Australia is a conservative country. We enjoy stability, predictability and despise drama in the top office. This has been borne over the last two federal elections with Tony Abbott’s opposition almost unseating an incumbent single-term government and then, three years later, defeating them in a landslide of the same kind as seen in 1996. With ninety seats announced for the Coalition at the time this article was written and two more predicted, this victory shows a deep distrust in Australia for the leadership we have experienced for the last six years under Labor.
Looking at the numbers, however, it does not then follow that Australian swing voters have swapped allegiances to the Coalition either. The swings are currently reported as Labor (-4.3%), Liberal (+1.9%), Greens ( -3.4%), and other (+5.7%). If you can spot the outlier, it appears that Australians are becoming frustrated with the major parties. The Coalition, instead, won on the back of a drop-in support for its opponents and the naturally high primary vote for the Liberals, failing to capitalise fully on the swing from Labor’s self inflicted unpopularity with voters. This is most obvious looking at the results from the Senate.
As is evidenced by a long history of Coalition domination in federal politics, Australia is a conservative country. As a result of this conservativism, the swing away from the left was absorbed by right-leaning microparties. In NSW, the surprise win was David Leyonhjelm in fifth place for the libertarian ‘Liberal Democrat’ party, coming ahead of Arthur Sinodinos in sixth place for the Liberals. In South Australia, Bob Day, after 6 years and $400,000 of his own money, looks set to achieve his goal of entering parliament, this time as a senator for the Family First party. The less interesting cases are Glenn Lazarus for the Palmer United Party in Queensland, Ricky Muir for the Motoring Enthusiasts in Victoria and Wayne Dropulich for the Sports Party in WA. These are the likely candidates as this article was written, while votes are still in the process of being counted.
Based on these results and experiences on the campaign trail on the ground, it would seem that there is a growing mistrust across Australia for the major parties, but that Australia is a conservative country. Australians want to trust the major parties, because we don’t trust the minor parties yet. Perhaps, a Coalition government that can deliver on its promises could turn this around. The current Senate would have to be conducive to a Coalition government that can operate without significant interference. Popular consensus is that having many voices in the senate is a vital check on power in Australia, in this case with 39 senators needed to pass through the upper house, and 34 Coalition senators currently in office, convincing five micro-senators to lend support may not be a mammoth feat in negotiation. Tony Abbott’s Coalition government will be able to go over the heads of dissenters for the sake of a particular issue. For example the greens policy platform supports government-funded maternity leave, albeit with a smaller cap, while the swathe of minor right wing parties are in favour of repealing the Carbon Tax.
The real surprise will be the concessions the Liberals pick and choose to make to the minor parties in order to win their votes, one by one. Maybe we will loosen gun control laws? Maybe we will get safer national highways? Maybe we will get more funding for the coalition’s direct action plan? Maybe we will get a Titanic staffed by animatronic dinosaurs? I, for one, welcome our new overlords and look forward to finding out.