The media analysis of Labor’s defeat was very surprising. Like Rudd’s bizarre speech acknowledging his party’s defeat, much of the coverage might have been mistaken for a victory celebration. Labor had been thrashed – just not quite so badly as it had feared – so it was time to break out the balloons, fling streamers and, most of all, revel in the the comfort of self-delusion.
On the ABC, for instance, we saw many Labor representatives given opportunities to present the Coalition’s failure to take a handful of predicted seats as proof that Tony Abbott’s triumph was deeply compromised. It was as if Labor’s less-than-expected defeat was more important for Australia’s future than the new era under the Coalition.
I do not receive $1 billion-plus per year, like the ABC, to report and interpret the news, but am still emboldened to offer my own analysis of what soon emerged as the main theme of the many election posts mortem: Labor was a good government and disunity, and only disunity, brought about its downfall. Never mind that divided government is an oxymoron. Never mind that Labor was a bad government and disunity was but one symptom of its ills. The fundamental truth is that Labor had a slather of bad policies and implemented them ineptly .
Let us look at them one at a time:
The economy: Labor is deluding itself – and likely to continue doing so – in asserting that its leading lights were good economic managers. The party line is that Labor saved Australia from the recession during the global financial crisis. It is true that Australia survived the GFC better than most other Western economies, but the reason was a difference in the starting points: We had a sizable surplus and our banking sector was in good shape.
Rudd’s rudeness: Voters can usually tolerate an occasional outburst of rudeness or arrogance by an elected leader, whom they recognise as often being under considerable stress. In Rudd’s case, according to many of his own current and former colleagues, rudeness is a hallmark of his character.
He reduced an air hostess to tears over the trivial matter of a sandwich. He was needlessly unpleasant to a make-up artist and, most memorable of all, he was obnoxiously aggressive in responding to a Christian pastor who dared to express the very same opinion on gay marriage that had been Rudd’s position mere months earlier. Also important to note is that, while Rudd professes to be a committed Christian, he cynically misrepresented the Bible to suit his ends.
Big lies: Labor lied often during its time in office. First came Julia Gillard’s infamous promise, “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” – a bare-faced whopper that would remind voters every time those words were aired (and re-aired) that no promise, pledge or stated intention could or should be taken seriously.
The second lie was both more telling and even more damaging, coming as it did just days before the election. According to Wong and Bowen, Treasury and the Department of Finance had found a $10 billion hole in the Opposition’s costings. The heads of those government departments took the unprecedented step of repudiating that assertion. Instead of apologising to the public, Labor doubled down, defended its lie and blamed Abbott. It was another self-inflicted disaster.
Climate change: Labor enshrined a fanatic faith in the theory of catastrophic global warming at the very heart of its platform and beliefs. Unfortunately, endlessly repeating ‘the planet is warming, we are to blame and only a tax can re-set the global thermometer’ misread the electorate’s mood and miscalculated its response. While many still believe climate change to be a serious threat, all but the most ardent warmists recognised that Gillard’s Carbon Tax would not make a scrap of practical difference to the earth’s temperature. As it did on so many other subjects, Labor deluded itself into believing that its policy was a vote-winner.
Believing its own propaganda: Labor convinced itself that Abbott was a knuckle-dragging, misogynist brute. This became an article of faith in Labor circles, and also amongst the propagandists at Fairfax and the ABC. Trouble is, the more the electorate saw of the real Abbott, the more Labor’s lies were revealed as cheap smears and slanders.
The self-delusion continues amid the ashes of defeat and the lowest Labor vote in a century. Sure, Labor was and remains a house divided – but the chief division is the gulf that separates the party from the real world of facts, families, mortgages, not to mention that old-fashioned Australian disdain for those who think they are so much smarter than everyone else.
Rudolf Vyborny is Emeritus Professor at the University of Queensland’s school of mathematics