By P Francis
DESPITE fine spring weather across most of Australia on Friday, a tsunami of primary votes against the Labor Party caused a landslide in favour of Tony Abbott’s Liberals. To date, no reports were received of any deaths or serious injuries after the calamity.
Seriously, PM Kevin Rudd has been shown the door nationally, but in his own electorate of Griffith he scraped through by the skin of his teeth on Green preferences against Dr Bill Glasson, the former head of the Australian Medical Association and an ophthalmologist.
Labor’s implosion has helped the runaway victory of PM Elect Abbott, who gave a 10-minute acceptance speech that was humbling, short and sharp. After thanking all involved, he said: “And I can inform you that the Australian Labor Party vote is at the lowest level in more than 100 years…From today, I declare that Australia is under new management and that Australia is once again open for new business. I give you all this assurance – we will not let you down. I pledge myself to the service of our country.”
Gillard and Rudd
Rudd must have seen the disaster coming around the corner and pulled out all stops in a fragile attempt to turn back the high tide of discontent in several opinion polls. But he was not the Moses, who parted the Red Sea, and the waves kept coming! Instead of being the saviour, after throwing overboard his usurper – former PM Julia Gillard – Rudd was like a drowning man clutching at a straw. The ditched Gillard, probably, would have been sipping a cool chardonnay with a smirk, in her new multi-million dollar house in Adelaide, as she watched the predictable election results unfold on TV. She did tweet her congratulations to the new PM, and commiserations to Labor: “Congrats to Mr Abbott & Mr Truss for leading their parties to victory. I wish them & their teams well. It’s always an honour to serve. JG”
Certainly, Rudd did not fiddle – like Nero did as Rome burned to the ground – as the faction-ridden Labor Party began to crumble. The only fiddling Rudd did was with the Opposition’s budget plans and statements, which some would say bordered on ‘white’ lies. Instead, now the ‘white’ ants have come home to roost within the Labor Party amid soul searching and chest thumping.
Who’s next opposition leader?
Yes, D-Day has come and gone, and Rudd has left the building – it is the end of the Rudd. The question being asked is “Who wants to lead the Labor Party now in Opposition?” Possible candidates are deputy leader Anthony Albanese, MP Jenny Macklin, treasurer Chris Bowen, and former union boss Bill Shorten, who is Governor General Quentin Bryce’s son-in-law. Ironically, Rudd’s own newly-introduced party leader voting rules will include Labor’s rank and file, which will delay the selection process – and Rudd, even if he wants to stay on, has to re-nominate, too! But in his concession speech, an unusually happy Rudd seemed in high spirits as though he had won. As he rambled on, he said he would not contest the Labor leadership so as to allow Labor a fresh start. Then he took a heavily-criticised unwarranted dig at his opponent: “It would be un-prime ministerial of me to say Bill Glasson eat your heart out, so I won’t.”
Will Rudd stay on in parliament or quit soon for a by-election? The grapevine has it that if he quits, Rudd will see UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for a position to strut on the world stage, which is what he likes to do. Or even take over as secretary-general at the organisation some have dubbed ‘the toothless tiger’. However, that is all conjecture even though there is no smoke without fire.
What happened to Labor?
What happened to the ruling Labor Party is a candid lesson to any government in any part of the world of what not to do to stir up the ire of the people who vote. It all started with a fairytale – once upon a time there was a PM Rudd, who was replaced by his trusted deputy under dubious circumstances. However, Rudd relentlessly ‘rocked’ his government in an attempt to exact revenge on his successor Gillard. His ambition to be a ‘recycled’ PM eventually came true, but there was no living happily ever after. Instead, a nightmare unfolded during the election campaign as more and more voters saw through “his blatant lies and negative personal attacks on rival politicians”. On the eve of the election, Rudd said Abbott would privatise Medicare – that caused confusion to voters who did not check the logic of it.
