First published 12 November 2001
The election result shows that the disaffected right has come back to the Coalition, while at the same time a disaffected left has defected to the Greens. A John Howard masterstroke – the Tampa and its aftermath has united his side while the the same time splitting the other.
Several people have remarked that Howard is “an evil genius”. I profoundly disagree. It doesn’t take genius to appeal to xenophobia, or to racism. It’s a winner, especially if there’s no opposition. And it doesn’t take genius to destroy an opponent, in this case One Nation, by adopting its key policy.
Since the Coalition dismantled the White Australia Policy in the 1960s, both sides of politics have chosen not to play those cards. Howard chose differently.
The error of the bipartisan approach was not to address people’s concerns about it. The climax of that error came when Paul Keating ran the country. Asked in Singapore to discuss the extent of racism in Australia, he said there was none. A policy of denial will always be counterproductive. I also think there has been a real need for a long time to articulate core Australian values to which all migrants need to subscribe. There’s been a bit too much once over lightly on multiculturalism, and the backlash has destroyed the ideal.
I was in a strange space on Saturday night. I’d cried every day since the Liberal and Labor launches, so the grieving was already done. For me, the result was expected and I had emotionally reconciled myself to it. So the night itself was calm. I called the result first on 2GB, at 7.15. Some consolation.
Unlike some, I was bitterly disappointed by Beazley’s concession speech. The smile smile, the same bravado as he’d projected throughout the campaign. I felt he just continued to fail to reflect his supporters feelings. Beazley keeps getting it wrong. In the valedictories on the last sitting day of Parliament, he praised Howard as the most considerable conservative politician ever, and wished him well, then smiled his way through the campaign as if there was nothing at stake. And so, on the night, it was congratulations for a great Labor campaign and on we go.
Guess what, Kim – many of your supporters were in tears. They were mourning the loss of a vision they had believed in and fought for decades. Bob Hawke captured the Labor mood on TV, when he shed a tear. “Very, very poor standards have been set in many respects, and the country is more divided now than in many respects it ever has been,” he said. To which Michael Wooldridge replied, quite rightly: “It’s divisiveness, of course, that had bipartisan support”.
Among my circle, most cried when Howard said in his victory speech that “Australia is the best country in the world”. The worst moment for me was when he said that “the things that unite us are more important than the things which divide us”. Not to me, John. The things that divide us are now more important. We’ll put up audio of the two `leaders’ on the Webdiary soon, for posterity.
Many of those whose vision for Australia finally died on Saturday night asked themselves the next day: “What will I do?” My fear is that the brain drain will escalate and that many progressive intellectuals will leave the country. We’ll return to the 50s and 60s, the cultural cringe days.
To win through, enough people who believe that a multicultural, internationalist Australia will give our nation the best economic, security and social outcomes must stay, and rethink. We started that discussion in Webdiary last week. Some will join a political party, others will join the refugee protest movement. What will you do?