When it became clear there would be no result in our Federal Election last night, I went to bed. I hoped the situation would be clearer this morning, but, with 77.6% of the votes counted, neither major party seems likely to form government without the Independents. Shades of 2010, when the Independents sided with Labor despite Tony Abbott’s offer to sell everything except his arse for their support. When rebuffed, he claimed he’d been robbed, and mounted a vicious, personal campaign against PM Gillard. Using dog-whistle politics and his attack-dog personal style, he savaged a government which, despite its fragile constitution, was getting the business of the nation done with admirable finesse. Pundits have noted how the realities of minority government made Gillard especially vulnerable, and so when people credit Abbott with demolishing the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments, in truth they did it to themselves; he just gnawed on their remains and pissed on their achievements.
If Australian politics during the Abbott years reached their absolute nadir, surely any successive government could scarcely be worse. But what if the 2016 election results in another hung parliament and minority government? First and foremost, perhaps unforgivably, Malcolm Turnbull will have to be punished for squandering all that political capital. Instead of a messiah, all we got was a very obedient boy beholden to the right-wing powerbrokers who handed him the top job. Not free to be the moderate politician we yearned for, instead of a change for the better we’ve been ‘Abbotomised’ all over again. And the people have spoken, and voted with their feet. Abbott’s coterie would feel vindicated; poor Tony, robbed again! While the PM’s own party slowly and surely draws its plans against him, he will face an ebullient Labor leader drawing strength from the big swing in his favour. Indeed, Bill Shorten has already issued the challenge: try governing the country when you’ve lost your mandate! No bipartisan support in the House of Reps, and the Senate will be a bloodbath.
So we live in interesting times. In 2010, Tony Abbott would have been obliged to put a price on carbon emissions — that was the asking price to buy the support of the three Independents and form a minority government. A burp in history could have seen those shrill accusations of illegitimacy and dishonesty made by him to PM Gillard, made of him instead. In 2016, Turnbull is faced with a similar conundrum: to govern, he must climb into bed with the likes of Bob Katter and Adam Bandt, a pair unlikely to see eye to eye on anything, let alone the PM’s grand plan for Australia. Assuming he has one. Hogtied to the immutable 1950’s ideologies of the ruling right within his own party and the fickle demands of a bunch of Independent MP’s, how will Malcolm Turnbull succeed? And if he doesn’t look likely to succeed, how will he survive? And if he doesn’t survive, who will replace him?? I am an atheist down to my bones, but even I find myself deep in prayer this morning. God forbid we ever wake up again to find the sun obscured by that jug-eared juggernaut from Warringah.
For me, there remains the slim yet audacious hope that the Labor Party can fall across the line. They need nine seats to govern, with twelve yet in the balance. They have already taken the bellwether seats of Eden-Monaro and Lindsay, which to date have never failed to accurately predict which party will form government. But intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic assure us that a Labor government is unlikely. Instead we are likely to see a bloodied and battered PM Turnbull take once more to the microphone to announce he’s done a deal and formed government. No matter how much he crows in that grand, inimitable Turnbullian style, about his high hopes for the future prosperity of this wonderful country, only time will tell if he’s in charge, or if the tail still wags the dog.