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Megaphones just make us turn down the volume

My friend James looked decidedly hang-dog yesterday. He's part surfer, part hippie, part hard-working photographer and his politics are very much to the left. He loathes the idea that Abbott is now prime minister. It is an attitude not hard to find in my world. So I gave James a hug. We've enjoyed working together for many years, so why would political differences interfere with friendship? Mateship is far more important than politics.

This is the innate strength of Australia's political culture, its overall detachment from politics, its discomfit with overt partisanship. There is a wisdom to this detachment. Many people love to describe the Australian public as apathetic but that is merely patronising.

Kevin Rudd was right when he opened his concession speech on Saturday night by saying the best thing about Australian politics is that once the voters have made a decision, the country just gets on with it, government and Parliament resume functioning, and simply do so under new management, or under a freshly re-endorsed management.

Rudd then proceeded to speak on, and on, and on, with much self-congratulation. This is why the public had just removed him from power, an irony utterly foreign to him. At least he was good natured.

Similarly, his predecessor, Julia Gillard, was dignified in her self-removal from the political theatre and invisible throughout the campaign. It was a dignified silence. When she modestly broke this silence via Twitter on Saturday, her comments were gracious to both sides of politics.


The night's big winner, Tony Abbott, was restrained in his acceptance of victory and mercifully brief in both his remarks and his triumphalism. His elevation to the highest office provides a remarkable narrative arc, from defeat and marginalisation, to sudden and accidental leadership, to becoming prime minister with a thumping majority.

There will be much fine-combed analysis of the results and the reasons but one over-arching storyline that may be ignored is the punishment, by the voters, of the most shrill elements of politics. The electorate's whip was applied to both sides. The most famously abrasive member of the Coalition, Sophie Mirabella, was soundly rebuked by voters in the Victorian regional seat of Indi.

Mirabella should have been invincible, sitting on a 9 per cent two-party majority at a time of a national swing to the Coalition. Instead, she is fighting for survival against rural independent Cathy McGowan. The result has gone down to preferences and postal votes. Even if Mirabella survives, as expected, Abbott will have pause in elevating her to a ministerial post. She has excess political baggage, she sets a certain tone, and the voters have just given Abbott a very broad hint.

At the other extreme, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens is also fighting for her political life in South Australia. If she is saved, as expected, it will be because of a significant commitment of resources by the Greens and a very poor vote for Labor in South Australia.

The biggest loser in the election is the leader of the Greens, Senator Christine Milne. On her watch, the national vote for the Greens has collapsed 28 per cent from its result in 2010. While the Greens appear to have lost no seats, their national vote is down to 8.4 per cent. It has not grown in 20 years.

In the Senate, the balance of power looks likely to be held by an eccentric group of independents, most of whom appear at least open to negotiation with a Coalition government.

In a long press conference on Sunday, Senator Milne gave no hint of contrition, introspection or compromise. Compounding this apparent narcissism, this inability to self-admonish and self-correct, she dismissed the idea that an incoming government has a mandate to implement its major policies. She described the idea of a mandate as ''exaggerated''.

Senator Milne and the Greens might want to contemplate this: every issue they have fixated upon has become politically problematic. The environment, the most important issue because environmental health is the foundation of society and economic survival, has, thanks to the Greens, become associated with the extreme left instead of the reforming centre.

The cause of gay marriage, which the Greens have embraced fanatically, has just had a resounding defeat. There's no way to spin out of this. The electorate was presented with a clear choice by Rudd and the Greens on one side and Abbott on the other. The Greens wrapped themselves in the cause of gay marriage and their overall vote has been smashed. Labor has just been thrown out of office.

The cause of refugees, with which the Greens identified above all other issues - even though throwing the borders open to all-comers in the name of bottomless compassion is a patently reckless environmental policy - has seen the Greens vote crash.

Do not expect humble introspection. All I heard from the Greens and Labor was an endless spin cycle, as if the machine is broken.

The spectacular exception to the electorate's general rejection of shrill politics is the success of Clive Palmer, the coal mining magnate, whose performance during the campaign was reliably truculent. Palmer is a preposterous blowhard. His political organisation is not so much a party as a tantrum.

Expect Palmer and his party to receive media attention out of all proportion to his numbers, as happened 15 years ago when Pauline Hanson burst upon the scene. In time, her shrillness was her undoing.

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_


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