Australia has a new federal government. We have finally rid ourselves of the worst government in my lifetime. An indecent, lying, corrupt government. A government that messed up so many important things yet never took responsibility. During the pandemic, it was the state governments that saved the day, while being hectored by the federal government to abandon restrictions. Thankfully the state premiers held firm. The outgoing federal government has attacked minorities and the poor. It has gutted the higher education system and the public broadcaster. It has installed its cronies throughout the public sector and other important regulative bodies. It has been a vehicle for the coal lobby. It has failed to support the growing needs of women against domestic violence. It has now received its marching orders. I had a glass of champagne on Saturday evening to celebrate the passing of this awful gang. I hope we have a ‘night of the long knives’ and the new government cleans out all the cronies and appoints progressives to these important positions. In general, the policy direction will improve. But all is not well given the predominance of neoliberals in senior economics positions in the new government. I hope they broaden the advice they receive. But for now – we have rid ourselves of this awful government.
Sometimes (often) social media elicits the most ridiculous statements from those who want to claim to be opinion leaders.
I was sent this Tweet this morning from one of the Covid denying gang who think the lockdowns and other restrictions in Australia were attacks on civil liberties rather than what they were – a successful strategy to avoid a high incidence of death and disease before the population was sufficiently vaccinated.
This character – from London – who parades as the General Secreatary of the Free Speech Union wrote about out May 21 federal election where the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was given his marching orders by the voters:
If he knew anything, he would know that Morrison and his gang attacked the state Premiers who introduced most of the Covid restrictions in 2022-21.
Morrison’s Ministers were out in the media on a daily basis trying to undermine the State governments, particularly those in the hands of Labor Premiers (Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia) for imposing restrictions, which the conservative government claimed were destroying our economy and freedom.
His government called Western Australia the ‘hermit kingdom’ and vilifie its Premier Mark McGowan, who maintained internal border closures for the longest.
The Federal Treasurer, who has now lost his seat in Parliament (thank god), regularly attacked Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews for maintaining the longest lockdowns and other restrictions. The Treasurer thought it was smart to undermine Victorian public health policy and thought he could weaponise the ‘freedom sov cits’ lobby (who marched around with Trump flags etc) against the Labor government in Victoria.
What happened this weekend?
1. Federal conservative government was routed and have lost office.
2. Victoria – where the lockdowns were the most intense – delivered a massive loss of seats to the government – and wiped out Liberal MPs in what have been the most safe conservative seats.
3. Western Australia – where the conservative federal government supported a private millionaire’s attempt to overturn the State Labor government’s restrictions in 2020 – delivered the death blow to the Morrison government – they lost historically conservative seats to the federal Labor Party on Saturday and those losses were instrumental in delivering government to the Labor Party.
4. Queensland – where the State Labor government maintained internal border closures for a long time in the face of massive attacks from the Federal government in 2021 – not only saw the State Labor governmen returned when their election was held last year, but also saw traditional liberal seats lost in Brisbane to the Greens (first time ever).
So to claim that the defeat of the Morrison government was about the “public finally waking up to the fact that the lockdowns caused more harm than good” is the most stupid statement one could ever make.
In fact, the election outcome this weekend just gone was a vindication of the support the public gave the State governments in protecting us from a much worse Covid outcome.
Free speech is sometimes an excuse for people to rehearse their vapid ignorance.
The decline in support for the major parties
The 2022 election saw an acceleration of a trend that has been underway for some years now (since the 1980s) – a decline in first-preference support for the major parties – the Labor Party (ALP), and the Liberal-National Party (LNPC) Coalition.
The LNP is in fact two separate parties – the Liberals (LP) and the Nationals (NP) (the latter representing allegedly the rural electorates). They both claim to be conservative voices and have typically pooled their seats to gain government.
The first-preference vote has varied quite significantly in our history since federation in 1901.
You can get all the voting data from this Australian Parliament House Library site – Federal election results 1901–2016
The 2019 Federal election results are provided – HERE.
The highest attained first preferences by party over our history are:
1. ALP 50.9 per cent of the total – 1914.
2. LP 41.8 per cent – 1975.
3. NP 12.6 per cent – 1922.
3. Greens 11.8 per cent – 2010.
The lowest first preferences attained:
1. ALP 26.8 per cent – 1934.
2. LP 28.1 per cent – 1972.
3. NP 3.7 per cent – 2010 (but result affected by amalgamations in Queensland).
It is hard to compare the complete history since 1901 because of changes to the parties. For example, the Liberal Party only came into existence in 1944 as a successor to the United Australia Party.
