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As millions of Australians stood in line to vote last Saturday nervously wondering what damage their democracy sausage was doing to their cholesterol levels, Defence Minister Peter Dutton tried to add to their anxiety. "People smugglers have obviously decided who is going to win the election and the boats have already started," he tweeted.
Not long after, an unknown number of mobile phones in marginal seats around the country - some claims suggest it was in the millions - began pinging with a text message from Liberal headquarters that read: "BREAKING - Aust Border Force has intercepted an illegal boat trying to reach Aus. Keep our borders secure by voting Liberal today." A little earlier, Scott Morrison had lifted his long-time refusal to comment about "on-water" issues to confirm that an unauthorised vessel from Sri Lanka had been intercepted attempting to enter Australian waters.
Those desperate warnings had a shabby and amateur feel to them, a final panicky roll of the dice for a Coalition facing a rout at the ballot box. The threat of ships on the horizon loaded with illegal asylum-seekers has been a potent weapon wielded by our politicians ever since the Tampa incident of 2001 revived John Howard's plummeting political fortunes. But voters last Saturday were already making it clear they've had enough of old-school politics. We're not falling for that one again, they said. Concentrate on cleaning up your act and restoring a little integrity to national affairs.
The new Albanese government has ordered an investigation into the incident and demanded the public service explain why a press release went out confirming the boat's interception. Acting PM Richard Marles yesterday described the Coalition's tactics on election day as disgraceful, but was quick to claim Labor shared their tough stance on illegal boats and that its policy would not change. It's likely the whole thing will be forgotten by this time next week. But if Anthony Albanese ever forgets his vow to change politics for the better in this country, the Sri Lankan boat affair should long serve as a blatant reminder how the electorate no longer has the stomach for crude, vote-grabbing scare tactics.
Albanese rubbed shoulders yesterday in Tokyo with the leaders of the US, Japan and India at the dourly-named Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which sounds more like a meeting of geometry enthusiasts than a gathering of nations intent on curtailing China's growing influence in Asia and the Pacific. But he carefully used his opening remarks to distance himself from the previous Morrison government, saying he was committed to new policies on climate change and supporting the Pacific region.
He flies back into Australia with plenty of work to do. Labor has committed to cutting emissions by 43 per cent within the next eight years as the first stage of its promise to reach net zero by 2050. As part of that it has pledged $500 million to hasten Australia's take-up of electric vehicles and construct a national network to help charge those cars. It has also flagged limits on the nation's biggest polluters as well as $20 billion to be injected into the electricity grid to propel greater use of renewable energy.
Albanese was heavily criticised during the campaign for being a small target with few visionary policies. Most of them were. But restoring integrity to his chosen profession has been a long time coming. Look how it swallowed up so many of his predecessors.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Should Australia change its tough stance on illegal boats and asylum seekers? Anyone drive an electric car - or is the expense preventing you from buying one? And what should be the new PM's main priority when he puts his feet behind his desk for the first time today? Email us: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- The new Labor government will meet with Health department officials later this week to revise the national COVID-19 strategy as experts recommend greater access for Australians to a fourth vaccine. A fourth dose is presently only approved for those aged over 65 and those who are severely immunocompromised.
- Barnaby Joyce's role as leader of the National Party may be under threat as three potential challengers - deputy leader David Littleproud, former leader Michael McCormack and Victorian MP Darren Chester - consider standing for the role. Several Nationals yesterday said the party needed a leader with more mainstream views and were concerned about a shift further to the right.
- Labor remains in sight of securing a majority of 76 seats in the House of Representatives. Last night it had won 75 seats, with the Coalition on 59. At least six seats remain too close to call.
THEY SAID IT: "You got sworn in, got on a plane and if you fall asleep while you're here, it's OK. Because I don't know how you're doing it!" - US President Joe Biden to Anthony Albanese in Tokyo yesterday.
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." - Mark Twain.
