The election and its discontents
19 June 2022
So, the election has come and gone. It was a disappointing, loud, and ultimately vacuous show about nothing.
It saw the most catastrophic policy-making in the nation’s history, also known as the great Covid bungle (or crime, depending on where you stand in relation to Hanlon’s Razor and conspiracy thinking), collide with perhaps the biggest ethical issuesAustralia needed to address (lost rights, freedoms traduced, flawed governance, executive overreach, federalism abandoned, police brutality, and the house arrest of citizens, to name just a few). Both of which were simply parked. The outcome wastwo tedious, largely disengaged political parties having a Wag-the-Dog election campaign and squabbling over policy tidbits and Woke ephemera.
The punditocracy has been busy trying to draw conclusions and extract meaning. Much of this is self-serving, needless to say. Some of its musings are decidedly odd, and others utterly misplaced.
One Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist thought that the Liberals’ ‘move to the right’ over recent decades required explanation. Using the terms ‘Liberal’ and ‘right’ in the one sentence suggests that something in this journalist’s head isn’t quite right. Whatever planet they are on, it isn’t the one that I inhabit.
Then there are the well-meaning senior Liberals who want to solve the ‘New South Wales’ problem. I agree, there is much to fix, but eliminating the undemocratic, top-down imposition of ‘captain’s pick’ candidates isn’t the main worry. Fix it, by all means, as Senator Andrew Bragg suggests. But really, it is Senator Bragg’s version of liberalism, and its ascendancy in the Rum Corps State, that is the actual problem. Non-ideological players who employ tactics of which the Teamsters Union would be proud, like ScoMo and Alex Hawke, will come and go. Alas, with a Liberal Party that seeks to gurney conservatives out of the building and to replace them with leftist robots, and which rolls out one progressive policy after another while having the odd would-be conservative as the front-man, the problems go far deeper than captain’s picks.
Next, we have the Albo-worriers who fear a Labor Armageddon and who will, reflexively, find fault with everything the freshman Prime Minister and his Cabinet say and do. The sudden reversion on the right to worrying about fiscal incontinence is barely believable. Then there is (justified) lamentation over opportunities now gone with a change of government. Think religious freedom. But it was the ‘Liberal Teals’ who blew that one.
Finally, we have had hand wringing over issues likely to be prioritised by Labor where the door was well and truly opened by the Coalition in government. Think of the Indigenous voice, for example, or Net Zero. As for the anti-corruption commission, well, we wouldn’t need one if the politicians weren’t you know, corrupt. The pork barrelling system itself is corrupt and out of control, as the ICAC in Sydney knows only too well. The legal academic, AJ Brown, says it is at ‘industrial scale’. Anne Twomey describes it as‘normalised’. It is almost beyond comprehension that the Gladys-for-Canberra jig is getting yet another run, post-election.
There were certainly interesting bits to this election, despite the sheer boredom of the campaign. The massive dumping of the Liberals in the West, the replacement of Liberal Teals with real ones, the strange persistence of the Greens as a political force when there are so many real problems to which governments should be attending, the West of Sydney’s endearing objection to uninspiring, blow-in retreads from the Northern Beaches, and the astonishingly low levels of primary vote support for both the outgoing and the incoming governments. When is the last time a government secured an outright majority with just about 70 per cent of the electorate wishing they hadn’t?
Then there was the great Covid silence. The Covid non-issue… Or was there? Just because the corporate and ABC media don’t report things, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. While the Lib-Lab duopoly might have successfully parked the pesky matter of Australia literally falling apart over the past two years on their watch, and with their connivance, there emerged a new kind of Aussie voter. The support for the FFMPs (freedom friendly minor parties) increased substantially to over a million voters, around a quarter of the new government’s. No, they didn’t win seats, for that is how the system works, but they lit some fires. Fires that, with careful stoking, won’t easily go out. Add to these the usual solid number of informal voters, expressing their quite reasonable disdain for those seeking their support. Then, of course, there were the major party deserters of all hues, both on the right and the left. It was a pox on both their houses.
The biggie in 2022, however, was the emergence of an out-sized non-voting class, that also made its feelings about the electoral offerings, and perhaps the system itself, pretty clear. In some seats and regions, the non-voting class amounted to over a quarter of the vote. The former magic of election day, already decimated by the recent lurch to large-scale pre-poll voting, is now all but gone. Yes, it has been said that the world is run by those who turn up. But once you strip out people’s rights and freedoms, break promises at will, routinely do things in government that no one ever voted on, cede power to unelected bureaucrats at home and power-hungry oligarchs overseas, expect either anger or indifference, or perhaps, in time, worse. We seem to be slouching towards both first-past-the-post and voluntary voting, without anyone seeming to have noticed.
All in all, the disengagement of voters at the 2022 election has been immense, and for believers in liberal democracy, pretty confronting. Suppose they gave a party and no one came? Perhaps this bespeaks a broader, more fundamental, and Covid-related change. Let us call it ‘ennui’, a sense of societal listlessness, or disengagement from institutions. Not merely indifference, but a total lack of democratic energy, maybe even depression, and self-regarding focus that doesn’t give a damn about anyone else, including those whose lives have been decimated by Covid totalitarianism, and who cannot simply forgive and forget.
The political parties might have escaped their post-lockdown Nuremberg payback for the incalculable damage they have wrought, and they may actually believe that the world hasn’t changed, that we can all just ‘move on’ from the virus and from the destruction of society that they themselves engineered. But it behooves the political class, the laptop boys and girls who had a pretty damned fine Covid, and the chillingly large number of punters who seemingly – if you accept the findings of all those Covid management polls – approve thoroughly of the way Australian governments responded Covid, to reflect upon what they have wrought.
The words of the retired Judge Stuart Lindsay are relevant here, and their significance should be pondered. ‘Netflix, full bellies, and a warm place to defecate. That is all most want these days, is it not?’ Certainly, one feels that with the punters made content with job-keeper bribes, commute-free days, the joys of Deliveroo and the like, the elites, whether they be in Canberra or Davos, are content to deliver bread and circuses while they get on with running the world, a world now of pandemia, lockdowns-on-demand, masks at the drop of a Monkeypox scare and, it seems, totalitarianism without electoral consequence.
During Covid, we were supine. Afterward, seemingly most shake their heads and say ‘whatever’. Some, mercifully, will scratch their heads and think, ‘What on earth was that about?’ And, perhaps, next time, turn up to vote, and next time vote for freedom. Paul Keating said that when you change the government, you change the country. I don’t think so. Not now. Covid has changed the country. Or perhaps it has simply revealed things about us we just didn’t know.