The National Party was formerly the Country Party. It also amalgamated with the Liberal Party in Queensland to become the LNP in that state only after the Liberals were all but wiped out in a State election there a few years ago.
The following graph shows the first-preference proportions of the total for all Federal elections since 1949 by major party. The 2022 results are tentative because the full count has not yet been completed but the overall result will not vary much.
The Labor Party gained (so far) 32.82 per cent of the first preference vote at the weekend (down from 33.34 per cent at the last election). So a slight decrease.
But the Liberal Party (the senior conservative coalition member and the party of the outgoing PM) scored 23.8 per cent of the first preference vote, down from 28 per cent in 2018.
The National Party and the LNP – the partners in the Coalition were down from 13.3 per cent to 11.6 per cent of the first-preference vote.
The outgoing Government Coalition overall fell to 35.4 per cent from 41.2 per cent, quite a slump.
The significant feature of this election is that normally when the first-preference vote of a major party falls that far, the other major party gains.
In this election that didn’t happen with both the Coalition and the Labor Party going backwards in the face of a massive gain by the independents and the Greens.
The Greens had their best outcome since inception.
The independent vote was boosted by the new group of so-called ‘teal’ independents, who were high-profile professional women, funded by grass roots movements and a large Climate Action lobby (funded itself by millionaires), and contested heartland conservative government seats.
While that grouping is not homogeneous, it is fair to say that they historically would have had liberal leanings but were sick of the inaction by the government on climate, women’s equality and safety, and the government’s refusal to introduce a federal anti-corruption commission in the face of their own clear corrupt behaviour over the last three years particularly.
The importance of the ‘teal’ group is that they have decimated the first preference liberal vote in the safest conservative seats and that is a game changer for Australian politics.
Further, they have hollowed out the Liberal Party representatives – particularly the most moderate members (although don’t get the idea they are moderates or progressives).
That has left the elected Liberal MPs as mostly coming from the right and far right of the Party and the new leader is likely to be of that leaning.
Which means that they will be unable to understand why they have lost government.
Already, the Murdoch Sky media is wheeling commentators out telling the Liberal Party to reject the woke progressives and harden up on immigration, women and the climate (reject any action to decarbonise).
So it is probable that the Liberal Party will drift further to the loony right and be increasingly unappealing to the middle classes who were their major supporters.
It is now clear that Australians want strong action on climate – a much more ambitious decarbonisation agenda – and the incoming ALP government will also have to review their cautious targets on emissions or face loss at the 2025 election.
In terms of the global trend away from the tradition right and left parties that has been observed, the same pressures are clear in the graph (above).
The two major parties – the Coalition and Labor – which have dominated the scene are now facing stiff competition for first-preference votes from minor parties and the independent lobby.
That is no surprise, given the fact that both the Coalition and Labor have become so alike on important matters that it is hard to distinguish them.
And as some of those matters have become increasingly important – like climate – the homogeneity among those two major parties – has created the space for the Greens and the ‘teal’ independents to mount successful campaigns which appeal to an increasingly concerned electorate, particularly as younger Australians are now becoming voters.
The Coalition is crippled on climate because of the National Party who represent the farming and coal communities mainly. They have not shown any willingness to embrace the challenge to protect the jobs in those communities while transitioning away from coal etc.
But their hold in those communities is slipping as the climate activists get smarter about the way they prosecute the issue. In the past, the urban Greens would go out to the regional communities dependent on coal or cutting down forests and mount demonstrations to stop these damaging activities.
Their entreaties were rejected by the voters in those areas because they, rightly, saw these climate gangs as not valuing the need for jobs and incomes.
Now, the climate activists have worked out that jobs, jobs, jobs must be at the forefront of the narrative, and, finally, the transition narrative is starting to have impact.
The outgoing government tried the usual anti-Labor/Green message again this time in those communities and went backwards. So that is a hopeful sign for the future.
But all is not well
Yes, we have shunted the worst Australian government in my lifetime out of office at the weekend.
The massive loss of government-held seats did not flow to the Labor Party who look like just winning enough to hold a thin majority in the lower house (House of Representatives).
