This is a very exciting weekend for all of us in Australia.
Wait, did I say exciting weekend?
I meant, ‘carnival of idiocy’.
I wish I could say this is because the jetpack I ordered from the internet has finally arrived, and hasn’t, as I feared (and ruefully suspected), turned out to be nothing more than a box of candles sent from an untraceable address in Russia (although, after my recent mail order bride debacle, could the same lightning really strike twice? All that matters is that my box of candles and I are very happy together in our trans-Adriatic wedded bliss). Because, believe me, when that jetpack finally does get here, I plan on playing host to a carnival of idiocy such as the world has never seen.
I wish I could say this is because I have won Italy’s Super EnaLotto, a jackpot that currently stands at US$165,000,000.00. Because the idiocy I would unleash in the wake of that development would make Two and a Half Men look like Einstein’s finest work; the material he released on his own underground label before he went commercial.
I wish I could say this is because I have finally gotten my hands on a US visa. Because as soon as I have carte blanche to zoom out of this country (maybe via jetpack, giant bags of money in both my hands – who’s to say?) and away from the thought – the promise – of consequences… my God. The sheer level of idiocy I plan on inflicting on an unsuspecting populace makes my mouth go dry.
But, no. This is the much less fun version of a carnival of idiocy.
This weekend sees (at least, we hope – Jesus Christ, we hope – it sees) the final culmination of Australia’s federal political saga, in an ending that, no matter what, will please nobody.
To get to grips with what’s happening, you have to turn the clock back to 2007, which was a good year for Australian federal politics.
In 2007, John Howard had been Prime Minister for 11 years – since 1996, he had lead the Coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia to election victory after election victory in the House of Representatives. The Coalition is one of the two major parties in Australia – the modern Liberals are a conservative, right-leaning party that trade on their economic strengths, their abilities to keep illegal immigration in check, and a lasting appeal to Baby Boomers. The modern Nationals are much the same as the traditional Nationals – they appeal to, and support, the rural, bush, and farm populace of Australia. In Howard, the Coalition had a political streetfighter as canny as Australia had ever seen as a leader, and the Opposition, the Australian Labor Party (historically leftist, working-class and union-supported, but growing steadily more progressive over the last decade) simply could not find traction.
Howard had faced down and beaten three Labor leaders – Paul Keating, Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, and, once again, Kim Beazley. It was after Beazley’s second defeat Labor turned to the rising star and media darling Kevin Rudd, electing him leader and placing him squarely into a showdown with Howard.
And in 2007, Labor, under Rudd, was in no mood to fuck around.
(this photo was taken shortly before the time-honoured Australian political tradition of opposing leaders fighting each other with a Bowie knife in one hand and a rattlesnake in the other)
After years spent languishing in the political wilderness, Labor launched the US-inspired Kevin 07 campaign, and no one was under any illusions. The ALP had come back with all guns blazing – determined not only to win, but to take the Coalition’s mother on a date afterwards.
Rather than fall prey to the wedge politics (a favourite ploy of Howard’s) that had so often divided (and defeated) them in the past when they found themselves on dangerous policy grounds, this time… Labor simply agreed with the Coalition. On issues of progressive politics, they outlined bold new objectives, making the Coalition – and Howard in particular – look like a group of tired old white men. They recruited celebrities and star candidates to challenge the Coalition’s sitting MPs – dotcom millionaires, rock stars, newsreaders. And Rudd himself was everywhere – on daytime TV shows dancing and making chocolate cake, in the paper insisting on televised debates, on the world stage showing up Howard by addressing Hu Jintao in flawless Mandarin in a speech to the assembled political powers of China, right after Howard had done the same… in English.
When the election came, the ALP, as expected, mopped the floor with the Coalition. The final twist of the knife was that, after losing the country, John Howard lost his own electorate to one of the ALP’s star recruits, ex-journalist Maxine McKew.
We, the populace of Australia, voted the ALP into office, and we were promised great things. Rudd seemed superhuman – a man who apologised for the Stolen Generation, who forged new understandings with other nations, who made bold claims about the salvation of the environment, the stewardship of the economy, the certainty of employment for future generations.
