Malcolm Turnbull addresses the media

“I’m not living. I’m just killing time.” — Radiohead, True Love Waits

The wait appears to be nearly over: it’s clear the Turnbull government will be returned, but with exactly what size majority — one, two, three or four, if everything goes its way — remains to be seen while the Electoral Commission counts the last votes.

In truth, though, the waiting won’t end. The wait from now on will be about Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, how long he can last, how long before the hard right moves against him, or how long before Turnbull tries to escape from the bind they have placed him in with some other gamble — because his previous ones have worked so well — that wrongfoots his party opponents. We wait for the same sex marriage plebiscite, promised by the end of the year but now, the right suggests, better off being delayed. We wait to see if Scott Morrison manages to lose Australia’s triple-A credit rating. We wait to see who emerges as a standard-bearer for the right, with Scott Morrison discredited, Julie Bishop linked too closely to Turnbull, even the far-right fantasy candidate, Peter Dutton, barely capable of hanging onto his seat. Most of all we wait for Tony Abbott; he was rolled by his party quicker than Rudd, maybe he can return quicker than Rudd as well.

Lucky we all have our mobile devices to occupy ourselves while we wait.

And we wait because it’s clear Turnbull doesn’t have an agenda: his economic plan was a company tax cut, pointless preferential trade deals and building lots of ships here in the 2020s and 2030s, when he’ll be long gone from politics. The tax cut is now dead and voters across the West are turning against trade deals, long a sneaky mechanism for the interests of corporations rather than genuinely beneficial free trade mechanisms.

We’re used to waiting, though. We waited for the recall of parliament to give Turnbull his double dissolution trigger, then we waited for the budget and the calling of the election. Before that, we waited for his tax policy. We waited for Turnbull to confirm the high expectations virtually everyone in the country, including many in Labor, had of him and his leadership. Last year, we waited for Turnbull to deliver the coup de grace to the hapless Tony Abbott. We had waited for Abbott to shed his image as Wrecker-in-Chief to become a genuine leader, fruitlessly. In 2013, we waited for Abbott to defeat Rudd, after we’d spent all that time waiting for Rudd to defeat Gillard. For six years we’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting for leadership; in all that time, and only Julia Gillard came close to providing it, and she was torn down from within and without. We’re so used to waiting we’ve quietly gone about our business while doing so; despite commodity prices slumping and difficult global conditions, the Australian economy has steadily ticked over, workers forgoing pay rises to maintain employment growth, the Reserve Bank stepping in to keep supporting growth, engineering a transition from the end of the mining investment boom to our more traditional housing growth model of the kind that politicians talked about but did little to actually achieve.

At some point, perhaps, we’ve normalised this endless state of waiting for something to happen, the constant looking for the next thing that will finally provide us with the satisfaction we’ve been craving, politics as the electoral equivalent of hollow consumerism. Voters (and the media) engaged in an endless search for contentment that can never be provided, certainly not by politicians, annoyingly flawed like the rest of us, whether they’re new or old. How soon before the new-old generation of microparties, NXT and One Nation, do what all microparties do and split apart? We wait for that as well. Always waiting.

What if waiting is all there is? That this isn’t the waiting room, but the destination itself. It doesn’t get any better than this, because we won’t ever let it. We’re not going anywhere, because we’re already there. This is it. Welcome.

“Just don’t leave. Don’t leave.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey