On Saturday night, Australia defied the pollsters and re-elected its widely despised right wing government. Is it any wonder that Sydney resident Nick Snelling is feeling pretty devvo right now?
Dear New Zealand,
We’re really sorry. It wasn’t meant to go down like this, promise.
Thanks for your ongoing patience, particularly when it comes to tolerating our eyeroll-inducing sledges about ovine bestiality. Because if Saturday’s election result was any indication, there’s a lot more sheep on this side of the ditch. By now you no doubt think of us as a tribe of insufferable bogans, bereft of class or any sense of self-awareness, and while that’s undeniably true, it’s important you know that many of us are genuinely struggling to come to terms with what the hell went wrong.
Your big ugly dumb-arse brother Straya didn’t just drop the ball. We shat the bed. In terms of shocking reversals, this wasn’t just our Trump upset, it was our Red Wedding..
Unless you’re a masochistic, I don’t expect many of you Kiwis to be well-acquainted with the circus of Australian politics. Suffice to say, the last ten years has been a shitshow of Pythonesque proportions. Allow me a little background…
On Saturday, me and me missus (told you I was Aussie) ambled up to the local primary school in inner-city Darlington in order to cast our vote in the Australian federal election and partake of our democracy sausage*.
*A uniquely Australian tradition. If one votes, one must almost indulge in barbecued processed meat with cheap bread and gluggy tomato sauce.
Full disclosure, just in case the name of my leafy suburb in Sydney’s Inner West doesn’t pigeonhole me enough already: yes, I am one of those intolerably smug, city-residing, university-educated, quixotically idealistic leftie-greenies who works in advertising no less, slurps soy lattes and barracks for Bernie Sanders from afar. Which is why I couldn’t wait to sprawl in front of the TV later than night, crack open a bottle of red, and watch in glee as the ABC’s gnomish psephologist Antony Green ran the count. A living national treasure, Green’s effete mannerisms and savant-like ability to call an election hours before anyone else are often regarded as the best part of the show. This time, seeing him maestro the funeral of our floundering conservative government was an experience I intended to savour in full.
Like many, I was relishing the certain ousting of two Liberal MPs in particular. The first was our former PM Tony Abbott, member for the once dyed-in-the-wool blue enclave of Sydney’s Warringah. A gaffe-generating reactionary wingnut and mainstay of satirical cartoonists, Abbott is as infamous for his coal-fellating, climate-denying world view, as for his valiant attempt to reintroduce knighthoods (beginning with bestowing one upon the geriatric Prince Phillip… yes, really). And that’s not even citing his predilection for munching on raw onions on live TV, confusing the word “repository” with “suppository”, or his unconscionable support of convicted paedophile Cardinal George Pell.
Other than to a few rusted-on diehards who stuck by him after he was deposed by the urbane but lame Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott had become a joke, the embodiment of everything that was wrong, outdated or tone-deaf within the Liberal Party.
The other neo-con loon almost certain to be flushed down the electoral sewers was the Dishonourable Peter Dutton, minister for home affairs and local member for the Queensland seat of Dickson. A former beat cop, Dutton has cast an oppressive shadow over Australian politics for the last 18 years or more. Stone-hearted, stubborn, devoid of grace or humility, and defiantly xenophobic, he’s the guy responsible for running our offshore concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru.
Perhaps you Kiwis have heard of Australia’s refugee issue, and the cruel and unusual methodology we embraced to deal with it? The oft-touted rationale for offshore processing is that it “removes the business model of the people smugglers” and deters those desperate people fleeing war and persecution from coming to Australian shores by boat. The reality is that it’s a barbaric policy decried by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Australia’s own Human Rights Commission, lawyers, doctors and psychologists everywhere, and ahost of other independent organisations. The dehumanising practice has seen countless horrors visited upon those interred, including but not limited to malnutrition, denial of access to basic medical help, bashings, murders, rapes and self-immolations. One only has to see the crayon drawings by the hollow-eyed refugee kids who have grown up in the perpetual limbo of these hellholes, only knowing a cramped and squalid life behind barb wire, to see how morally bankrupt a policy it is. And how, much like the Frontier Wars or the Stolen Generation, it will surely become yet another black stain on the soul of our country.
