7:28 PM – Saturday, November 24th, 2 Hall St – VEC Voting Centre
After watching a series of ballots come in for the safe seat of Hawthorn, a seat that has been Liberal since inception and has previously held the Leader of the Liberal Party – Ted Baillieu for 16 years – it was clear that something was up. The usual 8.6%+ margin expected for the seat had disappeared, the piles for the Greens and Labor candidate started to match and outpace the size of the Liberal candidate.
I pass worried glances between another Young Liberal scrutineer and a local woman in her 80’s, someones who has been a member of the party for as long as she can remember.
The counting takes a break, and we rest for a moment. I pull up the ABC News live feed on my phone, and there it is in full view;
The only visible emotion between us three is “Wtf is going on here?!”
Our candidate and current member for Hawthorn is seen on the panel, commenting, and then the numbers from other booths start coming in… 11% swing towards the ALP, 27.6% counted.
All of us are in awestruck, even the VEC officials who have watched over this seat in the past.
Yet, the booth we are counting in had 7,300 votes to go through, more than any other around 36% of those which could be counted on the night.
I called up the campaign director, who, with a nervouse voice, asked for the count.
Bieber (GRN): 1237
Pesutto (LP): 3615
Grummet (IND): 69
Wright (AJP): 141
Kennedy (ALP): 1951
Paterson (SAP): 135
We kept watching the news as the count went onto the two-party preferred (TPP). The flow was disheartening, with the Labor candidate picking up 73.96% of preference flow in the region (fuelled by a Greens flow of 80% and Animal Justice Party flow of 63%).
We proceeded to watch the futile votes be pushed around as we discussed what did it.
“The party should never of let Tony Abbott be leader, he’s ruined the party and made it way to right-wing” remarked one of the Scrutineers.
“We insulted minority groups, offered nothing for renters and had our heads in the sand with climate policy” I stated.
Either way, all of us knew that this campaign would have been tough to win, but a combination of federal mishaps and a lack of state policy was what caused this unexpected red wave of an election.
But, what amazed me most throughout this campaign was less what happened on election day (it was still a surprise, I will not understate that), but the reality that some Young Liberals and other members of the party seemed to believe that they lived in.
One individual regarded their media diet as “balanced”, “well-informed” and evident of “truth” despite consisting only of Sky News, The Australian and The Spectator.
I met climate deniers, one even stating that they were, in fact, an “environmentalist”, but that my belief that we need to act now was “buy[ing] into that bullshit”.
Another thought we were the party of progressive social policy, quoting the White Australia Policy, Aboriginal Rights referendum and Same-Sex marriage as examples why despite the party changing over many decades and only supporting same-sex marriage after subjecting the LGBT+ community to hurtful media campaigns from the “No” side.
This reality appears to be pushed by a media so consumed with fear and lies that it has now turned into an angry echo chamber of moral hatred. Sky News has grow more right wing, with commentators from the show Outsiders going further than any others to decrie fear of other cultures, to peddle anti-intellectualism, and push for a sudden shift towards moral conservatism (something which breaks away from the political conservatism that should underwright the party).
Satirical news has had a feast on the devolvement of the Liberal Party, creating a blur between what is truth and reality anymore. One such recent article “Melbourne Residents Finally Able to Go To Restaurants as African Gangs Concede Election Defeat” reveals the type of politics the party has so engrossed itself in – fear.
The campaign, lead by Mathew Guy, was focused on one word; crime. Any other form of policy, be it education, infrastructure, health, social, energy etc. was completely redundant with the party. No policy was competitive, even President Michael Kroger admitted as much on TV.
On the ground of election day, this was felt, with audible eeks of disgust at Liberal Party how-to-vote cards, a bombardment of questioning about why I even support such as party, and swaths of voters grabbing Greens and Labor how to vote cards. It was evident that the 30% of voters that decide on the day had made up their mind about one thing – Liberals are a no go.
So now here we are, at the booth counting the votes in awestruck. I call a friend who was at the ‘Victory Party’ for John Pesutto.
“I’m fucking done with this party” they say, and I can’t help but agree.
Why should I support a party that I can’t even see myself in?
But there was a moment of hope, it came in the form of a woman named Julie Bishop.
On the Thursday of election week, I had attended a lecture with this friend where we heard a discussion of the values of the party and the movement of it in recent years. Julie, was there to fill me with confidence that the party can be a centre-right party again, not just a right-wing party. That the broad-church can function and that this is but a phase in the party’s lifetime.
However, it was only the day before that I messaged a friend saying: “They don’t get the world is burning, kids are dying in island prisons, poor people can’t afford homes, there are persecuted groups everywhere, Islam isn’t terrorism, aboriginals are [still] unequal in every respect, business is [too] consolidated and corrupt and the rich are getting richer and richer beyond what [their efforts] deserve“.
The party that once stood for the forgotten people, which stood for strong economic management and sensible evidence-based policy that empowered the individual and their enterprise is gone… but it isn’t dead.