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Does Albo’s mandate to ‘change Australia’ stand up?

28 May 2022

9:00 AM

28 May 2022

9:00 AM

Get used to the new order in Australian politics. On 21 May, the more-than two-thirds of Australians who did not vote 1 for Labor nevertheless ended up with an Albo Labor government – and a Senate with the Greens holding the balance of power. Does this really reflect the will of Mr and Mrs Australia (in other words the great majority who still use those non-woke terms) or is it an unintended consequence of a long-established (and occasionally malfunctioning – as in some past absurd Senate outcomes) preferential voting system? Under it, every now and again members are elected to Parliament on the basis they are only the second-most unwanted of all the multiple candidates listed on the ballot paper in accordance with the ‘how-to-vote’ guidance provided by candidates’ parties when voters line up to exercise their democratic rights.

However, there is a moral consequence emerging from the fact that the Albanese government has now been elected by the lowest percentage ever with only 32.84 percent of Australian voters putting Labor first (which is even well below its vote when Labor was thrashed in two landside elections, one to John Howard of 38.75 percent in 1996 and to Malcolm Fraser of 41.8 percent in 1975 when I was first elected to Parliament). So it had much less support in gaining government last weekend than it had when consigned to the depths of opposition. The moral concern relates to the hoary old issue of what sort of mandate does the new Albanese government really have when two out of every three Australians have voted in favour of rival policies – the greatest-ever de facto non-endorsement of the stated platform of a subsequently elected government. When prime minister-elect Albanese said on election night he intended to ‘change Australia’, has he really been given a mandate for the sort of change that may be strongly opposed by those outside the less than one-third of Australians who voted for him in the House of Representatives (and only 29.8 per cent in the Senate)? Beyond the usual banalities about ‘governing for all Australians’, the manner in which he was elected imposes a serious moral obligation to do so, rather than rushing headlong into a policy agenda for change that has the potential to divide the nation.

This risk is heightened by the fact that the recent warning on this page that the polls indicated that the Greens would emerge from the 21 May election with the balance of power in the Senate, has now become reality. For a Labor government, the known devil of an enthusiastic muscle-flexing Green Senate presence swollen from nine to a dominant 12 by this year’s significant election victories, is far more manageable than the unpredictability of the ratbag collection of independents who disrupted the Morrison government’s legislative program by irresponsible political blackmail despite the very small minority of Australians they represented. With the prospect of the smallest major party representation ever in the Senate of 57 (31 Coalition and 28 ALP) and thereby a record number of 19 cross-benchers with their diverse demands that a government has to deal with, Albanese Labor will inevitably seek the relative stability of a deal with the 12 balance-of-power Greens. But for the majority of Australians, the prospect of the new Labor government having to be beholden for its legislative program to the far-left dogma of the Green agenda should be a matter of great concern. The Green wish-list of conditions if it is to work with Labor is incapable of being met without bankrupting the nation, quite apart from the economic consequences of ‘real climate action’ that will mean no new coal, oil or gas and a slashing of defence in a more pacifist approach. Funding a welfare and wages spending spree will be by ‘taxing the billionaires and big corporations to provide all the things we need for a better life’, restoring healthcare, electricity, transport, education to public ownership, wiping out student debt – a cornucopia of goodies for everyone, along with an emporium of wokeness.

The Green ascendancy in the Senate emerges (in votes counted so far that confirm this page’s forecast – but with the reservation that the new Senate optional preferential system adds to the unpredictability of preference flows) from the Coalition’s likely loss of four of its 18 seats that were up for election, including, unfortunately, the highly talented Queenslander and Assistant Minister Amanda Stoker who looks to have been beaten by a Green after being pre-selected in the risky third place on the LNP’s Senate ticket. This reduces the Coalition to 31 Senators, leaving Labor with 28 and the Greens with 12 to make up a modest majority of 40 out of the 76 Senate seats. The Green senate victory in South Australia has been at the expense of the former independence alliance bloc (with former Senator Nick Xenophon disappearing without much of a trace). In NSW the Coalition may be holding onto Jim Molan’s seat by outpolling Labor by 2.5 quotas to 2.1 as Labor is reduced to two by the Greens winning the vulnerable third seat vacated by Kristina Keneally in her spectacularly unsuccessful parachuting into what had been the safe Labor seat of Fowler. The Liberal rout in Western Australia is reflected in the Senate count by Labor winning its third seat from the Liberals, with the Greens easily retaining their WA seat by gaining a quota. Victoria’s sixth Senate seat will depend on preferences, with neither Labor nor Liberal having a significant surplus to pass on, but with the odds favouring Labor although Legalise Cannabis and the UAP could have an outside chance. Other successful senators will likely include the return (but with a reduced vote) of Pauline Hanson in Queensland, but Clive Palmer’s $100 million advertising blitz earned him only a miserly one-third of a quota in Queensland (less than the Legalise Cannabis party). A Lambie candidate, Tammy Tyrrell, is to join her Tasmanian leader by taking the place of veteran senior Liberal senator Eric Abetz who had been demoted to the third spot. Former rugby international David Pocock is relying on preferences, particularly from the Greens with 10 per cent of the vote, to edge towards downing Coalition minister, Zed Seselja, to leave the Coalition in the ACT unrepresented in the upper house.

But of all the Liberals’ disasters (while the Nationals had a relatively successful outcome), the loss of deputy federal leader Josh Frydenberg is irreparable and the WA collapse requires major reforms. At least something may be achieved in NSW by a likely post-election grassroots revolt against the months of deliberate delays to pre-selection procedures that were followed by a disgraceful faction-inspired last-minute pre-election usurping of the rights of Liberal party members to select their parliamentary representatives.

Corrective action is needed and responsibility accepted for the consequential seat losses and swings against Liberal candidates in NSW (and diminution of our Senate vote) caused by the self-inflicted wounds from the Liberal leadership’s belated parachuting in of ‘captain’s pick’ candidates and the re-endorsements of factionally favoured members without the constitutionally required democratic pre-selections. There is no place in a decent democratically run political party for such factional bastardry.

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