Australia enters a brave new world


Australia’s crossbench in history. Chart courtesy of Ben Raue

The reactions to Labor’s somewhat unexpected election win on Saturday night have reflected the about-turns that occur when the political climate changes. As always, there were positive opportunities for some. Sydney University wasted no time congratulating incoming PM Anthony Albanese, an alumni member. It should also be noted that former Prime Ministers who attended Sydney University included Gough Whitlam, John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull. So much for universities being the breeding ground of Marxists.

Former Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull took to social media to wish Albo (as he is known in Aussie shorthand), all success in his new job ‘from one good bloke to another’.

Another former PM, John Howard, was drafted late into the Liberal campaign to mix it up in marginal Sydney seats in an election Howard said was ‘too tight to call’. As far as I can tell, Mr Howard has not had anything to say in the aftermath of Saturday’s poll. Why would he?

The Guardian’s top satirist, First Dog on the Moon, gave a harsh farewell to Scott Morrison’s government: “Good riddance you jabbering ghouls.” At the same time, the cartoonist was sharpening his quill ready to skewer the incoming PM. One dog says “I love Albo, I really do” while the other says Albo is a “gazillionaire landlord with a bunch of properties”. (His register of interests doesn’t indicate this. Ed) It won’t take long for the honeymoon to end.

Fair to say the Labor Party did not win this election – rather, the Liberal Party lost it, giving up seats not only to Labor but the Greens and Independents. The Greens improved their national vote, up 1.9% to 12.3%. This might give you some clue to the voting tendencies of young voters.  As polls had shown, the 18-34 cohort was most worried about climate change. Given that neither of the major parties had bold things to say in the campaign about the climate crisis, it’s not surprising that young people would vote Green.

My favourite pundit accurately predicted the partial disintegration of the major parties vote in favour of independents. Veteran blogger Everald Compton wrote an unequivocal essay detailing why the Liberals would lose seats (and where) and who would gain. He was mostly right.

Top of Everald’s wish list was that we would end up with a Prime Minister who is neither Albo or ScoMo. Well that didn’t quite happen, but as the 90-year-old blogger rightly asked:

“Why have we reached this point where politics is at its lowest ebb of my lifetime. Indeed, a huge percentage of voters rank it as the lowest of the low?

“The cause is that political parties on both right and left are tightly controlled by small groups of power brokers who produce privileges for elite people, while arrogantly insisting that it is all really ultra democratic.”

The mainstream media, represented for the most by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd., is still to fully mount a persuasive argument as to how and why their editorials got it so wrong.

Retired News executive Chris Mitchell came out swinging, blaming journalists, particularly the ABC, for inaccurately portraying Scott Morrison as someone who had a problem with women.

Peta Credlin and others on the conservative channel Sky News had some predictably caustic things to say which lost their sting as a result of the undeniable swing to Labor, Greens and Independents.

Former PM Kevin Rudd, who is leading a campaign for an inquiry into News Corp and the power it wields, posted a telling graph on social media. It showed that in the lead up to the election, News Corp front pages ran 188 pro-Liberal stories, compared with just 38 for Labor and 99 ‘neutral’. Our State newspaper, the Courier-Mail, carried more than a few anti-Labor stories, going hard with an ‘Albo’s S****show’, story based on the Labor leader’s first campaign gaffes, including not knowing the current official interest rate. (By the bye, I didn’t know what it was either).

The media in general will have some dungeon-searching to do, given the extent to which their political writers failed to see the rout coming, particularly Western Australia’s swing against the Liberals.

American broadcaster CNN reported the election result as a clear win for climate action. CNN said the election showed a strong swing towards Greens candidates and Independents who demanded emissions cuts far above the commitments made by the ruling conservative coalition.

CNN said the climate crisis was one of the defining issues of the election, as one of the few points of difference between the Coalition and Labor, and a key concern of voters, according to polls.

Marija Taflaga, lecturer in politics and international relations at the Australian National University, said the swing towards the Greens was remarkable. “I think everyone has been taken by surprise by these results…I think it will mean there will be greater and faster action on climate change more broadly.”

Labor has promised to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050, partly by strengthening the mechanism used to pressure companies to make cuts.

As the Prime Minister-elect headed to Tokyo for talks with the leaders of the US, India and Japan, China made its first official comment on the election win.

As the ABC reported, Beijing showed it is willing to patch things up with the newly elected Albanese government after more than two years of a cool relationship with the former government.

Premier Li Keqiang’s congratulatory message used ‘warm language’ referencing the Whitlam Labor government’s establishment of diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic 50 years ago.

Mr Li said China was “ready to work with the Australian side to review the past, face the future, uphold principles of mutual respect, mutual benefit.”

While vote counting continues (it could take a week or more to decide the close seats), one thing is certain, this government will have the largest cross-bench in our history.

The cross-bench refers to independent politicians who usually vote with the government but can and will cross the floor to vote with the opposition if so moved. Australia has only ever had between three and five cross-benchers.

This time around, there will be 15 and maybe more Green and Independent politicians helping to inform the government of the day.

As Everald Compton said last Friday, this will create a long overdue and stable government that achieves progress and prosperity with justice and compassion.

“The Coalition will be decimated and divided and in need of total reform as they have self-destructed.

“The remnants of the Liberal Party will break up, with the Pentecostals separating from the Moderates. The National Party, having lost seats, will have a bitter leadership turmoil. Their extreme right will join with the Pentecostals.” (Everald was wrong about the National Party losing seats- they were re-elected in all of the seats they held before the election. Otherwise, his predictions are pretty accurate. Ed)

The one big loser from Saturday’s election is the United Australia Party, which reportedly spent $100 million trying to make an impact. UAP won no seats and only improved its vote by 1.7% to 4.1%. By contrast, the Legalise Cannabis Party attracted more than 75,000 Senate votes on a shoe-string budget and may gain a Senate seat, at the expense of perennial campaigner Pauline Hanson.

The shape of things to come may be that Albanese’s Labor government will need support from the cross-bench to introduce new policy. The numbers so far suggest Labor should be able to govern in its own right. Failing that, welcome to a European-style government where Greens and Independents have the final say. It’s not a bad thing.

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