So let’s sum up, shall we?
Tony Abbott — almost certainly the nation’s 28th prime minister come tomorrow night — has done enough. A campaign as free of gaffes as real vision or policy difference has convinced most Australians to trust him, even if they don’t like him. Surrender in key policy areas to Labor — education reform, DisabilityCare and its funding, fiscal strategy — has allowed the Coalition to focus minds on manufactured differences: tougher on boats, greater competence, etc. Abbott will probably be a more moderate PM than most expect and his team, almost certainly, far more united than the government’s. But the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme is irresponsibly expensive, its Direct Action plan nonsensical; a good infrastructure management plan is ruined by a stubborn refusal to include public transport; and some of its asylum seeker measures — buying Indonesian fishing boats? — are diplomatically troublesome and laughably unnecessary. There remain too many uncosted and underdeveloped policy areas; too many questions on what a Coalition government will mean.
Labor’s legislative record is strong. The national disability insurance scheme and the National Broadband Network are landmark reforms; the carbon tax ahead of an emissions trading scheme was hard-won and unquestionably the most sensible approach to reducing emissions; education funding reforms became bipartisan policy after successful negotiations with the states; and its economic legacy — in the face of one of the most turbulent periods in history — is world-class. But its campaign has been unconvincing and dismally uninspiring. Its championing of car manufacturing subsidies is irrational; its thought bubble on northern Australia just plain stupid. It has failed to sell its achievements in this campaign and over the last three years. And ultimately, Kevin Rudd’s rebooted leadership has only papered over a level of disunity and dysfunction all its MPs should be ashamed of.
That, ultimately, is the choice voters will make tomorrow. Abbott’s simple question — do you want three more years of this? — has been the most cutting. Dysfunction is death, and most Australians have decided this is a government that doesn’t deserve another chance. Despite the gaping policy holes and concerning ideological rhetoric from the Coalition. And Labor doesn’t really have anyone else to blame but itself.
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If the Coalition can deliver economic management as good as Labor’s, but without the ALP’s relentless dysfunction, it will have justified the faith Australians appear poised to place in it. That remains a big if.
The choice is poor, depressingly so. But if the Coalition is elected with a thumping majority tomorrow, whatever that may mean for the future of the nation, we all have to wake up on Sunday and accept how that came to be.
Tomorrow, we count the votes. Remember, our live coverage kicks off at Crikey election HQ at 5pm AEST. Have our drinking game handy — we’re all going to need it …