That said, the fact they “stopped the boats” also happens to be one of our Coalition government’s proudest achievements. They brag about it constantly. Yup, true story.
Anyway, let’s just say Peter Dutton is a thug. A glowering, unsophisticated brute who was clumsily instrumental in the political assassination of our former PM Malcolm Turnbull, even if the coup would ultimately fail to install him as the leader of the Liberal Party, and instead played straight into the frankly Underwoodian machinations of Scott Morrison to seize the prime-ministership instead.
Ah, yes. Scott Morrison. Aka “ScoMo”.
What can I tell you about our holy-rolling, happy-clapping leader of the Liberal Party? Once the staunch henchman of the Abbott government, and the first to oversee Australia’s boat turnbacks and offshore processing with an iron fist, Morrison’s overnight transformation into heir-apparent was remarkable. Suddenly, here was “ScoMo”, as his political strategists successfully rebranded him. A good bloke. A daggy dad. A modest guy who accepted the captaincy of his team with a sober, reluctant air, even if it would later come to light he orchestrated the entire coup. Now, he toted a Cronulla Sharks baseball cap. He talked in ockerisms. And he rolled out swathes of social media videos tossing the footy with young kids*.
* In Australia, instead of kissing babies, politicians devour meat pies and toss footballs. It’s like our thing.
Morrison is a devout member of a Pentecostal Christian sect of the evangelical Hillsong vein. He worships at Horizon Church, a gilded suburban temple in Sydney’s Sutherland shire. Picture a large, gaudily appointed auditorium, jam-packed with throngs of arm-flapping, tongues-talking, tithe-paying parishioners, all bawling along to bad Christian rock bands, and you get the gist. It almost sounds rather cute, except it isn’t really.
You see, a fundamental tenet of these Christian cults is “prosperity theology”– the idea, in a nutshell, that if you’re poor or unemployed or, say, fleeing a repressive regime (even if that means clambering aboard a leaky tub and braving dangerous oceans to reach any semblance of safe harbour), it’s a sign that God is personally punishing you for something. Clearly, you’re not pious enough. Alternatively, if you happen to be rich or healthy or successful (or say, via Machiavellian subterfuge, have managed to secure the leadership of a political party and go on to steal an entire election), well then, that’s a sure-fire signal from the Big Beardy One in the Sky that you’re in His good books.
At the risk of citing every single travesty of justice, PR bungle, political folly or ethically reprehensible policy (there are really waaay too many to list here), our recent government has not only been objectively bad, but plagued by incompetence, farcical infighting and a rogue’s gallery of deeply unpleasant human beings. It was why this latest election was meant to be a total shoo-in for the Opposition. All the pundits were more or less unanimous: the Labor Party were going to romp it home. A sure bet. The government had lost every single opinion poll for the last two years in a row, so it was a dead cert Labor would deliver them an absolute trouncing in the voting booths.
So surely it couldn’t matter much that the mummified Ol’ Rupe (Rupert Murdoch) would deploy the entire weight of his News Corp empire to disseminate anti-Labor propaganda for the entirety of the election campaign. People would see through such falsehoods and misinformation. And no way would they buy into the Coalition’s campaign of dirty tricks, many of which flouted all manner of electoral laws and lied unabashedly about all matter of things.
