To get up to speed, you should start by reading my election preview, posted earlier today. I mention there the analogy with the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the presidency.
Australians are a fairly laid-back and insular lot, so the suggestion this election is part of a global ideological struggle tends to meet with raised eyebrows. In particular, voters seem reluctant to believe that prime minister Scott Morrison is a dangerous ideologue rather than just a vaguely endearing buffoon.
Yet Trump also was dismissed as just a buffoon, a huckster rather than a serious (if stupid) political player. Stupidity (which Morrison also has in spades) is no barrier to ideological commitment – quite the reverse – and it seems to me that Morrison is fully committed, like his counterparts in other countries, to turning Australia into a very dark and frightening place.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten is not an inspiring alternative. He represents the apparatchik class of the trade union movement, with its devotion to power rather than principle; although he has put serious work into policy development (some sensible, some not), there is little trace of a consistent vision for the future of Australia.
But Labor’s inadequacies are beside the point. This is not an election about detail: it is a fundamental choice about whether or not Australia is going to continue on the right-wing populist path.
Over the last twenty years or so, centre-right parties in the democratic world have come to a fork in the road. Many, particularly in Europe (although New Zealand is another example), have stuck to the path of moderation that made them such critical supports of democracy. Agree with their policies or not, they are part of the mainstream conversation.
Others, of which the US Republican Party is the leading example, have shifted ground. Slowly, sometimes imperceptibly at first, they have turned their backs on modernity.
In the late 1990s, Australia’s Liberal Party began to take that road. But it did so hesitantly – then-leader John Howard was too skilled a politician not to recognise the dangers. So, for example, he prevented the party organisation from directing preferences to Australia’s neo-fascist party, One Nation.
But since the rise of Tony Abbott to the leadership in 2009, that hesitation has disappeared. Abbott embraced the worst features of the Howard regime with none of its restraint, and although his prime ministership did not last long, it constrained his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, in a straitjacket of extremist policy.
And when Morrison, who had based his career on directing the barbaric treatment of refugees, succeeded Turnbull, there was no room for doubt about where the Liberal Party stood. One Nation was brought within the tent, any pretence at accepting climate science was abandoned, and Australia was confirmed in its role as a loyal ally of Trump and Trumpism.
If you love your country, do not allow that to stand. Do not let that be our future.
I disagree with Shorten and Labor about many things. But as P.J. O’Rourke said of Hillary Clinton, they are at least “wrong within normal parameters.” They will not usher in a golden age, but they will halt Australia’s slide towards pariah status.
For that, they will have my vote, and they deserve yours.