Hanson brings elitism back

31 July 2016


Reading something back in February made me doubt that how Australians vote for Senators would change at the election this year.  As it turned out, Senate voting was changed, and I felt at the time that the politicians voting for this change might be wishing that they’d done nothing.

What I read back in February was that controversial political figure Pauline Hanson would be a Senate candidate in Queensland at the election.  This made me doubt that Senate voting would change.

The reason is that, two decades since being unexpectedly catapulted into the world of politics and subsequently shaking the political establishment to its core, Hanson still remains a controversial figure.  And as long as she loomed in the political shadows, I felt that the major political parties, especially the Labor Party, wouldn’t be keen to potentially make it easier for her to return to Parliament.  The Liberal-National Coalition had a series of internal splits over her after she arrived on the political scene, but the Labor Party refused to tolerate her and basically denied that she had any legitimacy whatsoever.  As such, I was inclined to believe that she could return to Parliament after the means of voting for Senators changed.

Her arrival came amid a time of revolt among voters.  It was in early 1996, when Paul Keating was Prime Minister and Labor had been in office for thirteen years.  Voters had never liked Keating, but in 1993 he’d managed to win an election against the odds when he successfully scared them into thinking that the Coalition would make their lives less bearable.  At the time, Australia was recovering from a recession, and major economic reforms from prior years had seen the country’s economic base change.  Inevitably, many people across the country lost their jobs, but new jobs weren’t always appearing where old jobs had been lost, so these jobless people had no sense of economic security.  Around this time, there was also a great deal of social and cultural change, in terms of immigration intakes and how people of different religions or races or cultures fitted in here.  Although seemingly noble, these changes left lots of people feeling like they were no longer in the country that they’d called home, and there were perceptions of minority religions and races getting special favours from governments regardless of need.  It was true that lots of people of these minorities had their needs, but many of them were also able to get by and didn’t need taxpayer-funded assistance to fit in.  These changes in both economic and social terms made countless people feel uneasy and ignored.

Worst still, as far as social and cultural change was concerned, there seemed to be a tendency for politicians and academics and other so-called “elites” to slap down anybody questioning the behaviours of these religious and racial minorities, by describing any such questioning as racist.  This tactic shamed and frightened people into keeping their mouths shut.  Preventing such questioning or debate was part of something known as political correctness, which had become somewhat fashionable over the prior years.

When Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, in the years before Keating defeated him in a leadership challenge, playing the “race card” became a common tactic when questions or criticism emerged over immigration issues and minority group issues, but it seemed to become more common under Keating.  Shutting down any kind of “racist” debate might’ve been noble, but countless people felt uneasy about the behaviours of many minorities, and the refusal of Keating and other elites to address these concerns caused public anger to build up, albeit silently.

In 1996, just before a Federal election came, journalists became aware of Hanson having written a letter to a local newspaper in Queensland, which had comments subsequently deemed to be racist.  Running for a seat in a former industrial centre with unemployment problems, Hanson caused a stir when she won it.  Troubled locals saw Hanson as arguing that politicians were ignoring their problems but willingly helping people of certain minorities, and they responded accordingly, regardless of what others thought.

Hanson went on to be critical of governments’ support for various minorities, at what many people considered the expense of the majority, and support for her grew, right across the country.  She formed her own political party as a result.

While Labor denied the legitimacy of Hanson at once, the Coalition was divided over her.  Many Liberals shared Labor’s condemnation of her, and some Nationals also did so, but many other Liberals and Nationals were prepared to tolerate her.  The reaction of John Howard, who became Prime Minister at the same time as Hanson entered Parliament, was arguably to ignore her.  At one time he saw fit to describe some comments that she’d made as “deranged” – soon after, there was an election in Queensland, and her mob won eleven seats in State Parliament.  This top-down condemnation arguably increased that support.

Although Hanson later lost her seat, she kept coming back to contest elections, and despite losing, she didn’t give up.

Now the prospect of Hanson having an impact on politics again might stir elitism.  Just as she brought elitism out two decades ago, the idea that she brings it back now would ring true as such.



Turnbull set to make it home

2 July 2016


Busy days and a twisty campaign for the 2016 Federal election have kept me away from commenting on it of late.  And today the campaign has come to its end, with Australians voting whether to continue with the Liberal-National Coalition Government or change direction.

Having looked at the last opinion polls ahead of voting, I’m predicting a swing of 3-4 per cent against the Coalition nationwide, but it looks like Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will lead the Coalition to a narrow win in the House of Representatives.  Swings aren’t always uniform at election time, meaning that some seats within the range of a uniform swing don’t necessarily fall, and some such seats unlikely to fall.  That’s why I believe that Turnbull is set to make it narrowly home.

The last election, in 2013, saw the 150-seat House fall comfortably to the Coalition over the Labor Party, with a 90-55 win, while a quintet of crossbenchers won the other seats.

Since the 2013 election, there have been electoral redistributions in several places, which have changed the numbers there.  Brought about by population changes, with the aim of giving as near as possible to an even number of voters in every seat in selected states or territories, the redistributions have notionally given the Coalition a new seat in Western Australia, notionally given Labor a trio of Coalition-held seats in New South Wales, and taken away one Labor-held seat.  As a result, the House now shows the Coalition 88-57 ahead of Labor.  This has reduced Labor’s task of a 21-seat target to a 19-seat target.

While this year was always going to be an election year, three years on from the last election, the last year has been been full of twists and turns.  The Coalition had won the last election largely off the back of massive voter dissatisfaction with Labor, but voters themselves didn’t like Tony Abbott, who was then the Coalition leader, and they only voted for because they were fed up with Labor.  It only took a few months for their dissatisfaction with Abbott to really show in the polls, and for month after month one poll after another showed voters ready to throw the Coalition out of office, after a single term there.  This brought about a leadership challenge in September last year, with Abbott dumped in favour of Turnbull.  But after enjoying much bigger approval ratings among voters for several months, Turnbull also lost favour with them, and in the first six months of this year he’s nosedived from looking unbeatable to looking vulnerable.

The amazing thing is that many people, myself included, didn’t expect Labor to be in with a shout after its 2013 election loss.  Even though voters hated Abbott, it seemed hard to believe that they could want to go back to Labor after throwing Labor out in a big way in 2013.  The switch from Abbott to Turnbull initially sent Labor’s stocks into freefall, but Labor has come back in a big way, and now looks to be in with a chance.

The trouble, as I see it, is that the Coalition has upset many people with its policy agenda, particularly when it comes to reducing public spending and a massive budget deficit that Labor had left behind.  Voters didn’t like Labor’s deficit, but they’ve been uneasy about how the Coalition intends to deal with it.  They’re afraid that spending cuts will leave them worse off and unable to spend more, and they’re afraid that the Coalition might try to return to a deregulated system of employment laws, which cost countless people a good chunk of their income and left them worried about of losing their jobs to people willing to accept less pay for work.  I could sum up their thoughts as saying, “We don’t like Labor’s clumsiness, but we also don’t like the Coalition’s stinginess.”

Those circumstances make the 2016 election interesting.  My prediction is for an overall swing of 3-4 per cent against the Coalition, but not all Coalition seats within that range will be lost, because of differing attitudes across different states and territories.  So my seat tips are as follows, albeit not without some close calls.

The Coalition will end up losing the seats of Petrie, Capricornia, Lyons, Solomon, Hindmarsh, Eden-Monaro, Lindsay, Robertson, Page, Reid, Macarthur, Bonner, Brisbane, and Cowan to Labor – 14 seats in all.  But on the other hand, the Coalition will end up winning McEwen and Chisholm and Bruce from Labor – a trio of Victorian seats.  Also, the Coalition will win back Fairfax in Queensland, with the departure from politics of mining tycoon Clive Palmer.  This points to a result of 78-68 to the Coalition over Labor, with a quartet of Independents holding the remaining seats.

I tip the Coalition to hold the seats of Braddon, Banks, Deakin, Gilmore, Corangamite, La Trobe, Bass, Forde, and Macquarie in the face of challenges.  Most of these seats are within the uniform swing range, with some above, but I think that the Coalition will hold them.

As for the Senate, it’ll be a lottery.  I won’t predict numbers, but I’m predicting the Coalition to face having to deal with balance-of-power crossbenchers in the Senate, just like previously.

This election will probably see Turnbull make it home.  But few would’ve tipped him to struggle before now.