What just happened?

When I left Australia in December, it was inconceivable that Labor would not be re-elected in this year’s election. The Liberals had gone for a third leader since Howard and had no policies. None of that changed but in the intervening period, the Henry Tax Review proved a disaster and Rudd was stunningly deposed. One wouldn’t even have thought this would be enough but it is clear that if you add what was a poorly run campaign, there is a real possibility that the Government will change sometime this week. I should also add that it took until 11pm on election nights for the betting markets to actually move in line with the reality — so much for them.

Here are a few other points that should be made:

  • Politics drove the situation we find ourselves in. It destroyed Malcolm Turnbull’s chances of bringing sanity. And it led to Rudd’s ousting and it is almost surely the case that that cost the Labor party votes and seats (especially in Queensland).
  • But more importantly, this outcomes exposes Labor’s problem is that it currently has no core values that it will stick to. This is in contrast to The Greens as John Quiggin has reminded us often recently. Labor failed to significantly improve educational outcomes. Labor did little to correct held. Labor abandoned the urgency of doing something on climate change. Labor moved on broadband and telecommunications competition and faltered with a narrow vision and inconsistencies (such as the internet filter). Labor failed to give Australia moral leadership on immigration. And finally Labor have done nothing to end the legislative discrimination against same sex marriage. If Labor is returned to power, my hope is that it will get this core back and start putting that above politics. My hope for that lies in a necessary coalition with The Greens keeping them honest.
  • All that said, I worry about what this all reflects about Australia. No commentator seems to be saying this but I wonder if gender discrimination is more entrenched in Australia than many of us had considered. The media coverage, terrible though it was, in many ways surely reflects the tolerances and intolerances of its readership.
  • On the real prospect of a Coalition government, the need to rely on independents will surely not help us improve matters. The hope is that it will be more like Ronald Reagan (with some good advisors) and less like George W. Bush but it is really hard to tell at this stage.
  • What was going on with the informal vote? Many seats well above 5%
  • Finally, and on a note of considerable hope, Andrew Leigh has won in Fraser and with a better performance than his peers.

8 thoughts on “What just happened?”

  1. Someone said of the UK Labour party that once they ditched socialism as a value so they could get elected they ended up ditching all of them.  This Labor party has gone the same way: no values left.  It’s why this lifelong Labor voter changed.
    For me it was the asylum seeker travesty that finally did it, but that was just the the last in a line of betrayals.  The first was probably that useless ETS which was so obviously spending taxpayer money on no change at all.
    As for misogyny…  Australia has been deeply misogynist all my life.  It’s hard to say so if you are female because of the names you get called, but it was so and still is.  I don’t know if that was part of Labor’s problem, it didn’t feel so to me.  Perhaps because I expected what we got, and was surprised it didn’t go further.


  2. Josh, I too do not like in Australia and why I share many of your sentiments about the quality of the media, the conclusion I draw is considerably different to your own.

    Firstly, the media saw Gillard’s gender as a net positive. It was Abbott who had a problem with women. It was Gillard who was historic. Let’s not forget the “no means no” faux outrage. Abbott had to contend with an extraordinarily hostile media around this gender issue.

    Secondly, the Australian public dislike partonising pollies. That is one of Gillard’s problems. There is this leviathan-like view of the State which Labor (and the Greens) believe in. The Australian public does not share in the same optimistic assessment of government. That is why the blithe comments about waste and mismanagement caused significant problems. There can be no excuse for wasting other people’s money.

    Finally, Labor’s core vote is split between metropolitan middle class progressives and the working class unionists. You are the former. So your ideas, if advocated, would have led to the latter part leaking votes to the Coalition. Your views might be popular amongst progressives but amongst socially conservative working class voters, they are not. 


  3. Josh, being overseas, you probably missed Mark Latham’s 60 Minutes story. He concluded by advising voters to vote informally, and explained it was legal to do so. This was naturally pooh-poohed by the commentariat, but it looks like lots of voters agreed with Latham.

    As to your suspicions about gender bias, I, like SeanG above, think that’s totally unwarranted. If anything, Gillard enjoyed a significant boost due to her gender. Abbott, by contrast, was subject to a grubby and inept attempt to wedge him based in his gender. In fact, I think the nastiness of that campaign helped unseat Labor.

    As to Rudd’s demise, I don’t know what you mean by blaming it on politics. It’s called democracy, and Kevvie brought it all on himself. In my view, Gillard damaged her campaign by pretending to reconcile with him.


  4. It pains me to say it, but I agree with SeanG that Labor’s problem isn’t just that it lacks core values to which it holds steadfastly. The big swing to the Greens—3.7 percentage points—surely points to dissatisfaction from us metropolitan middle class progressives with Labor’s policies on climate change, asylum seekers and same sex marriage. But it wasn’t this swing that did the damage, it was the 1.8 percentage point swing to the Coalition that delivered them a raft of close seats. Labor’s problem was that instead of trying to bring voters with it on key issues, it offered a watered-down version of Coalition policy.
    It did not try hard to convince voters that the mining super-profits tax would make the Australian economy more efficient and fairer and that miners would not lose their jobs en masse, that the number of asylum seekers is small and that accommodating genuine asylum seekers does not constitute a threat to the living standards of Australians, that issues like climate change and immigration can be dealt with rationally and compassionately, it’s not just all too difficult and the solution is not for us to close our eyes and borders and wish these issues away.
    Instead, it told swing voters that it understood their concerns and offered some kind of apologetic compromise. It offered these voters half of what they wanted, while the Coalition offered them much more. The outcome, then, can hardly be a surprise.  
    The silver lining in this election is that Family First’s Steve Fielding appears to have lost his seat: one clueless bigoted fundamentalist down. The scary thing is that Bob Katter might share the balance of power in the House of Reps.


  5. One of the more interesting observations made by one of the many election night talking heads was that this election had the equivalent of two Opposition Leaders fighting it out for victory.
    I think the electorate voted as per the general mood – they signalled that they didn’t like either party.


  6. conclusions – are sad but not all is lost….we are not far from the trigger for the next election….and hopefully we get pollies to stand up and say what really matters in a country that has all the policy freedom it needs but has a lot of underperforming political salesmen and women and policy makers

    the short run horse trading will settle and independents and their constitutents will be richly rewarded by a cash splash…..and also will hopefully remember the national interst and the real policy issues that still need to be addressed – notwithstand Australia has no sovereign dbet problem

    sooner or later the hung lower and upper hosuses will need to go back to the electorate – it could be triggered by lots of things – even sickness of a polly or two, or etc – and hopefully by then the marginal voters will have made up their minds in the “right” or “left” way!

    infrastructure to get red and black gold to China at historical high returns

    high quality teachers (& some school halls) for both kindergarten, trade schools and universities – all high return areas

    a big island with lots of land –  can do a lot of smart building of homes – even in concentrated cities

    dams and proper water pricing – rather than expensive insurance and high operating costs in desal plants

    carbon pricing and support for smart scientists/ business to reduce dirty technology useage and export it off to China to help catchup in a claen and sustainable way

    financial system….not even mentioned – and its needs some policies to rebalanc of growth, efficiency and stability objectives




    Julia – thought she would strike in a honeymoon period

    Tony – rang howard everyday and ran a marathon

    and the marginals could not trust either yet….but how long to the next election to fix this up???? with risk/return politicians with good policies from good policy makers


  7. I realised in my first sentence I said “like” rather than “live”! Sorry about that, but my sentiment stands.


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