Last weekend, I took part in a revolution of sorts led by angry people that brought a government crashing to Earth.
A government that had been in power too long. A government that had become so arrogant, it believed its own lies — and expected we would too, but we didn’t.
A government that thought it could take away rights set by state and federal courts that have existed for 100 years and which gave us one of the world’s best standards of living and without doubt, the best overall pay and working conditions for a silent, hard-working majority of any nation on this Earth and the prosperity and lifestyle to match it.
A government that did this by enacting laws that threatened the very fabric of this wonderful, progressive society by pitting one against the other in squabbles over money, jobs and ideology.
A government that prosecuted and threatened to jail journalists it considered had overstepped the mark, but who were simply acting as conduits in the exercise of the right of the people to know what the government they had elected was really doing. A government that used loopholes in its own Freedom of Information laws to stifle legitimate attempts to gain information.
A government that played on real fears about terrorists and mass murderers who had already killed our people and promised to kill more; and in so doing threatened the right to free speech that has existed for 1000 years both in this country and the country from which it was inherited by deciding that some of the things we might say in the exercise of that right could be regarded as seditious, and bad for the country, and would therefore carry the risk of prosecution and a jail sentence.
A government that in the exercise of those sweeping laws could suspend the due process provisions of our criminal law, breach the sanctity of the writ of Habeas Corpus that had been written into English law in 1679, end the right to a quick and fair trial by a jury of our peers, and everything else good that our justice system stands for, and incarcerate us or keep us under surveillance on an ongoing basis without charge if the courts agreed (and luckily, for the most part, they didn’t).
A government that pretended it was low taxing by giving small cuts in income tax, then imposed a 10 per cent tax on everything we bought except for basic, uncooked foodstuffs.
A government that thought it OK to play on people’s fears of those who are different and who don’t look, sound or act like the rest of us — the new people to our country; and locked up children in immigration detention centres for years on end while their fate was decided by courts and bureacrats in a seemingly endless process of appeals and knockbacks that often resulted in children and their parents being sent home to the misery they hoped to escape.
A government that called these people queue jumpers while neglecting to add that most of them came from places where there aren’t any queues to jump. A government that sent naval gunboats to turn back leaking, rickety boats full of women and children so that they couldn’t land on our shores and sully us. A government that told us parents on one of these boats had thrown their children overboard into the open sea, even when the navy disputed that version of events.
A government that tried to divide us into haves and have nots by giving more funding to wealthy individual private schools than public ones. A government that in time of great prosperity and with an economy that is one of the world’s strongest, asked us to believe that taking away hard-fought concessions on pay and working conditions from ordinary working people and handing all the cards back to employers was good for us.
A government that in some bizarre, Orwellian piece of spin called its new Industrial Relations system WorkChoices when most people knew it meant NoChoices. A government that courted the aspirations of ordinary people, and rode to power on their backs, only to turn against them by threatening their livelihoods.
A government that told us lies about why it was going to war, and then lied about why it was staying there and used it to curry favour from powerful friends and allies. A government that had to have had knowledge of the payment of millions of dollars in cash bribes to the regime of Saddam Hussein so we could sell Iraq our wheat, but claimed it knew nothing of the sort.
A government that became deluded and drunk on power, that had no real vision for the future and was content to remain stuck in the ideas of the 1950s. A government that failed to understand the strong desire for full reconciliation between the indigenous and non-indigenous citizens of its own country.
A government that tried to buy us off with money and scare tactics, and played pea-and-thimble tricks while ordinary people burned inside. A government that talked up its economic management credentials and fiscal responsibility while riding the back of a fortuitous mining boom feeding the burgeoning economies of the Asian powerhouses, while claiming it was the only government that could keep interest rates low and watching red-faced and totally powerless as global economic conditions saw them rise seven times in three years.
A government that forgot we live in a country, not just an economy. A government that called itself Liberal, but appeared to stand marginally to the right of Attila the Hun.
A government that had lost its heart.
And on Saturday, that government and its leader were swept from power in a rout after 11 years and four terms in office, and left in tears and tatters, its remants now squabbling among themselves and wondering what they really stand for; and now seen for what it really is: a rotting carcass, finally buried by ordinary people who are sick of the smell.
But here’s the good bit: No one fires a shot; no one lets off a bomb; no mobs roam the streets; no one sets fire to a building; no soldiers come to take people away. But the streets are full at midnight. A lot of people go out for the night and have a good time; others drown their sorrows.
So how did the government fall? The government fell like this:
For most of us, it starts like any other Saturday. My story: at 11 o’clock, I get in my car and head for work. Only this time, I stop 500 yards up the street at a community hall, park, and join a 5-minute queue.
Once inside, I get my name ticked off the electoral role, take two sheets of paper and walk to a private booth, pick up a pencil and mark down seven candidates for the House of Representatives in the order of my preference, starting with the candidate for my area of the party I want to elect and finishing with the one I don’t. I mark another for the Senate in the party of my choice with a single figure: 1. Too easy.
Then I fold my papers and walk across to a set of large cardboard boxes, one marked House of Representatives, the other marked Senate, and drop them in the slots. The electoral commission scrutineer grins and nods. Does he know we are making history?
It takes just 15 minutes.
On the day, everyone aged over 18 among the 20 million of us on this continent does the same thing. Most of us believe in the veracity of our compulsory voting system, because it engages the whole country in the political process. And most of us believe that the power to elect a government (and remove another) isn’t just a right, but a privilege that should never be taken for granted. A bit like holding a driver’s licence, except it’s free.
The polls close at 6pm, and by 9.30pm it becomes obvious that the government is experiencing one of the biggest electoral swings against a government in the history of this nation. The other party appears to have swept it from power even before the polls close in the west of the country, which is a few hours behind. Or rather, it is swept from power by all those ordinary people who voted for the other party.
By 10 o’ clock that night, we have a new government, and in the carnage the Prime Minister becomes only the second sitting PM in the history of this country to lose his own seat in an election, voted out of office, in his own heartland, by his own constituents. Counting is continuing, but he looks dead in the water. The majority aren’t unhappy at his demise, although in a way, it’s sad to see a person of such great standing, and who has contributed so much to public life, go out this way.
The next morning, the sun comes up like any other day. I get the Sunday papers and have a late breakfast. No one asks me who I’ve voted for, and why, although if they had I’d have gladly told them.
I’d also have told them that governments are elected by the people they represent and placed by the people in a position of trust. When that trust is broken, expect the people to deliver a humiliating, crushing blow. Expect the people to take away that power that governments love, because thanks to the rule of law, ultimately only we can.
It’s why I love democracy, but please, don’t engage me in semantics about what that means if you think my brand is different to yours.
It worked fine here on Saturday, just like it always has.
Yep. It was the day we toppled a government — at the point of a pencil.