It was a landslide! Tony Abbott has a mandate! The result was a repudiation of Labor’s dysfunction! Wrong, wrong and wrong. Crikey takes you through why Abbott’s victory is not what you think.
Part one — busting myths about the election result
1. “Labor’s lowest primary vote for a century!” Well, yes, but no. The point is that every Labor primary vote is going to be low from now on. The knowledge/culture/policy producer class has broken away and is voting for the Greens. Barring truly weird events, Labor ain’t coming back. That’s minimum of 7% — and as much as 12% — down from the mid-40s votes the ALP hitherto enjoyed.
That happened to the non-Labor forces of course in the 1920s, when the Country Party broke away. Out of that, we got the preferential system, and as a trade-off to Labor, compulsory voting. But the alliance with the Country Party didn’t turn United Australia Party/Liberal voters to Labor. Many of Labor’s voters won’t accept any sort of alliance with the Greens. Good luck working out that one.
2. “It was a landslide.” No, it wasn’t – 88 to 57 seats, give or take, isn’t a landslide. It’s a zero-sum game, so when five seats change hands, a 10-seat gap opens up between the two parties. Fewer than 50 seats and you can talk landslides. Mind you, getting 18 or so seats back to regain power at the end of a first term is a big ask and hasn’t been done since, oh that’s right, 1998, when Kim Beazley won a majority of the overall vote two years after Labor had been reduced to 49 seats. Despite a 5.5% swing to Labor and a 51%-49% two-party preferred margin in Labor’s favour, the Coalition held 80 seats to Labor’s 67. The next decade of our history was built on this manifest absurdity.
3. “It was a total repudiation of the Labor Party.” Wrong again. The two-party preferred vote was 53.5% to 46.5%, a serious enough margin in Australian politics. But the effect of two-party preferred in a single-member system is to amplify the gap. The previous vote was more or less 50:50. This result is the equivalent of one Labor two-party preferred voter in 16 changing his vote. That’s being made out as if it were on the level of say the ANC’s 63% vote in South Africa 1994, or Ramos-Horta’s 70% vote in East Timor’s first election. Those are expressions of a substantial public will — 53.5-46.5 ain’t.
4. “Labor will need to totally recondition itself to be electable and this will take a decade.” Labor needs to recondition itself for all sorts of reasons — and Australian politics may be in for a more comprehensive transformation — but let’s not awfulise this. Quite aside from the 1996-98 result, there’s the passage from 1975 — 44.3% to 1980 — 49.6%, and then victory in 1983. The telescoped relationship between the two-party preferred vote and seats won gives an entirely false impression of just how far there is to come back from. Whether that happening without a reconstruction of Labor would be a triumph or a tragedy is another question.
5. “Tony Abbott has a mandate, therefore Labor and the Greens should vote up his new legislation.” Where did this come from? Abbott has a mandate to govern, and therefore to introduce proposed legislation to Parliament. The 46.5% who wanted someone else elected their people to oppose it. The idea that a mandate abolishes opposition is totalitarian by definition.
6. “Australian democracy is the best in the world.” Yeah, a lower house that does not fairly represent the party vote, a compulsory voting/exhaustive preferential system/matched funding system that makes it easy for multimillionaires to get a seat and murder for anyone else, a Senate where the balance of power is held by five people with 4% primary vote between them, where the sheer size of the ballot paper sends the donkey vote skyrocketing towards a quota, where Tasmanians have five times the representation of New South Wales, two elections in 20 years with a majority vote not gaining government, and a prime minister-governor-general relationship that still hasn’t been clarified since it brought us to the brink of government collapse — and where blatant falsehoods in a near monopoly media is subject to no immediate sanction. Yeah, nothing needs to be looked at here, finest in the world. Nothing can possibly go wrong …
* Watch out for more mythbusting from our roaming reporter Guy Rundle in the coming days.