For too long we’ve been trained to view Australia’s political landscape as a vista of fortified hills, bookended by impassable deserts. Here, Labor and the Coalition occupy cragged forts built before living memory. Twins on the horizon, they gaze suspiciously at each other through cracks in the stone and ribbons of smoke settling after the cyclic war of election.
At their flanks lie an assortment of minor parties who’ve pitched tents in no-man’s land. Their solitary issues and confusing allegiance preference them as casualties. Counting scant tribal kings among their number, somehow their presence endures decade to decade. Whether it’s entrenched defiance or a natural expression of nuanced democracy, they remain weather-worn and wild, bartering their way between the protectionist realms with both gifts and demands on offer.
If you’re new to the #Auspol epic (in 2019 Australian politics comes with a hashtag), it’s easy to believe that the castles of our major parties stand as immovable creatures impervious to poor leadership, dud policy and scandal. Over 40 years, personalities have come to blows as frequently as ideas – ransacking home barricades for the prize of Prime Ministership.
Fraser spawned in Whitlam’s ashes. Rudd and Gillard split their saga into a poorly rated trilogy. Howard and Peacock smouldered away the 80s before Howard traded in his rival for Costello. Knives found the backs of Hawke and Abbott while Keating decided to stand in the centre of the gladiatorial arena and fight pretty much anyone within 10 paces.
Australians watched with bemusement, tolerating squabbles provided there was something resembling Parliament left standing at the end. Minor parties were not so lucky. The Democrats, Bullet Train for Australia, Progress Party, No Parking Meters Party and the Australian Conservatives... Our foothills are littered with the names and crests of fallen movements. Others remain as fixtures on the landscape – not quite fortifications but certainly Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and The Greens have stood their ground.
What of the victories? Our Prime Ministers constantly switch places but beneath their rancour surge the elusive governing forces. Eras of social progress are followed by the reliable swell of economic reformation. This may as well be Australia’s regular tide. The detail changes but domestic needs are continuously at the tug of economic reality and so they are destined to shadow each other. On occasion, politicians are ripped from the safety of their castle causing a leadership spill or worse – the party itself is dragged into the open field where an election thrashes them into defeat and the survivors traipse home.
Keating tempted Hawke beyond the walls for a duel but it’s only in our present conflict of Albanese and Morrison that we’re able to watch entire parties abandon their forts, riding out toward the false flags, Eco-Socialism and inevitable extinction.
The truth is stark. These castles do not represent Australia’s parties – they are our political philosophies.
They resemble bedrock because they’ve endured the upheaval of youthful politics and carnage of a freshly federated island drifting on her own. Forgotten parties have previously surrendered the strongholds of left and right, all of whom thought themselves invulnerable.
The approaching years offer something not seen since pre-history. Where we once asked ourselves questions of autonomy from the empire – now it’s the T&Cs of unelected international bodies that raise a collective eyebrow.
Without the granite shell of their core political theory, Labor and the Coalition have left the high ground open to fresh occupation. Those old castles are loyal to nothing except the citizenry and there are plenty of hill tribes wondering if it might be time to scale the walls.