Around about election day I must have caught a possum fever that was going around. Listlessness, a sore throat and aching joints overcame me. It was difficult to concentrate. The simplest of tasks seemed too hard to start. I put a message on the phones, retired to bed and dozed off into a shallow, fitful, dreamy sleep.
I wondered if Tony Abbott had caught the same bug. He seemed in no hurry to get started and his spin team was characterising the sudden absence of his hairy chest from the nation’s roads, beaches and factories as statesman-like caution.
According to western democracy’s prevailing political wisdom, oppositions don’t gain power, governments lose it. It’s called the small target strategy and under this banner, each succeeding election has become more and more vacuous and policy-free. The government at least has to stand on its record, whereas the opposition can get away with dog whistling, feel-good slogans and a hint of pork in the barrel.
Reality will take its revenge on Abbott. While he was out of office, he and his colleagues had nothing better to do than harass, obstruct and court the global warming denialists, xenophobes and bogans. He ran a demagogic campaign of relentless lies and misogyny and he’s now going to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
Just for a start, he’s stuck with the old Senate for another 10 months, and after that he’s going to have to deal with a whole circus of loopy micro-right parties.
An awful lot is going to happen in that 10 months. In terms of Abbott’s reactionary clerical world view, Gillard left him a ticking bomb in the form of the Royal Commission into institutional paedophilia. This is going to resolve mainly into an excoriating examination of the Catholic Church with the odd state-run orphanage, and the like, thrown in. Even this ‘moral equivalence’ factor isn’t going to balance the scale and get Abbott out of trouble because it’ll come out that conservative governments supported these institutions to the hilt as well – but their record is going to pale into insignificance beside the church’s because they, at least, weren’t saddled with a culture born of centuries of an idiotic celibacy policy that Abbott supports.
And then there’s Syria. In the last few days before the election, Abbott made one of his typical off-the-cuff demagogic forays. He’d supported the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions he said, but hinted these had been perhaps, a bit of a mistake. Syria was a case of “baddies versus baddies,” he opined. Ho, ho. When Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu come calling, Abbott’ll shift into line with alacrity and back the US’s new al-Qaeda allies. The obvious point here is that if his judgement was so bad on Iraq and Afghanistan – both the wars were opposed by a clear majority of Australians – how can his judgement be counted on at all?
But nothing will come back to bite Abbott harder than energy and infrastructure policy because Abbott is an energy illiterate and a scientific obscurantist.
Here’s what he said in the 2010 election campaign:
“… So, look, I know about the concept of peak oil. I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest expert in it, but I’m sceptical as to its value as a tool for policy makers because at the right price, we’ve got a lot more reserves than we currently think. With better technology, we’ve got a lot more reserves than we currently think.”
This is the ‘If the price is right, roosters will lay eggs’ argument, that the oil and gas industry has been trotting out for a while. Of course it’s completely inane. Firstly, roosters can’t lay eggs and secondly, if a massive price rise were to induce them to do so, nobody would be able to afford their eggs anyway. But it’s on the basis of this slogan that Abbott is determined to fund only roads (like WestConnex) and never rail.
Right now, the only thing keeping world oil production on a bumpy plateau, while production in country after country declines, is North American shale oil, and it’s expensive, energy-intensive, environmentally disastrous and destined for a quick decline. And all the while the price of petrol at the pump is rising way above the rate of inflation.
More bad news for Abbott’s world view came in the week following the elections when the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics released its latest analysis of how Sydneysiders travel. It confirmed that, over the last 10 years, population grew 12 per cent. Vehicle kilometres travelled grew by 11 per cent, but train trips grew by 23 per cent, bus trips by 16 per cent and walking trips by 15 per cent. Bicycle ownership went up 35 per cent. We have, in other words, reached “peak driving”. Just to underline the new reality, the Cross City Tunnel went into receivership for the second time. It’s all looking very bad for Abbott’s pro-motorway obsession.