Both parties spent most of the last two months pandering to a relatively small number of voters in outer-suburban Sydney and Queensland regional electorates. It was smart politics, because according to the numbers, that was where the election was to be won or lost.
Both sides ramped up the middle-class welfare, targeted at Family Tax Benefit A recipients. Both sides played on poor infrastructure provision by state governments and spoke of cutting immigration and punishing asylum seekers. Both sides pitched messages about cost of living pressures, even as we were presented with evidence that inflation had fallen. And Labor caved in to the Opposition’s asinine insistence that any debt is a monumental evil.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the weekend results was that the rest of the electorate refused to play along with this game of “follow the swinging voter.”
There’s certainly substance to the view that State Labor Governments played a role in Labor’s woes, but it doesn’t get us that far in explaining the result. The only state where that applies strongly is Queensland. Queensland swung, if not uniformly, then consistently hard against Labor, everywhere. Bush, regional centres, Brisbane — Labor candidates all copped big swings, over 6% and often over 10%.
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The only ones who didn’t were Labor’s candidate in Fisher, where the appalling Peter Slipper, got virtually no primary vote swing at all and actually had a 2PP swing against him, Chris Trevor in Flynn, who kept his swing below 5%, and Tony Mooney in Herbert, who despite pre-election criticism was surprisingly competitive with a swing of only -3%.
But the main beneficiaries of the anti-Labor swing were the Greens, whose swing in Queensland, 5.11% on current figures, was just under twice that of the LNP.
But in NSW, there was no uniform swing at all despite the universal contempt in which the NSW Government is held. The hard swing against Labor was in Sydney, and much of it went straight to the Liberals, rather than to the Greens. Outside Sydney, there was a swing to incumbents. Janelle Saffin in Page, who was tipped to be one of the first to go in NSW, picked up nearly 5% on her primary vote, and the Nationals actually went backwards there. Robertson, too, had been tipped to fall, but Deborah O’Neill scored a small 2PP swing. Mike Kelly consolidated his position in Eden-Monaro, belting local Liberal luminary David Gazard with a 2% swing. But it wasn’t just Labor. In Cowper, National Luke Hartsuyker pulled off a big swing. Liberal Bob Baldwin did too in Paterson.
In larger regional centres like Wollongong and Newcastle, the results were in-between — Labor had a small swing against it, but not enough to unseat anyone.
In Victoria, the Liberals went backwards, but the main beneficiaries were the Greens (as also happened in Tasmania). Labor had a small primary vote swing against it, which translated into a small 2PP swing to it, but the Greens scooped up a 4% swing across the state. But again there was a swing to incumbents in regional Victoria — Ballarat swung hard to Catherine King, and Steve Gibbons hammered the Liberals’ dud candidate Craig Hunter in Bendigo, almost turning it into a safe seat for Labor. And the Nationals Darren Chester and John Forrest both got swings, as did Sharman Stone. One wonders if Fran Bailey had stayed on for another go at McEwen whether she might have benefited from a swing as well.
In WA, the Greens also picked up most of the sizeable anti-Labor swing. In fact, the WA Liberals performed relatively poorly — Alannah McTiernan managed a swing against Don Randall, and as of this morning Sharyn Jackson had further narrowed Ken Wyatt’s slim lead in Hasluck.
It’s hard to construct a theme that explains all of these results even at a state level, particularly when regional incumbents are picking up swings regardless of party. And while Labor might have the problem of being pulled from both the Left and the Right — trying to satisfy the voters of Lindsay and of Melbourne at the same time, the Liberals have whole states to worry about.
Tasmania may yield only five MPs but it has the full quota of 12 senators, and on Saturday the Liberals lost one to Labor — in fact lost him by a big margin, with Guy Barnett not even close to getting a quota ahead of Lisa Singh. In Victoria, too, the Liberals have lost a spot, with Julian McGauran, who has offered public life nothing but a source of generous donations to whichever party he has graced with his presence, being replaced with, most likely, a senator from the living dead DLP.
And in the end it will be regional independents, not the good citizens of outer-suburban Sydney or regional Queensland, who will decide who forms government. And at the moment there’s very little in common philosophically or politically between regional Australia and our outer suburbs.