It’s polling day today. This great ritual of democracy ought to inspire and excite us, but like a lot of Australians, this time round I’m more depressed than inspired, and more angry than excited.
Over the last five weeks we have lived through the most negative, cynical and dispiriting election campaign in memory. Virtually devoid of policy debate, unrelentingly negative from the get-go, a squalid race for the bottom that reflects the parlous state of politics in Australia. If, as they say, you get the politicians you deserve, then we must have done something very bad to deserve this lot.
Like most people in Australia, this election is not about me. Whether you’re an inner-city progressive, a Toorak Tory, a socially regressive cow cocky or a middle-aged queer tree-changer like me, neither of the big parties give a damn about you. This election is only about a handful of ignorant bigots in a few marginal seats in western Sydney and south-east Queensland. The rest of us don’t matter.
The result is a political auction to see who can be toughest on the most vulnerable and helpless people in society. The resulting campaign has degenerated into a five-week harangue attacking refugees, immigrants, welfare recipients, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the economically aspirational but socially insular template of the so-called ‘Howard battlers’ who now virtually run the country. Then there’s the rivers of middle-class welfare, the pandering to special interests, the bare-faced lies, and the sheer, mind-numbing, putrid, soul destroying emptiness of it all.
What should be a debate about the country’s future is instead presented as a choice between two individuals, one a self-flagellating Christian fundamentalist and the other an ambitious and calculating woman. Tony or Julia, who are you going to vote for? But both these stories are false: Abbott and Gillard are both career politicians, equally ambitious and both motivated by one thing only — gaining and holding power at any cost. Whatever it takes, as Richo said.
In our hearts we want our politicians to be motivated by a desire to build a better world, to protect and strengthen us, and build a united, resilient society. We want them to make us better people. Instead the political process has become a contest of personal ambition, played out by a small group of pathologically self-interested career politicians and perverted by the media into a presidential-style contest where the he-said, she-said narrative trumps any discussion or analysis of policy. Instead of debate, we get arguments about debates, breathlessly reported by a press pack who have unwittingly become players in the game.
The opinion polls published over the last few days have both major parties neck and neck, locked in at roughly 50% each of the two-party preferred vote, as if the electorate can’t make up its mind who it hates the most. A pox on both their houses.
I sincerely hope that Tony Abbott does not become our 28th prime minister today. I know that would be a disaster for Australia, or at least for the Australia I believe in. But I cannot say I feel any affection for Julia Gillard either. Like just about everyone I know, I’ll be voting for the Greens, who look likely to substantially increase their numbers in the senate, and maybe score a seat in the lower house for the first time at a general election.
But the Greens will not be the government — either Labor or the Coalition will, and neither deserves to be.