When, in a fortnight’s time, the finals of the French Open are played the respective champions will be awarded their trophies because they have defeated their opponents. They will have won more sets. This is unsurprising. When Ukraine recently won the Eurovision song contest, there were many reasons that saw its performers win the backing of most. Again, unsurprising, even if a touch predictable. When the judges of Australia’s Archibald Portrait Art Prize recently selected their winner, they considered their choice to be the best. Often controversial, but unsurprising. For even in the subjective world of art an argument is made as to why the winning portrait is supreme to others.
Remarkably, Australia’s election has been ‘won’ by a party who only captured 31% of the primary vote. This means that only three of ten voters sought to have a Labor government represent them. The Labor Party’s primary vote has shrunk further from its historic low of 33.34% at the 2019 election.
Spare a thought for Bill Shorten. He was Labor’s leader at the 2019 poll and was pilloried for policies that were seen as too radical. In 2022 Anthony Albanese, offered a ‘smaller target’ strategy, his party received a smaller primary vote, yet he has won government. In 2019 Scott Morrison’s government won a narrow majority of 77 of the 151 seats. As we await counting of a record number of postal and pre-poll votes, it is still unclear whether the Labor Party will be able to obtain a majority of 76 seats, but it appears likely that , they too, will win 77 seats.
So, what do we know for certain? The election has confirmed the disaffection electorate has with both major parties. Both Liberal and Labor lost seats; however, unlike most elections they were not lost to their each other, except for Labor’s gains in Western Australia.
The nation’s political geography could not be starker. Let’s move around country: clockwise.
The Liberal-Nationals in Queensland have retained most of their seats, but both the Liberal and Labor have lost seats in Brisbane to the Greens: Brisbane, Griffith, and Ryan.
It is in Australia’s largest two cities that the seismic changes have occurred. In our two largest cities, the Liberal heartland has turned soft pink, with a feminine overlay.
In Sydney, the impregnable Liberal citadels of Wentworth, North Sydney, Mackellar, Warringah, and North Sydney have all been lost by Liberals to Team Teal female independent candidates. One can now drive from Botany Bay south of Sydney’s harbour, through the CBD and north along the coast to Palm Beach and not pass through a Liberal electorate.
The Labor Party also lost two seats. The first is Fowler, where, ironically, Labor’s plan of ‘parachuting’ another high-profile female candidate, former NSW Premier, Kristina Kenneally, into the seat failed. It also appears Labor has lost the seat of Gilmore in the south of the State. These losses were counterbalanced by the ALP winning suburban Reid and Robertson on the Central Coast. The ALP may also capture, once again, John Howard’s former seat of Bennelong.
Yet in regional New South Wales the National Party have retained all their seats
In Melbourne, the Liberal Party has long had an electoral band of dominance from the upper reaches of the Yarra River in the seat of Menzies to the bayside electorate of Goldstein. Overnight, it has disappeared. The Liberal Party are struggling to retain Menzies and Deakin, but Kooyong, Higgins and Goldstein have been lost, along with Chisholm.
The ALP have won Chisholm and Higgins where lower swings were required, but the 10% giantkiller swings were achieved by Independents in Kooyong and Goldstein. All seats lost by the Liberal Party in suburban Melbourne have been won by female candidates. Victoria once lauded as “the jewel in the Liberal Party’s crown” is now a much tarnished pebble with the party only a chance of winning a maximum of eight out of the State’s thirty-nine seats.
You can now drive from Lorne on Victoria’s western coast, into Melbourne, around Melbourne’s bayside and not drive through a Liberal electorate until reaching the electorate of Flinders some 210 kilometres away.
As in New South Wales, the National Party retained all its Victorian seats.
Tasmania saw no change in its representation. The Liberal Party retained its marginal seats of Bass and Braddon and still has an outside chance of claiming Lyons from the ALP.
In South Australia, the ALP won the marginal metropolitan seat of Boothby. The Liberal Party now only holds one metropolitan seat in Adelaide and only three of the State’s ten electorates. The honeymoon period of incoming Labor Premier, Peter Malinauskas, has clearly aided his federal colleagues.
If the ALP form a majority government, they will have the voters of Western Australia to thank. In 2019, the Liberal Party won 11 of the State’s 16 electorates. Now a State with 15 electorates, the Liberal Party may only win five in 2022. Like South Australia, the stellar approval of ALP Premier, Mark McGowan, has had an osmotic effect at a Federal level in Perth’s suburbs. Unlike the other States where the ALP gained minor swings against the Liberals, there was an Indian Ocean tsunami in the West with swings of 8-12% . If the Liberal Party does not retain the seat of Moore, it will have NO metropolitan representation in Perth.
Often maligned for being happily unaware of trends from the eastern states, Perth has also been touched by the shift in voter sentiment amongst the most affluent. The seat of Curtin, home to a collection of Australia’s most expensive suburbs, is likely to be won by another female Teal independent, Kate Chaney. Even in dissent and change there are family pedigrees: Allegra Spender who has won Sydney’s Wentworth is the daughter of the former Liberal member for North Sydney, John Spender and granddaughter of Percy Spender, a Minister in the Menzies government. Kate Chaney is the niece of former Liberal Senator and Minister in the Fraser government , Fred Chaney. When the worm turns!
