It’s only just 24 hours since Labor was given the nod to form government, yet it seems that the world is already on an inexorable slide to utter destruction. The rhetoric, in fact, is positively apocalyptic.
On the Coalition side, Steve Ciobo muttered darkly on Sky News’ AM Agenda that this was the ‘most Left-leaning government ever’, and hinted that nothing good could come of this unholy ‘Rainbow coalition’. Senator George Brandis accused Labor’s government of having ‘as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team’. Senator Ron Boswell raged that ‘this is going to hurt regional and rural Australia if the Greens demand and they will get their pound of flesh’. Tony Abbott was quick to take up Alan Jones’ suggestion that ‘the boats would keep coming … [and] the debt will keep piling up’. Christopher Pyne seemed almost restrained next to them when he opined that ‘this will not be a Parliament where all of history is turned on its head and we all sit around smoking a peace pipe and singing Kumbaya’, but the prize for restraint and sensible comment has to go to the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce, whose performance on Lateline last night was model of diplomacy and rational comment. That’s not a sarcastic remark, by the way – he was impressively statesmanlike, especially given his spray at the Independents on Election night.
When Barnaby Joyce is the sanest voice on your team, it should probably be seen as a signal that you need to get your troops together, step back for a bit and take stock before fronting up to a microphone.
The Coalition aren’t alone in their pronouncements of doom, mind you. They’re getting a lot of help from the media.
The Australian‘s Paul Kelly warned this morning that ‘a political war’ was about to begin. It’s a ‘nightmare’, a ‘diabolical situation’, a ‘combative and bitter’ Parliament. Terry McCrann, in the Herald-Sun, indulged in a little ‘I told you so’ when he reiterated earlier warnings that Australia was headed for ‘chaos and stalemate … and very bad government’. Andrew Bolt’s comments on Radio MTR were, well, predictable.
And what about the ABC, that alleged bastion of Leftist bias? Surely they wouldn’t be rushing to drink the Kool-aid?
Sadly, they went even further. Former Liberal leader John Hewson asserted that every day in the new Parliament would be an ‘intense brawl’. The arrangement was ‘unsustainable’, it ‘disenfranchised’ voters in 147 seats and we would be thrust back to the polls inside 18 months. The award for hyperbole, however, has to go to Glenn Milne, author of the ‘subversion of democracy’ tagline.
According to Milne, ‘Queen’ Gillard, a ‘a creature of deal making and unholy alliances’, is so ‘weak’ that she has to ‘plead’ with the Coalition for support. The Independents will control her, and undermine her legitimacy. Abbott is waiting in the wings to commit regicide – and Milne makes it clear that he doesn’t entirely disapprove of this notion, invoking English revolutionary history to prove his point.
Left-wing bias, indeed. Why, the ABC is clearly full of communists!
Bizarrely, some of the most rational commentary on the final election result came from Peter van Onselen, writing in The Australian. I’m not quite sure how that snuck in there.
As for the readers’ comments – well, you can look for yourselves. After a few passes through, I needed to go outside just to make sure we hadn’t been supernaturally transformed overnight into some kind of autocratic fascist state run by a few men in smoke-filled rooms. I’m happy to report that I was unable to locate any mustache-twirling villains rubbing their hands together in evil glee.
Possum Comitatus put it best – the government was legitimately returned. It passed the constitutional test. No one ‘stole’ or ‘bought’ the election. Yet this very legitimacy is likely to signal the beginning of a sustained onslaught of vitriol and scare-mongering commentary which bears very little resemblance to anything remotely resembling reality.
Already, Sky News is claiming that the government has ‘demonstrated its fragility’ because Tony Windsor has had a difference of opinion with Wayne Swan. It was Windsor’s belief that the mining tax proposal might be included in a major tax review to be undertaken soon. Swan, this morning, said that wasn’t the case. Windsor hasn’t reacted badly to finding this out – we haven’t heard any outrage, or suggestion that he feels in some way cheated by Labor. For their part, the government aren’t concerned, either. They confirmed that Windsor – like other MPs – will be consulted on the mining tax as part of the normal course of events.
If something this trivial is going to whip the media into a frenzy of Armageddon-speak, it’s going to be a very tiring three years. Clearly the Coalition (and those in the media who have demonstrably declared their partisan stance) thinks that if it can point to enough cracks – real or imagined – in the government’s arrangements with the Independents (the evil Lefty, Bandt, apparently being a lost cause), people will lose confidence and force an early election.
It’s a possibility. But the Coalition may not have taken into account that people get irritated with constant fear-mongering. The longer petty finger-pointing goes on, the more quickly opinion can swing against those doing it. Historically, Australian minority governments tend to be succeeded by increased majorities for those in power. I’m fairly sure that the Coalition don’t want that, but if they’re not careful, they may just push support back to Labor.
Abbott said yesterday that he intends to ‘rededicate’ the Coalition to the work of Opposition. It would be nice to think that meant he planned to jettison their former philosophy of ‘block the Labor agenda at all costs’. I can’t say I’m optimistic – but at least this time, there will be more voices raised in Parliament, and hopefully, less ‘he said/she said’ meaningless rhetoric.
Unlike Glenn Milne, John Hewson and the others mentioned above, there are still those who think this government will work. It won’t be easy – but nothing worthwhile ever is.