The Lucky Country can count itself, well, lucky …
Last Saturday’s Aussie federal election has re-shaped the political landscape and did so quite dramatically. For the better, I’d argue.
For sure, Albanese is right when he says, “The Australian people have voted for change.” As it looks right now, “Albo” will lead a government that is likely to have a lower-house (“House of Representatives”) majority of seats and on top of it faces an overall friendly cross-bench which will include at least 3 Greens (Adam Bandt, Elizabeth Watson-Brown, Max Chandler-Mather), and several teal independent candidates, mostly women, partially supported by Climate 200, namely Allegra Spender [who defeated Dave Sharma], Andrew Wilkie [re-elected], Helen Haines [re-elected], Kate Chaney, Kylea Tink, Monique Ryan [who took out J Frydenberg], Sophie Scamps, Zali Steggall [re-elected, defeating Morrison’s controversial and cynical captain’s pick, K Deves], and Zoe Daniel [who defeated the pathetic Tim Wilson]; other cross benchers are Dai Le [who took out K Keneally but is not affiliated with Climate 200], as well as Rebekah Sharkie [re-elected] and Bob Katter [re-elected].
Several trends seem to have led to this outcome. Apart from the tealing of selected seats (and the related loss of the Liberals’ wealthy heartland in NSW and Victoria), surely the red waves in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia (possibly the aftermath of the way these states dealt with the pandemic) played a role, as did the greening of Queensland, South Australia, and the ACT. (The greening of Queensland and the success of the Greens in other places seems to have been helped by the teal candidates’ focus on issues such as climate and integrity.) There seems to be considerable agreement that the Morrison-Joyce government, apart from being fairly incompetent, failed to read properly wide-spread — and to some extent gendered — concerns about climate, government integrity, and gender equality and respect issues and a growing sense that the rhetoric of the government, and of its key characters, was increasingly out of line with what people — and women in particular — experience as their reality. On top of this, both Joyce and Morrison alienated key parts of their audience through their personal behavior (e.g., religious nuttiness on Morrison’s part and the idiosyncratic family values that Joyce had on offer) and divisive messaging. McCormack is quite likely onto something, not withstanding the fact that the Nationals seem to have ducked the trend that decimated the Liberals.
Much has been made of the reduction in primary vote share. It is what it is, and to the extent that preferences can be placed strategically, it is only so important. It is noteworthy that the “Coalition” of Liberals and Nationals lost more than 5 percent of the primary vote, Labor lost only about half a percent (hardly a slump that!), with Independents (~2%), Greens (~1.5%), Hanson’s One Nation (~2%) and even Palmer’s UAP (~0.5%) gaining vote share. Hanson managed to keep her seat while Palmer and the pathetic Craig Kelly (the AUP formal leader, former Liberal, and self-anointed “future prime minister”) were left empty-handed.
If Labor is able to form a majority government (highly likely at this point), it will have to rely in the Senate — where the fate of legislation is ultimately determined — on Greens and a diverse bunch of independents. That most likely means that Labor will have to play nice not only in the Senate but also in the House of Representatives. Which I predict it will: Albanese has a reputation — that goes back to the relatively successful (minority) Labor government under Gillard-- of being an effective administrator and negotiator. It was no surprise that Gillard made a point of supporting him late in the campaign.
That Albanese comes across as a decent chap, who has an intriguing life story to tell, does not hurt matters and it does not really come as a surprise that his victory speech was lauded (deservedly so, IMHO) and reflected a different tone as well as a different conception of how politics for the people should work.
Let’s note that the outcome of the election was so stark that it gave Australia’s Governor-General enough confidence to go ahead and appoint Albanese prime minister with the final configuration of seats in the House of Representatives still unclear. A smooth and uneventful transition. Something that these days can’t always be taken for granted. So it is noteworthy.
So where from here …
Tone matters, and the way the government works matters, and so do the actual policies implemented.
There will be a different tone in Canberra. Expect the Respect@Work Report recommendations to be comprehensively, and effectively, implemented (and not just noted). It will help that women are expected to fill approximately 57 per cent of Senate spots and about 38 per cent of House of Representatives members in the new parliament. As will an ethnically more diverse parliament. It is encouraging that Albanese made it clear, in his acceptance speech no less, that he embraces the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And it was telling that, before he addressed the media as prime minister for the first time, he had both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags installed next to the Australian flag.
