Like a lot of Australians, I’m still digesting the results – or rather lack of results – from Saturday’s election. I thought I’d share a few thoughts while it’s all still fresh in my mind.
- At the moment we still don’t know the final result and won’t know until Tuesday at the earliest, probably later. Right now the most likely outcomes look like being either another hung parliament or possibly the Turnbull government just hanging on by the skin of its teeth and forming a slender majority by one or two seats. Either way it’s not what most people expected.
- My overall impression of all this is, well, what a mess. The prospect of another hung parliament isn’t something I particularly relish; while the 2010 parliament did actually pass some good legislation, the whole process was so chaotic and there were so many wasteful promises that in the end it just seemed incredibly disorganised and unstable. Likewise the Turnbull government being returned with a tiny majority doesn’t seem very workable either as Turnbull would have to keep his entire party in line and that seems unlikely to say the least after this result.
- Personally I was hoping that, whoever won the election, we’d get a clear result to end the chaos we’ve seen in the recent past. But now it looks like the only way to get that would be through another election, which would be expensive and after such a long campaign already, there’s very little appetite for that. And even if another election were held, there’s no guarantee we wouldn’t end up with a similar result either. So, yes. It’s all looking like a pretty big mess unfortunately.
- To be honest, though, Turnbull only has himself to blame for this result. This should have been a fairly comfortable victory given his popularity after replacing Tony Abbott last year. But that support disappeared and then the Coalition’s entire campaign felt lacklustre and uninspired – we barely even heard about the main premise for the election throughout the campaign, the government not being able to pass its ABCC legislation, when you’d expect that to be one of the main issues. And that’s just one example. Likewise Turnbull seemed strangely disengaged, like the whole process was taxing and something he was simply enduring before getting back to the main business of running the country. Add a clever campaign by Labor built primarily around Medicare and this is the result, a government that may be on its way out after only one term.
- So what went wrong? Honestly I think you’d have to say that most of this result is due to people becoming very frustrated with Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition in general. When Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as PM there was a feeling of relief in the community, like Turnbull would be able to change direction and align the government more closely with public sentiment on issues like climate change and marriage equality. But the Turnbull who emerged as PM was not the one people expected; he was hamstrung by the right faction of his party and it gave the impression that he stood for nothing and had sacrificed his convictions to become PM. In the end it seemed like very little had changed, just the face of the government, and when you add in the disappointing campaign performance by Turnbull and the Coalition as a whole, it’s not that surprising that people turned to Labor and the minor parties as their trust evaporated.
- To be fair to Turnbull, much of the public expectation when he became PM was unfair. He was never going to be the PM they wanted, not just because the right would go after him if he even dreamed of trying to be, but also because that simply isn’t who he is as a person or as a politician. He is a pragmatist and realistically the best chance Turnbull had to change the government’s direction was after the election, by winning with enough of a margin to claim a mandate and to slowly move the government more towards where he wanted them to be over time. The irony though is that he’ll probably never get that chance now as the result means he’ll have to be even more beholden to the right to survive – saying he can survive after this result.
- While the Coalition’s campaign was lacklustre, I also don’t want to take credit away from Labor either. Labor did extremely well in the campaign and Bill Shorten performed extraordinarily well as leader. He transformed himself into a true alternative PM during the campaign and his enthusiasm and enjoyment for the process was infectious, which was particularly impressive given it was such a long, exhausting eight weeks.
- Looking objectively, Labor ran a very professional campaign, particularly at the grassroots level, and they successfully presented themselves as a party with new ideas for the country. It’s no surprise that they emerged reinvigorated and that is the truly good thing to come out of this election; at the very least it’s shown that they’ll be a strong opposition and as any democracy is only as strong as it’s opposition, that’s a good sign. And they look capable if they do somehow claim government too.
- The one thing I didn’t like about the Labor campaign though was the Medicare scare campaign. I thought they pushed it way too hard, particularly in the last week of the campaign. I don’t think it was accurate or necessary to go so far as to suggest that the government was thinking about privatising Medicare when there was little evidence of that; there was already enough concern over GP co-payments for Labor to make their case about health and Medicare and it took their campaign into negative territory which I didn’t like at all. But it worked and ended up being one of the biggest issues for them, so I can’t really argue with it, I guess.
- Labor did very well but I think the big winner, though, was Pauline Hanson. At the moment it looks like One Nation has secured two senate spots and may end up with as many as four. It’s a remarkable resurrection for Hanson and will give her much of the balance of power in the senate.
- I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am to see Hanson not only back but potentially wielding that much power. As far as I’m concerned One Nation is a party based on fear and ignorance and I despaired when I saw the result. Listening to Hanson today, it seems One Nation wants to abolish the Family Law Court and will be pushing for royal commissions into the science of climate change and to examine whether Islam is a “religion or a political ideology”. All of which sound utterly bizarre to me.
- One Nation’s views don’t surprise me – it’s the same old ignorance, just with new targets – but I guess I am disappointed that, after twenty years, people continue to not be able to see through them as hollow and xenophobic. But to be honest One Nation’s success is not unique or even that unexpected, if anything it’s just another example of the continued rise of far-right parties and figures that we’ve been seeing around the world over the last few years. The same fears about immigration, muslims, the economy and the decline of the working class that drove the Brexit outcome and are behind a lot of Donald Trump’s support are the same reasons many people voted for One Nation too.
- Given that trend and how many votes One Nation received in this election, you’d have to say that the main parties have good reason to be worried about the growing power of the far right fringe. It’s becoming harder to dismiss that support as just a small number of people; it’s a growing and very vocal minority that is very dissatisfied with the political system and wants to shake it up or overturn it entirely. I’m not sure what the parties can really do about those people either except to try to find a way to reengage with them, which would be very difficult, perhaps even impossible at this point. Either way, it gives a voice to some of these kinds of views for at least the next few years and will make negotiating with the senate a nightmare.
- So how is all this going to play out? At this stage I really have no idea; the election is so close that pretty much anything could happen. I think the most likely scenario is a hung parliament with the Coalition getting about 74 seats but I honestly do not know how it would play out from there. If that were to happen I’m not sure I could see Labor securing enough crossbench support to form government, and while theoretically the Coalition could, I’m not sure how workable it would be or how tenuous Turnbull’s position would then become, particularly given the senate.
- If I had to guess I’d say that I think the Coalition will just manage to form a minority government but I would not be at all surprised if it all falls apart very quickly. I also wouldn’t be surprised if neither party can form government and we have to have another election. Which honestly no one would be happy about but I think would probably be the fairest outcome at this stage.
- Either way I just hope we get a result soon and that somehow, some way, whoever forms government manages to provide some kind of stability. The chaos has gone on for far too long. But I doubt it unfortunately.
- What a mess.