For those of you living under a rock for the last four days (or living in the US, which can, on occasion, mean the same thing) Australia’s Federal election yielded a stunning and history-making ‘no result’. The buzzards are circling, there are a few rats deserting various sinking ships and sub-editors the country over have completely run out of headlines that successfully pun on the word ‘hung’ without saying exactly how well.
And yet, the end of the world is not yet quite nigh.
It’s a little hard to tell just exactly what the people of Australia said when they spoke on Saturday – but whatever it was, it came across loud and clear. To everybody but the politicians, that is.
Throughout the entire campaign, everybody – bar none – was saying it was boring, that there wasn’t a policy to be seen (or rather, not one we could take seriously) and the level of differentiation between the parties appeared to lie in gender alone – a card neither had played (the only – sadly, yes only – wise move on both their parts).
And that, in a nutshell, is the core of the problem. Not so much the boredom (although that doesn’t help) but more the fact that there really wasn’t much to choose between the parties. Okay, Labor has a serious National Broadband Network policy. But that’s about it. The election result exactly reflects the campaign – or in the language of computer advocates the world over: if you put garbage in, you get garbage out.
The pundits are all out now, dancing around the three independents who are to be the king-makers. It’s at times like these that clichés run amok (and you can see how I’ve cleverly stepped into line with that policy). Everybody wants to be the one to break the news as to which party they will support, and what price that party will pay for the privilege of winning the crown. Every journalist or political commentator worth his salt (and plenty who aren’t) is vying for the attention of the public in picking the eventual winner.
Strangely however, the Australian people don’t appear to be that concerned either way. We do have a wonderful, ‘she’ll be right’ attitude that’s done us well for a couple of centuries – and I can see it clearly in the faces queued at the supermarket. Until things are resolved, budgetary supply can’t be blocked – so the country can keep jogging along as is, even though no new legislation can be passed or even introduced to parliament.
My question is – who’d notice?
Oh, yes, I know that if this went on long enough it would become a problem. But that ignores the underlying, very real and much more important problem: politics has become the bland exercise of risk minimization and of harm reduction. Politicians are terrified to let themselves be real because the back room guys don’t want to have to clear up the mess if there’s a slip-up. Julia Gillard made this observation when she publicly stated she would stop doing that – and to give her credit, she did loosen up a little. But we were expecting too much after a career spent curbing her natural manner and carefully schooling her thoughts. And we all jumped up and down when Tony Abbott admitted he said things he didn’t really mean.
But even so, it’s like they’ve been laid out on the ironing board and pressed flat using the same mould. The reason we can see any difference between the parties is because there isn’t really a difference any more.
Back in the good old days (yes, I used that phrase – get over it) it was possible to know what a party would do in a given situation by looking at the underlying platform published by the party. Such a platform would talk about the philosophy and beliefs members of the party would share, the overall vision they had for the country.
Now days the very thought of articulating an underlying party philosophy scares the crap out of political leaders. This is how the party of the elite, the Liberals, somehow positioned themselves to appeal to “Howard’s battlers”, where the battlers were actually the poor working class normally protected by the Labor party.
There’s no philosophy because that would require consistency. If there’s consistency, then it’s harder to backflip or be suddenly reactionary – the way both parties suddenly are on the issue of ‘boat people’.
Just as an aside, Tony Abbott – if you’re reading this – can you please explain to me, precisely what the danger is? You’re trying to make us terrified – but of what? You’ve never actually said. Just explain it and I’ll shut up, okay?
An election is often referred to as a politician’s report card, marked by the people. On Saturday, the Australian people spoke, and what they said was, “Must try harder.”