How Labor won – or did the Coalition lose?
The campaign as seen from the Labor camp
At the National Press Club Paul Erickson, Labor’s National Secretary and director of Labor’s campaign, explained how Labor handled not only the recent campaign, but more broadly its path to office following the disaster of the 2019 election.
In large part he confirmed the aphorism that oppositions don’t win elections: governments lose them. He reminded us of instances of maladministration, from Morrison’s Hawaii holiday during the bushfires up to the government’s failure to order RAT tests during the Omicron Covid outbreak. In all these matters the government was guided by hubris and hyper-partisanship.
Labor’s research confirmed that Morrison himself was a liability for his party, but he stressed that Morrison simply personified the Coalition’s worst political traits, including its “small government” obsession, its condescending attitude to women and its general administrative incompetence.
As the election approached Labor’s concern was that an electorate knocked around by Covid-19 and its consequences, and in a situation of great uncertainty, would be guided by risk aversion and revert to the devil they knew. Labor’s political response was to make the message about “a better future” rather than about a big agenda for change. Erickson did, however, stress the transformational nature of Labor’s Powering Australia package.
Labor policies that resonated with the electorate included its commitment to Medicare, its concern to see wages improved, its promise to develop manufacturing industries, and more substantive policies on climate change than those of the Coalition.
He was cautious about some of the early conclusions commentators were making about the election – we should wait for the ANU election study (now out) – but he believes, from early research, that much of the working-class vote has come back to Labor (presumably compensating for votes lost to Greens and independents).
Perhaps the most notable aspect of his speech was the confidence with which he delivered it. He gave the impression that Labor has rightly been returned to office as the party most competent in attending to the national interest, after the interruption of an unfortunate period of bad government delivered by the Coalition. This is a reversal of the narrative that the Coalition is the natural party of government whose times in office ares interrupted by the occasional Labor government.
More on the Coalition’s loss
John Hewson’s regular contribution to the Saturday Paper is about Morrison’s pathetically weak proposal for an integrity commission: A matter of integrity commission. Morrison’s obstinate take-it-or-leave-it attitude, his refusal to negotiate on the matter, his attempt to blame Labor for the bill’s failure to get parliamentary approval, and his deafness to the public’s annoyance about the Australian National Audit Office’s revelation of corruption, epitomized Morrison’s political style.
Hewson addresses the question of retrospectivity, which will be one issue to be debated when Labor puts its legislation to Parliament. It’s not just about digging up past events that have come and gone. Some long-past corruption has ongoing consequences. The Howard government’s bugging of Timor-Leste to the benefit of Woodside, a large donor to the Coalition “would probably have carried criminal consequences in both Australia and Timor-Leste”. It has consequences right up to the present day with the proceedings against Bernard Collaery and Witness K. These proceedings are “a little better than a desperate attempt to cover up the issue, which a commission would have exposed”.
Also in the Saturday Paper is the second of Mike Seccombe’s two-part series on the collapse of the Liberal Party. He covers much of the same ground as Paul Erickson does, but he also goes back into the history of the party and he draws our attention to two destructive factions in the party – the secular right and the religious right. The secular right, strongly backed by the Murdoch media, has been increasingly influential in the parliamentary party, while the religious right has been involved in branch-stacking in Western Australia, South Australia, and to a lesser extent in other states.
That’s two articles from the Saturday Paper. They have generous allowances for people to read a certain number of free articles, but why not think about a subscription, particularly if you live in Queensland, South Australia or Tasmania where the traditional daily press is in the hands of the Murdoch media.
Explaining the election result – age and education
The ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods has published its explanation for the 2022 election result. Age and education were the key factors explaining voting choice. There is a long-established pattern of weak support for the Coalition among young voters, while education has shown up strongly in the last two elections: only 29 percent of those who completed year 12 voted for the Coalition, while 47 percent of those who had not completed year 12 voted for them.
Their analysis of voting flows between the 2019 election and 2022 reveals a great degree of dynamism, hidden in the aggregate figures. Between the two elections Labor’s share of the vote changed by less than one percent, but that’s a net result: it gained support from those who had voted Coalition in 2019, while losing about the same proportion to the Greens and “others”. By contrast the Coalition, while losing substantial ground to Labor and “others”, had hardly any offsetting gains. Although the Greens enjoyed a net gain, they lost some support to Labor and independents.
One feature of this research is that two surveys were done, the first in mid-April at the beginning of the campaign, and the second in late May when the outcome was clear. This was to discern the extent of change during the campaign. There were some changes, to the benefit of the Greens and of small net benefit to Labor. (Whether such changes were driven by the campaign or simply by the awareness that an election was imminent is not easily determined.)
Another significant finding was that while most people voted the same way in the House of Representatives and the Senate, a substantial proportion of those who voted Labor for the House of Representatives switched to Greens in the Senate.
People seem to be fairly satisfied with the result: between the mid-April pre-election survey and the late-May post-election survey, there was a substantial increase – from 62 percent to 73 percent – in people’s satisfaction with the way the country is heading.
How we use media for news
Would you believe that Gen Z – people now aged between 10 and 25, in some of their most formative years – are turning away from social media and turning more to traditional sources for news?
