The Australian election of 18 May has surprised nearly everyone – including most of the political and media class – with a victory by the ruling centre-right government of the Liberal/National Party coalition. The fact of the victory has gained widespread, even world-wide, interest for a supposedly Brexit/Trump-like surprise from the “hidden” or “silent” voters, ones which opinion polls ignored or failed to record the true voting intention. This writer was surprised too, in spite of a less-pessimistic post just prior to the election. The narrow win (a mere two or 3 seat majority as of the date of writing) isn’t a major victory but it is a clear working majority. The Senate looks like being more favourable to the government also. But it is not plain sailing.
The always “progressive”, pro-Green TV/Newspaper media complex Nine/Fairfax pushed the opposition Labor party policies all the way and that will continue, as it will with the taxpayer-funded ABC. Many suspect that this huge, national TV/Radio corporation, with its all-progressive host/producer setup across the network, will continue to produce reliable content to satisfy its left-leaning viewer/listener base. When the government-appointed ABC CEO (during an election campaign, no less), seemed to publicly advocate against the ruling party, that might tell you all you need to know to then wonder how he would be taking the ABC forward.
The state of the parties: The Liberal Party
Then we have the parties themselves. As for the Liberal party of the successful Prime Minster Scott Morrison, there are mixed reviews. Plenty of comment from the left wing media as to where the Labor party lost it and dismissing the Morrison efforts as being partly down to ALP weaknesses, greed of the people (the old fashioned, “hip pocket nerve” from old Labor history days) or just plain political dirty tricks. Still, most seem to recognise that for now it’s all down to Morrison to set the agenda from now on into the mid-term future.
As for the cohesion of the Liberal Party, some local and most of the world interest seems to conclude that it is as decisive in its expression of common views as were the Brexit and Trump votes. Such is not the case, however, as in its inner workings and party structure are still the left/green segments which are resolutely against the Brexit/Trump interpretation. Internally it is still a Liberal party torn by viciously competing factions, as outlined in a series of posts but mentioned and linked in a previous one 2 months ago. With one faction in particular having financial as well as emotional links to green energy policies, any major change away from their remaining green policies is unlikely. The voters rejecting the much more severe green energy policies from the opposing Labor party is unlikely to change the hard line positions on it within that Liberal party faction.
During this electoral and political calm the Liberal party can survive without much scrutiny, all the attention being on the spurned Australian Labor Party and its Green Party allies/competitors.
Labor and its tensions
The Labor and Greens parties seem to be eyeing each other off warily. Turmoil within the opposing Labor party since the defeat might help the government stave off early opposition challenges to it, but it is only a reprieve. The ALP ran years of policies with a green tinge, courting the inner city greens and ultra-“progressives”, it adopted gender and identity politics and (apparently) bemused and angered its historic base. Seen now as stupid, it trumpeted the election as a “climate change election,” even pushing for the end of coal. Coal mining had been the key employment of its most militant union and historically coal mining had been the heart and soul of Labor-targeted parties for over a century. The ALP taunted and condemned that core voter at its peril, and was duly trounced at the election when the historic “labour” areas turned against the party decisively. Once the election shock had hit, in the aftermath it has sounded as if all that never happened, the new ALP leadership contenders claiming to be virtually born again “old Labor”, recognising anew the “working class” and vowing to turn the party back towards their interests.
At the same time as that was happening and some new form of old industrial working class party being apparently reborn, what were the factions within the ALP doing? Well, selecting Anthony Albanese as a man to lead, a man who had been a hard left party member for decades. Hard line left , hard line on a lot of the huge policies which the ALP had claimed as advances over the past 30 years. Major economic reforms and union/employer accords in the 80’s under the ALP Hawke and Keating governments? Voted against all of them.
Even the modern issues which the ALP had come to accept as being supported by an overwhelming number of Australian voters, such as a Goods and Services tax (VAT) and turning back the boats of economic refugees, the type the USA is struggling with at the US/Mexico border? Against all of them and he believes (or believed) in virtually open borders. Yet it seems expected that he will be a completely changed person, see the writing on the wall and now, after 30 years or so, lead the ALP differently to how he has operated in the past.
As for a deputy in the same mould, how about one who the factions like and is tipped for the job, Richard Marles from Melbourne. Only mere months ago he welcomed price falls for coal (also Australias biggest export) and publicly stated that he wished for the day when coal was gone completely.
Even if they are sincere, could an Albanese and Marles partnership work to actually deliver the worker-friendly policies they claim to now support? Well, whilst Marles has a working class electorate and could submerge his personal views into those in tune with the electorate at large, Albanese is in a rabid Green area and he is always under challenge from Greens for his own seat. Newtown, the state government version of his seat is already in Green hands.
To put a final touch on all this discussion, the Green challenge to Labor has not gone away. The Greens are doubling down and have let Labor know loud and clear that the need for the radical action from which Labor is backing away is real and will be argued incessantly from Greens (and against Labor).
Will this born-again New Working Class ALP risk their now-trendy electorate positions by advocating for their rediscovered base?