Lesley Russell writes:
Australia has entered a post-Morrison political world, the final shape of which, as I write, is yet to be determined.
But already it is clear how very different this new Government will be and how very relieved most of Australia is about this.
In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Sean Kelly has written beautifully about how the language of politics has suddenly changed (paywall) and is more inclusive.
In our final edition of The Election Wrap, I examine what the Albanese Government’s new approach to politics and policy is likely to bring.
As I’m writing this, final results in some seats are still being decided and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s full Ministry is yet to be announced. But I’m buoyed by a new optimism, new hope and the idea (yet to be made reality) of new comity, cooperation, civility and community.
Please read this in conjunction with the compilation of post-election issues pulled together by my Croakey colleague Dr Melissa Sweet.
Every election night is tense; this one made more so as the large vote swings away from the major parties meant the flow of preferences was less predictable than usual. You can read ABC election guru Antony Green’s election analysis here.
The Liberal, National and Labor parties all lost votes to The Greens and the (mostly teal) Independents, except in Western Australia where there was a 10-12 percentage point swing to Labor. This was almost certainly thanks to Premier Mark McGowan’s approach to managing the pandemic, the local economy and Morrison’s attacks.
Within a few hours of counting beginning, it was clear that Australian politics was experiencing “a seismic and profound shift”.
The media called it like this:
“It’s the women, stupid” Patricia Karvelas for ABC News.
“The quiet Australians spoke and they said ‘enough’” Peter Hartcher for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“It’s the most transformative election you can imagine” Laura Tingle for ABC News.
As an observer of both Australian and American politics I was both relieved and proud that:
(1) Australians saw the possibility of a Trump like / Trump lite Coalition and rejected it; and then
(2) Prime Minister Morrison recognised that the voters had spoken and stepped down, thus enabling a smooth transition of power even before the final votes have been counted.
And if we needed affirmation that things were about to change, that came when Albanese began his election night victory speech with a strong commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The new Parliament
This new Parliament looks so much more like Australia than any previous Parliament: there are more women; there are more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and there is more cultural diversity.
These changes are almost all due to the newly elected members of the Labor Caucus, The Greens and the Independents. Indeed, I think the Coalition numbers may have gone backwards in this regard.
In the last Parliament, women made up only 31 percent of the 151-member House of Representatives, but 53 percent of the 76-member Senate. According to the Sydney Morning Herald those numbers are set to rise to 38 percent in the House and 57 percent in the Senate.
The number of women in the House of Representatives will certainly be boosted as the seats of Goldstein, Wentworth, Kooyong, Mackellar, North Sydney, Hasluck, Ryan, Swan, Pearce, Holt, Lingiari and Fowler have all switched from male to female representatives. Two women lost to men – in Griffiths and Robertson.
It appears that the number of Liberal women in the House of Representatives will decline from 13 to seven while Labor’s numbers are predicted to increase from 29 to 36 women.
On current count, 18 women will be joining the lower house for the first time. Seven of them will sit on the crossbench as Independents; one will sit with the Greens; two are Liberals, and the remaining eight are Labor.
You can read more about the women who will enter Parliament for the first time here.
As I write, it’s harder to tell what is happening in the Senate. Professor Barbara Pocock beat incumbent Senator Rex Patrick in South Australia and Pauline Hanson may lose her Senate seat.
There will be a welcome increase in the number of First Nations representatives in the Parliament where they will now comprise 4.4 percent of members. In the Senate there is Senator Pat Dodson (WA Labor, who was not up for re-election); Senator Lidia Thorpe (VIC Greens); Senator Dorinda Cox (WA Greens); Senator Jana Stewart (VIC Labor); Senator Jacinta Price (NT Country Liberal); and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy (NT Labor).
There will likely now be three First Nations people in the House of Representatives on the Labor benches – Linda Burney, who will be Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Dr Gordon Reid (Robertson) and Marion Scrymgour, who is expected to take the seat of Lingiari.
The previous Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the Morrison Government, Ken Wyatt, lost his seat to Labor challenger Tania Lawrence. Burney has acknowledged Wyatt’s work in this portfolio and says it will not be cast aside.
If Scrymgour takes Lingiari, the Northern Territory will have three female Indigenous federal politicians. In the Senate, Labor’s Malarndirri McCarthy was returned and Jacinta Price from the Country Liberal Party will replace Sam McMahon.
It’s tempting to imagine what these three powerful women could achieve for the Northern Territory and for Indigenous communities nationwide, but there are some frictions already evident.
