North Coast journalist Mungo MacCallum’s federal election chronicle, Mad Marathon, hit the stores even before the final results were declared, with several Senate seats hanging and Clive Palmer, “the former loyal bagman for the Coalition”, on such a slender margin that a recount in Fairfax seemed likely.
While helped in his daunting task by then-PM Gillard’s January announcement of a September election, and the outcome already seeming clear, MacCallum has surpassed his accounts* of the past two elections in terms of both detail and irreverent humour.
The signs were that this would be a ‘madder’ campaign, despite the likely result and however drawn-out – hence ‘marathon’ – it was shaping up to be.
Portraying the campaign as a crazy caper peopled by unlikely, often irrational, characters, he begins each chapter with a quote on the theme of madness, from Napoleon to John Lennon, Shakespeare (twice) to Baudelaire, and, my favourite, George Santayana: “I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it”.
Yet this veteran follower of our political winds does not make light of the electoral process.
“Australian politics may have reached its lowest ebb in the fifty years I have been actively covering it, but it still provides a better basis for a democratic future than almost anywhere else on earth.
“The force is still with us, if we have the courage, the energy and the vision to use it. Keep the faith… politics is the most important invention of the human race, because it is the only way we can resolve our disputes without killing each other.”
Whatever the public’s fatigue, the year has been anything but dull, with a cast of standout personalities who include Peter ‘bottled mussels’ Slipper and James Ashby, Craig Thompson and Eddie Obeid, Wayne ‘Bruce Springsteen’ Swan, Julie ‘death stare’ Bishop, and the Julia Gillard v. Kevin Rudd show.
Then there’s the victor, Anthony John Abbott, the fan of B. A. Santamaria, John Howard and Cardinal Pell, a man of “inflammatory hyperbole” who “clearly decided to follow the advice of his minders and play the statesman” - all the way to the Lodge, as it happened.
All this and much more, amidst a Coalition campaign of lock-down and a Labor campaign of confusion, back-biting and, finally, desperate measures to save seats (bringing back Rudd, a moderate success) and parachuting in Peter Beattie to save Queensland (a failure).
An admirer of Rudd more than Gillard, Turnbull more than Abbott, and, despite his history to the contrary, of some key Greens policies, MacCallum wonders whether Australia gets the governments it deserves, “or are they thrust upon us by vested interests, pressure groups, faceless apparatchiks and, to a lesser extent, the media and the environment that surround us all?”
It’s a valid question and, given the events he describes, one that would be difficult to answer in the negative.
* Poll Dancing, and Punch & Judy, are both published by Melbourne’s Black Inc Books
** Mungo vlogs each week at the EchoNet.