has produced a great deal of angst amongst those who have dared to believe that the end of Howard’s government could really be about to happen. I’m particularly enthusiastic to see this happen. Not out of any great sense of belief in the rather pissweak and watered down version of the Labor party on offer at this election, but because my dislike of the conservative Liberal/National coalition is so intense. Some years ago I would have been satisfied with any victory, just to get them out of power, but as the dangerous legacy of the years of misrule becomes ever more apparent, I’ve come to feel that only a complete massacre will be satisfying. The Liberal party has moved further right than at any point in its history since the war, and only a complete change of personnel or its collapse altogether as an organisation can be good for the Australian political landscape.
That said, considering the immensity of the task that was before Kevin Rudd when he assumed the leadership, even a narrow victory to Labor would be an incredible feat. It has been said that this would be the first time that a government had been thrown out in the middle of an economic boom, though, it could be said that really the economic boom commenced in the years immediately after the last recession and was well underway when Keating was defeated. Either way, considering his success at the last election, his general popularity (which I have always found utterly mystifying) and the well-known fact that Howard is as cunning as a shithouse rat, defeating the man Keating once dubbed “Lazarus with a triple bypass” would be a Herculean task.
Three years ago, when Howard defeated Latham with an increased majority, I had already given up hope of a change of government at this election. So convinced was I that we might have entered another Menzies era, I wrote a novel titled “Advance Australia Farewell,” set thirty years from now, in a future in which everything, inevitably, had gone to the dogs. It was designed to be a worst-case scenario forecast, to the point of being slightly farcical, sarcastic, sardonic and mordant; a story about a seventeen year-old boy who joins a group of professional beggars and eventually escapes as a refugee to New Zealand. By the time I finished the novel in June of last year, I realised that I had lost all hope of a positive future of Australia; that it was destined to become increasingly conservative, Christian, vapid, greedy, materialistic, anti-intellectual, intolerant and assertively nationalistic; that it was heading for environmental collapse. It was an extrapolation of the effects of a continuity of current policy and attitude; an extrapolation from a belief that conservative rule would not only continue, but would become more extreme.
With this forecast in mind, it seems remarkable that I am sitting here, the night before an Australia federal election, looking forward to a shift back towards the centre. It seems even more remarkable, after the devastating loss of the last election, that I am sitting here feeling a deep sense of disappointment, not that Labor might not win, but rather, that they might not win by a landslide.
There are good reasons, however, for desiring a significant majority, the most obvious of this is that a government with a secure mandate can afford to take more risks. What has been most disappointing about this Labor opposition is how risk-averse its entire strategy has been from the moment Kevin Rudd became opposition leader. Who would ever have imagined a Labor leader stating calmly and clearly that he was an economic conservative? It is certainly understandable considering the generally benevolent economic climate and the low level of unemployment that an opposition leader would need to reassure the public that this one positive to which the government laid claim could be sustained. Yet this cannot excuse the Tasmanian pulp mill, or the matching of government tax cuts, or, indeed, the entire Labor tax package. Howard made hay with Peter Garrett’s slip up, in which it was suggested that once Labor got into power they would “change it all”, but many Labor supporters, myself included, hope that Garrett was telling the truth. As Ross Gittins pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald several weeks ago, the sad truth with Kevin Rudd is that what you see is what you get.
At least, however, this would suggest we might have a new prime minister who was honest and genuine and who was outspoken about the fact that the key to the future was education and acting sooner rather than later on climate change. In a recent article urging Australians to drive a stake “through the dark heart of Howard’s reactionary government,” the man Howard replaced, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, argued that this election was “a chance to rebuild after a decade of moral erosion.”
“He (Howard) has turned out to be the most divisive prime minister in our history. Not simply a conservative maintaining the status quo, but a militant reactionary bent upon turning the clock back. Turning it back against social inclusion, cooperation at the workplace, the alignment of our foreign policies towards Asia, providing a truthful and honourable basis for our reconciliation, accepting the notion that all prime ministers since Menzies had: Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and me: that our ethnic diversity had made us better and stronger and the nation’s leitmotif was tolerance. Howard has trodden those values into the ground.”
Keating is correct when he states that “Cynicism and deceitfulness have been the defining characteristics of John Howard and his Government.” Personally I think the worst aspect of this government has its aggressive, insular, nationalism and parochialism. The Cronulla riots were a direct and very obvious consequence of this, but I could list countless other, smaller, everyday examples of aggressive nationalism. By way of an example, an old friend, an Australian of German Jewish descent, when visiting Bondi Beach was asked “How did you find the water mate?” When he replied, “It was okay,” the response that was thrown back at him was “well I bet it’s bloody better than wherever you’re from,” which was odd, considering he was from Bondi Junction.
I left Australia because I no longer felt comfortable amongst Australians. The rampant parochialism made it feel further away from the rest of the world than ever before. In a time when growing connectivity ought to have been increasing tolerance, it seemed as though xenophobia, which had so easily re-asserted itself under Howard’s first government thanks to his lukewarm condemnations of Pauline Hanson and which was later augmented by the Howard government’s fear-mongering hypocrisy on terrorism, was becoming more firmly rooted in Australian society. I can only hope, should Rudd win tomorrow, that a change of government will lead to a significant change of tone; less bombastic rhetoric, and a renewed drive for tolerance and social inclusion.
Last weekend, in a desperate need for some popcorn entertainment, I went to see the film “Beowulf ”. When Beowulf first arrives on the shores of Denmark, he makes the bold statement that “I’m here to kill your monster.” I sincerely hope that Kevin Rudd, like Beowulf, can kill the monster tomorrow, before much more harm is done. One more sleep!
It only remains for me to make a prediction. Taking into account all the polls and the analysis of various psephologists, and putting aside my fear of BoBos (Bohemian Bourgeoisie who make a noise in the polls, then turn up and vote conservative) I’m plumping for a Labor win, somewhat narrower than hoped: c. 81 seats to 67. I’m also hoping for a significant increase in the Green vote and, ideally, the addition of as many as six Greens to the Senate. I’ll happily take five, or even four, so long as they hold the balance of power. This can only exert a positive influence, in my mind. Mark Latham might have called this a “Seinfeld election” about nothing, but the truth is that a very great deal is really at stake. The very fact that we are still talking about Kyoto, without having moved beyond it, is indicative of how far behind Australia has fallen. A change of government might provide the momentum needed to catch up fast.
Bring it on!
 Sydney Morning Herald, October 24, 2007 “A Smarter Vision for the Future: Not Ruddy Likely.”
 Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2007. “A Chance to Rebuild after a Decade of Moral Erosion.”