Even if Malcolm Turnbull scrapes home, either with a razor-thin majority or in a minority government, the damage will be immense.
The Prime Minister’s authority is greatly diminished, his mandate is now highly questionable and his agenda threadbare. His Labor opponent Bill Shorten, who has not given up hope of forming a minority government either, is invigorated.
The conservative wing of the Liberal Party, deluded as some of them might be in thinking that Tony Abbott would have done better, will be emboldened and vengeful.
Turnbull’s tax cuts for big business, barely mentioned during the campaign, look doomed in the Senate.
And his partyroom is already signalling it will dilute the coalition’s ambition to wind back super- annuation concessions for the rich.
Consider, too, the dual issues a double-D was meant to resolve: ridding the Senate of micro-party crazies and the passage of contentious industrial relations legislation through Parliament in a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The election result will allow neither.
In fact, the Senate will become more unwieldy. The three establishment political alignments — the coalition, ALP and the Greens — are likely to collectively shrink in number.
Turnbull’s Senate voting reforms, combined with the smaller quotas required in a double dissolution, have revived Pauline Hanson’s political career.
The coalition’s smaller Senate presence, combined with the Liberal Party’s poor performance in the Lower House, means Turnbull has little chance of getting a majority in a joint sitting to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
Would he risk a joint sitting if he knew risk of another humiliation was high? Unlikely.
Coming eight days after the shock Brexit vote, this Federal election tells us that disaffection with traditional parties is a contagion well and truly alive in Australia. It has become a pox on both Houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Shorten interpreted the lessons from Brexit better than Turnbull, who persisted with his “never a more exciting time to be an Australian” skit. It turns out Australians may have been more nervous than excited by the present and the future, perhaps explaining the success of Labor’s Medicare campaign.
The fact that Labor could win just 35.4 per cent of the primary vote and still be in with a slim chance of forming a minority government shows how splintered the political scene has become. Turnbull, a moderate, will have to show greater heed to the splintering of the Right.
As Cory Bernardi warned yesterday, the “conservative revolution” will happen either inside the Liberal Party or outside it.
Tending the Liberal Party base in this environment will be fraught.
These are humbling times for political leaders. Facing critical negotiations with crossbenchers requires measured humility, not the anger or arrogance that Turnbull displayed in his rather graceless speech on Saturday.