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Terry Barnes advised Tony Abbott when he was a Cabinet minister in John Howard’s government. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Saturday is election day in Australia. It’s a day when Australians traipse to polling stations, not only to vote, but to buy their “democracy sausages”: a sandwich of a barbequed sausage, onions and sauce sold by the hosting school or church. Usually, cake and craft stalls ply their opportunistic trade as well.

But that’s about the only fun to be had by Conservative-leaning Australian voters tomorrow. Not a single opinion poll has the Liberal-National party coalition government, now headed by the last man standing, Scott Morrison, in an election-winning position.

In British terms, Morrison would be on majority government, with opinion polls consistently estimating coalition support around 40 per cent, leading Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, and the Australian Labor Party on 36 per cent. But under Australia’s alternative vote system, with Labor garnering “preferences” from the Greens and other left-leading groupings, Labor is consistently leading the Liberals by 51 to 49 per cent.

Besides being another Anglosphere democracy, why is this Antipodean election relevant to Britain, when so much else is going on? There are three reasons.

First, Labor is campaigning hard on a tax-and-spend, re-regulation, massive government intervention manifesto that has borrowed much from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. It’s not too far a stretch to say Shorten’s policies were drafted for him by Momentum. If anyone has a grievance about the current government, Labor has made sure there’s something for them.

Furthermore, “for the many, not the few” is the leitmotiv of Labor’s campaign. Unlike Labor’s Great Conciliator, former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, – who died yesterday – his self-anointed successor, Shorten, has played the politics of envy very aggressively. He especially has focused on taxing retirement incomes and residential property investors, arguing that these people, presumed Liberal voters, are profiting at the expense of later generations. Like Corbyn, he has demonised business and what Australians call “the top end of town”, the boardrooms of large and multinational companies, and vowed they pay their fair share of tax. And he is throwing billions at healthcare and schools, especially hospitals, schools, and early childhood education, on the basis that his tax raids on the wealthy will pay for it.

Second, Morrison as incumbent Prime Minister is playing a thin hand remarkably well. When his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, imploded last August, and Morrison found himself in the job, he almost single-handedly has made the coalition competitive in this election through energetic yet shrewd seat-by-seat action, much as John Major and his soapbox did in 1992.

Where, after the leadership chaos of the last five years, Shorten should be winning tomorrow in a landslide, over the past month, the polls have tightened to within a couple of percentage points to make a narrow Labor majority or even a hung parliament the most likely results. To a riven and embattled Tory party, Morrison’s success in binding wounds and campaigning effectively shows what can yet be done.

Third, voters are smarter than many in the political class think. They don’t like being treated like children easily tempted by shiny toys, which is a premise of the Labor manifesto and all its blandishments and giveaways. But they are also prepared to go and look again at a cause they had written off if they have cause to do so, which is why Morrison may yet narrowly lose the election yet has convincingly won the campaign.

Like the UK, different states and regions have different voting characteristics. We will either have a clear national result within hours of the polls closing at 6pm on Saturday night, or it could go on for days.

One way or the other, however, Australia will wake up a different place come Sunday morning.

 

11 comments for: Terry Barnes: The Australian election looks closer than might have been expected

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