If there was any justice, this election would already be long over. Having initially announced the election date back in January, Julia Gillard, and more latterly Kevin Rudd, have been determined to subject the nation to the political equivalent of peine forte et dure. Our nation this year has witnessed more hand-shaking, baby-kissing, shopping-mall-appearances and bizarre photo stunts than we are likely to see repeated, touch wood, for decades to come. Anything, it seems, but stable governance.
The much vaunted debate between Rudd and Abbott fizzled out into a dance of two men trying to see who could say the least (if you don’t believe me, see it for yourself). The public have tuned out, big time. I sense that journalists of all political stripes simply have run out of things to say. There are a few reasons for this.
The result is a foregone conclusion. I’ve been saying this on other fora for some time, but those with newspapers to sell have been trying to make a boat race out of it. Opinion polls (mostly either run by, or commissioned by, the newspapers anyway) have been rather spectacularly skewed, for a number of fundamental reasons. One is that local issues often take predominance in voter’s estimation, ahead of national ones. The Greens vote in my own area, to take one example, is set to plummet at the September poll, not because of any national policy, but because the Greens in the Tasmanian state parliament have colluded with Labor in siting a toxic waste dump in my back yard, simply in order to make a few bucks and to receive some perfunctory pats on the head from the honchos in the U.N. (they have agreed to accept all waste dumped in Antarctica since 1900). They’ll find out shortly that the people they screw are also voters.
National aggregated polling also ignores the uneven movement of voting intention among seats. It’s a fact that elections in the Australian House of Representatives are decided by about 200,000 people, they being the swinging voters in seats with any chance of changing hands. Who cares what voters in Julia Gillard’s electorate of Lalor, or Joe Hockey’s electorate of North Sydney think? Or whom rusted-on Labor voters choose between Rudd and Abbott as preferred Prime Minister? Polling targeted in marginal seats is far more revealing.
The best predictor of elections isn’t opinion polls, but the betting market. When people are actually putting down their hard-earned, as opposed to merely being asked their opinion by pollsters, they collectively get it right, every single time. As I write this, Centrebet currently has the Coalition at $1.10, with Labor paying $7.00; Sportsbet have the Coalition at $1.09, with Labor blowing out to $7.25. Even those agencies are reportedly refusing to take large bets on the Coalition, even at those prices; they are, to all intents and purposes, unbackable. You can take it as read, Tony Abbott will be elected Prime Minister on 7th September, leading a government with a majority of between 20 and 30 seats.
Or perhaps more. Which, if it occurs, raises some interesting possibilities. Kevin Rudd was finally able to convince his parliamentary colleagues to re-instate him over Julia Gillard, as polls indicated Labor heading for its greatest landslide loss since Federation. An act of “saving the furniture”, as doomed to failure as was Gillard’s knifing of Rudd in the first place. Analysts in the last days of Gillard’s tenure were predicting Labor to lose up to 40 seats in the September poll; you can use this election calculator to translate a uniform swing into a theoretical Lower House election result. A modest 5% swing against Labor sees the Coalition with a massive 39-seat majority, while a 10% swing would leave Labor with just 31 seats, the Coalition with 116—an unimaginable 85-seat majority. If those figures seem outlandish, remember that the swings against Labor in the 2011 NSW state election and 2012 Queensland election were of the order of 20%. That won’t happen federally, but if it did, it would leave Labor with less than ten seats in the Lower House, possibly even no longer qualifying for funding under the Electoral Act, as has now happened in Queensland.
When governments in this country win by such crushing majorities, there are inevitably calls from within their extreme fringes for the victorious party to go beyond their mandate, and all kinds of hobby-horses start to emerge from the woodwork. Following the Queensland election, there were loud calls for the re-introduction of the death penalty in that state. Who knows what sort of proposals we might see raised under such a lop-sided federal parliament, or what sorts of pressures to which Tony Abbott might be subjected to give such proposals oxygen? I’m thinking here particularly about the agrarian socialist elements within the National Party, which are set to regain the seats of Lyne and New England, vacated by “independents” Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. The nationalization of Cubbie Station, floated by Barnaby Joyce last year ahead of an ultimate foreign consortium buyout, is only one of the more prominent items on the Nationals’ laundry-list of what is often an anti-free-market policy platform.
The real race is in the Senate. On 7th September, in addition to an election of the House of Representatives, there is also an election for half the federal Senate. As of today, the Australian Federal Senate is composed of 34 Coalition Senators, 31 Labor, 9 Greens plus two others. Only three of the nine Greens senators are facing the people (the rest are up in 2016), and while South Australian senator Sarah Hanson-Young appears set to lose the third spot in that state to the independent, popular local anti-gambling advocate Nick Xenophon, the two remaining Greens, Scott Ludlum in Western Australia and Peter Whish-Wilson in Tasmania, look set to hang on to office.
This is important because the primary focus of a new Abbott government will be the repeal of the Carbon Tax, foisted on a not-entirely unwilling Gillard government by the Australian Greens as a pre-condition of power-sharing, and in direct violation of an explicit pre-election promise:
Well, I suppose it’s the case that the last government was led, not by Gillard, but by this bloke. So she wasn’t exactly lying. 🙄
The point is, Abbott’s first piece of legislation will be the repeal of the Carbon Tax. Should the Coalition pick up an extra Senate seat in each of the mainland states (improbable, but not impossible), then they will hold 39 seats, enough to pass legislation without the support of Xenophon or Victorian DLP Senator John Madigan. Otherwise, should Labor not respect the Coalition’s mandate in the Lower House and block repeal legislation in the Senate, Abbott will be constitutionally empowered to seek a double-dissolution election; that is, the entire parliament, House of Representatives and the Senate, will be dissolved and we will face a second election, probably before Christmas.
Any such second poll would become a bloodbath for both Labor and the Greens, and would produce an effective one-party state in Australia for years to come, as is already the case in Queensland and New South Wales. Much as I want to see the end of the current government, democracy under the Westminster system can only function effectively with a strong and principled Opposition. Historically, overwhelming majorities in Australian state and federal parliaments have led to excess, corruption and decay—on both sides of politics.
It’s hard to believe, but there are still another eighteen days to go until the end of the collective national toothache that this election campaign has become. There’s little left to say. We already know the outcome. The sooner, and more decisively, it is over with, the better.