Monday, 19 March 2018

The man walks out in SA election

I stayed up late on Saturday night to watch to the end of the post-election coverage on the ABC News channel. The South Australian election was the main topic of discussion at the commentary desk but there was also a federal by-election in Batman, a Melbourne inner-city electorate, where the Australian Labor Party (ALP) had been up against the Australian Greens.

Within 25 minutes of the premier, Jay Weatherill, conceding defeat on national television in the SA contest, the incoming leader, Stephen Marshall of the Liberal Party entered the Hackney Hotel, a pub on the outskirts of Adelaide, accompanied by music chosen by organises to embellish and distinguish the event. It was The Killers singing ‘The Man’. The band had been formed in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2001 and the song had a dirty undercurrent of 70s funk mixed with lyrics sung in a loose and raw post-punk style. The lyrics are pure rap-macho, daring the listener to challenge the band’s outgrown sense of self importance.
I know the score like the back of my hand
Them other boys, I don't give a damn
They kiss on the ring, I carry the crown
Nothing can break, nothing can break me down
Such misogynistic chest-thumping and nightclub posturing might have suited neoliberal youths representing the new generation in the hotel crowd, but they led to comments online. There were feels. Many thought them unsuitable. Marshall had just unseated a 16-year Labor government after an electoral boundary reshuffle and a result actually showing a 1.5-percent swing to the ALP. Weatherill had conceded defeat but he hadn’t stepped down as ALP leader. The vast majority of the Liberals due to enter Parliament following the election had never held office before. One Liberal, who sat on the commentary panel alongside the ABC’s anchor Annabel Crabb, had served in the last Liberal SA government all those years ago and by himself constituted the collective memory of leadership for the successful party.

The song stroked many people the wrong way. Why had the state, so strong for the ALP, suddenly gone Liberal? Many were asking the question, but one thing was certain, the transfer of power would be successfully accomplished. The threat of populism embodied by the SA Best party, led by ex-federal senator Nick Xenophon, had been overcome. They hadn’t won more than about 14 percent of the vote in any seat for the lower house of Parliament. But no matter how many people resented the ALP’s loss, the Liberals would take control the following week.

The election was held, as is usual in Australia, on the Saturday. By Monday, the state governor, who reports to the queen in England, would have carried out his remit by acceding to the popular will and sworn-in the leaders of the new government. Deal done.

Why is it so hard for other countries to do this kind of thing? Australia is the world’s fourth-oldest democracy, so we have a lot of elections under our belt. But it can’t be so hard. Russia? China? Egypt? Thailand? Cambodia? Why can’t the old men in power in those countries give it up gracefully and thereby recognise the power of popular fiat?

On Sunday afternoon, ABC psephologist Antony Green was tweeting about the results of undecided seats like Adelaide and Mawson. Votes were still being counted. Weatherill finally announced publicly that he would stand down as ALP leader in the state. The machine was working. Why can’t other countries solve the riddle? The orderly transfer of power without violence. What is stopping the old men in those countries from recognising the sovereignty of their people? What do they fear? That their ill-gotten gains will result in them ending up in jail? They want to enjoy the proceeds of their thievery in old age, like any routine superannuant. The poor things. I feel so sorry for them.

An unsolicited coda to the election emerged on Sunday night when it was reported that bushfires were burning in the town of Tathra, on the NSW south coast. ABC reporter Peta Doherty was on the ground on the cross to Jason Om, an anchor who had written movingly about his conversations about the same-sex marriage debate with his immigrant father last year. Doherty had been evacuated from her house in the town to the nearby centre of Bega and promised Om that she would provide crosses from there later when things settled down. Houses had been lost in the conflagration and the NSW Rural Fire Service was fighting blazes at multiple points. It was just another working day in a functional democracy.

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