Some described it as a great sigh of relief – the national exhalation of a breath we’d grown accustomed to holding. Others spoke of a weight lifted from our collective shoulders: we could walk freely again, stretching out carefully as the stoop straightened.
The wave of euphoria that flowed across the country on election night and its immediate aftermath was reflected in the enthusiasm even Labor doubters had for the incoming Government and its authentic workaday leader.
There goes Albo, off to the Quad, laughing with world leaders – look! Uncle Joe has his name at the ready! As Biden jokes about Albo’s post-election stamina, the fairweather media were impressed by his ease on the world stage, the newest addition to an awesome foursome spruiking shared democratic values, Modi’s latest lurch into what Arundhati Roy describes as a “criminal Hindu-fascist enterprise”, as ever, politely ignored.
And yes, that is Albo riding bamboo bikes with his next BFF Jokowi and delivering beautiful speeches that celebrated the pre-Invasion trade between his Makassan audience’s ancestors and those of the Yolgnu people of Arnhemland. As Katharine Murphy reported at the time: “(Albo) told his Indonesian audience that each December the Yolngu people would look to the sea, “waiting for the horizon to fill with the sails of Makassan vessels”. He said these journeys were now immortalised in northern Australia in rock art and on bark – Makassan “sails forever full with the wind that brought them across the sea”.
The fishers from Sulawesi were, Albo said, the first Muslims to visit Australia, “writing the first chapter in the story of all that Muslim people have contributed to our nation”, a story that continues, he noted, with Australia’s first Muslim Cabinet Minister being sworn in with the Koran just days before. Ed Husic stood to take a bow.
The dejected Opposition tried to score points by painting the Prime Minister as a jet-setting holidaymaker but their hearts weren’t in it even before it was pointed out that venturing on to the war-torn streets of Kyiv with everyone’s favourite ex-comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy is not quite the same as skiving off to Hawaii with Jenny and the Girls TM while Australia combusts. Maybe the trip to Paris wasn’t entirely honourably motivated but Emmanuelle and Albo’s bond, born of a shared delight at the Scott-bashing headlines that swept the world following those five words – “I don’t think, I know”.
So it was with full hearts that we tuned in to the first day of the new parliament in all its colourful glory. In the ceremony beforehand, Paul Girrawah House, speaking in English and the language of his ancestors asked the gathered politicians and dignitaries, grouped in vague hierarchies, new Ministers sitting comfortably at the front, newbies and wannabes and never-will-bes standing awkwardly to the side and the back, to respect the law of Ngambri country: “Give honour, be respectful, be polite”, he said, as he noted the great First Nations leaders who had contributed so much to their own emancipation, who had maintained the integrity of their ancient connection to Country in the face of “relentless forces to extinguish us by successive generations of colonisers”.
“Be gentle and patient with all. Hold fast to each other, empower the people”, he said. “Respect shapes us. Lifts up the people.”
Albo threw out his written speech to respond directly to Paul, promoting the Uluru Statement from the Heart in words stern and reflective, simultaneously an exhortation and warning. “Don’t miss the chance”, he said. “You’re not here for that long – none of us will be”, the camera ranging over Bob Katter in an ill-timed cameo. “When you’re sitting on the porch, thinking about what you did, you can either have a source of pride or a source of regret. No middle path”. His voice wobbled. “No middle path”, he repeated. “Make it a source of pride.”
As the day went on even Zoe cracked a smile as the welter of Independent Alpha Females were sworn in en masse. There’s Dr Mon, a few days away from her adroit admonition of a braying Opposition benches that were childishly maskless, devastatingly denuded. Dai Le is there in a buttercup ào dài – significantly more attractive than the Australian flag ensemble she sported this week, and a sunnier time for her generally prior to the decision to squib her first major vote and abstain from the Government’s Climate Bill with an odd insistence that the crash of the tree logged in the forest bringing global climate disaster goes unheard in urban Fairfield.
There were a blaze of excellent debut speeches (“maiden speech” out of favour since the 90s). Sally Sitou gave hers on the 40th anniversary of her Chinese born parents becoming Australian citizens as they watched on with pride. In a vibrant red saree, Zaneta Mascarenhas spoke proudly of her Goan Indian heritage as she joined Mehreen Faruqi and Karen Andrews in the modest cohort of engineers in federal parliament. We’ve yet to hear from Sam Lim but are primed for his next bout of whimsy, whether dolphin-related or not. Stephen Bates morphed into a local AOC as he hung on to his retail job until his first pay cleared. Max Chandler-Mather was berated by a negligibly known National for failing to wear a tie.
The novelty of it all was exhilarating.
