By MIA FREEDMAN
So it’s here. A new government. A new Prime Minister. A new chapter in our political history.
As everyone pats themselves down and checks that everything is intact after the ALP was decisively swept from power, I’m feeling quite relieved that it’s over and cautiously optimistic for the future.
My Facebook feed is typical of many in Australia today: some of my friends are threatening to emigrate to Canada or New Zealand. Others are jubilant.
After a long campaign and an even longer three years since the last election, it’s been an excrutiating limp to the finish for voters, commentators and politicians. But we made it to the other side.
Some highlights from the last 24 hours:
- Amanda Vanstone’s glorious Great Barrier Reef shirt resplendent on the Channel 9 coverage.
- Bob Hawke looking like a Bob Hawke impersonator but still bringing gravitas to his commentary on Sky News, “This is a disastrous result” he observed at one point.
- A buoyant Malcolm Turnbull looking exhausted but elated as he romped it home with 65% of the vote in his blue ribbon seat of Wentworth.
- Kerry O’Brien eating – was he eating? – at many points during the broadcast as someone cheekily snuck a life-size cardboard cut-out of Leigh Sales into the background.
- Antony Green’s freaky micro knowledge of…..EVERYTHING. The guy’s brain is a national treasure.
- Annabel Crabb observing that the theme of this campaign was “Not Without My Daughter”.
- Kevin Rudd explaining daughter Jessica’s absence by announcing that she and husband Albert had taken baby Josephine to the hospital after the toddler came down with a fever, prompting a flurry of concerned tweets.
- The ecstatic looks on the faces of the women in Tony Abbott’s life – his daughters, mother, wife and sister.
- The happiness on the face of Therese Rein as Kevin Rudd resigned the leadership of the ALP.
- The signature calm wisdom of Tanya Plibersek.
- The utter class of former PM Julia Gillard in the congratulatory tweets she sent to Tony Abbott and the coalition as well as her successor in the seat of Lalor. And the sincere commiserations she sent to Kevin Rudd and her former parliamentary colleagues. Understated, dignified and perfect.
- The sight of our PM elect leaving his house in bare feet to go for an early morning bike ride as wife Margie made a low-key trip to the supermarket, returning home toting a few bags of groceries.
And the lowlights:
- The astonishing lack of acknowledgement of Julia Gillard by anyone.
- The likely election of Clive Palmer in the lower house and Pauline Hanson in the Senate.
- Leigh Sales M.I.A
So as the dust settles, it’s worth looking forward. Because we have to. Back in 2009, I was very quick to condemn Tony Abbott within minutes of him being elected leader of the Liberal Party. I wrote with genuine emotion about my fear for women, my fear for the Liberal Party and my fear for the country if by some unspeakable freakish event he became Prime Minister.
At the time, I meant what I wrote. I was alarmed not alert. His track record on issues affecting women in particular were not great. Ditto climate change. The impact of his personal religious beliefs on his policy positions were then unclear.
But I think a lot has changed since then.
Tony Abbott has changed and so has my opinion of him.
Some will claim he hasn’t changed really. That he’s simply re-made himself in whatever form it took to go from ‘unelectable’ (as he was referred to by some in his own party) into Prime Minister. But I do believe he’s changed in some of his views.
All we can do is judge our new Prime Minister by what he says and how he’s promised to lead the country. In time, we’ll be able to judge him by what he actually does as Prime Minister. It’s not about rhetoric anymore, it’s about action and we’re about to see how that plays out.
There are still some things about Tony Abbott that trouble me. His views on same sex marriage. His repeated references to the appearance of the women around him (including liberal candidates and his own daughters). His willingness to demonise asylum seekers for political gain. But Julia Gillard didn’t endorse same-sex marriage either and Kevin Rudd neutralised the asylum seeker issue during the election campaign by introducing a policy even more extreme than any proposed by the coalition.
Nobody’s perfect. It’s unlikely that any of us will ever agree with any politician on every issue.
Has Tony Abbott changed? I believe he has. I believe he had to. I’m tired of people recycling Tony Abbott quotes from decades ago – about abortion, about women, about work choices about climate change – in a bid to discredit the man he is today.
Have you changed your mind about anything in the past 10 or 20 years?
I have. A bunch.
Don’t we all evolve in some of our beliefs and opinions over time?
I think having an open mind and showing a willingness to evolve your opinions shows an enormous strength of character. Whether you agree with it or not, Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme – the biggest policy difference between the two parties in this election – shows an extraordinary ability to shift and evolve when it comes to a social issue, that of women in the workplace.
This is not the policy of a man who has a retro view of a woman’s place in the world., it’s just not. And Abbott has burnt a lot of political capital within his own party by not wavering from it, so strongly does he clearly believe in supporting the choices of women around work and family.
This gives me great hope for the future.
Meanwhile, it’s clearly time for the ALP to do some soul-searching and some rebuilding. The in-fighting has been a disgrace, a distraction and a deep disappointment to everyone who has wanted to support them.
I firmly agree with all those – including the majority of voters – who believe Labor needs some time out on the bench to sort itself out. Pull yourself together people. A good government needs a good opposition to keep it focussed and accountable.
There are some enormously talented, smart, well-meaning ALP candidates who have retained their seats. We can only hope they will use this time in opposition to regenerate a party that lost its way and became so obsessed with itself that it seemed to forget about running the country.
So to Tony Abbott, I say a warm and sincere congratulations. Everyone underestimated you in opposition and you ran a tightly disciplined race of endurance since the day you were elected Liberal leader.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what kind of Prime Minister you’ll be and I wish you well in running our country.