Some initial thoughts on the election

Since the Australian federal election, held last Saturday, I’ve had a few thoughts. These are only half-formed, so bear with me.

First, Coalition leader (and current prime minister) Malcolm Turnbull is getting a lot of heat for the relatively poor performance of the Liberal Party (and its various state-based permutations). Some of this is reasonable. The double dissolution was probably a mistake, as is now being reported. It has possibly made the senate more difficult for a future Coalition government to work with, not easier. However, blaming Turnbull for the overall poor showing of the Coalition parties is probably a little unfair. To do so requires forgetting just how unpopular the government was before Turnbull replaced Abbott, and assumes the latter could have pulled the the Coalition two-party vote back to 50 per cent by the election, when all evidence indicated that his government was unable to find a circuit breaker and stop the death spiral they were in.

Second, I think the rise in minor party support is overdone. First, it ignores history. We’ve had higher (1931) and similar (1943, 1998) levels minor party support in the past. Second, it ignores context. The GFC and resulting (and cascading) recessions and national public debt problems have created economic turmoil. This has had a political effect, including the rise of far (or populist) right parties in Europe, Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US. Although we missed the worst of the global recession, real disposable incomes have been declining for 17 straight quarters (four years and three months). The political impact here has been to create instability, and dissatisfaction with public policy and governing parties, hence the rapid turnover of state and federal leaders and governments since 2010 after more than decade of stability up to 2007. In other periods of economic turmoil we’ve seen a three-way split of the Labor Party (early 1930s), the collapse of the centre-right (early 1940s), the rise of the Democrats (1970s), and One Nation (1990s). I fail to see how the present is substantially different, and that if we saw the return to the economic tranquility of the early 2000s, we would see some kind of political stability also return.

Of course, I could also be wrong about both of these things.

I also wrote up some quick pieces on outcomes in 10 individual electorates for the University of Melbourne Election Watch blog. These can be found here.


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