Whatever new prime minister Tony Abbott says about expecting no surprises under his leadership, it won’t be an easy ride.
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We will have to wait with bated breath, goosebumps and a slight feeling of anticipatory nausea to see what an Abbott government actually does, writes Mungo MacCallum
So the bomb has dropped, and Tony Abbott and his army of orcs will rule us for at least the next three years.
And what is worse he has threatened to be a prime minister for all Australia, even to look after those of us who did not vote for him. Be afraid, be very afraid. But before leaving the country, locking yourself in a darkened room with a large supply of hallucinogenic drugs or simply slitting your wrists, please consider: it could have been much, much worse.
For starters, Abbott will not control the senate – at least not in his own right. Labor and the Greens have almost certainly lost the numbers to block legislation by themselves. But Abbott will still have to deal with a group of unlikely and probably cranky blow-ins from the minor parties, including ‘The Brick with Eyes’, ex-NRL legend Glenn Lazarus, who looks a monte to win a seat in Queensland for the Palmer United Party.
And for Labor, the result is not nearly as bad as had been feared: most of the best and brightest have survived to regroup and fight another day.
Chris Bowen and Jason Clare, in particular, have saved their western Sydney seats. The only front bencher definitely gone is David Bradbury in Lindsay although Mike Kelly in Eden-Monaro is a serious risk. And there is still a chance that the much loathed Sophie Mirabella could succumb. The news is not all bad.
From the earliest figures it was obvious that the government was gone; indeed, the most excited commentators did not even wait that long to start dancing on its grave. But as the count progressed various anomalies emerged. The most obvious was the unexpectedly high voter for the Palmer United Party; the glorious founder could even win a seat, and it appeared that a lot of Labor defectors had not gone right across to the coalition, but had parked their votes with PUP, only to return their preferences to the ALP.
And this meant the devastation was far less severe than predicted: what had been dubbed the killing grounds of New South Wales and Queensland turned out to be isolated scenes of carnage rather than a general bloodbath. Even Craig Thomson’s old seat of Dobell went down to the wire, and supporters of the elusive Jaymes Diaz failed to find their way to the polling booths.
And apart from Palmer, Bob Katter retained Kennedy, Adam Bandt retained Melbourne and Andrew Wilkie kept Denison.
By the time the count was suspended on election night it was clear that Labor’s loss would be less than twenty while Abbott’s majority would be limited to under thirty – a comfortable win, certainly, but nowhere near the wipe-out predicted by his excitable pollsters.
Interestingly Rudd’s concession/resignation speech was considerably more cheerful (and, of course, verbose) than Abbott’s acceptance/coronation response.
Obviously the overwhelming feeling was one of relief, but there was also a sense of vindication; he had been brought back to save the furniture, and he had rescued more of it than most people had expected.
Abbott’s own position as conquering hero looks safe enough, for the moment; but he has not had the sort of win which will produce a cowed and subservient opposition or guarantee a party room fawningly acquiescent to his every eccentricity. And the Nationals, invigorated by few gains and the entry of Barnaby Joyce into the lower house, have already signalled that they are ready to rumble. Once the first glow of victory begins to fade, so might Abbott’s hope of a relaxed and comfortable future.
But first we will have to wait with bated breath, goose bumps and a slight feeling of anticipatory nausea to see what an Abbott government actually does, or at least tries to do; so how much will things change? Not much, at least for the ungrateful westies; Abbott has promised them that all the real nasties will be reserved for his second term in office. The Institute of Public Affairs and its blueprint for ending of civilised society will have to wait. The sun will still rise over Australia, as it always has.
But it will shine down on a country which is shrinking. The most obvious symptom will be a retreat behind our own borders, the abrogation of our international engagements and obligations. Abbott signalled this with his last-minute decision to abandon Australia’s long-standing bipartisan foreign aid commitments in favour of building more local roads.
Next will come the rejection of technology: our world-class National Broadband Network is to be replaced with a second- rate stop gap which even its own minister is embarrassed to defend.
And most importantly, climate change: we will buy out of any serious attempts to respond to the global challenge or to embrace the opportunities of the renewable energy economy in favour of maintaining the status quo, waiting for the rest of the world to force us to shift gears.
And quite apart from the senate, there are going to be further constraints which will become obvious as soon as Joe Hockey hunkers down to prepare his first budget with the Treasury officials he has spent the lest twelve months accusing of incompetence and malpractice.
And as Abbott’s crew of neophytes emerge blinking into the public gaze from which they have been so diligently shielded during the campaign, it might well be a shock both to them and to us. They might be disconcerted to find that their glorious leader is not, after all, the suppository of all wisdom, or even of unlimited power and influence; that he remains vulnerable to the power struggles among the factions within the coalition, and even more so on a personal level as the forces embodied by Gina Rinehart, Cardinal George Pell, Rupert Murdoch and the ghost of B A Santamaria battle for what is left of his political soul.
As Paul Keating once remarked, when you change the government, you change the country. And as JBS Haldane commented, the future will not only be stranger than we can imagine; it will be stranger than we can imagine. Abbott has promised us no surprises. I can promise him, there will be.