Commenting on the election, treasurer Bowen admitted: “This result was because of the Labor party disunity.” But former Liberal PM John Howard pulled no punches when he declared: “Abbott did a splendid job. A very unstable and incompetent government was wasting people’s money and deserved to be thrown out. You can trust Tony Abbott, he will look after you and he can be trusted with your money.”
Remember, the people have spoken – never take the electorate for granted – after considering other ‘hidden’ factors, which do not include the ‘staples’ such as the economy, jobs, health, pensions and illegal immigration with the help of people smugglers.
The ‘hidden’ factors, which slowly built up to trigger the huge backlash against the Labor federal government, included the divided factions within Labor causing ‘musical chairs’ for the position of Prime Minister – the highest position in the land. Divisions were also caused by Gillard in her ‘misogynist’ attacks on Abbott as a woman hater. Employers were pitted against workers (backed by Labor’s union supporters). A mini-riot was narrowly avoided when Aborigines were told an untruth by a Labor staffer about Abbott’s views. Then there was Labor’s unhappy relationship with the media – especially Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers – and the attempt by the government to muzzle the press by the introduction of laws to ‘censor’ media and others whose political opinions may offend certain groups, cultural or otherwise.
Smear campaigns did not go down well with voters, too, as Labor targeted their rivals – again starting with Abbott, labelling him a thug and a bully. Add to this the multiple lies of Rudd about border protection and drowning at sea; Budget deficits and savings; drop in taxes paid; alleging the Coalition (Liberals/Nationals) had a ‘black hole’ in funding of their policy and planned A$90 million of cuts. Certainly nobody can be fooled all the time and voters do not like being treated as idiots especially by a politician! But, that was not all. There were broken promises, such as by Gillard on not having a carbon tax, a reduction in the number of poker machines and a Budget surplus that never was.
Rudd’s ‘wrong’ calls
Former Labor PM Bob Hawke claimed that Rudd should have called for a much earlier election after he had ousted Gillard – to take advantage of the ‘honeymoon’ period. Hawke conceded defeat on the polling day eve and told Sky News: “In my judgment it was a mistake that he didn’t go much earlier. If he’d gone pretty soon after he got the change of leadership and opened with a campaign like that, I think it might have been a different story.”Hawke also admitted that the leadership battle had affected their support and Labor made a mistake of underestimating Abbott. “Tony has historically been capable of some awful gaffes … but he’s shown considerable discipline in this campaign.” He also said Labor’s attempt to discredit the cost of the Coalition policy was “embarrassing” for Labor when the heads of Treasury and the Finance Department rejected Labor’s statement on Coalition costings.
Prominent businessman Roger Corbett, who is a Reserve Bank of Australia board member and chairman of Fairfax Media agreed in part with Hawke on Rudd’s downfall. Corbett told ABC TV: “He’s a man that really has done the Labor Party enormous damage, destabilised it…I think it would have been much better that they’d come undone with Julia Gillard leading them than Kevin Rudd.”
Then there was Rudd jumping on the gay bandwagon to win votes from homosexuals and lesbians by supporting them to marry legally. Bert Mahoney, a Catholic and member of the Knights of the Southern Cross, who lives in Boxhill in Victoria, said: “Although Rudd is a Christian, he alienated many – religious or not – who believe that marriage is a sacred institution strictly between a man and a woman, and that sodomy was unnatural sex and unacceptable. “
Even ‘parachuting’ in former Queensland premier Peter Beattie did not help in the Labor heartland of Forde in Queensland. Beattie lost to Bert van Manen and blamed the poor overall performance of Labor to disunity in Labor over leadership, which was responsible for the party’s woes. Former Labor leader Simon Crean agreed: “You have to change the leadership style, not the leaders.”
