By Paul Kelly, Murray Waldren
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Extra resources for Future Tense: Australia Beyond Election 1998
Recriminations that Labor could or should have won miss the point: a year earlier the party would have ‘killed’ for this result. The test for Labor is whether this poll is like ’69 or ’80, a prelude to the victories of ’72 and ’83, or whether like ’61, it is a false dawn. 4 per cent. Labor won only a minority of the primary vote defection from the Coalition. The bulk went to One Nation. The test for Labor is whether it assumes victory next time or decides to compete in the ideas marketplace in a fast-changing debate.
While his position is weaker, his mandate for economic reform and economic liberalism is stronger. The moral Howard will draw from his victory is that policy boldness was rewarded. There is little point with a 12-seat majority in now retreating to caution. There is no route to salvation in 2001 in that tactic. The further lesson is that, despite the community apprehension for change and for the GST, it still voted for Howard rather than Beazley. There is a message here for both sides — the voters are suspicious of change but recognise there is no future in any return to the past.
And in a climate of free-floating discontent, such ideas drift naturally towards the scapegoating of particular community groups. What is perhaps most striking is not how much but how little cultural resentment and bitterness can be detected. Visit small Queensland towns like Maryborough, in One Nation’s Wide Bay heartland, and you will find an appealing, multicultural sort of place, with no signs of public intolerance. If there are tensions and strains across any divide in rural Australian society — as undeniably there are in certain isolated towns of Western NSW with high Aboriginal populations — these seem ADRIFT IN A TRIBAL TIDE 43 caused chiefly by high crime rates and a crisis in maintaining law and order.