Failure of the Voice to parliament doesn’t mean Anthony Albanese has to quit

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The abject failure of the Voice campaign is the worst thing to happen to the Albanese government since it was elected almost a year and a half ago.

But that is a good thing.

Not for the Indigenous people who voted for it by overwhelming margins, especially in remote communities – thus torching the myth that Aboriginal people did not support the proposal.

Nor for Yes supporters like myself – and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese now that I think about it.

But for a fledgling government to survive in the wild it needs to learn the dangers of the jungle quickly, and Albanese’s lesson was a long time coming.

While the landslide loss of the previous Coalition government didn’t quite result in a landslide win for Labor – thanks largely to Greens and Teals stealing votes from the ALP – the astonishing result in the Aston by-election gave Albo et al every reason to think they were invincible.

And that is a very dangerous thing to think.

Almost three millennia ago the good book noted: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

And in the more pragmatic and earthly Roman world a slave would be required to whisper in an all-conquering general’s ear during his triumphal parade: “Remember you are mortal …”

Thus for more than two thousand years it has been common wisdom that the moment you were riding high was when you were most at risk of being brought down.

This axiom has remained true throughout all of human history since, and never more so than when it encountered modern democracy.

Just take the last 50 years of Australia’s. Gough Whitlam got in and then drank his own Kool Aid – not to mention everybody else’s – and thus got out again three years later.

Malcolm Fraser, once condemned by the left as a pantomime villain and later recast as an also-ran and later a lefty hero, won three elections on the trot, behind only Menzies, Hawke and Howard.

Bob Hawke too loved a drink, be it his own Kool Aid or someone else’s Carlton Draught, but even sober as a judge he thought after his big win in 1983 he could go again in 1984 and pull in an even greater landslide after a long campaign with himself at the centre of it.

The House of Representatives had just been expanded from 125 to 148 seats and the Coalition picked up 16 – more than double Labor’s seven.

But Hawke survived and listened and learned and went on to increase his majority at the following poll and win another one for good measure, thus becoming Labor’s longest serving prime minister and a party demigod.

He also lost a few referendums in the process by the by.

Likewise John Howard, that byword for political stability and sagacity in the Liberal Party, had an absolute shocker of a first term, losing three senior ministers in the infamous travel rorts scandal the year after his government was elected in another landslide.

Yet in what Sir Humphrey Appleby would no doubt describe as a “courageous decision”, he went to the polls the following year promising a GST he had previously ruled out and scraped in by the skin of his teeth, despite having lost the popular vote.

Howard went on win another two elections that were at times considered write-offs to become Australia’s second longest-serving prime minister, just edging out Hawke to place himself squarely in the shadow of his hero Robert Menzies.

And so the failure of the Voice referendum is hardly the existential crisis for Albanese that some have claimed, let alone cause for him to resign. And despite all the very valid frustration and criticism of his role in the campaign, you can bet London to a brick that none of his colleagues will move against him.

But it is a Rubicon that Albo must cross, and also a cross he must bear as he does so.

To this end you can expect Albanese, who has already cast off pretty much all of his early leftist luggage to be a sensible centrist leader, to be a lightning rod for Middle Australia.

The Voice, wrongly but successfully miscast as an inner-city lefty obsession, will be sadly put to rest with a renewed focus on closing the gap through more practical and clear-eyed solutions for Indigenous communities – no bad thing.

Meanwhile the cost of living crisis will be an officially declared all-consuming obsession for the government. They will have more stake in bread and butter issues than a baker and a cow and anything with a whiff of wokeness they won’t touch with a bargepole.

Finally you can expect the PM to confirm his already unequivocal support of Israel and the US when he meets with President Joe Biden in coming days, notwithstanding the genuine concerns about ongoing civilian casualties on both sides. God help us all.

When big global movements are afoot it is easy for Australia to feel small. And often we are in population and influence.

But we are also an overwhelmingly peaceful and safe democracy that in the most part learns from its mistakes instead of being defined by them. This too is true of our better leaders.

Prime Ministers are measured by their successes but they are forged by their failures.

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