The large difference between the seats the government lost and those that the Labor Party gained went to the Greens (up 2) and the ‘teal’ independents.
So the balance in the lower house has swung to more decent perspectives on:
1. Indigenous affairs – treatment of this group has been terrible.
2. Climate Action – the outgoing government continued to claim it was investing in carbon-intensive industries.
3. Geopolitics – the outgoing government tried to win votes by threatening a war with China – but lost a lot of votes in seats where Chinese-speaking Australians are concentrated.
4. Women – the outgoing government lost a lot of votes from females as a result of their mysogynist views and their coverups of scandals involving attacks on women.
5. Integrity – the outgoing government has taken rorting and corruption to a new level and declined to introduce legislation to create a federal anti corruption commission to mirror the structures set up at the state level, which have purged a lot of corrupt politicians.
The outgoing PM even attacked the NSW ICAC as a ‘kangaroo court’ because it has found many liberal state officials to be corrupt over the years.
The Senate (upper house) looks as though the Greens will hold the balance of power, which is also good.
So a much more sophisticated approach to these important issues is expected and I hope Australia can rise above its pariah status in world affairs after 10 years of conservative rule which has made us a laughing stock, particularly on climate policies (or the absence of it in our case).
But all is not well.
On Sunday (May 22, 2022), the day after the election, the new Federal Treasurer gave a press conference in Brisbane claiming that he had begun the process of “budget repair” and was going through the previous government’s spending actions “line by line” (Source).
He claimed there was “pressure on the budget” and that he had “inherited $1 trillion in debt.”
The incoming finance minister also spent the last several years railing against government debt and deficits.
The ‘economics’ team within the new government have demonstrated their neoliberal credentials on macroeconomics.
I also wrote this blog post – The last thing we need is a return to fiscal surpluses and rising household debt (February 21, 2022) – in response to an Op Ed written by a former advisor to the last Labor Prime Minister and now, newly elected MP for Labor.
It will be suicidal if the new Labor government continues to adopt New Keynesian style macroeconomic fictions and limit the scope of their actions accordingly.
The reality is that the new government has a massive backlog of repairs to do and none of them involve targetting fiscal surpluses.
It must immediately:
1. Reverse the funding cuts to education and provide significant boosts to research and development and that doesn’t mean turning the universities over to business in the form of pro-business research capacity or free student labour (so-called ‘work experience’).
2. Inject funding into the vocational training sector which has been decimated by the ‘privatisation’ schemes that have delivered little.
3. Inject funding into the health system given the stress it is under with Covid and an ageing population.
4. Massively fund the transition to a decarbonised economy.
5. Create a million or more jobs to reduce the waste of joblessness and underemployment – see my blog post – A 10 per cent unemployment rate is not a “tremendous achievement” – it is a sign of total policy failure (April 15, 2022).
6. Inject funding and expertise into indigenous communities.
7. Fund major transformations in our urban design and construction – see my blog post – Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design and the silence of our political parties (May 16, 2022).
8. Increase foreign aid, particularly in the Pacific region – see my blog post – Myopic meanness – Australia’s ODA cuts to its neighbours in the Pacific (April 5, 2022).
9. Build 450,000 social house units within the next few years – see my blog post – The same erroneous logic that created the social housing shortage is apparently the solution (November 29, 2021).
10. Legislate to instruct the wage setting tribunals to raise the minimum wage by at least 5 per cent.
11. Increase the unemployment benefit to ensure it is above the poverty line (doubling it at least).
12. I could go on.
With household consumption expenditure slowing and private investment expenditure still wallowing, any talk of cuts to the fiscal deficit will be destructive.
Yes, there is a lot of funding that the outgoing government was providing that needs to stop.
Yes, the tax cuts promised in 2023 which will favour high income earners have to be withdrawn.
But the challenges ahead require more government sector net spending not less.
I also suggest the new government broadens the economic advice it receives to ensure they don’t fall into the neoliberal trap.
Having said all of that, it is still a better day with Morrison and his crooks out and a decent man such as Anthony Albanese as the Prime Minister.
I trust he will lift the integrity of our government and treat minorities in a better way than we have in the past.
Already I note, the indigenous flag has been restored to the Parliament (symbolic but meaningful).
I also note the outgoing French foreign minister was happy Morrison had gone. Remember Emmanuel Macron told the Australian press that Morrison was a liar. Macron was correct in that.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2022 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.