When Obama was elected, Rudd was right there on our screens congratulating him, reaffirming the ties between Australia and the USA.
When the GFC hit, Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Treasurer Wayne Swan pumped cash into the economy, steering Australia past the recession that engulfed so much of the rest of the world.
When the Cophenhagen forum opened to discuss global emissions targets, Rudd threw himself into an attempt to secure a binding agreement between the countries of the world.
On water, on health, on education… Rudd was there. And his popularity surged and surged again.
Until it became apparent Rudd was there a little too often. After the first few years in office, a wavering picture began to emerge of a man who slept few hours a night, who refused to delegate even the smallest decisions, who burned out staffers with demands for ever-more work to be done, who threw tantrums and who became increasingly isolated in the corridors of power.
In the meantime, the Liberals churned out and discarded new leadership candidates in the hopes of finding a new messiah. Brendan Nelson succeeded John Howard. Malcolm Turnbull succeeded Brendan Nelson. Finally, Tony Abbott, a man regarded as unelectable due to his religious beliefs, his lack of belief in climate change, his statements on women and his perceived arch-conservative position on just about everything, came to lead the Liberal Party.
As it turned out, Abbott, a political brawler and favoured son of the previous Coalition government, was just the man to unite the shattered Opposition. And, just as his star rose, Kevin Rudd’s, spectacularly, imploded.
Rudd’s failures began to stack up in the headlines, and, subsequently, the polls. A government-backed home insulation scheme that had tragically lead to house fires and deaths. A failure to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme after declaring climate change ‘the greatest moral challenge of our generation’ (more than a failure, a capitulation). A proposed new resources tax that proved hugely unpopular and brought the Government into direct conflict with Australia’s powerful mining industry. These disasters gnawed at Rudd’s popularity until, finally, his own party conspired to bring him down. The Labor Party is known for its factionalism – one such faction, the New South Wales Right, found the inter-party numbers to cut Rudd from office and install his Deputy, Julia Gillard, as Australia’s first female Prime Minister.
Gillard called an election, and the race began.
And then when it came to the election itself… both parties lost.
As Chris Kennett has pointed out.
Neither the Labor Party nor the Coalition gained the necessary number of seats to form government in their own right. And it became clear that in order to become the next Federal Government of Australia, either party would need to enter into a power-sharing agreement with the few independent candidates who had won office.
Which has left us with the situation of the past two weeks.
Adam Bandt, the first elected MP representing the Greens party in the House of Representatives, has thrown his lot in with Julia Gillard.
Andrew Wilkie, ex-spy, Independent Member for the seat of Denison, Tasmania, has done likewise. In doing so, he has turned down the promise of one billion dollars in funding for his electorate from Tony Abbott.
Now, Gillard and Abbott are falling over themselves to throw money at the three undecided candidates who will form a minority government with either party and become the next government of this country. Gillard only needs the support of two of them; Abbott, all three.
Or, of course, we could go back to the polls and vote once more.
Because now three men control the fate of the country.
Three men. From one electorate each.
One of whom is this man.
Did I say jetpack?
Shit. I’d swim.
The populace of Australia has roundly rejected both options in the two-party system. Because they’re both awful. However, the Westminster Parliamentary System has no option for what to do after this happens. And so no one has any idea what’s going to happen next.
Apart from one thing.
Whoever loses (more so than they already have)… the bloodletting will be ferocious. Already, knives are being sharpened in Labor Party back rooms on both sides – from those who believe the backstabbing of Kevin Rudd played so badly (and it did, especially in his home state) that the public turned against Labor, and from those who believe that the disastrous leaks that exploded through the Labor campaign in the early weeks were Rudd stabbing at Gillard from hell’s heart via the media.
Australian politicians will always be ready to devour each other if they think it will bring them even slightly closer to the Prime Ministership of the country. This week, which the independents have flagged as being when they make their decision… dinner is served.