Less admirable but thoroughly enjoyable is the glee that there may finally be consequences for some of the more egregious behaviours of the last few years. How edifying it is to watch those accustomed to hiding their multitude of sins behind walls of power suddenly unable to stop the march of justice. As the US Department of Justice edges inexorably closer to indicting Trump for his illegal collection of classified documents, as Johnson’s Lap of Loss finally concludes, as it’s possible that even the mighty Murdochs may face a reckoning or two as fallout from Fox News’ promotion of the Big Lie hits the courts on two continents, we rejoice in the fact that there’s nothing Old Man Morrison can do to stop Virginia Bell exploring his claim that the more power, the more Ministries he concentrated in his own grasping hands, the better it would be for the nation.
Tired tropes remain, of course. Pauline Hanson, fresh from her heart-stoppingly narrow victory over the weed party, despite the latter’s on brand relaxed campaign, is struggling for relevance, so stormed angrily out of the Senate to protest an Acknowledgement of Country that had been in place for years. Soaliha Iqbal pithily observed that the $100m UAP Senator Ralph Babet is currently best known for being the first grindbro and sentient thumb elected to parliament, but he has proved a match made in the 19th Century for Holly Hughes as he warned of radical Marxists on the march, his greatest achievement already behind him with his victory having consigned Sophie Mirabella’s husband to the shortest parliamentary career in memory.
But worst of all is the reminder that, however stark the contrast between our shiny new Government and the stinking carcass of the last, similarities remain.
The first of the three circles of the Albanese Government is the simple “Thank God you’re not Scomo” Circle of Relief. It is here we can be grateful that they bothered to pick the low-hanging fruit. We say thank you for the Nadesalingam family visas, for discontinuing the persecution of Bernard Collaery, for having a competent, articulate Front Bench. We’re loving the prospect of ICAC and the commitment to Voice (even if we’re not sure about Shaq and Lidia Thorpe is freaking us out).
In the second Circle lurk the things one suspects Labor would be now inclined to do had they not boxed themselves into a dark damn corner during the campaign. In this Circle of Purgatory Labor must grapple with the consequences of being too scared to argue a case, of rushing to vacate the field and thereby dodge Morrison’s always over-egged political skills, and his Dark Art of the Wedge. The Government must now live with its cowardice, as, alas, must we. This is the “can we go higher than 43% please?””, the “what is it with the Stage Three tax cuts?”, and the “for fuck’s sake raise Jobseeker already” Circle. It’s where expensive but worthy policy initiatives raised at the Job Summit aren’t met with the reassuring pre-election mantra of “investment not debt” but an incredulously intoned “A trillion dollars!”, and a dismissive wave of the hand. It seems even now, we can’t have nice things.
And finally we hit the Circle of Déjà vu, a shockingly familiar place wherein lies the genuine inability of both Labor and the Coalition to think outside the current square. Julian Assange languishes here, where, despite early hope, the Government’s intention is only to negotiate a post-US conviction return to Australia for Julian to serve out his sentence here. Too bad if he’s dead before then. It’s where the Government puts out press releases claiming a twice yearly automatic indexation increase for welfare recipients that is less than CPI is, rather than an abandonment of our most vulnerable, something worth boasting about. It is from this Circle that the Labor Leadership Circle sets off down the well-trod path to News Corp’s Holt St HQ, in obeisance, without explanation.
And it’s where the new Government fails to come to grips with the climate crisis we face. This is the “yes we will open up 47,000 hectares for new oil and gas exploration across 10 new ocean sites” Circle and where the discredited but unkillable fossil fuel industry’s PR ruse that is Carbon Capture and Storage is promoted as having “a vital role to play to help Australia meet its net zero targets.“. It’s the “we daren’t implement a Resources Rent tax, or even a Super Profits Tax because – post the rolling of Rudd – we don’t do that Down Under, even if they’ve been levied enthusiastically across the world”. It’s the Circle that means the same specious arguments that dropped from the smirking mouth of the old Prime Minister are earnestly mounted by the new one – our fossil fuel exports should not be included in our emissions output accounting and are justified via the drug dealers’ excuse of choice: “If we don’t sell it, someone else will anyway, and their gear will be riskier than our healthy brand of heroin.”
With one third of the habitable land in Pakistan currently submerged and 6.5m people displaced, with China facing record-breaking heatwaves and droughts, with the British finally getting sunburnt in their own country with a run of 40 degree days that would do Adelaide proud turning river beds into dustbowls, with wildfires raging across Europe, with things moving way past warnings into all-out calamity, global Government subsidies to the fossil fuel industries that are killing it financially and killing us incrementally are actually increasing – doubled in one year, according to the OECD. Vastly lucrative businesses are being paid by taxpayers around the world to generate increased carbon pollution and sky-rocketing private profits, including here in Australia.
The first 100 Days have been decidedly mixed. Let’s keep our eye on the next and the next and the next. Rome may not have been built in 100 days but it burned to the ground in six.
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