Entertaining political commentator Hugo Kelly has provided some cracking analysis on the state of the nation on election eve and sees a nation divided.

A civil divide, the Coalition North and the Labor South, has opened up and will be difficult to reconcile for whoever takes power on Remembrance Day.

Two separate nations are emerging, with Queensland and NSW standing firm as the Coalition’s stronghold, versus the Labor south – Victoria, South Australia, WA and, probably, Tasmania.

Howard’s xenophobic attack on refugees fleeing barbaric middle eastern regimes has found comfort amongst voters in the North.

Beazley’s somewhat softer approach, and his appeal to the core issues of health, education, aged care and his GST rollback-ette, has bitten significantly in the South. If his surge to victory is halted, it will be in the North.

This is all deeply ironic, because this artificial, contrived campaign has demonstrated how closely the two major political forces are aligned, and a growing number of voters despair for lack of genuine choice.

Howard is desperate. He will do nearly anything to cling to power – even telling the chief of the Navy, David Shackleton, to get up in public and call himself a liar. Or, failing that, throw the blame for misleading the public on the kids-in-the-water saga onto his former friend, Peter Reith. And most of the big media has bought it.

Tomorrow, when the people’s views emerge from the fog created by the spin doctors, the strategists and the press gallery, we will also know the size of the protest vote against the big party duopoly. Anecdotal evidence suggests it will be sizeable.

Labor has cleverly sought to quarantine the refugee protest vote against it by doing preference deals with the Greens and the Democrats. National secretary Geoff Walsh believes it can have it both ways – the traditional redneck Labor vote will not be offput by Beazley’s headline stand against refugees, while those disgusted by the party’s cave-in to populism will likely vote Democrat or Green – and preference back to the ALP.

Short term and superficially, the refugee crisis has played into the hands of Labor and the Coalition. The long-term effect of the cynical behaviour of both major parties, however, will be played out in continuing erosion in their core vote, and a splintering to smaller parties and Independents.

If Beazley loses this election he will be regarded in Labor history as a man who threw away his chance at leadership – by not displaying moral leadership and strength when the country badly needed it.

Beazley knew his stand in marching lock-step with Howard was morally indefensible, and probably risky. Why else would he refuse to so much as take talkback calls during the campaign if not for fear of being berated by Labor supporters angry at his refugee cop-out?

If a sinking government is rescued by sinking boats it will also be a blow to the media’s credibility. Of course, Beazley’s stance has been just as morally indefensible – more so, if you consider Labor’s former record on standing for social justice.

The MV Tampa crisis, and the ongoing refugee issue, has cut right to the heart of how the media is being manipulated – day by day, in every possible way – by governments and corporations in Australia. And how the media is allowing this manipulation to happen – against its own best interests, and against the interests of us all.

The kind of democracy we have is shaped by the information we get. Whether it trickles down through “authorised channels”; or whether it’s squeezed out by inquisitive journalists or active, thinking citizens.

The Australian’s good work this week on uncovering the Coalition’s “kids overboard” deceit is an example of how the media should operate – and all too often, doesn’t.

Where has the media been during the crisis? The MV Tampa coverage overall was inadequate – a few desultory correspondents, stranded on Christmas Island, could hardly be expected to cover all necessary angles. The rest of the media pack has been too far away, and buffeted by constant spin, to discover the facts.

Meanwhile, the talkback callers to commercial radio continue to strongly support Howard’s keep-them-out stand. But who are these people, the talkbackers, who control the debate and apparently determine the media’s response to the political agenda? The nurses, teachers, factory workers, office slaves and the like. No, not them. They’re busy working. Presumably not phoning Neil Mitchell or John Laws.

The media, cut off from access to the story – the asylum seekers themselves – merely reported the government’s line. And the government’s modus operandi? Prevent media access, feed a consistent story, and deny, deny, deny. And it worked, until some energetic investigation by The Australian finally uncovered the government’s deceitful line.

Public opinion has been hijacked by the pollsters and the Big Party policy hegemony. Tomorrow, the votes will tell us whether they smell a rat.

Feedback to [email protected] or straight to Hugo at [email protected]

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