Labor’s faulty election mechanism was shown up again when it featured New Zealander Paulla Millar on a Rudd pamphlet urging readers to vote for him and saying what a great bloke he is. Millar had been photographed by junior staff when she visited Rudd’s electorate office to complain she could not vote in the election because she was not allowed to be a citizen despite living in Australia.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party stuck to their game plan for the election campaign and refused to be cajoled into releasing their budget and expenditure costings too early “to be mauled by Labor and the media”. They waited until 72 hours before the election – an improvement on Labor at the previous election where they avoided scrutiny by showing their costings only at 5pm on the eve of the election. The Liberals even went as far as to mail out ‘Our Contract With Australia’ cards which stated: 1 A stronger, diversified economy; 2 Carbon tax gone; 3 End the waste and debt; 4 Build modern roads and improve services; 5 Stop the boats with proven policies; 6 Two million new jobs within a decade.
The determined Abbott has stated in the run-up to the polls that, if elected, within the first 100 days in office he will ensure that the Liberals will “conduct ministerial visits to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nauru and PNG (Papua New Guinea) to discuss operational matters under Operation Sovereign Borders”, which is all about border protection against illegal ‘boat people’ arrivals.
Just three days before the polls, AFP reported: Australian election frontrunner Tony Abbott on Wednesday vowed Asia will be his main foreign policy focus if he assumes office, as an influential media group turned on incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The conservative Abbott, whose diplomatic credentials came under fire this week after he said the Syria conflict was “baddies versus baddies”, is on track to win Saturday’s poll. His first travel priorities would be Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea, he said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the flagship paper of Fairfax Media whose chairman Wednesday declared his support for the conservative. “Only after our regional and trading partners have been suitably attended to would I make the traditional trips to Washington and London,” Abbott said, adding that “in the end your focus has got to be on the relationships that need the most attention”. “Decisions which impact on our national interests will be made in Jakarta, in Beijing, in Tokyo, in Seoul, as much as they will be made in Washington.”
Former leader of the New South Wales Parliamentary Liberal Party Kerry Chikarovski revealed to ABC TV what kind of man Abbot is. She said he would be a great PM, he has strong convictions, is clear and has a very good team for the front bench. “The best politicians know what they are not good at and employ people to do what they cannot. Abbott will have to re-establish the credibility and trust in politicians.”
On a lighter note, Australia’s SBS reported 10 days before the election that Liberal MP John Alexander of Bennelong had a rather novel way to campaign. When asked by comedian Michael Hing how he communicated with his diverse community, the former tennis star said: “We have a program, table tennis in schools. We started that because we could see there were too many students – Korean and Chinese students – who were being left out of what you would call ‘traditional’ Australian sport. At no stage was I thinking ‘Oh this is going to win a vote ’I thought it was really a great thing to do and it really made my job fulfilling.” Call it ping pong diplomacy with the Asian community if you must! For the record, Alexander cruised home comfortably against Jason Yat Sen Li.
An old friend in Singapore emailed me last week – after reading of the Aussie elections on TISG – asking: “How many election rallies are being held and how many did you attend?” My reply was that there were none like in Singapore at Geylang Serai , Jalan Eunos or other venues. Instead, the main two political party leaders had three debates on TV, while advertisements on TV and the internet, in newspapers and fliers dropped into letter boxes were the modus operandi. Early voting and postal votes also helped ease the crowd on polling day.
So what will the morning after be like for Abbott? “I will probably go for an early morning bike ride with the guys I’ve been riding with for years for an hour or so. Then it will be basically into the office,” the regular swimmer, runner and cyclist told Melbourne radio station3AW.
As the dust settles on the election, life returns to normal – but with a new man at the helm of the Good Ship Australia. The course it navigates as it repels the swarms of ‘boat people’ heading to the Land of Plenty will indicate whether Abbott will rule with an iron fist or a velvet glove come hell or high water. Countries in Asia, too, will have a chance to see the new ‘Wizard of Oz’ as he travels to meet his counterparts in the region and forge closer ties in trade, investment and security matters.
P. Francis is an English tutor in Melbourne, who has more than 20 years’ journalism experience with newspapers, books and magazines in Singapore and Australia.