The sense of national schadenfreude was almost visceral last night and understandably so, but can we really be happy with the result. To loosely paraphrase Christopher Nolan, Malcolm Turnbull just got the (humiliating) election result he deserved, but not the one he needed. It leaves the dreaded hung parliament the prime minister warned as against as a likely outcome as preferences are being redistributed.
Even if the Coalition does win, it will be by a razor thin margin and will likely hold even less seats in a senate that will now include Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson and a handful of Nick Xenaphon Team candidates. Good luck getting your company tax cut through there unscathed Malcolm!
The unexpectedly poor result for the Coalition was clearly a cathartic moment for many, judging by social media, and there are a number of possible reasons for this phenomenon.
-Perhaps it was seeing Turnbull’s deceitful Double Dissolution strategy blow up in his smug face. Remembering that the Coalition went to the polls under the pretence that their anti-union bill was too critical to the nation to be blocked (while an anti-corruption body to investigate banks, corporations and political parties was not important), it was satisfying to see such a strategy backfire so spectacularly.
-Or perhaps it was the whining about scare campaigns (with no sense of irony) from a party that has run scare campaigns about exaggerated effects of negative gearing and the carbon tax, dehumanised boat people and conveniently disappearing budget emergencies.
-No doubt others took delight in the savage infighting on display amongst conservative powerbrokers, even as votes were being counted- making a mockery of Turnbull’s claims of being able to provide stable government.
-Or maybe it was just relief that many Australians had learnt from mistakes of the past and were less easily swayed by the ridiculous claims the Coalition makes about its economic credentials or by the clearly partisan reporting of the Murdoch Press.
But going back to the Batman reference (the character not the electorate), we as a nation also got what we deserved more than what we needed. Many still voted to re-elect some of the most cretinous members of a Coalition government that has failed us economically, socially and internationally in the last three years. Many made their own reasoned decisions for doing so. I make no judgement about that, but many others did so only from intellectual fear or laziness- believing the loudest and most hysterical headlines put out in the last week, which is the same way Brexit happened. And hence our likely hung parliament.
I am not one who fears a hung parliament. I would actually like to see a less adversarial paradigm where parties negotiate to generate more bipartisan policies (obviously this requires the right people elected, what you might call a well-hung parliament). However I won’t hold my breath waiting for that. Not with destructive forces like Tony Abbott- one of the most effective political attack dogs I have seen- and his block of hardline conservatives ready to sabotage any policy not of their making (think NBN, Carbon Tax and Super Profits Tax as examples) and News Ltd ready to sensationalise their claims without any real fact checking. I have strong doubts this is the assembly we need to deliver a coherent economic policy without it being savagely contorted by interest groups, let alone any effective progressive policies around climate, equality or our refugee shame. Thus I can’t be too happy. It is not as bad as it could have been, but that is a pretty low bar to set.
And any government bills that do escape the lower house unscathed then have to get through the minefield that is the new senate. While this is also true of policies I don’t want to see, such as the company tax cut, a legislative paralysis is not something I want either. It seems to me that celebrating the election of a dysfunctional senate is myopic. Yes a large number of people have rejected the Coalition’s strategy of ignoring community concerns or lying to us about them, but if we have a truly unworkable senate, it is the country that stands to lose the most. I am not sure I am ready to cheer about this.
So while the panicked looks of Coalition members and hysterical revisionist wails of Andrew Bolt were a temporary panacea, this is only the first step towards the government we need. Somehow Australia still elected a slew of people I wouldn’t trust to collect my mail (in Barnaby Joyce’s defence, that is more about his stupidity than his dishonesty though) and both major parties are committed to continuing our criminal treatment of refugees. Perhaps our expectations are so low after years of the electorate voting as instructed by the Murdoch Press that a reversal of this trend is enough to make people happy, but I am not happy. Let’s celebrate when the new parliament achieves something worthwhile.