I'm not going to offer congratulations or anything like that. Tonight's election result is a worse outcome than I could possibly have imagined. The Liberal/National coalition led by John Howard has been returned to office with an increased majority.
Most disturbingly, there is a distinct possibility that the government could gain control of 50% of the seats in the senate. This would give Howard, certainly in his eyes, a mandate to pursue his neo-conservative post-Menzian vision for Australia to the hilt.
Malcolm Turnbull has made it into parliament, and that changes the dynamics of the post-Howard succession somewhat. The only frontbencher of consequence likely to lose his seat is Larry Anthony.
That's democracy. Yes it is. But there is no doubt that this election, as with the one in 2001, have been fought on false pretences and on a limited range of issues. The overseas media has seen this election as a referendum on Iraq. The truth is that Iraq, and foreign policy in general, was swept under the carpet by both major parties and by a compliant media. This was a victory for Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, John Laws and Alan The Parrot Jones.
In net terms, the ALP gained less than 0.1 per cent on their primary vote in 2001. They look like scoring about 38% of the primary vote, and I have heard more than one Labor Party heavyweight say tonight that they can't win government unless their vote percentage has a 4 at the beginning.
Considering how badly they were struggling under Simon Crean last year, the ALP has still made a heck of an improvement from their standing in 2003. Mark Latham, while inexperienced, erratic, and individualist, is at times the most breathtakingly audacious politician I have seen in this country since, well, since Gough Whitlam.
There were a few flaws in the Labor Party campaign for this election. They were sucked in to an obscene multi-billion dollar policy auction that ultimately must have proved more counterproductive for them than for the Liberals. They didn't focus enough on the failings of the government in economic management over the past eight years. There wasn't enough comparison made between interest rates in Australia and interest rates in the UK, US and Europe. There wasn't enough attention given to Howard's failings in industrial development.
And his government's outrageous conduct in foreign and humanitarian policy failed to strike a nerve with "middle" Australia. As a nation, we're still xenophobic rednecks at heart. Hawke and Keating tried to change that. Howard has unravelled all of their good work since 1996.
We don't know for sure yet if the Libs and Nats will reach the magic figure of 38 in the 76-seat Senate. While support for the ALP has remained static since 2001, we have seen in this election a shift in support from One Nation, almost as a solid bloc, back to the Coalition. Hansonism is dead, but only because Howardism has taken it on board.
The Democrats seem to be a spent force, victims of too much implosion over the past decade. Their voters have moved in two opposite directions - to The Greens, and to Family First. The latter seems to have shut the door on Fred Nile to assert itself as the fundamentalist Christian party of our time, the contemporary DLP if you will.
The Greens, while losing their sole representative in the lower house, are likely to do well in the senate, hopefully well enough to hold the balance of power. Their challenge for the future lies with their internal discipline as a political party, something the post-Janine Haines Democrats were unable to master.
I am very sad about the outcome of this election. A narrow majority for the Libs I could have accepted, an increased majority is deeply disappointing. I feel a sense of pessimism tonight about the future direction of this country. If Latham, or whoever is leading the ALP, is successful at the next opportunity, probably in late 2007, how much damage to our national fibre will there be to repair?
I don't feel sorry for the 46.5% of the electorate who voted Liberal or National today. I feel sorry for the rest of us. I want an Australia for my daughter and for all the children of this country that is inclusive, diversive, peaceful, healthy and socially rewarding. John Howard's retrograde vision won't provide that.