To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die… A time to get, and a time to lose…
[Ecclesiastes 3]

As the results of the 1999 referendum came in, Malcolm Turnbull said that if John Howard were to be remembered for anything, it would be as the man who “broke the heart of the nation”. But on the morning after, as I gazed across Bondi Beach, I could only see what was typical of any Australian Sunday morning, a nation at play, a nation at peace with itself. And so it was yesterday morning.

I was reminded of an evening in Paris in 1979, watching the news on television. It showed Prime Minister James Callaghan leaving No 10 before the votes were fully counted to offer his resignation to The Queen. Soon after Margaret Thatcher was called to the Palace, kissed hands and was driven to Downing Street.

The French presenter, astounded about the orderly transfer of power, the courtesy and propriety, said “Messieurs les anglais, I salute you.” We should never forget that we are also one of the few countries where transfers of power are peaceful, orderly and smooth.

On 24 November, the Australian people did what many conservatives, including myself, believed they would never bring themselves to do – dismiss a government which on any economic indicator was not only the nation’s but probably the world’s most successful government. So Kevin Rudd assumes office with advantages none of his predecessors has ever enjoyed.

As John Howard said, he is being handed a nation “stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was eleven-and-a-half years ago.”

Australians did not reject this conservative government to install one with a radical programme. Just before he was elected, Kevin Rudd seemed to be assuring Australians that not only was he the social and economic conservative he so often proclaimed in the campaign, he was in fact more Tory than the Tories. He would go further than John Howard, who was so criticised by the left for the “Pacific solution.”

Like Dr. Mahathir he would turn the boats back, using the threat of detention and the nation’s close ties with Indonesia. Moreover neither the Aboriginal recognition nor a republican referendum, nor a separate Aboriginal treaty would proceed in his first term, “if at all.” If at all.

In any event, this declared conservativism means Kevin Rudd has the clear duty to continue Howard’s successful economic policies, and to resist the temptation to answer problems with some new well funded bureaucracy. And if he would be a statesman, he would offer the nation some grand projects, the most important being watering the land with something as visionary as and larger than the Snowy.

He could solve the problems of federalism by giving back the states their powers, and ending their present mendicant status. The American Founding Fathers warned that governments cannot function properly if they do not have to answer to the people for the taxes they themselves raise.

There will be whole theses and conferences on why Howard lost. Among the reasons advanced will of course be the absence of adequate media scrutiny. On that it was amusing to hear Kerry O’Brien on Saturday evening referring to the “swing to the ABC.” Indeed. But most observers would give WorkChoices pride of place.

Federalists were outraged by the extreme centralism displayed, and hoped that the High Court would find the legislation unconstitutional. Others criticised its complexity. Some suggested, often with the benefit of hindsight, that while flexibility was important, the “big bang” approach was questionable. It would have been better to have had a staged approach over years , repealing the so- called unfair dismissal law first, at least in relation to small business.

It seems the Labor–Green alliance may not control the new Senate, the people having determined that the upper house again become a check and balance. Conservatives must accept Labor’s “very emphatic victory,” and the legitimacy of the Rudd government. They should continue their previous policy when in opposition of not opposing for the sake of opposing. This does not mean they should be a rubber stamp, only that legislation be judged on its merits and with due regard to whether it is sanctioned under a clear mandate.

That said, the Coalition would be entitled to expect that any changes to WorkChoices should act neither as a disincentive to small business employing additional staff nor remove the sort of flexibility which has proved so attractive to both employees and employers, especially in WA. While Kyoto can be ratified without legislation, it is of little practical relevance, and the Kyoto2 policy has been corrected by taking Howard’s line that Australia s not adopt burdens unless all major emitters do.

With no state or territory governments, the opposition parties is now significantly weakened organisationally and financially. But if there are any rules of inevitability in these things, one is that politics are cyclical. (Perhaps the other is Enoch Powell’s proposition that all political careers end in failure.) The normal cycle seems now to be about two or three terms, extended when the opposition is at war with itself or offers something which the electorate fears.

The conservative coalition will be back.