A funny thing happened to the political commentators on 9 October. They had spent the preceding week agreeing what a good campaign Latham had run. Then when the results came in they all seemed to come to the sudden conclusion that actually it hadn’t been that good, that it had, in fact, been a debacle, and that Latham needed to take a good hard look at himself and step down as leader whilst he was about it. Yes, a week is a long time in politics, and long enough to change your mind completely with the benefit of hindsight.
A few months ago, with Latham leading slightly on the polls, an older family friend asked me who I thought would win the election, as I’d been studying politics extensively at Uni. I said I thought Howard would win, and do so comfortably. My prediction was partially down to my assessment of the national vibe and the atmosphere in which we would probably be voting, but more crucially it was borne out of a skepticism towards Labor’s campaigning chops. Having been eleven when Howard was first swept to power I simply cannot remember an age when he didn’t win.
I followed this election closer than I have any other; my interest was both personal and professional having been enlisted by ElectionTracker.Net as a feature writer. Politics was practically my job, as a student of the subject I was constantly either talking or thinking about it. Also, I’d recently read and enjoyed Primary Colors, and the searing examination of political gamesmanship whet my appetite. At six weeks campaigning, too, I would not go hungry. It was also my first time voting.
It was a bit of a disappointment really. The days went by with both the candidates promising millions of dollars to some cause and then accusing each other of economic irresponsibility. They offered respective slogans, Latham said ‘ease the squeeze’ enough to make our ears bleed, Howard’s ‘keeping interest rates low’ had less zing but couldn’t be accused of lacking clarity. Latham’s ads tried to convince Australians that Howard couldn’t be trusted and that they deserved better, Howard let his record speak for itself and set about destroying Latham’s economic credentials.
I didn’t discuss the campaign much with my Uni friends. When you have to write assignments on such things and talk about them in class, political discussion quickly becomes akin to shop talk, just as if you work in Freedom all day you don’t really want to chat about bookcases in your down time. Plus, there’s also an overriding suspicion that nobody really has anything that new to contribute, we all feel the same way. This is Wollongong. This is the Arts department. ‘Nuff said.
I did, however, take the opportunity to discuss the election outside of Uni wherever I could – as I wanted to gauge the voting climate – and took an interest in what people thought. I grew frustrated by those who said they didn’t care, and found myself for the first time in my life questioning the compulsory voter system. I didn’t begrudge the people for their lack of concern, but the fact that myself, and people like me who had reasoned and agonized their way towards an opinion and cared a lot, would be given the same say in determining who led the nation.
I discussed it with my close friends. Like me, this would be their first time voting. Most of them would vote Liberal, things aren’t too bad for them and they see no reason for change. Like most people on 9 October they vote to keep the status quo. Our electorate is Hughes, it’s one of the best-paid and best-employed electorates in Australia, so it’s solid Liberal. I tried to get an interview with Danna Vale, the sitting member, but it was campaign time and she’d rather press the flesh than bumble her way through explaining the ABA scandal. I was told to send a list of questions and then never got a response. I wrote the article anyway and it goes on ElectionTracker.Net, but it’s a bit dry without the interview, just as she intended.
Election Day came and it’s a carnival atmosphere in Engadine. I approached the primary school and spotted two of the Labor and Liberal spruikers chatting amiably, and I felt a rush of pride that I live in a country where two politically opposed strangers can chew the fat, where the people don’t even take an election all that seriously. They saw me approach and I raised my palms before they could start, ‘It’s okay boys I know who I’m voting for’, I said. ‘Oh right,’ they said, ‘Good on yer.’.
I spent the earlier part of the evening with my friends before heading down to Wollongong to watch the results at a family friend’s house. It was full of public school teachers and union officials. Fun times ahead. I didn’t stay long.
On Monday, I drop my mother off at Sutherland station and spot Danna Vale idly standing in front of a banner saying ‘Danna Vale thanks you’. She’s looking somewhat forlorn, most probably because even though the majority of passers-by probably voted for her, nobody meets her eye. I’m momentarily overcome by a surge of anger, here this woman has just been elected by us to represent our interests in parliament and she’s still trying to score points. I think of saying something appropriately witty and disparaging that can be said in two seconds, but being unable to think of anything better than ‘get to work’ I settle for a pointed glare and rueful shake of the head.
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