The ethnic diversity joining the ALP Caucus is exciting: Sally Sitou from Laos (Reid); Dr Ananda-Rajah from India (Higgins); Sam Lim from Malaysia (Tangney); Zaneta Mascarenhas from Kenya (Swan); Cassandra Fernando from Sri Lanka (Holt); Jerome Laxale from Mauritius (Bennelong).
There is also Dai Le from Vietnam (Fowler), an Independent, while Fatima Payman, a refugee from Afghanistan, has a chance for a Senate spot in Western Australia.
You can read more about the new, diverse faces in parliament here.
Although they are a cause for celebration, getting a parliament that reflects Australia’s diversity is a work in progress and there is much more to be done.
Finally, there should also be a call out for the surge of healthcare professionals now in parliament: Labor has Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah and Dr Gordon Reid joining Dr Michael Freelander and Independents Dr Monique Ryan and Dr Sophie Scamps. On the other hand, Liberal Dr Katie Allen lost her seat.
Former nurse and cancer survivor, Carolyn (Caz) Heise, running as an Independent, is in a tight race in Cowper.
How the world saw the election results
There was considerable international interest in the results of this election. Here is a selection of international reports.
“How the rest of the world has followed Australia’s election campaign” – The New Daily
“The federal election has made politics here greener, more feminine and, at a time of creeping Americanisation, more emphatically Australian.” BBC News
“In the best of times, Australians tend to see their government as a service provider more than a battleground for ideology. Now, with the pressures from the pandemic and the geopolitical fallout of the Ukraine war, they are even more eager to see policies that produce tangible results, and they are less convinced that traditional party politics can do the job.” New York Times
“Australia delivered a stinging defeat to the country’s ruling conservative coalition on Saturday in what amounted to a personal rebuke of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s abrasive brand of leadership.” Washington Post
And you might enjoy this – What Australia’s election rout shows the country — and world. From Australian Richard Glover, writing for the Washington Post.
Down to business
Albanese and his team are very cognisant of huge expectations that they will deliver meaningful action not just on their election promises, but on the demands, needs and hopes of a wide range of groups and individuals.
A long Twitter thread from my Croakey colleague Dr Melissa Sweet highlights the extent of these expectations, wrapping election responses from more than 30 organisations in the health and related sectors.
While Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong were at the Quad meeting in Japan and engaged in side meetings with President Biden and US officials (it is a high profile way to spend your first day as Prime Minister!), work had already begun on domestic matters.
Richard Marles (Albanese’s deputy) was sworn in as Employment Minister, Jim Chalmers as Treasurer, and Senator Katy Gallagher as Finance Minister, Minister for Women and Attorney-General.
The full Ministry is expected to be announced next week. While Albanese has previously promised few changes, the loss of Terri Butler (who held the environment portfolio) and Kristina Keneally (Home Affairs) means the team will have several new faces and new positions.
Albanese has been quick to seek support from established Independents in the House – Andrew Wilkie, Rebekah Sharkie, Helen Haines, Bob Katter and Zali Steggall. He has received assurances from these key crossbenchers that they will guarantee supply and not support any no-confidence motions against the government. This is critical insurance if Labor ends up with fewer than the 76 seats needed for majority government.
In his first address to the nation after being sworn into office on Monday morning, Albanese outlined his immediate priorities of establishing a national anti-corruption commission, advancing constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and convening an employment summit.
“Australians have voted for change. My government intends to implement that change in an orderly way,” Albanese said. “I want to bring people together and I want to change the way that politics is conducted in this country.”
Albanese says that the Independents “will consider legislation on its merits. I expect that to be the case. I will treat them with respect.”
Albanese has plenty of past experience in dealing with the cross bench and the back bench from his time as Manager of Government Business in the House during the Gillard Government.
Nevertheless, he might find the Greens’ demands hard to manage. Greens leader Adam Bandt has seized on his party’s gains to argue that the new Government should be prepared to compromise on legislation because the two-party system is over.
Bandt has a point. Labor won the election with just 32 percent of the first preference vote and owes a lot of its victory to the preferences of voters for the Greens and the Independents.
However, it’s disturbing to see the Greens once again pushing the position that a truth commission and a treaty process should be higher priorities than Labor’s promised referendum on an Indigenous voice.
Incoming Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney has warned there is significant work ahead to build a consensus on the Indigenous voice across the nation and inside the new Parliament before a referendum can be held on the question of whether to enshrine it in the Constitution.
It would be disastrous if progress on implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart became bogged down in political arguments.
Labor has a huge health agenda awaiting action (and all the unfinished business former Health Minister Greg Hunt left behind).
A top priority must be addressing the continuing pandemic and its consequences, now magnified by what promises to be a bad flu season. Already State and Territory leaders are pushing for health reform as a priority.
