I doubt that anybody’s the least bit surprised at the results of the Australian election and the return of hard-right government to the country. The reasons are clearly Australian, and yet, there’s more to it.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) made it’s own election disaster—the Liberal/National Coalition didn’t win as much as the ALP handed them victory on a silver platter. Kevin Rudd, who led the ALP to victory in the 2007 elections, was rolled by his Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who led the party to a squeaker of a victory in the 2010 elections. A few months ago, Rudd rolled her and became Prime Minister again, but he couldn’t stop the party’s slide toward defeat.
It’s true that the Australian news media was hard on Gillard, but she did herself no favours: She was arrogant, aloof and couldn’t connect with ordinary Australians. Rudd was viewed as hapless. The incoming Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is hard right and unpopular, but with nothing better in the ALP, he became more attractive than he could have hoped to be if the ALP had had a popular leader.
But the results also demonstrate, yet again, how truly awful Australia’s election system is. In official, but undeclared, results, the Liberal/National Coalition will have about 88 seats in the 150 member House of Representatives. The ALP will have about 57 (for both parties, “about” because as of this writing, some seats are still undetermined). But on a two-party preferred vote, which is what the Instant Run-off Voting system used for the House of Representatives elections delivers, the ALP got 46.86% and the Coalition got 53.14%, which pretty closely mirrored the results of opinion polls. 79.71 seats).
If Australia had a proportional system like New Zealand, then the ALP would have about 70 seats (not the 57 they got) and the Coalition would have about 80 seats. There were a few MPs elected who were not of either party, and under a system like MMP that would affect the final totals. But the point is, the final result doesn’t very closely match the actual preferences of the electorate. That can’t happen in New Zealand.
Similarly, since 1937 there have been six elections in which the party that won the majority of the Two-Party Preferred vote did not have a majority of seats: 1940, 1954, 1961, 1969, 1990 and 1998. In all but one of those elections—1990—it was the ALP that was disadvantaged.
Still, I doubt very much that Australia will move to MMP or another proportional system, even though it definitely could—and, in my opinion, absolutely should. So, elections will continue to be waged in what is mostly an old-fashioned First Past the Post election system with a more democratic veneer.
The new government will be very conservative. Abbott, who once studied to become a catholic priest, is stridently opposed to marriage equality. While Julia Gillard was, too, she allowed the ALP caucus to cast conscience votes on a marriage equality bill in the House, which is the customary way such issues are handled. Abbott refused to allow a conscience vote on the issue, forcing all of his MPs to vote against it as a bloc. That will not change. More than likely, marriage equality can’t arrive in Australia until the next Labor Government, which won’t be for at least three years, but more likely six or more years from now.
Defeated Prime Minister Rudd, who had opposed marriage equality the first time he was Prime Minister, changed his mind and promised a bill in the first 100 days of a re-elected ALP government, and said there would be no referendum. Ironically, Gillard softened her stand toward the end of her time in Parliament (she retired at the election)—too little, too late. Abbott is unlikely to permit a marriage equality bill to come before Parliament, but if he does, he’ll make his Caucus vote against it again. He also won’t permit a referendum (polls show a clear majority of Australians favour marriage equality.
All elections have consequences, and there will be many negative consequences from Australia’s election. The good thing about democratic elections, though, is that we get to change governments if we don’t like the people running them. I hope we get to change our government next year.
Update 10 September: In the comments to this post, I mentioned a crackpot “Christian” preacher who called for his minions to fast to change the government. Predicting what was to come, I said, “Everyone knew Rudd would lose, so now that guy will claim his—basically—imprecatory prayers worked.” Of course, I was right. The crackpot said: “A miracle has occurred. A victory has been won, but the battle is far from over. We thank you for your continuing prayers." Fact: There was no miracle—the expected result happened exactly as expected. Fact: God(s) or no god(s), his particular, peculiar version of one clearly had no influence if the result was exactly as expected. I stand by my sincerely held belief: That “Christian” preacher is a fraud and a charlatan.