No, Australians had to be smarter than that, right? By now, voters were weary of this cabal of climate change-denying neo-cons, their coffers lined with hefty donations from fossil fuel companies, big mining and large corporations. After all, even as our fragile planet enters its death spiral, these were the same buffoons who stood up in our parliament and guffawed about how coal was good for humanity while waving their talismanic lumps of carbon. So the idea that these dangerous fools would continue to greenlight the megalithic Adani coal mine, entrusting our country’s water table to a foreign company infamous for its environment atrocities, was so obvious a disaster in the waiting – not to mention yet another obstacle to Australia’s now critically overdue transition to renewable energies – that no one could possibly stand for it any longer, right?
Surely, rural and regional communities could also now see that the Coalition’s minor partner, the Nationals, merely pretend to be a party that’s all about the “farmers”. Yes, they don their Akubras, blue shirts and tan slacks, and they posture about “life on the land”, but everyone knows they’re really a party in thrall to just one thing: coal. Surely, it was obvious that the only farmers the Nationals ever give two hoots about are the big cotton irrigators, selling off megalitres of water rights to them at the expense of our national food bowl, and allowing these agricultural conglomerates to bleed Australia’s main arterial river system of the Murray-Darling bone-dry, a crime that only just recently resulted in the Biblical-style decimation of our native fish populations.
Surely, Australians would remember how the Coalition had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the royal banking commission, only to admit red-faced later on that, “Oops… hang on, maybe there is something a little dodgy going on here…”
Surely, the public would also recall how this government presided over widespread corruption and cronyism (such as awarding of large-scale tenders under the table to their buddies in big business), just as they have the systematic dismantling of so many of our environmental protections?
Surely, Australians would be reminded of the tactics the Coalition adopted to do everything it possibly could to stall marriage equality, charging the taxpayer AU $190 million-plus in order to conduct a completely unnecessary plebiscite, instead of just passing a simple bill that reasserted the basic human right that everyone should be able to marry the person they love, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation?
Surely, the land of the supposed “fair go” would see through a dysfunctional party that knifed two sitting prime ministers – the first, admittedly, a deluded ideologue (Abbott), and the second, a preening fop (Turnbull) – and then went into an election with zero policies, only to run a highly negative campaign against Labor’s more progressive, much fairer and pro-climate action/redistributive agenda?
And surely, they must recognise the rank hypocrisy of a man who purports to follow the words of Jesus Christ, but is quite content to incarcerate innocent children in offshore gulags and fight tooth and nail to stop them from attending the funerals of their dead parents in Australia – both things that Scott Morrison is guilty of without a skerrick of remorse?
I mean, no man like that deserves to be the prime minister of Australia, right?
That Saturday night, I’d barely begun supping on my celebratory glass of red when the tallies started rolling in. Talk about ashes in my mouth. As the ABC’s Antony Green succinctly put it, “Thus far, all the results we’re seeing seems to be the exact opposite of the opinion polls…”
Calling it a ‘sinking feeling’ doesn’t really do it justice. More like a chasm opening in my gut. Incredulity was the word. Horror. Anger. Disgust. Despair. And also, a terrible sense of self-doubt and shame. The bloodless expressions of the stunned ABC commentators spoke volumes. How did we all get it so wrong? How did we misread the mood of a nation so badly?
For me and for many, many other Australians, it feels like our entire nation has been gaslighted by the most shameless and devious of narcissists – and despite this, we simply shrugged and voted for the guy whose face we liked more. “Yeah, you’re good. Our bad. By all means, carry on wrecking shit and ruining our society…”
It turns out, as far as sound election strategies go, fear and self-interest really do trump altruism or fairness. Fear of the mythical higher taxes (a policy that would only impact the rich). Fear of changes to negative gearing (that would only impact a few home-owners). Fear of lost franking credits (a policy itself only relevant to the tiniest percentage of retirees). And fear of a rather bland and uncharismatic Labor candidate who [gasp!] was once a dreaded unionist.
