With The Australian’s new wizz-bang website, comes problems for my computer. ‘A script is not working on this website’ announces the error message. ‘What would you like to do — ‘continue’ or ‘stop script’?’

But, of course, you can’t stop the script with The Australian. This morning they were out in force to announce the return of the Abbott through the city gates, shouting heahs and hosannas, with Dennis Shanahan back in his happy place.

THE Liberal Party’s biggest gambles in decades — electing Tony Abbott as Leader of the Opposition and rejecting Labor’s ETS in the Senate — appear to have paid their first dividends, and in exactly the way the Liberal Party had hoped they would.

It took George Megalogenis to put a little water in the Kool-Aid (I sometimes think they keep him on in the office as a reality tester —  “should we stick our tongues against the radiator bar? Would that be dangerous?” “how the hell would I know — I have no contact with reality. Let’s ask George”. “Don’t stick your tongues against the radiator bar” “OK thanks George”). While the vote in haute-bourgeois sections of Higgins went for Clive Hamilton in quite staggering ways, in more conventional middle-class areas, the old Labor vote split evenly between the Greens and Libs, with half of it going back to Kelly “Tracey Flick” O’Dwyer.

This tells us a bunch of things we already know — that Labor is a coalition of two forces, a socially conservative suburban vote (formerly working class, now middle class, in consumption terms) and a distinctly left formation, and that on key issues these two forces are poles apart. Indeed, part of that split may be the old Catholic DLP rump, or their children — unwilling to support the current DLP because it has been taken over (or revived) by medievally far right, and an influx of the Lyndon LaRouche mob.

Whether any Green would tempt them across is worth asking, but we can be pretty sure that a neo-Puritan austerity roundhead like my good friend Clive Hamilton would not do the job.

But but but … here’s the big question. How does that 50-50 split match previous Labor Green preference flows? If the Labor-Green leakage was previously significantly smaller than 50%, then this vote is a one-off refusal — I’ll let my prefs flow to whoever you want, but I’m not going to make my first preference someone who is so inimical to my basic cultural and political sense of the world.

The Labor vote split prompted the most hysterical reaction of all from Glenn Milne — on the evidence of it, it seems likely his brain is being affected by that cheap hair dye he uses on his reverse mullet.

Assailing an irritating and now infamous article about Chadstone shopping centre by my good friend Catherine Deveny — in which consumers rather than consumerism became the target of the criticism — Milne gleefully observed that the Chaddyites were not lemmings, as Deveny had observed. Had they been they would have followed Clive Hamilton all the way over green gulch.

Say what now? Deveny’s point was that people at Chadstone were wreathed in consumerism (a point she made in a fairly elitist way, but anyhoo). Hamilton’s argument was that the planet was dying of over-consumption among other things. If anything, the Chadstone vote rather makes Deveny’s point.

But any idea that a 0.3% swing towards them is a victory for the Liberals in Higgins is nonsense.

To really think about what’s going on, we have to step back and try and imagine that someone such as  Hamilton had contested Higgins 20 years ago. Let’s face it, in terms of Nick Minchin’s charge that the greens and climate change are simply anti-industrial new leftists,  Hamilton is straight from central casting.

He believes that Western society needs to be radically reconstructed, that democracy may need to be suspended to do this, that eco-crisis is simply the outer form of a wider spiritual crisis and that there is a deep ethical metaphysics one can tap into to find “the Truth”. His writings hold more hostages to fortune than Colombia’s FARC, including a long disquisition on the ethics of bestiality.

Had he stood without Labour in Higgins a generation ago, Hamilton would have got 5%, and possibly sectioned. The fact that he can get a third of voters to put him first is surely a deep rip in the legitimacy of the Liberal Party as a mainstream outfit. It reminds me of the famous World Cup qualifier where San Marino held England to 1-0 until half-time, causing one commentator to remark that “I have just realised we are losing to a mountain-top”.

Whether a more acceptable celeb candidate — a Rob Gell type — would have done the deal for the Greens in Higgins remains to be seen. You work with who sticks their hand up, and Malvern Road would not come to the mountain-top, so the mountain-top came to Malvern Road (I’ll unpack it later, Mark Day).

But it says nothing about the wider acceptability of Tony Abbott in a full-bore landslide. The Australian has shown signs of being a real newspaper before the Abbott elevation. This is no time to restart the script.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW