Following on from our report this morning of a landslide defeat for the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales, Jason Groves – President of the UK Branch of the Liberal Party of Australia – expands on the significance of the result.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposed carbon tax has turned the likely defeat of New South Wales’ Labor government into the most devastating electoral massacre in Australian political history.
With swings in some constituencies of up to 36%, the government of Australia’s most populous state has been reduced to a rump, losing over 30 of its 50 seats in the parliament’s lower house. The Liberal/National Party coalition, which will almost certainly have to occupy seats on what would normally be the opposition benches, looks set to have just under 70 of the Legislative Assembly’s 93 seats. It will also have a strong mandate to reform public services and build much-needed transport infrastructure.
Crucially, it will also have the strongest possible mandate to oppose Federal Labor’s proposed new carbon tax that threatens to destroy jobs and add huge cost to voters’ energy bills at a time of rising interest rates. What has made the tax all the more unpopular is Julia Gillard’s firm promise during last year’s federal election campaign that she would never introduce one.
Followers of Australian politics will recall that Gillard was only able to gain a majority in parliament after the election through the support of two independents from normally conservative leaning constituencies. Both these men are former members of the New South Wales state parliament whose patronage guaranteed that their local seats were passed on to other independents. However, this patronage proved toxic today and both seats were won by the Coalition with massive anti-independent swings. These two federal MPs must now be in no doubt how unpopular their decision to back Gillard has been and the strength of feeling the carbon tax has aroused, especially in rural seats.
But the loudest voice was that of voters in Labor heartland – hundreds of thousands of whom had never before voted Liberal. They have sent a strong message that jobs and growth must be put before the pursuit of reckless tax-and-spend. Little more than a year into the job, Julia Gillard is already one of the least popular Prime Ministers in Australian history and her lack of judgement and political cynicism threatens to make federal Labor as unpopular as it is becoming at a state level all round the country.
None of this is to take away from the excellent job Barry O’Farrell, New South Wales’ new Premier, and his front bench team put into winning a hard-fought campaign, providing an innovative and reassuring alternative to a Labor government beset by scandal and incompetence. After 16 years in opposition, the new government will get to work quickly to reward the trust voters have placed in them.
The election result is also another rebuke to the Labor Party ‘machine’, which draws its members of parliament almost exclusively from a small pool of either ex-ministerial staffers or union officials, most of whom have no experience of the real world. By contrast, new New South Wales coalition MPs include dentists, doctors, farmers, teachers and a range of small business people all of whom can connect with the wider electorate more easily than Labor’s party apparatchik candidates. But, ultimately, it is not faceless Union hacks who are killing support for Australian Labor, it is the job-destroying, ill-thought through policies of the country’s discredited, duplicitous Prime Minister.