Expect Albanese to move away from the “presidentialisation” of Aussie politics, a development to which Morrison very much contributed. Albanese will rely heavily on what seems a strong front-bench. He’d be stupid to hog the lime-light.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission is a low-hanging fruit that I trust Labor, with support of most of the cross-benchers, will implement before the end of the year. It is ready for the picking, will most likely be based on cross-bencher Helen Haines’s draft from 2020, will be supported by most cross-benchers, and is likely to allow for public hearings (if they are in the public’s interest), referrals by whisteblowers and public complaints, and will have retro-active powers to investigate alleged misconduct from 15 years ago.
Labor has also committed to install an independent national environmental watchdog. This, too, is a low-hanging fruit that I trust Labor, with support of most of the cross-benchers, will implement before the end of the year.
Labor made a number of other promises and undoubtedly it will be held to account for it. As it should. Labor, unfortunately, will also have to deal with an enormous debt and deficit situation. And the current high-interest environment does not help matters. It will be a decade at the minimum until the budget will truly be “back in black”. Contrary to some other people I am not convinced that the economy is fully back on track. For starters I believe that the official unemployment rate is very misleading. (But that’s at topic for another day.)
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Liberals and Nationals will hash it out. The last few days have seen considerable self-reflection on the part of some (see here and here and here and here and here) but considerable resistance on the part of others, mainly right-wing talking heads such as Bolt, Credlin, Dean, Murray, Panahi, … . The rhetoric of some of these folks borders on the unhinged. To wit:
For six weeks Murray told his audience the polls were inaccurate and the Coalition could still win. He had cozy chats with Scott Morrison, who chose to appear on his program rather than the ABC during the election campaign.
“I’m proud of my mate”, an emotional Murray said on Saturday night when it was clear Morrison had lost.
On Sunday night he was gearing up for a new fight, saying: “Welcome to the first meeting of the new resistance”. …
Herald Sun columnist and Outsiders host, Rita Panahi, was quick to accuse Albanese of causing division because the first thing he said in his victory speech was that Labor will commit “in full” to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. …
But it was Andrew Bolt, the Herald Sun’s star columnist and Sky News host, who reacted with visceral anger.
“Scott Morrison’s pathetic Liberals got smashed by telling the world they were the Guilty Party,” Bolt wrote. “Guilty on the ‘climate emergency’. Guilty of being mean to women. Guilty on ‘reconciliation’.
“Who’d vote for such a mewling pack of self-haters with so little self-respect that they won’t even sack a party traitor like Malcolm Turnbull? Thank God this election wipe-out has taken out many of their worst grovellers.
“Please, Peter Dutton, take over, and make the Liberals stop apologising for not being more like Labor. Let the Liberals be Liberals again. But still I see some of the more clueless Liberal survivors crawl from the wreckage and whimper that they’ve got to swing even more to the Left.”
Dutton? Labor’s War Room will have a hard time to contain its excitement.
In hindsight, Zali Steggall’s 2019 unseating of Tony Abbott was a warning to the Liberal party that it was losing its traditional base. The Liberal party did not get it and in fact, egged on by these talking heads, ignored the issues. In light of the — resounding — re-election of Steggall, it seems obvious that the Coalition would do well to rethink its take on climate, government integrity, and gender equality and respect issues. And captain’s picks, too.
Having lost somewhat more moderate representatives like Frydenberg, Sharma, and Zimmerman, the Liberals might be left with unpalatable choices such as Dutton though. Plus, since Morrison seems intent to stay on as the member for Cook, there is a good chance that he will create mischief. Ask Gillard about Rudd.
I predict that the Teal Model is here to stay, and so will be power-sharing arrangements if not in the House of Representatives than in the Senate. Which I believe is a good thing. The AU two-party adversarial system has not served people well since … 2013? Time to disrupt it, I’d say, and kick out … well, the people that got kicked out.
Afterthought (By Mann & Turnbull), a week later:
The teal independents in Australia were running against Liberal incumbents, most of whom would normally get a first-preference vote of 50% or more. However if they could take a substantial part of that and get the incumbent’s primary vote down to 40% or less, and if they ran second, they would probably win with the benefit of Labor and Green preferences. And this is more or less what happened.
So a big tent political party was captured by the political right and on several issues, especially climate, and dragged to a position that did not reflect the values of many of its lifetime voters. But the flexibility of preferential voting meant that an independent could come through the middle, offering voters policies and personalities that they wanted.
People power trumped Murdoch. Perhaps it can do so in the US.
Another afterthought (Simon Holmes à Court), a week later:
By the end of the night, the Liberals, the party of government more often than not in the decades since World War II, had lost seven additional seats to independents — six of them to “teals”, the grassroots community efforts following some version of the “Voices of” model developed in the Victorian border electorate of Indi a decade ago.
The model that elected and re-elected Cathy McGowan, who then passed the mantle to Helen Haines, was translated by residents of Warringah for the election of Zali Steggall in 2019.