In the Territories, no seats switched. However, in the ACT the likely election of independent ,David Pocock, to one of the Territory’s two Senate seats at the expense of the Liberal Party has confirmed the electorate’s appetite for alternative candidates.
We have a fractured political geography. Australia’s regional and rural areas are distinctly alienated from the concerns of the inner cities. In turn, the inner cities and urban elites are demarcated politically from their outer suburban neighbours.
The major parties are wounded. We now have had successive elections where voters have not been emphatically convinced of the virtues of either. We mention TEAL, but let’s not forget that the Greens have increased their representation from one lower House seat (Melbourne) to possibly four or five and will have greater representation in the Senate.
The ALP has long been accused of having an identity crisis when trying to formulate policies to unite its working class and inner-city supporters. It still is a problem. At this election, however, a greater identity crisis has cruelled the Liberal Party. They have lost the support of a significant section of its core constituency. Disaffected Liberal voters have not turned to the ALP, but to an assortment of alternatives. The TEAL alliance has transformed a tranche of traditional Liberal seats into progressive heartlands, especially on the issues of climate change and attitudes to gender equality.
The ideological divisions between the wings of the “broad church “of the Liberal Party are arguably now greater than the working class and progressives in the ALP. For the Liberal Party, the agonising question is this- how do we return the new teal to the old blue, without alienating both the left and right wings of our party? It is a problem accentuated by the defeat of Josh Frydenberg, seen by all as the next leader of the party until yesterday.
It would be tempting to attribute the ALP’s success to a string of traditional electoral factors: the wish of the electorate to change after three terms of a LNP government; concerns about rising inflation and interest rates; dissatisfaction with the style of the Prime Minister and a ‘no-risk’ ALP strategy of offering fewer high-risk policies.
No doubt some of these factors were important; however, the election’s cardinal message is that the electorate no longer considers itself constrained by the two-party paradigm. The electoral success of independents and the Greens- there are now 14 in the House of Representatives-has been profound in delivering second and third preferences and, ultimately, government to the ALP.
Ironically, if the ALP obtains a majority of seats the Independents and Greens will not be rigorously examined as to their preferences on a range of issues as they would have been if there had been a hung parliament.
Some important footnotes from the election before final observations:
-Anthony Albanese becomes our 31st Prime Minister and the first to be divorced
-the election of Mr. Albanese confirms the demographic and cultural changes of our post-World War Two society. His Italian surname now joins the surnames of Premiers Palaszczuk, Berejiklian and Malinauskas as proof of our multiculturalism;
-the defeat of our first indigenous Indigenous Affairs Minister, Ken Wyatt, will see the appointment of our first female Indigenous Affairs Minister, Linda Burney; and
-if Scott Morrison formally resigns tomorrow, he will have served one more day in office than John Curtin, making him our 12th longest serving Prime Minister. History focuses on Curtin’s significance in leading Australia through the balance of World War 2. Morrison’s legacy will no doubt focus on his leadership of Australia through the viral battlegrounds of the pandemic.
After the counting is done, what can we expect?
-the Liberals will have to select a party leader-their sixth since John Howard’s defeat in 2007. If Peter Dutton is elected, the commentators will refocus on the battle for the ideological heart and mind of the party. Sans Frydenberg and Porter, there does not seem a realistic alternative? Angus Taylor? There are certainly fewer moderates left in the party.
-the ALP will give priority to staging a referendum to honour the Uluru Statement from the Heart within a year;
-a Federal Cabinet that is likely to have 50% female representation- a closing of the ‘representation gap’ if you will; and
-a Senate that is no less, and probably more, cantankerous – David Pocock may enter the Senate to adjudicate on the government’s mandate with Pauline Hanson’s party and the Greens having extra representation along with the indefatigable Jacqui Lambie, ;
And, despite the increasingly muddled nature of our political preferences and allegiances, the three great platitudes of Australian politics remain alive :
-every victorious leader will promise to govern for “all Australians, not simply those that voted for us;”
-every defeated Member feigns faux relief, expressing a desire “to spend more time with their family;”
-every departed Prime Minister assures the electorate that the “country is in a far better state than when I became leader.”
Everyone seeks their chance to write their farewell page in history. It will be no different for Djokovic and Nadal at Roland Garros over the next fortnight. Sadly, Federer continues to be denied of a platform to compose his ‘funeral oration’ . Nadal’s foot injury may derail the greatest ever clay court player from playing at the tournament he will forever be associated with.
Yesterday morning, I commented to a friend that the election could, for many voters be a choice between deciding “whether to give Albo a go” or “stick with Sco-Mo the devil they know."
Yesterday’s result indicated that for a considerable number, neither was a preferred option. Where this mass abandonment of traditional political loyalties and practices leads us is for all of us to now know.