Plebiscite huge own goal for conservatives

by on October 14, 2017

WE ARE about to witness the most spectacular own goal on the conservative side of Australian politics since Malcolm Fraser called the early 1983 election and lost. There is enough polling evidence now to presume that the marriage plebiscite has been an utter miscalculation by the conservatives on several fronts. They thought they could defeat marriage equality. They will not.

They thought those most in favour – the young – would not bother voting or were too unfamiliar with the postal system to vote. They were wrong. The young energised, got themselves on the roll and voted.

They thought – 1950s style – that being LGBTI was a matter of shame, They were wrong. They miscalculated the large number of people with LGBTI friends and relatives.

They thought they could muddy the waters with red herrings.

Remember Tony Abbott saying, “”And I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”

They were seen through.

What will the result of this miscalculation be?

First, lots more young people are on the electoral roll and engaged in politics. Young people are more likely to vote Labor or Green.

Second, a repudiation of do-nothing politics – the politics of being too scared to offend anyone. Like the Aesop fable, they tried not to offend anyone but ended up offending all.

The Yes vote for marriage equality is also a No vote for the shock-jock, News Ltd view of the world that political correctness has gone mad and the world is full of dole bludgers and refugees in Armani apparel.

Third, a repudiation of the myth that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The plebiscite will be a game-changer for Australian politics. This is because there is a difference between this and the 1983 miscalculation.

In early 1983 Fraser was worried that Bob Hawke would take the Labor leadership and make it harder for the Coalition to win the election which was due later that year. So he called the election for 5 March, seven months early. But on the very day he called the election, 3 February, Fraser was unaware that Bill Hayden had resigned as Labor leader, so Fraser faced a newly minted Opposition Leader in Hawke before the honeymoon could wear off.

It was fatal, with no time to repair the damage.

With the marriage plebiscite, on the other hand, Malcolm Turnbull has at least 18 months before he faces an election.

If he is agile and innovative, he will make the plebiscite result his epiphany.

But he can take no kudos from the plebiscite, only lessons. The kudos belongs to the Australian people who having had this unwanted agenda from the right rump of the Coalition thrust upon them and turned the result around.

Times change. This was broke. It needed fixing. The people wanted it fixed and have voted accordingly. If Turnbull does not get that message and deliver it to the right of his party, he and they have had it.

The Turnbull of jobs, growth and security is not enough. That is just what all governments do. Giving priority to jobs and growth has been Australian policy at least since the Vernon report of the 1960s. Priority for national security has been there since at least John Curtin’s 1942 turn-to-the-US speech.

So jobs, growth and national security are not a uniquely Turnbull stamp. They are just things all Prime Ministers do.

What about some 21 st century things? Marriage equality is now almost a done deal, no thanks to the Coalition. But what about an energy policy that understands the economic danger of climate change as outlined by the IMF and accelerates the inevitable transition to renewables in a way that puts Australia in a position to take advantage of it?

What about a population policy that understands that the Australia in the 21 st century is not the under-populated insular place of 1945?

What about a 21 st century tax policy that takes account of the way multi-nationals can move their capital around to avoid tax, and deals with the 21 st century problem of growing inequality.

What about changing tax and population policies to address housing affordability for people who reach adulthood in the 21 st century?

What about fixing the 19 th century Constitution for the 21 st century? Surely, we can fix the obviously flawed dual-nationality problem for Australian citizens who want to enter Parliament.

Surely, now that the questions of freedom of speech and religion have been raised during the marriage plebiscite by those champions of human rights, John Howard and Tony Abbott, we can now look at a more general Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Surely, we do not have to continue to cling to the 19 th century British monarchy. Surely, we can recognise and give a greater say to our Indigenous people.

The lesson from the plebiscite has to be that Australians are not scared of change and that Australians want their politicians to move with the times and address the changing world.

For Turnbull the lesson must be not just to change the marriage law and carry on as usual utterly beholden to the right of his party, but to tell them the game is up. He must risk his leadership now or lose it to Labor later.

And the answer for all political parties is not to change leaders when the polls look bad, but to change policies, even if that means treading on the toes of their financial backers.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Fairfax Media on 14 October 2017.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen S 10.14.17 at 3:49 pm

I wish I could take more comfort, from the almost certain Yes vote. For me, it will be but a glimmer of light, breaking over not Keating’s but Howard’s Australia. So much does his mean hand dominate our polity, he can easily afford to lose one round. Whether you look at Big Australia, asylum policy, the republic, coal and energy, education funding, tax and mining policy, transport or environment, he has every reason to be well pleased.

I expect Turnbull would somehow claim a Yes vote as proof the gay hunting season was a huge success. Even if marriage reform passes, in other respects he’ll change little. He and his vindictive front bench are all clones of Howard’s view of ‘Liberalism’.

Helen Threlfall 10.14.17 at 4:26 pm

Great article thanks Crispin

Brian O'Donnell 10.15.17 at 9:08 am

Thanks Crispen. One of your very best. 🙂

Eddie Trevlyn 10.15.17 at 10:47 am

This article is pure logical chaos. The whole question up for debate is, whether same sex partnerships ARE a marriage. Using a phrase such as “marriage equality” assumes a “yes” answer as part of the argument, thereby committing the logical fallacy of “begging the question” – as the ABC’s editorial policy (which bans the phrase) recognises. Then there’s the question as to whether an SSM “Yes” result has implications for anything else. When the Conservatives suggest it might, it’s a “non sequitur”, they are “unsuccessfully muddying the water with red herrings”. But when Crispin suggests it might, it’s a logical corollary, “The lesson from the plebiscite has to be that Australians are not scared of change”. Having said that – I guess we Conservatives do not know everything either. It was news to me, for example, that red herrings are made of mud. You live and learn.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>