Saturday, September 7, 2013


As expected, Sunday finds Australia with a new Government elect.

The Liberal-National coalition lead by Tony Abbott moved to a comfortable victory early on Saturday night, with the result 'called' by some sections of the punditry as early as an hour after polling closed (and heroically called by former Liberal minister Nick Minchin an hour before it did). It was a far cry from 2010, when the nation was left hanging on election night and had to wait through several weeks of horse trading before a formal result was declared.

There was no such suspense this time.

With counting still underway, the AEC shows the following scorecard:

About six of the seats indicated above are still officially 'too close to call', while the two listed as not yet determined (Fairfax and Indi) may be delayed for some time, due to the complexities of the preference allocation in each. But the overall result is clear enough.

Tony Abbott has won the election. Not with the landslide predicted by some of the more hysterical elements of the media, but with a clear majority. The outcome neatly reverses the result in 2007 when Labor came to power (2007 results: Labor 83, Coalition 65, Independent 2).

With the overall result clear cut, the question now becomes... what next? The immediate focus was on Rudd and Abbott.

Neither leader distinguished themselves on election night, both delivering self serving speeches that sought to immediately re-write history.

Rudd began by congratulating himself; saying that Labor had 'fought the good fight.' News to anyone who had witnessed his turgid and un-enlightening campaign, full of off-the-cuff policy ideas and negativity. He also supplied his expected folksiness and cliched phraseology; he mentioned 'the good people of Australia,' he said 'the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us', he said 'Gees' (twice). He reminded everyone that he isn't going to be much missed, either by the larger electorate or by his colleagues (The Age this morning carried a story where members from both sides of politics called for Rudd to resign from Parliament, immediately).

For his part, Abbott offered up the most ungracious victory speech I can remember seeing in Australian politics. He started by saying that he had defeated Rudd... and then he said it again. And then he smirked and said that Labor's vote was the lowest it had been for a hundred years. The only thing he didn't say was 'In your face, cunts!' He looked like a man so focused on crushing his opponent that he didn't know why he was doing it. He was as disingenuous in victory as Rudd had been in defeat; claiming Australia was 'once more open for business', news to everyone who has gotten a job or invested money in the last six years, and that he would look after 'our forgotten families,' odd considering that the whole apparatus of Government now seems designed to take money from people without kids and hand it over to people who do, regardless of their respective incomes.

At least Rudd has now dropped from sight. Abbott was back this morning, Lycra clad and grinning like a hungry shark as he went for his daily bike ride, an alarming image that we will all just have to get used to:

Rudd, vanquished; Abbott, obscene. So much for our leaders.

But beyond these two, there were more interesting lessons to be drawn from what happened on September 7. Some of the highlights:


The sole Green in the House of reps, deputy leader Adam Bandt, delighted his supporters by holding his seat of Melbourne. And not only holding it, but increasing his primary vote from 36% in 2010 to 43%, and so moving the seat to the edge of safe territory. The result came on the back of the Liberal Party's decision to preference against Bandt, which many pundits thought doomed his campaign. But the Greens were determined to fight, and did so by running an enthusiastic, old school, grassroots campaign. Swarms of young volunteers targeted the electorate, dividing it up into sub-districts and then hitting these hard with door knocks, letters, events, fund raising and well thought out, positive advertising (all aided by a generous donation from the Electrical Trades Union), tactics as old as organised politics itself. The hard working Bandt was a tangible presence in his electorate, and reaped the benefit on polling day.


Labor didn't fare as badly as expected in Western Sydney but still lost ground and seats; Robertson, Banks and Lindsay were all once safe Labor seats that are now in the conservative column. But Labor's most marginal seat in the area - Greenway, held by just 0.6% - not only did not fall, but actually recorded a swing to Labor of nearly 3%, a very unexpected result. That it did so was largely down to the Liberals choice of candidate; the hapless Jaymes Diaz. You might remember him from such career ending disasters as this:

If only it had been a 1 Point Plan he would've been a cert. Diaz went to ground after his nationally televised embarrassment and was pretty much unseen from this point onwards, a fatal impediment for a candidate seeking election to public office, regardless of how unpopular the Government. When he did resurface, he didn't fare much better:

Candidates this bad are rarely seen outside of One Nation. Diaz's nightmare came to a fitting end when his brother crashed the campaign car in the parking lot outside of Liberal headquarters on election night.


