What happens next?

In a couple of days, Australia will have a new government and, barring an upset of almost incomprehensible magnitude, it will be a conservative government with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. It is a most unsettling prospect, but what will be will be.

What’s important is what happens next.

Abbott seems like almost the worst imaginable person to be given the leadership of the country, and I dislike the Liberal Party on a visceral, or perhaps molecular level, but the most unsettling part is that Australia is about to elect a government that has kept its plans for after the election secret. There is very little in the way of policy details beyond three-word slogans, and until today we have not been told how the promises they have made will be paid for. Even tonight we only have a costing document that provides a line item for each spending/saving measure but no information about the underlying assumptions.

It’s an appalling indictment on the Australian electorate that people are prepared to vote, sight-unseen, for what will likely be a massive swing to the right in almost every area of public policy. It’s an even worse indictment on the Australian Labor Party, which has squandered its own political capital and led many Australians to regard it as a hopelessly dysfunctional, visionless and talentless rabble, not through poor government over the last six years (far from it – the ALP has driven some key policy reforms) but through internecine squabbles and almost comically poor communication skills.

The Australian electorate hates the Labor Party so much they are prepared to have Tony Abbott – a man that most people think is a sort of intellectually dim, semi-deranged religious zealot – as their PM. Most people, when asked, think Abbott will be a terrible PM. And yet they are prepared to elect him purely out of spite directed at the ALP.

They say oppositions don’t win elections; governments lose them. Well, indeed: this particular opposition leader has not had to do anything more complex than remain vertical and robotically repeat ‘stoptheboatsendthetaxbuildtheroadsofthetwentyfirstcentury’ and he’s headed for a landslide victory.

So Abbott’s going to win. What happens next depends on a few factors. First, the scale of his majority and, particularly, the numbers in the Senate.

If there’s a big swing, Abbott could be looking at a 30- or 40-seat buffer in the House of Reps. That will take three or four terms of government for the ALP to whittle away, if it can at all: Coalition governments all the way through to the mid-2020s. It’s turtles all the way down. In the Senate, things are looking a wee bit brighter – with a bit of luck, the Greens vote will hold up, the byzantine preference deals won’t elect too many right-wing crazies, and the Coalition won’t have a workable majority in the upper house.

The Greens have said they will vote against almost every part of the Coalition’s platform: they will continue to stand up for asylum seekers, welfare recipients and wage earners, and against big business and the top end of town. In other words, they will act on well-articulated principles, not based on political expediency. Maybe it’s time for the ALP to join them?

Perhaps this defeat will be the catalyst that forces the ALP to reexamine its place in the Australian political landscape, and relocate its ideological soul. A party of the left, standing up for ordinary people, protecting and extending Medicare, social security, progressive social policies – you know, the old ALP. And maybe they could discover that the Greens, who have become successful by attracting the votes of disaffected leftist voters, aren’t the real enemy: the tories are.

 

Together, Labor and the Greens could yet provide an effective brake on at least some of the craziest plans Abbott, Hockey and Robb have in their secret dossier, and in the process they might just rediscover what it is they stand for.

How crazy might those plans be? We’ll know in the weeks and months to come I suppose, but just today the Coalition has suddenly discovered an appetite for a mandatory internet filter, and one of their chief boosters thinks rich people should be allowed to buy their way out of jail.

So that’s freedom of speech and the rule of law gone, and they haven’t even won the election yet.