So much to talk about. Women and gender equity. Gender itself. An indigenous voice. Honesty and responsibility in public office. Our unequal society. The cost of living. A roof over one’s head. Security, both national and personal.
And climate change. After nearly 10 years of government acting as if climate is a minor issue, it’s a huge relief to see that obstacle removed. But Labor, for its part, has to get a lot more serious about it.
This once-in-a-lifetime election has also thrown up huge questions about the political parties we grew up with. How should Labor behave in office? What can the tattered rump of the Liberal Party do to save itself? Should the Nationals take comfort from their performance?
All these things – the themes running through the election campaign and the uncertain future of political parties after the challenges posed by the star performances of the Greens and left-leaning independents – will occupy the public debate for years.
Labor’s election night saw much hugging and carousing, but the party’s record low primary vote is good reason to sober up and think hard about the party’s long-term future. It was unsettling to see Labor luminaries who potentially will need crossbench support brush off questions about negotiating with independents or Greens.
Notwithstanding mutterings about millionaire money, the real key to independents’ success was hiding in plain sight. “Voices of” MPs Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines (Indi, Victoria) and Zali Steggall (Warringah, NSW) taught candidates to use as many volunteer helpers as possible to connect with voters. Politics as it used to be, and as it ought to be.
The election campaign of Scott Morrison and his colleagues – indeed their whole term of office – was conducted by the old rules of political engagement, a sort of mating ritual by which battle-hardened males, using every trick in the book, go head to head with ideological opposites.
A woman in Liberal ranks, Bass MP Bridget Archer got it right on Sunday when she said partisan ideology was the enemy of good government. She actively discouraged her leader from appearing with her on the hustings and rebranded her campaign livery last week to distance herself from her party. And against the odds, she held her seat.
But underlying all the above factors underpinning this political earthquake is a bigger one which, sooner rather than later, all the major parties must confront if they are not to fade into history. It’s not unique to Australia, but it is especially prevalent and deeply ingrained here.
In the past, strong self-belief served Australia well when we were up against it, such as in military adventures abroad or surviving extreme weather events – droughts, storms, floods and fires. But applied to climate change, it’s dangerous.
The Liberal-National Coalition’s climate policy has been based on this foolish bravado. Most Coalition MPs, encouraged by leaders, have paid lip service to the threat posed by human-induced climate change to lives and livelihoods now, refusing to discuss or even mention it. In the battle between ideology and truth, ideology ruled supreme.
In the face of contrary evidence from science, Australians expect their politicians to re-set personal or party ideology. That is especially so when the science says, as it has for several years, that we’re in a crisis requiring urgent, visible, measurable political action.
But Scott Morrison carefully avoided the topic through the droughts, fires and floods of the past three years. In concession speeches by both the PM and Josh Frydenberg, the most prominent Liberal casualty, climate change didn’t rate a mention. Yet it was the principal reason for the defeat of numerous Liberal luminaries.
Now we have been delivered numbers of climate-focused independents. As for the Greens, their lower-house numbers stand to be quadrupled and their Senate ranks swelled with the help of an angry Brisbane public smarting from the impact of this year’s catastrophic floods. Queenslanders voting for climate action – now that’s a sign.
The Morrison government badly underestimated the ability of Australia’s metropolitan voters to grasp the growing impact of climate change. These voters saw through the government’s spurious claims around its climate program and its 2030 pledge, rated “highly insufficient” in a savage assessment this month by Europe’s Climate Action Tracker.
Better late than never. Now is the time for Australia to strike a blow for global climate action. As a starting point, we owe the world a radically enhanced 2030 target: a national whole-of-parliament commitment to an emissions cut of at least 50 per cent by 2030. And Labor must also declare, once and for all, that fossil fuel extraction has no future in Australia.
From the Coalition, a humble apology wouldn’t go astray, but that might be a bridge too far.