By Chris Trotter*
Crikey! Those Aussies are pissed-off.
To appreciate just how pissed-off they are it is instructive to look back at the last time Kiwis moved against their two major parties so aggressively. In 1996, National and Labour, between them, accounted for just 62% of the Party Votes cast. Taken together, NZ First, the Alliance, Act, United Future and the Christian Coalition accounted for 34.76%. The comparison with Saturday’s vote, of which the centre-right coalition of the Liberal and National parties attracted just 35.4%, Labor 32.8%, and their challengers 31.8% of the Primary Vote, is compelling.
The 1996 General Election in New Zealand was the first to be conducted under the new MMP electoral system, offering electors the novel opportunity to have their political choices much more accurately reflected in the final tally of seats. The 2022 Australian federal election, by contrast, was conducted under the well-established (if complex) Compulsory Preferential Vote system. The electoral havoc wrought across the Tasman is, therefore, even more telling. Angry Australians have dealt a massive blow to the two main political groupings, along with the political culture of bullshitters and boofheads in general.
These latter accretions to the Australian political system have multiplied alarmingly over the last 25 years – and not just in the Liberal and National parties. Some of the blame undoubtedly must be sheeted home to the One Nation Party, whose founding figurehead, Pauline Hanson, somehow succeeded in transforming ignorance into a political virtue. Like her fellow populist, Donald Trump, Hanson and her minders love the poorly educated – who reciprocate that love with unnerving passion.
The conservative coalition of Liberal Party toffs and National Party country bumpkins could not ignore Hanson’s vulgar intrusion into the hitherto settled politics of the Right. The Boofhead Vote was notoriously ill-disciplined, being as likely to award its second preferences to Labor as its more respectable conservative fellow-travellers. If Hanson couldn’t be beaten (and John Howard gave that option his best shot) then the only other alternative was to join her boofhead crusade.
But those second preferences came at a price. Yes, it was an unlooked-for blessing to witness the defection of that part of the Australian working-class which balked at embracing the socially-liberal supporters of feminism, multiculturalism, Aboriginal rights, sexual diversity and environmentalism who were becoming more-and-more entrenched in the Labor Party. But, how to transform Hanson’s party into a reliable electoral way-station for the Right? Part of the answer involved hitherto decent and responsible conservatives forcing themselves to pretend that these new recruits were not dyed-in-the-wool racists, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes who’d never met a lump of coal they didn’t like.
The ethical corrosion which these new electoral calculations inflicted on both the Centre-Right and the Centre-Left was devastating. By requiring their more sophisticated followers to hold their noses and adapt themselves to the needs of the Boofhead Vote, both parties had opened a pathway to power for their most ambitious and unscrupulous opportunists. Parliamentary politics, never all that refined in Australia, was coarsened still further.
Making matters worse, especially for the Liberals, was the vicious class politics at work on the Right. The upwardly-mobile working-class, and the middle-class suburban “battlers” who idolised “Little Johnny Howard”, felt keenly the lofty condescension bestowed upon them by the Liberal Party’s aristocratic grandees. Safe in their leafy, blue-ribbon redoubts (or sprawling squatter estates) these worthies felt more keenly than ever the pull of noblesse oblige. Boofhead votes were all very welcome, naturally. But, you couldn’t have boofheads running the party, or, God forbid! – occupying The Lodge!
To which the boofheads (Tony Abbot, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison) responded: “Well see about that, mate. You just watch us.”
Morrison, this cruel and bilious man, now asks for a fourth term. He says he’s just getting started. He plans to be different. He looks out at the carnage behind him, all of it the result of his ineffectiveness and ineptitude, and says he is a bulldozer. There is no crisis that doesn’t begin and end with him imagining himself as a small boy playing with a toy truck.
The defeat of the boofheads is the victory Australia had to have.
*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for interest.co.nz. His work may also be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com.