This is one of the findings of the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report: Australia 2022, an annual publication rich in data about how people inform themselves about what’s happening in the world, and how much trust they place in media.
The report has a chapter on self-identified political orientation and ways people use news media. It’s worth a browse for no other reason than that it dispels some ancient notions that have long ceased to be relevant. For example, the higher your income the more likely you are to identify as “left wing” (education seems to be the stronger intervening variable). While the left and right have generally similar interests, crime and sports are particularly favoured by the right, while science, technology and the environment are particularly favoured by the left.
Unsurprisingly the audience for Sky News is way out on one end of the left-right spectrum, making the readers of The Australian appear rather centrist. Only Crikey occupies a roughly similar place on the left. (If that’s as far left as we go, perhaps we need the return of The Tribune, the weekly Communist Party paper, but it would be hard to find anything to the right of Sky News, unless we can get a real time translation from the Taliban’s TV programs.)
The report has a chapter on climate change – how we inform ourselves and how that information shapes our concern. Disaggregation by age, education and income reveals predictable results. People living in “major cities” are much more concerned about climate change than people living in “regional areas”. And concern about climate change remains largely a “left”/ “right” differentiating issue. (Some of these findings are caught up in the shifting understanding of what “left” and “right” mean – a point raised by Ross Gittins in the wake of the election.)
Margaret Simons on the media
On Late Night Live Margaret Simons comments on some of the University of Canberra’s findings: Rethinking journalism with Margaret Simons. She observes that as Covid-19 has waned so has our desire for news. She also notes that not many Australians are paying for online news (but her figures seem to refer to the 2021 survey, for the 2022 survey shows more people are paying for online news). She suggests those figures reflect a lack of willingness to pay, but is that so? They may also reflect the way media organizations charge for access. Rather than using a pay-per-download model they expect readers to take out the bundle of a complete subscription. It’s a poorly thought-through model.
Like many people she is dismayed about the quality of journalism during the election campaign: “performative watchdoggery” is her term for some of the smartarse and content-free coverage of the campaign. Journalists’ work should be about improving government, not in tearing it down. She also believes that in spite of their vicious and strident anti-Labor and anti-independent bias, the Murdoch media had no discernible effect on the election outcome.
She doesn’t hold back from criticizing the ABC for some of its clichéd approach to TV journalism, when so many issues are approached in a formulaic way. (Is she aware of the decisively non-formulaic work of the ABC Digital Story Innovation Team?)
She also comments on ethical, commercial and regulatory issues around journalism, including the paucity of media presence in certain regions, and most important, the raft of legislation on security and defamation that is suppressing journalism. (26 minutes)
The Senate – a hard road ahead for the Coalition
The composition of the new Senate is shown alongside. Labor will need 39 votes if it is to pass legislation, which means if there is a Coalition + One Nation + UAP group blocking a bill, Labor will need support from the Greens and one of the three relatively unaligned Senators. Nevertheless it’s probably going to be the least obstructionist Senate Labor has had to deal with for the last 75 years.
One risk for Labor, and for the nation, is that it could be wedged by the Greens and the Coalition, for example in blocking legislation for a firm 43 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The precedent for such a tactic was the Greens’ decision in 2009 to join with the Coalition to block the Labor government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
This has been a normal half-senate election, with half of the 72 senators from states and all 4 of the territory senators elected. In the next election, in three years, the Coalition will be defending its senators who weren’t up for election this time. It will have to defend three sitting senators in all states other than Tasmania, where it has only two. It could be some time before Australia reverts to the long-established pattern of a Coalition-friendly Senate, particularly if more strong independents stand for election.
Callide and France: strong showing by the right
Almost unnoticed last Saturday was a state by-election for the Queensland seat of Callide, an inland seat west of Bundaberg. Because Biloela is within the electorate it has had more than its usual share of national attention over the last couple of years. Also, just to the west of Biloela is the Callide power station, where a fire just over a year ago, caused by faulty overload protection, took out 400 MW of capacity, resulting in blackouts in large parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales. The wrecked generator has still not been replaced. This is not one of those generators being kept on life support to wring out the last few kWh from coal: this part of the Callide power station was built in 2001.
But back to the by-election. William Bowe’s Poll Bludger has an up-to-date track of the vote. The LNP has easily won the seat, with a primary vote of 50 percent and a two-party outcome of 71 percent (a TPP swing of 7 percent). Labor won only 20 per cent of the primary vote. It’s the other 30 percent of the vote that’s notable: One Nation 14 per cent, Katter’s Australia Party 10 percent, others 6 percent. There were swings of about 6 percent against both Labor and the LNP. (Figures may be slightly different when readers click on Bowe’s site.) Even though it’s only a by-election, that high level of support for One Nation is worth noting.
While we’re on about election results, in France Macron has lost his parliamentary majority. Early results point to an 11 percent swing against Macron’s Ensemble, to the benefit of the nominally socialist NUPES gathering and Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Ensemble did well in the west of France; NUPES did well in Paris, and National Rally did well in the northeast and southeast. Australians will be pleased to know that Macron’s Ensemble dominated in New Caledonia.