“We’ve become America,” a Labor staffer muttered. “Queensland’s Texas and we’ll end up with our own Trump.”
Queensland was copping it everywhere for swinging 4.4 per cent in the Coalition’s favour. But no one had anywhere geographic to turn: even Victoria, which John Howard had once called Massachusetts, had swung only around 2 per cent to Labor. The Victorian swing gave no joy at all to this crowd, because it didn’t convert to anything worthwhile. All those hopes of Labor repeating the achievements of last year’s Victorian state election, all those predictions of the suburbs abandoning the Liberals … dust!
“At the moment, the Labor Party can’t reach majority,” the ABC’s Antony Green had declared from the big screen above the crowd at 9.05pm, adding that on the figures available, the Coalition could do so.
The party-dressed Labor attendees began staring into the depths of their beer glasses.
By 9.30pm Green, appearing as if he was having difficulty believing it himself, was declaring it appeared the Morrison government would be returned. His only qualification was that he couldn’t predict whether it would be a majority or minority government.
To say the mood had turned since the legions of the Labor hopeful trooped in the early evening to the Hyatt at Essendon Fields, ready for festivity, was to understate the matter considerably.
Disbelief infected the air.
“Bleak, horrible, depressing and really, unbelievable,” recited a woman named Kate, her black cocktail dress a little redundant now.
A young couple appearing close to requiring medical treatment reeled towards the door as Peter Dutton appeared on the big screen to steal Paul Keating’s most infamous words of hubris: “this is the greatest victory of all”.
Things had been going downhill for more than two hours for the Labor crowd at Essendon Fields, stuck out next to Melbourne’s oldest airfield. The pumped mood had begun to leak air about 90 minutes after the east coast polls closed.
As 10pm approached, there were groups of Shorten’s people so despondent you’d almost believe they’d be prepared to stagger over to the airport and to take a flight to … anywhere. New Zealand seemed to be a destination in vogue among many.
There was no sign of Bill Shorten. No one expected his appearance any time soon.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.