There’s a unity ticket in Canberra. This interregnum will last some little while. The Prime Minister and Tony Abbott and the independents are all insistent that there’ll be no result for several days at least. There is muttered talk of “weeks”.
With nothing much to report, and the nation seemingly grandly indifferent to the spot in which it has left its elected representatives, the press gallery has taken to obsessing over vote counts. Some, in the circumstances, decidedly mild criticisms within Labor of the campaign have been elevated to the status of civil war (you wonder how today’s media would have covered the Labor split in the ’50s). Every word from the independents is carefully analysed by journalists, who dissect them like ancient priests considering entrails in an effort to divine coming events. Rob Oakeshott’s thought bubble about a unity government sent journalists haring off in all directions (although, speaking ex cathedra today, Michelle Grattan pronounced it “naive”). The best moment was journalists reporting Tony Abbott’s embrace of a “kinder, gentler polity” — it was the remark he made just before launching an attack on Labor and the Greens — with straight faces.
Luckily there’s Bob Katter, for whom the phrase “good copy” might have been invented. Thank goodness for the Member for Kennedy, and his hat, which is surely about to get its own reality TV show. Having been ignored, or indeed treated as a rather lengthy joke by the media until now, Katter is well within his rights to be bemused about his suddenly elevated media profile and the media’s rather inconsistent attention to the issues he regards as important.
The urge to call the winner first, to project vote trends, to extrapolate from past policy which way the independents will lean, is strong, and wholly unnecessary. The AEC will determine the winners and losers in the doubtful seats in good time. Some, please note, are likely to end up in litigation. The five — as seems likely — independents will negotiate a deal with one side or the other. With whom is not clear at this point, probably not even to them, although I’ve yet to see any compelling reasons why they wouldn’t back the Coalition, given their backgrounds.
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Meanwhile, the actual business of government ticks over. Australians go about their business, oblivious to the allegedly dire impacts of “uncertainty” from the interregnum. How much do they care about politics? They were monumentally disengaged during the campaign, and there was a big rise in what appeared to be deliberate informal votes, a direct act of rebellion against a preferential voting system that delivers your democratic choice to parties you may well loathe.
It’s a tough call for the political media, which has difficulty enough hanging on to what mainstream media space and resources it has now. Any recognition that Australians are uninterested in what they report is dangerous in a media environment where resources are diminishing all the time. That, perhaps, is why journalists have tried to maintain the breathless campaign pace of what Jay Rosen calls “horse race journalism” into the interregnum, when literally nothing is happening except the slow, methodical counting of votes and some pre-negotiation positioning by the key players. Perhaps some outlets can get some pollsters out in the field and give us an opinion poll to discuss.
The time might more usefully be spent considering just why the electorate behaved as it did. There’s an assumption that a new election would put it all to rights, and somehow fix the mistake voters made on Saturday by providing a majority government. What’s to say that’s what would happen? Voters are clearly unhappy with Australian politics. Why would that be about to change?