Risk of going too early with Voice

The Albanese Government faces some big risks in proposing a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in its first term. The first risk is that it fails to pass. The second is that even if it passes nothing much changes on the ground for Indigenous people.

For the thing to be a success, a lot of people’s attitudes have to change.

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Libs in feedback loop to the right

Saturday’s election result was not an aberration. It was part of a trend of a declining vote for the two major parties that began in 2010 and is not likely to stop. Indeed, the result was fairly predictable.

Labor may scrape over the majority line this time with 50 per cent of the seats from 30 per cent of the vote, but the days of big, workable majorities for either party are gone and cooperation with the Independents and minors for more centrist policies will be the new political norm. 

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Party’s over for the major parties

The two-party party is over.

This election will end the Labor-Coalition contest. The first preference vote of both major parties is in the mid 30s. The combination of the rest is also in the 30s.

It means that the minor parties and independents will get a significant number of seats in the House of Representatives.

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Case for strategic voting

In the past week a few people have asked me about the progressive voter’s dilemma – a dilemma perhaps more pronounced than any time since the 1930s

That dilemma is whether to put Labor first and Independent second, or put Independent first and Labor second.

It depends on what sort of seat you are in. If it is a Labor-held seat, it will not matter. But in a Liberal-held seat where there is a reasonably strong progressive Independent, the difference can be critical.

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The weakness of projecting ‘strong’

Never in the field of Australian political conflict has so much been said about so little by so few. Apologies to Churchill, but that about sums up the election campaign so far.

Sunday night’s leaders’ “debate” has been described as a meaningless bunfight. Nonetheless, it clarified and illustrated a couple of important things.

The scraping over minor points and crumbs of policy show how fear of scare campaigns over the past 30 years has reduced Australian politics to visionless auctions and voter bribery.

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Teals can roll back the barrels

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has got a lot of gall to demand that the “teal” independents reveal who they would support in the now increasingly likely event of a hung parliament.

The gall is twofold. First is that the teals have already answered: neither of you unless you change your behaviour. That, indeed, is why they are standing. Second is that the real demand for an answer about a hung Parliament should be directed at Morrison himself.

Critically, the question for him is: “What concessions, if any, would he give to cross-benchers in order to get their support to form a government?”

Would the Coalition agree to a corruption commission with teeth as promised before the 2019 election? Would the Coalition agree to follow through on the neglected half of the recommendations of the banking royal commission as promised before the 2019 election.

What about an effective 2030 emissions target? Decent treatment of women working at Parliament House? An end to corrupt ministerial discretionary spending in marginal electorates? An end to wage-suppressing high immigration? And so on.

Moreover, he should be asked that if he were to agree to any of these things as the price of government, why not promise them before the election. Or he should be asked which items are lines in the sand which he would not compromise on to attain government.

For example, does he think that any corruption commission other than the roundly condemned ineffectual one he proposed would be an unacceptable “kangaroo court” that he could never agree to.

But the only answer he has given is that he expects to get majority government. Well, not without a 4 in front of the Coalition’s primary vote. And that is looking less likely by the day.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, of course, should be asked similar questions, but there would be a lot fewer of them. 

The teals, as a rule, are very much private-enterprise sort of people and would normally gravitate to the Liberal Party, but not the Liberal Party under this leader or the Liberal Party stripped of Menzies-Fraser liberalism and without any underlying philosophy other than holding on to power.

Menzies would roll in his grave if he knew that a Liberal government had promised $4.5 million to the boutique Lark whisky distillery at Pontville in Tasmania, where two marginal seats are critical in this election.

Without a hint of irony Morrison was pictured at the distillery with several barrels behind him. All that was missing was the pork.

Australians should not fear a hung Parliament; they should welcome it, for several reasons.

The first is that most independents are committed to cleaner government. When independents held the balance of power in NSW, they insisted on setting up the Independent Commission Against Corruption which has uncovered numerous incidents of serious corruption, involving politicians from both major parties.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office, which puts at least some semblance of honesty into the costing of electoral promises, was created at the insistence of the two federal independents who supported the Gillard minority government.

The major parties have little interest in greater integrity and transparency in government, though Labor to its credit has agreed to a tough corruption commission. 

Over the past nine years of Coalition Government, the five pillars of the misuse of incumbency toyed with by the Keating and Howard Governments have now turned into industrial-scale abuse.

These are: government advertising for party political purposes; jobs for the boys; unjustified boondoggle grants of public money in marginal electorates; lucrative secretive government contracts to donors; and the false and misleading conduct in election advertising which if done by a commercial corporation would result in prosecution.

The second reason to hope for a hung Parliament is that promises made by a major party as a condition for the support of independents are much more likely to be honoured. If Morrison’s broken 2019 promises on integrity and banking had occurred while in minority government, he would have been out of office. As it is, he can chance it with an amnesiac electorate at the next election, rather than face certain defeat on the floor of the House.

Thirdly, every election since 1996, one or both of the major parties have engaged in scaredy-poo small-target practices without electoral consequences, with the result that desperately needed policies to make Australia fairer and more productive have gone by the wayside. Minority governments can get things done. The National Disability Insurance Scheme, though not perfect, is a case in point.

Lastly, survey after survey in the past 30 years has shown a shattering of trust in the Federal Government. For good reasons its integrity, capacity and competence have been increasingly questioned. More of the same will not fix it.

And whatever the result on 21 May some fairly courageous policy changes must be made. A major shift in the tax burden away from labour and towards capital and consumption is a start.

Irresponsible hand-outs to marginal electorates and unsustainable high immigration to suppress wages and create “growth” are no substitute for the wholesale reform of both revenue and spending to deal with the debt left by the pandemic; increasing inequality; stagnant wages; lagging productivity; falling educational attainment; and out-of-reach health care.

And in this environment any premature or too-large a rise in interest rates is likely to push a lot of people into credit-card misuse and default because unlike the inflation in the 1970s, there is no wage pressure in a casualised ununionionised workforce to be dampened.

The 2022 inflation spurt in Australia is just a combination of a few temporary supply-chain one-offs. And it will be quickly corrected because there are simply no increases in wages to fuel demand. People will just buy less.

As the woman serving behind the super-market deli counter at the weekend responded to my mild whinge and observation about rising prices: “Yes, everything is going up except our wages.” 

Crispin Hull

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 3 May 2022.

Govt’s persistent low primary vote

Yes, there was a “gaffe” last week and Labor’s wide but shallow support in the opinion polls this week looked a little bit shallower. But this week’s polls did not change one fundamental in this supposed two-horse race – the 6 to 7 percentage point drop in the Coalition primary vote since 2019.

This has been consistent across many polls over at least the past 18 months and cannot be explained by polling margins of error. And it was repeated this week despite Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s meaningless failure to recall the unemployment rate or base interest rate.

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More than a fistful of dollars

If this election is to be about economic management and national security, – the Coalition’s supposed strengths – voters should question what those things mean and whether the Coalition does them well or even just better than the other lot.

But even applying the staid old definitions of national security as spending big on military hardware and economic management as being low-tax and frugal with public money, just one stand-out case should put the lie to the myth that the Coalition is better on these scores. 

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