Election 2019: Game of Groans

I don’t know which outcome disgusts me more – the federal election or The Game of Thrones.

As I continue to process the outcome of the election, it strikes me that the choice came down to two different issues: climate change and retirement income policy.

Eighty-one percent of Australians were concerned about climate change, but large numbers were also concerned about perceived depredations (rightly or wrongly) on future retirement incomes. You couldn’t vote for both environmental protection and retirement income protection, so you had to make a choice.

Australia, as the driest continent, is extremely susceptible to global warming. We can see the Murray Darling drying up. We can see the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. We can see the horrors of soil degradation and extreme weather events both here and around the world. We can feel the unseasonal heat as average temperatures ramp up every year. And we are constantly warned about mass extinctions and the impact on biodiversity as habitats are destroyed both by human incursion and rising temperatures.

And yet, somehow, none of those threats were as real to voters as the threat to their future hip pockets.

Because that’s what turned the election in the Coalition’s favour – Labor targeting franking credits, capital gains tax and negative gearing. It was NOT a retirement tax as characterised by the Coalition, but it WAS a potential handbrake on those with aspirational sentiment.

The Labor Party must have done their analysis in the formulation of those policies and I daresay they determined that relatively few people would be much affected, and not many of those few would have been likely to vote ALP in any case.

I suspect they believed those policies (apparently aimed at the rich) would have been popular among those in the median household income range and would therefore offset any vote losses in the retirement class.

What they forgot, is that Australians – those in the Sensible Centre at least – have always been aspirational. They may not enjoy franking credits, capital gains or negative gearing right now, but they hope to in the future and don’t want to see the Gravy Train derailed before they have a chance to get their own snouts in the trough!

They also forgot that Australians have always perceived themselves as inherently classless, but implicit in an attack on the (perceived) rich is a recognition that there are in fact two classes (or more). I suspect that would make a lot of Australians across the spectrum quite uncomfortable and a vote against Labor was therefore a vote denying a class war – a vote in favour of unity.

So if Labor had been right, and their policies had been embraced by the majority, what would that have said about the evolving polity? Could it have meant that we had become a nation newly divided into classes (haves and have nots) with a dwindling sense of aspiration?

If so, that would be just about the saddest day in Australian political history.

But maybe it was anyway.

We may have rejected a class war, but in so doing we rejected action on climate change. And the tragedy is, that decision was to some extent forced on Australians who would have been quite happy to vote for the environment if the Labor Party had simply left it at that.

In making the election about class and aspiration they muddied the political water so badly that voters couldn’t see the Murray Darling drying up or the Reef bleaching. They sensed instead a profound attack on their culture, which just happened to affect their future wealth (or their hope of future wealth) also.

That made the choice impossible for some, and the result will be another three years of Coalition policy that favours the climate science deniers and the coal lobby – who are desperate to sell their coal reserves before they entirely lose their value.

Fortunately, the market continues to put its faith (and dollars) into renewables despite the government removing subsidies and other incentives to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

And for an old greenie like me that may be the final irony – the free market coming to the rescue of the environment when the politicians (through being in the pockets of the lobbyists on one side, or through policy incompetence on the other side) have entirely failed.

Although neither failure is as disappointing as the pathetic conclusion to The Game of Thrones. Take away the original writer (GRR Martin) and you lose the sense of story momentum and integrity that has enthralled millions of TV viewers for years. Almost any of whom could have written a better ending than the festival of shark jumping I sat through over the last two months.

Like the election, at least its finally over.

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