In the end, everything unexpectedly swung the Coalition’s way. Not only did prime villain Peter Dutton defy all the odds and strengthen his stranglehold on his electorate, the bulk of Queensland followed suit as the Coalition won seat after seat after seat. The only notable Liberal scalp lost was Tony Abbott, but even then it was widely accepted he was destined for the political knackery anyway. Besides, without Abbott’s ongoing intrigues and foot-in-mouth faux pas to cause any more regrettable distractions in the media, the end of his tenure only served to make the Liberal Party stronger.
Meanwhile, ScoMo didn’t just skittle the entire election, he has since won a mandate to do whatever the hell he wants. A man who, according to Abbott in his concession announcement, “can now quite rightfully enter the Liberal Party pantheon”.
Why are so many of us so dismayed? Why are we hurting so very badly? In part, because this election really is Australia’s version of the disastrous Donald Trump victory. Except arguably more worrying, because ScoMo is considerably more polished and much wilier than Trump. It is a terrible, disheartening thing indeed to watch your own country make a sudden inexplicable lurch to the right, and in such an ungainly, unexpected fashion. To see entire electorates vote against their own self-interests, and not even seem to care or understand what they have done, is deeply depressing. But even more distressing is the sure knowledge that it’s only going to get worse from here on in.
“I always believed in miracles,” Morrison trumpeted in his resounding victory speech, itself replete with every sort of gag-inducing, platitudinous cliché you might imagine. Aside from being one of those genuinely up-chuck moments, citing miracles is a worrying thing in the leader of a secular society. We now have a god-bothering zealot as our prime minister, a man who believes he has been gifted power by none other than the Almighty Himself. One doesn’t have to see how that’s a very, very dangerous thing to award any true believer with, but especially one with such a track record of ruthless neo-conservatism. Because, sure as shit, ScoMo and the powers-that-be will tighten their grip on our country in ways we have yet to fathom.
The sheer scale of this reversal is that it will now embolden the ugliest voices in our country. The politicians like Dutton. The shock jocks and the psychopaths. The lickspittles of the Murdoch press. The employers who exploit their workers. The misogynists. The racists. The alt-right nationalists. The cruel and the cold of heart. And even if there is another election to look forward to in another three years’ time, how could any Opposition leader ever go to the next election with a truly progressive agenda like this one again and seriously hope to win?
Australia, you are mean-spirited. Self-centred. Fearful. Short-sighted. As a nation, you’ve allowed yourself to be suckered. Hoodwinked. Swept up in a cult of manufactured personality and bald-faced lies. You really have no idea what you’ve done, but sadly, you now deserve everything you get.
Prepare to have your beloved ABC gutted.
Prepare for the Adani mine to go ahead full-steam, and prepare for how this will poison an entire Australian ecosystem and contribute to the over-heating of our precious planet even more.
Prepare for funding to your education and health systems to be rolled backwards, and prepare for your taxpaying money to be siphoned into constructing and subsidising more coal mines.
Prepare for your energy bills to skyrocket, as the renewables sector withers and dies.
Prepare for all those poor souls on Manus and Nauru to languish there indefinitely.
And perhaps most scarily, prepare for those who protest all these things to be recast as criminals. Yes, those laws are coming, too. Just you wait.
If there was any niggling doubt that New Zealand is superior to Australia is so many ways and always has been, then let it be discarded, once and for all. You have Jacinda Adern. We have Scott Morrison. Enough said.
On a personal note, while I’m well aware your primary migrant intake is American dot-com billionaires building survivalist bunkers on the South Island in the event of the coming apocalypse, is there any chance you’d consider letting this glum-faced Sydney fellow and his family jump on plane and emigrate there, too?
Say the word and I’ll book our flights tomorrow. We’re nice friendly folk. No sheep jokes, I swear… So, whaddya say? Please?
Nick Snelling is a Sydney-based creative director who works in AdLand (but please don’t hold that against him). He’s also a writer, scribbling stuff for the likes of the Sydney Morning Herald, Mumbrella and even Metalsucks. He has both a children’s picture book and a series of rather grim fantasy tomes coming out this year.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.