It’s exciting to think that this might offer a very real opportunity to tackle the problems that are inherent in Australia’s complicated and fragmented health system overseen by federal, state and private sectors, but it’s not clear if leaders like NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet are really looking for such major reforms or simply want more funding for public hospitals.
Albanese has been cautious with his election commitments – too cautious for many critics. But he has always said he wants to under-promise and over-deliver. Now he must balance expectations, priorities and budget reality. This might explain why he talks about an agenda that could take two terms to put into effect, another way of urging people to be patient.
Labor’s work is not just about new policies. As Professor Mark Kenny wrote for The Conversation, voters are clearly looking for the new government to return to longstanding governing norms around transparency, accountability, ministerial standards, trust and honesty and the viability of the public service.
Coalition left to examine the entrails
This election has been described as “the end of certainty” for the Liberals, and they must now examine why they lost and how they can rebuild. It promises to be a divisive and messy business.
Will it go with the party moderates (now a greatly diminished faction) and evolve towards a more socially progressive party with credible aspirations on issues like climate change? Or does its future lie with wooing the more socially conservative electorates with populist right-wing stances on economic and social policy?
There are moderates out there, arguing their case. NSW Liberal Matt Kean, writing for The Guardian, has called on Liberal to find their moderate voice and assertively represent the centre.
He points out that not a single seat lost by the Liberal Party went to a more conservative candidate, and until the issues that matter to voters in these seats are addressed, they will not return to the party.
NSW Senator Andrew Bragg said the party must ditch the culture wars, protect minorities and prioritise fairness or face political purgatory.
On the other hand, South Australian Senator Alex Antic said the party had been “cut adrift” because conservatives had been sidelined. “Much of the blame for the teal revolution in this country has to lay with conservatives over the last two decades not shooting down nonsense on climate change,” he said. “We’ve got to push back on these … forces.”
With Peter Dutton as the putative new leader, it seems this is latter, populist approach is inevitable. The idea that a woman as deputy (Sussan Ley seems to be the front runner) would offset Dutton’s aggressive conservatism just highlights the inadequacy of the party’s self-examination.
The National Party seems even more reluctant than the Liberals to examine their policies and their future. Members like Matt Canavan are trying to argue that rural voters support the push back against net zero emissions (last year, the Nationals signed up to Morrison’s net zero by 2050 target in return for billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and an extra cabinet position).
But the only Nationals to improve their vote were those who are climate conscious like Darren Chester in Gippsland.
Chester has warned that “lurching further to the political right is a recipe for irrelevance” after the “more extreme views of some colleagues undoubtedly [hurt] the chances of our city cousins”.
Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce has publicly mulled over dropping support for net zero by 2050. If this happens, it will only further fracture the Coalition agreement and the Nationals’ caucus. This could lead to Joyce being dumped when the Nationals spill their leadership positions next week; it could even lead to a decision for the National Party to leave the Coalition.
The Nationals (who retained all their seats in the election) are now a larger proportion of the LNP Coalition and so – assuming the partnership lasts – will almost certainly demand more positions in the Shadow Ministry, thus further undermining the relationship.
Liberal Party has problems – especially with women
“Women did not see their concerns and interests reflected in a party led by Scott Morrison in coalition with Barnaby Joyce,” said Julie Bishop on the Nine network on Saturday night.
Former Finance Minister Simon Birmingham (who, to my mind is the only Liberal offering a thoughtful and honest analysis of the issues facing his party) said “every seat that the Liberal Party lost was lost to a female candidate, and so there is a real challenge there for us”.
As I have previously written, Morrison was focused on the blokes and the so-called “quiet Australians”, and that, combined with his failures to adequately address issues that mattered to women like childcare, economic security, domestic violence and the Respect@Work report, was a predictable recipe for electoral disaster.
As Professor Clare Wright wrote for The Guardian, history tells us that women can turn elections, and the Liberals should have listened.
Moreover, Australian women were following a feminist adage – don’t get mad, get organised. And they did, drawing on lessons from Cathy McGowan and the Voices of the Community movement. As an example, Allegra Spender’s campaign had over 1,200 volunteers, the majority of them women.
In an interview on the eve of the election, Morrison said he felt “misunderstood” on the issue of women – but although issues around women’s safety shocked him, his handling of these was ineffectual. He missed the wave of women’s anger.
It’s a nasty slap in the face for women upset about Morrison’s handling of sexual abuse in the Parliament that Alan Tudge managed to get re-elected, despite an 11 percent primary vote swing against him.
Albanese, by contrast, appealed to female voters through key election planks of childcare and healthcare. He has also promised to implement all recommendations of the Jenkins review into the work culture at Parliament House.
