A New Government – Election Overview

Incoming PM Anthony Albanese signs a poster for twin brothers in Sydney’s inner west yesterday (photo courtesy AAP)

A New Beginning . . .

Nicholas Stuart

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This is, for Labor, at once both the best of times and the worst of times. 

LABOR WON, BUT . . . 

They won – terrific!

It’s impossible, however, to imagine a less inspiring or underwhelming victory than this: Anthony Albanese limpidly tripping into the Lodge with less than a third (32.81 percent) of the first-preference vote, half a percent less and fewer total votes than Bill Shorten gained in his defeat three years ago. As it appears at the moment, never since the development of the two-party system have we elected a government with a smaller percentage of the primary vote than on Saturday.

Yet the Liberal party has been pulverised. A dysfunctional and incompetent government was emphatically thrown out as people voted enthusiastically for change, and that’s why it’s important to understand what actually occurred on Saturday.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

It wasn’t a Red (Labor) wave but a Teal and Green revolution that dispatched the Blue (Liberal) government and it’s no accident that those colours are in the centre of the spectrum. Australia wants to leave the divisive politics of the past behind, just as France did voting for Emmanuel Macron. A third way with centrist politics. Energised and inclusive social and environmental policies that offer women a central role in charting our way forward.

If traditionally Liberal electorates (Warringah, Mackellar and Wentworth in Sydney; Goldstein and Kooyong in Melbourne; Curtin in the West) had not demanded integrity, today we would have a Liberal government.

If others (Brisbane, Ryan and Griffith) had not witnessed environmental catastrophe literally lapping at their doors, today we would have a Liberal government.

Every electorate that turned teal saw the loss of a man to an intelligent, forward-thinking woman. Winning the Teal vote could have delivered Morrison government. Instead he courted the fringe.

Deconstruct the swings themselves – what actually occurred in the ballot booths as we voted – if you want to see where the country is headed. Yes, we’ve ended up with Albanese in the Lodge but that’s not where the enthusiasm resides.

There was a huge swing against the Liberals (minus 4.47 percent, first party preferences) but a swing of 0.53 against Labor as well. And even though the coal party, oops, the Nationals, didn’t lose any seats they also waved goodbye to 0.38 percent of their vote. So why? What explains this swell of disaffection for the major parties?

THE LIBERAL FAILURE

Morrison thought the fastest way to the Lodge was to use the hard-line extremist views of Craig Kelly and Pauline Hanson to triangulate Labor. He relied on politics to beat policy. He failed.

The problem was that Morrison has frog-marched the Liberal party away from its roots and, far more significantly today, any possible moderate who could take the party back to the middle. Its future leadership has been crippled as a result of this rejection of hard-line conservatism.

If, instead of waving his precious lump of coal around in parliament, Morrison had offered some suggestion he had some environmental consciousness, he might have won. But rather than bothering to answer genuine questions and offer a way forward the former PM (and oh, how good it feels to write that phrase!) always pretended he was on top of everything, had all the answers, was doing all that needed to be done.

On Saturday night the mirage he was so energetically building finally collapsed under the mass of lies and fabrications required to support it.

This nation, dramatically, overwhelmingly, and almost impossibly (in an electoral system that so determinedly acts to reinforce the two-party system) has voted for vision.

THE NEW GOVERNMENT’S TASK – UNITE THE COUNTRY!

It’s important to understand why the country embraced change, because this has lessons for both major parties. We enthusiastically backed immediate climate action, political probity, and genuine economic reform simply because it’s the right thing to do. Instead of the coal-fired political slush-funds, car parks and patch-up local projects, voters want the government to simply do the right thing. It’s now up to the new government to deliver.

We voted for a new future, not the past. Labor’s challenge is to listen to this message, hear it, and act. It can no longer afford a relaxed approach, using this term to slowly ease itself into government and establish its credentials while leaving genuine reform to the next. Australia has voted for action on climate, integrity, reconciliation, and housing. Now, today, and not put off until some indefinite time in the future. And how we voted!

There’s a lot of positive talk about Albanese’s capacity to ‘wrangle’ parliament, because that’s what he did during the last minority parliament, but don’t forget what also happened during that tragic period. Labor tossed out its leader, Julia Gillard, before the party itself was dismissed by voters. Voters don’t care how many pieces of legislation are passed by a government if they don’t see the results affecting their daily lives in a positive way.

And this is the chalenge for Albanese. He can enjoy his miracle today but more of the same won’t win the next election. He needs to change and act. A failure of ambition will not unite the country.

Labor is carrying a lot of old-fashioned, factional dead wood onto the front bench with him. Albanese should give them all – and himself – eighteen months to either make good or be shuffled out. It’s his only way to survive.

This election has demonstrated this is a moderate, progressive country, non-ideological and concerned about the environment, integrity and fairness.

Kristina Keneally’s appalling result in western Sydney demonstrates that diverse communities won’t lie down and accept the imposition of wealthy white women on the party’s whim.

It’s up to the government to live up to the high standard of this cleansing wave that’s washing through parliament.

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And the former government? What hope for them, now?

Well if they choose Peter Dutton to lead them, probably none.

Scott Morrison set out to win the votes of so-called ‘ordinary Australians’ but this is a country of extraordinary people. Aiming your sights at the lowest common denominator was never going to deliver victory.

As well as the contractors, Christians and conservatives, the former prime minister thought he could cobble together a winning message relying squarely on self-interest, but keeping Barnaby Joyce happy was never going to be enough.

If Morrison had been capable of infusing his message with genuine liberal values he’d probably be returning to work this morning. Instead he flirted with Katherine Deves and may have won a couple of votes – but he didn’t win any seats.

Let’s hope we’ve finally reached the end of revolving government.

  • Nicholas Stuart is editor of ability.news and a regular Canberra Times columnist.

Nic Stuart

Nicholas Stuart is an author (Kevin Rudd, an unauthorised political biography; What Goes Up, behind the 2007 election; Kevin Rudd, 2007 - 2011) and columnist with the Canberra Times. He was the ABC's Indochina Correspondent when he suffered a significant head injury in a car crash in Bangkok.

One thought on “A New Government – Election Overview

  1. Marion Cornish

    Thanks Nic for summing up brilliantly what I am trying to capture myself in the election wash up. I wanted to try and equate it with the Whitlam win but couldn’t do it? Was wondering if it was merely from watching too many elections?
    Btw the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney Uni is planning celebrations for 50 years since that election. Will keep in touch on LinkedIn and maybe I can drag you up to Sydney for a few of them?

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