DESPITE the polls and the victory laps, I still think the Yessers could Matilda their way to a win on 14 October. The media will sell the Voice to the so-called “soft nos” and the hitherto uninterested – that’s almost everyone – as a Steven Bradbury classic in the making. Plus: never underestimate the Liberal Party’s ability to squander the lead in any contest. Anthony Albanese could skate past a pile of bodies and win gold yet. The first book I read on military history was Field Marshall Sir William Slim’s chronicle of the Burma campaign. The title on its spine – facing out in a miscellany of beige-paged tomes in a bookshelf at home – drew me in as a teenager: Defeat Into Victory. They sounded like words to live by. Being enticed by hard-to-win prizes – the quiddity of romance – is natural in the young before the Shallow State finesses their idealism into licensed temerity. Phoebe Plummer, 21, and Anna Holland, 20 – the Just Stop Oil protesters who threw soup at van Gogh’s Sunflowers last year at the National Gallery – are useful examples. If they were really serious about rebellion, they’d march for affordable electricity, get married and have children. But they were duped. All the Quixotes these days tilt at truth and worship the windmills.
As the recent fake pandemic proved, the only difference between dupeables and deplorables is the favour of the left-wing establishment. Its proficiency at choreographing a flash mob of enthusiasm where apathy formerly reigned shouldn’t be doubted. It helps that Labor governments can’t shoot dissenters like they could just a few years ago and that respect for the Constitution hasn’t yet been classified as a virus. They are working on the latter hindrance, of course – that’s the whole point of ‘misinformation’ bills. As things stand, however, the No case is winning and many would say Peter Dutton has proved his rightist critics wrong. It was smart to play the long details game, his backers will say, rather than oppose the Voice from the start on principle. While his “try and understand it” riposte to the John Farnham ambush was karaoke karate of the first rank, such a defence assumes the impossibility of doing two things – opposing and interrogating – at once. I still wouldn’t lend Dutton my copy of Defeat Into Victory because of the risk he’d read it backwards. Liberals get the jitters when they’re winning a battle in the culture war.
Take, for example, the Opposition Leader’s grand declaration of a new plan to enact constitutional recognition via a second referendum. Besides pulling up outright – arms aloft, one lap short of the distance – this was the silliest thing to do at the end of a marathon. It affirms Labor’s predilection for casually interfering with the country’s foundational document, dilutes the Yes or No nature of the contest, gives iffy antis cause to reconsider and facilitates for the Aboriginal Industry a second crack a few years from now. Adding to the unforced confusion, Warren Mundine has today decided to throw a lifeline to the Voice by supporting so-called treaties, changing the date of Australia Day and disagreeing with Jacinta Nampijinpa Price on the supposedly lingering effects of colonisation. What are they thinking? Is the burden of being a meanie in the eyes of the Guardian proving all too much? Do they believe resolve is unbecoming; that it needs to be offset by concessions to the other side? Or are they doling out victor’s spoils on credit to sandbag their reputations after 14 October? Only Senators Price and Pauline Hanson are holding the line.
The point is, it’s foolhardy in the extreme to celebrate until the fatuous ladies, Phoebe and Anna – repurposed above as exemplars of sanctimonious vandalism – scream. There is a lot more at stake than an ‘advisory body’ for Aborigines. Megan Davis was correct to say that Trumpian politics had come to Australia – albeit for the wrong reasons. The voice now being amplified is everyone’s and polls show Australians haven’t been as easy to browbeat as the government hoped. Largely thanks to the ineptitude of the Prime Minister – remembering that most voters don’t read op-eds or watch Sky religiously – those who want to control what we say, think and do have floundered like Hillary Clinton. The cost of not pushing on to smash the Voice will be enormous and inter-generational. At the ALP national conference last month, Wayne Swan extolled like Fukuyama the normalisation of socialism and mocked the Liberals for losing the moral authority to “demonise” deficits ever again. Swan may be a dolt but he wasn’t wrong. If team No gets the wobbles and fails in four weeks’ time, forget the budget. Start getting used to a one party state.