As much as the result of the Australian Federal Election was a huge surprise, the subsequent hype – the crowing of the winners and the outrage of the losers – belies the reality of the numbers which prove that not much has changed in three years. In the battle of the one percent the particracy won again and democracy lost.
When I wrote Game of Votes on the eve of the election, I had no inkling that my prophecy of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” would be so true. Like most commentators I thought it was a question not of a Labor win, but of how much of a win.
After Bill Shorten, the next casualty of this result may be the pollsters who all not just got it wrong, but so consistently wrong for so long. Funny though, how suddenly everyone knows why – talking about sampling errors, changing telephone habits and statistical inaccuracies.
The reality of this election is that despite the outrage, despite the incredulous comments about “how Australians could get it so wrong” and those clamouring for one-way tickets to the current wonderland of Jacinda Ardern, not much has changed since the last election in 2016.
Unlike Scott Morisson, these numbers of primary votes don’t lie (with 77% of votes counted):
– The Liberal Party down 0.9 percentage points to 27.7%
– Labor down 0.9 to 33.9%
– The Nationals and the Liberal National Party combined up 0.3 to 13.4%
– Greens down 0.2 to 10%
In our preference vote system the Greens continue to suffer from their inability to do preference deals and maybe also spreading themselves too thin contesting every seat. Despite getting one in ten primary votes, the Greens still only have one of the 151 representatives in the new lower house.
Clive Palmer’s expensive self indulge got him 3.4% of the primary vote, and equally inexplicable to those of a rational disposition, One Nation almost doubled their vote. Thankfully, neither got a seat, but the preferences from those voters undoubtedly helped swing the two-party preferred vote to the Coalition.
Independents/Others will probably keep their 5 seats.
In other words, not much changed. The election was won or lost by changes of less than one percentage point primary vote. The Liberals/National won by retaining their seats and winning one more seat compared to 2016*. At the time of writing Labor will have lost one seat* if the predictions are true.
To quote Maxwell Smart: “Missed it by that much!”
The recalcitrants crow about their great victory – The Australian’s headline of “The Messiah from the Shire” sending shivers down the collective spine of the progressive side of politics on Monday. The losing side of the one percent argument decries Labor’s policy failures, the Clive Palmer effect and the Murdoch domination of the mainstream media while calling for Queensland to secede as it is the state where – in effect – Labor lost the election.
It is all also part of a narrative of a divided nation, of an increased polarisation reflecting how politics are conducted.
Morisson took to the campaign trail with his simple messages short on substance. Ably supported by mainstream media – sadly including the ABC – who consistently failed to question the half lies and half truths all designed to tap into people’s biggest fear – the fear of change.
Shorten and his team presented a message of big policy shifts, much of it commendable, some quite brave, mostly ignored by the mainstream media.
The mainstream media kept pushing the “Shorten is not likable” line, Morisson made it all about him and his contrived larrikin ways – deflecting difficult questions at every turn with his cheesy grin and baseball caps.
None of this should surprise. It is how party politics have been conducted for decades – shifting from one side to the other – always on the margin, focused much more on the personalities rather than the realities, policy debate always taking a back seat to politics.
And it worked for Morisson and his largely invisible and incompetent colleagues. In the end – despite the misgivings about ousting Turnbull, despite the scandals that kept cropping up about corruption, Murray Darling watergate, the shenanigans of his former drunken deputy leader and others of his National Party allies, the scathing of the Royal Banking Commission and mountains of debt, the vast majority of people did not see the need for change.
Labor did not dare to play the refugee card, their policies too similar to the LNP anyway. Nor was it able to forcefully take on the banks, take up the watergate mantle or announce a Federal ICAC with real teeth. The franking credit was always going to be an own goal. Not because it wasn’t good policy – albeit half baked, the change makes sense – but because it was so easy to attack and it was not seen as part of a bigger picture of much needed tax reform (or rather, tax simplification).
The reality is that neither Morisson nor Shorten are particularly well liked. They are both products of a flawed system where politics is merely a game of winning or losing, not a forum for exploring and debating real change.
In the end, Morisson convinced his base that change would bring uncertainty and Shorten’s more positive messages were not compelling enough, nor given enough airtime.
And as we continue to let politics be dominated by the two major parties/coalitions, in three years time we’ll go through it again, the costly and divisive battle of the one percent.
We live in a particracy, not a democracy. Until we realise that and collectively decide to look for ways to change it, apathy will continue to reign supreme while career politicians “run” the country for their own benefit.
* – comparison to 2016 election, ignoring later by-elections.