Not the capital of Australia, despite what you've been told.

Overall the Labor Party would be comfortable with how they went in Western Sydney; they poured resources in, Kevin Rudd visited repeatedly, some of the furniture was saved. But the cost of this strategy can be seen when looking at the wider electoral map, something that ALP strategists appear not to have done often enough. While the Government only lost a few seats in Sydney, and none at all (as at time of writing) in their other trouble spot, Queensland; South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania swung hard to the conservative side. A decade ago, all five of Tasmania's lower house seats were safe Labor, and over this time Victoria and South Australia were the two states where they'd fared the best on the mainland. Now Labor appeared set to lose 4 out of 5 seats in Tassie - on the back of double digit swings, the largest in Australia - three more seats in Victoria and one in South Australia. In other words, half of the seats they lost as they tumbled towards defeat were from these three overlooked states. The lesson is clear. Western Sydney is important in electoral terms; millions of people live there, the population is growing and there is a high concentration of seats, but it is not the whole country. And you ignore the rest at your peril.


I wrote about this yesterday, but it seems worth repeating. The biggest single impediment to Labor winning a third term was the grim spectacle of them hacking at each other in public over the last four years. Losing candidate in Forde, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, summed it up:

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard bear most responsibility for this, but there would be few within parliamentary Labor that weren't guilty of stirring the pot, gossip mongering and leaking bullshit to the press. Considering that he is not universally popular with his colleagues, Abbott did a remarkable job of keeping his troops together and their message (however misguided) consistent, both of which are key steps towards successful political leadership. The Labor Party have an opportunity now to elect a new leader largely free of baggage and start again. But the electorate's memory is long and the damage that they have inflicted on themselves is enormous.


What's all the fuss about?

In the end, the big national polls were pretty accurate. Nielsen and Newspoll both called it 54 - 46 to the Coalition and Galaxy had it 53 - 47 (the actual result was 53.4 - 46.6) two party preferred. Which marked another in a series of elections were the national polls have proved startlingly accurate. All of the polling organisations listed above use a large sample size and have thorough methodology to make these polls as valid as possible. But this cannot be said for other polls, some organised by the same companies, that littered the political landscape this year, the worst of which seemed deliberately misleading. Most inaccurate were a series of polls taken in key marginal seats, many of which showed wildly improbable results. Some of the worst examples:

* A Longeran poll in August that predicted Kevin Rudd would lose his seat of Griffith. Rudd retained the seat comfortably.

* Newspoll's throughout August that showed Labor losing four, five or all of their seats in Queensland. As at time of writing, Labor has lost no Queensland seats, although Capricornia and Petrie are still in dispute (with Labor ahead in both).

* A JWS Research poll in August that showed Treasurer Chris Bowen losing his seat of McMahon by 3% and high profile former Treasurer Wayne Swan his seat of Lilley by 4%. Both seats were retained easily.

* A Newspoll a week before the election that predicted Labor would lose ten seats in Sydney, some by double digit margins. Labor lost three Sydney seats.

In contrast to the accurate national polls, the marginal seat polling was done with little or no scientific rigour; sample sizes as small as 200  were used (electorates contain around 100 000 voters) and calls were often made only to landlines, ruling out a large chunk of the electorate, or via automated 'robo-calls', which sensible people refuse to take. Nevertheless, the results of these totally meaningless exercises were discussed in the same earnest fashion as the polls that some effort had gone into, to the detriment of the campaign coverage. It is hoped we won't see a repeat of this rubbish in three years time, but this is probably to hope for too much.

And so with the election already fading into the rearview, a pause will fall across the field of battle. The victors will gloat a little longer, the losers will blame each other and life will continue for most people, much as it did before.

Labor's new leader will be elected sooner rather than later and then we will have a clearer idea of where the next three years will take us.

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