YOU SAID IT: "To the man or woman in the street, the teals and other independents have shown that it is possible to change the political system. But to change it you have to vote. We should all draw a lesson from this election and make sure that our vote reflects what we want in our country and society." - David.
"I can't help but think that it is time that the Liberals stood up to the Nationals and stood candidates in all electorates. I think that Barnaby's popular vote would take a spectacular downturn, as would other members of his party which is rapidly becoming irrelevant." - Paul.
"If Dutton becomes leader then the Liberals, once again, will have learned nothing. If they wish to become an increasingly arrogant, irrelevant group of myopic conservatives then go right ahead thus consigning themselves to political irrelevance, possibly for decades." - Douglas.
"Dutton should not be the new Libs leader. The first objective of the new government should be to do something tangible immediately to bring down the daily cost of living for the majority of low income earners. The high level of real poverty and homelessness in our country for a supposedly wealthy developed nation is disgusting and a disgraceful shame." - Murray.
"What's it like in a safe electorate? No investment in community facilities. Decaying road conditions." - David.
"Living in the safe Liberal seat of Mitchell is akin to living in a bubble. How I wished for a teal candidate. Maybe next time..." - Rhonda.
"Let's hope this is the death knell of two-party politics (allowing for the fact that one of them is a Coalition). My dream is that the constitution be amended to remove all party affiliations in the Senate to make it a true States House and a proper House of Review. Hell will likely freeze over first." - Alan.
"My greatest concern is the way that all these pork-barrelling grants seem to be about vote-buying with taxpayer's money rather than based on real assessment of need. What is also increasingly apparent is that pork-barrelling impinges on what are actually state and local government responsibilities. This could even be unconstitutional in some cases. We need a renegotiation of the state and federal agreements on financing and responsibilities and an end to most of these grants in favour of needs based funding of essential services." - Helen.
"It is time something was done about the rabble rousing during Question Time. The Speaker needs to shut down the so called "robust cut and thrust" of this charade. The bulk of the questions are formulated each day and passed out to members to ask and used either to highlight how wonderful the government is doing, or put down the opposition. The Speaker should call out the incessant shouting and demand that they conduct the discussion with respect and dignity." - Peter.
"The government, Greens and crossbenchers need to go hard in this first two years of government. Instigate big changes and developments. Underpin it with a focus on productivity with real wage growth. Then in the third year, the vision will be there for all to see and vote for again." - Dave.
"One of the reasons I voted against the Liberals was the prospect of Peter Dutton leading the party." - Catherine.
"Still don't understand why it's promoted as amazing/embarrassing/shaming that the ALP have only won government four times from Opposition since WWII. By my calculations, it's the same stat for the Liberal/ Coalition (1949, 1975, 1997, 2013) or am I missing something?" - Claire.
"Will politics change for the better? It will be messy to start with, but better. People with union backgrounds are used to negotiating with employers - the Gillard government was awesome at this and Albo was a key part of it. The Liberal elites are used to having their every pronouncement acted on by fawning sycophants - but no more. The Nationals represent Australia's conservative rump - they will have to join the real "real world" of the 21st century with all the complexities and compromises that it presents." - David.
"Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, the beneficiary of $20 billion of coalition climate change "agreements", needs to wake up to himself and either get on board with a 50 percent-plus reduction in emissions by 2030 (and put plans in place NOW) or get out of the way. Even Barnaby must see the current results of climate change in floods/ fires/ droughts we are witnessing and be stirred to do something about it for humanity sake. Then again, he may stick with the handful of silver..." - Ian.
"There are many Liberals who will be glad the cause of the government's defeat is laid upon Morrison. Yes, his prominence and policies put too many people off-side. But this collapse was seen years ago. There are too many who sat on their hands and should share the condemnation for permitting the failure of liberal policies. No, I did not vote for Liberals. I did once many decades ago before I wised up." - Ian.
"Who should lead the Liberal Party? We need someone kinder and smarter than Peter Dutton. My vote goes to Hannibal Lecter." - Alan.