Role of the media
As Jennifer Doggett wrote in the May 12 edition of The Election Wrap, media bias has been a key issue in this campaign. Croakey has covered media-related concerns extensively, including here, here and here.
In early May, The Conversation, citing the plentiful evidence from News Corp newspapers and Sky News after dark, asked what price will democracy pay for this “rogue” behaviour.
Earlier this week Malcolm Farr wrote a piece for The Guardian that addressed how the explicit political biases of News Corp newspapers meant they were out of touch with voters. The brutal and relentless savaging of independent candidates exemplified Farr’s case.
Academic and journalist Dr Margaret Simons wrote earlier, “I am not sure News Corporation bothers to deny its bias these days. But could this be the election in which the impotence of its skewed reporting is exposed?”
While the Murdoch media might have been the worst offenders, there were plenty of other egregious examples.
Senior journalist Laura Tingle, who is the current president of the National Press Club, was moved to tweet that she was embarrassed about some campaign reporting.
ABC’s MediaWatch has dissected the media’s election reporting – and it’s not a pretty story (you can watch the episode here).
The response of some Sky News commentators to the Labor win has been nothing short of appalling.
On a slightly different issue: since mid-2021 media outlets have been awash with advertisements for Clive Palmer, Craig Kelly and the United Australia Party. Palmer is estimated to have spent $100 million on electoral advertising.
The cash splash failed to deliver the election of a single UAP member. The real winners were the media across Australia, in both metro and regional areas, and particularly those in newspapers, broadcast and outdoor.
They seemed to have to no qualms about running front page and multi-page yellow ads in their papers, repeating endless garbled TV ads, and allowing a forest of yellow billboards along major roads.
It is Clive Palmer’s right to spend his money so profligately – if Australia had a First Amendment he would claim that privilege – but surely the media which accept this advertising should at least require its accuracy or, better, point out and counter the misinformation.
Electoral reforms needed
It was somewhat disturbing to hear, in the days immediately leading up to election day, that COVID-19 infections, staff shortages and weather meant that some polling places would not be set up and others would be under-staffed. That was also true for polling facilities for Australian living overseas.
The result – too many Australians, especially those living in remote Indigenous communities, those unexpectedly in hospital or COVID-19 isolation, and those living overseas were unable to exercise their (mandated) right to vote.
There were other aspects of this election that were equally disturbing. These include:
- The failure of many requested postal votes to arrive in time.
- The spam texts from the United Australia Party which made false claims about the World Health Organisation taking over the Australian healthcare system.
- The robo-texts about a refugee boat trying to reach Australian sent out on election day by the Liberal Party to people in marginal seats.
- The high number of invalid votes in culturally diverse seats due the voter confusion and lack of understanding of the preference voting system.
The new Labor Government is already investigating the Liberal Party’s scare tactics texts. The Human Rights Law Centre is monitoring barriers to voting including due to COVID-19. It has set up a register allowing voters to report any issues preventing them from voting.
It is clear that we are overdue for some electoral act reform.
It is also gratifying to see that Tony Burke, who is likely to become leader of the House when Parliament resumes, is responding to demands from the cross bench members for reforms in the way the House operates.
This will likely include more cross bench questions in Question Time, abolishing Dorothy Dixers, and guaranteed debates and votes on private members’ bills. (Tony Burke vows to ‘fix’ parliament as crossbench demands reform | Australian politics | The Guardian)
The results of this election give us many reasons to be positive about Australia’s future. But it also makes clear that we cannot just sit back and expect the new Albanese Government to deliver, we must be engaged and thoughtful participants.
I leave you with a few thoughts…
I attended at the recent Sydney Writers Festival where Professor Clare Wright read an election campaign speech from the first woman to run for political office anywhere in the world – Vida Goldstein, after whom the electorate that just voted to send Zoe Daniel to Canberra is named.
I can’t find a copy of the speech online, but here is an article about Vida Goldstein. She ran (unsuccessfully) as an Independent in five elections – 1903. 1910, 1913, 1914, and 1917.
It was not until 1943 that the first women (Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney) were elected to federal parliament.
That sent me on a search to discover what I thought was the most inspiring speech. My choice is President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society speech, given at the University of Michigan in 1964.
For me, these words ring true today.
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning…
But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvellous products of our labour.”
In case you missed it, here are President Joe Biden’s welcoming remarks to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Tokyo. It’s clear the two leaders have a warm relationship – and that Australia is welcome on the international political stage.
“I appreciate your determination to get here so quickly… it’s testament to Australia being all in on our shared vision on what we have to do.”
Make sure you follow the new (and already very popular) account for the Prime Ministerial dog Toto.
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