CLP reduced to a measly pair

25 September 2016

 

Governments have seldom lost elections after a single term in office throughout Australian history.  Voters across Australia usually give governments at least two terms in office.  But in the past two years alone, three first-term governments across Australia have been voted out.  They were in Victoria in 2014, in Queensland last year, and the Northern Territory last month.

It was expected that the Country Liberal Party would lose an election in the Northern Territory last month, after a single term in office.  And that was how it panned out.

The CLP had won office comfortably at the previous election, in 2012, with sixteen seats out of twenty-five in the Territory Parliament.  But it went through a series of events which appalled voters, including a leadership coup and instances of infighting and various scandals.  As a result, the CLP lost its parliamentary majority, and had to govern with crossbench support.  But even this situation, in which crossbench MPs could’ve tipped the CLP out of office at any moment if they saw fit, didn’t stop the CLP scandals.  So its defeat at the election to come was no surprise.

While everybody tipped the Labor Party to win from the Opposition benches, where it’d been for four years after an eleven-year stint in office ended in 2012, people wondered how big its majority would be.  Labor had previously won an election in 2005 by a huge margin, with nineteen seats, while the CLP had won only four seats – I remember someone saying that the CLP then had enough MPs to fit in a taxi!  In last month’s election, some pundits tipped a bigger win for Labor and fewer seats for the CLP than before, although others tipped a better results for the CLP than polls were suggesting.  Indeed pollsters don’t pay much attention to the political scene in the Northern Territory, but the limited polling taken here suggested a big swing to Labor.

In the end, Labor won eighteen seats, and the CLP won just two, while a quintet of Independents won the rest.  The result was humiliating for the CLP.  Having won sixteen seats at the previous election, and then shrinking to twelve seats before this election after some MPs went to the crossbench, the CLP was reduced to a measly pair of MPs – enough to sit on a small sofa.

Among the defeated MPs was Chief Minister Adam Giles.  As if losing office and leading the CLP to its worst election defeat hadn’t been bad enough, Giles lost his own seat as well.  He’d become CLP leader and Chief Minister in a coup in 2013, less than a year after the CLP had won office.  This coup might well have set the tone for a fraught term in office for the CLP, and by last month, voters were desperate to be rid of it.

This desperation was to the massive benefit of Labor, led by Michael Gunner.  Voters didn’t really warm to Labor or Gunner, and they arguably knew little of what a Labor win would mean for the Territory, but this meant nothing in the end.

If not for the scandals afflicting the CLP, more attention might’ve been paid to what the future holds for the Territory, such as in relation to economic management, about which there have been concerns.  Whatever the issues might be as far as the Territory economy is concerned, they meant nothing because voters just wanted to rid themselves of the CLP, even though little would’ve been understood of how Labor would manage the economy or other issues.  But having won office with little scrutiny, Labor has to prove itself to voters now that it’s governing, and with a big majority at that.

In terms of my predictions for the election, I got six seats wrong.

I’d tipped Labor to win eighteen seats, which it did.  I’d correctly tipped Labor to win Arafura, Arnhem, Drysdale, Fong Lim, Karama, Namatjira, Port Darwin, Sanderson, and Stuart from its rivals.  But I didn’t tip Labor to win three particular CLP seats – namely Braitling and Brennan and Katherine.  Braitling was the seat held by Giles.

I’d also tipped Labor to win Blain and Daly from the CLP.  But Blain went to an Independent, and the CLP held Daly, which was quite a marginal seat.  I’d tipped the CLP to win four seats, but it only won two – apart from Daly, the only other seat won by the CLP was Spillett, which I’d tipped it to win.

And amid the Labor triumph, there was one sour note, which I didn’t tip.  Labor lost the seat of Nhulunbuy to an Independent, with deputy leader Lynne Walker being the sole Labor casualty of the election.

Apart from Blain and Nhulunbuy, Independents also won the seats of Araluen and Goyder and Nelson – I’d tipped Independents to win only those latter three seats.

Big election wins can make governments prone to arrogance or hubris.  This danger looms for Labor, which won office in Northern Territory largely because of voters wanting the CLP gone.  Few would’ve known what Labor would do if it won office in the Territory, and the questions won’t be answered in quick time.

 

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Bigger Senate crossbench not as erratic

17 September 2016

 

The Turnbull Coalition Government scraped home to win this year’s Federal election, though the closeness of the result kept it on edge for many days.  Having a clear majority in the House of Representatives before the election, though not in the Senate, the Coalition ended up with the barest of majorities, in the form of two seats.

But while people might’ve been guessing whether or not the Coalition would win a majority in the House of Reps, or even lose the election altogether, nobody believed that the Coalition would win a majority in the Senate.  And indeed, just as was the case before the election, the Senate has crossbenchers holding the balance of power, meaning that whoever won the election would need some crossbench votes to get the Senate to pass legislation.  The difference after the election is that the Senate crossbench is bigger.

Of seventy-six seats in the Senate, the Coalition went into the election with thirty-three, and the Opposition, in the form of the Labor Party, had twenty-five.  The remaining seats were in the hands of crossbenchers, including the Greens, who held ten, plus eight other minor players.

The election has left the Coalition with thirty seats, equating to an overall loss of three seats, while Labor has gained one seat to go to twenty-six seats.  The Greens have fallen by one seat to a total of nine seats, with the number of other minor players rising from eight to eleven.  The Coalition used to need six crossbench votes to get its legislation through the Senate.  Now it needs nine crossbench votes.

While some people think that this bigger Senate crossbench will make life more difficult for the Coalition, I’m not convinced of that.  The crossbench might be bigger, but it’s not necessarily as erratic – at least as long as the Coalition plays its cards right.

My reasoning is that most people already know where various crossbenchers stand on various issues, because some of them have been in the spotlight for many years and others are affiliated with them.  If we know where these crossbenchers stand, it might be easier to understand how they might vote, although they’re likely to demand certain things in return for support on selected issues.

Apart from the Greens, the most significant of the Senate crossbenchers are Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon, who were big winners from the election.  Three Senators are aligned with Hanson, and two more are aligned with Xenophon.  And unless those affiliated Senators “break away” from either Hanson or Xenophon over the course of time, they mightn’t be so hard to predict in terms of their votes.

As has been widely noted, Hanson returns to Federal Parliament nearly two decades after a term in the House of Reps.  Elected in 1996 and then defeated in 1998, she’s since made several unsuccessful attempts to return, as well as to win seats in other parliaments at one time or another.  Now she’s back, and how.

In fact, she and her mob have won four Senate seats across three states.  She holds a seat in Queensland, and a running mate has also been elected there, with their games coming at the expense of crossbencher Glenn Lazarus and one Coalition Senator.

Outside Queensland, they’ve won a seat in New South Wales, at the expense of the Coalition.  And they’ve also won a seat in Western Australia, where Labor has also gained a seat to increase its overall Senate numbers, with crossbencher Dio Wang and one Coalition Senator defeated there.

Meanwhile, the popular Xenophon has held his Senate seat in South Australia, and two running mates have been elected there.  Their gains have come at the expense of the Greens and the Coalition.  But despite being immensely popular in that state, Xenophon has little traction with voters elsewhere, having fielded Senate candidates in other states but winning too votes to make much of an impact.

Another significant crossbencher elected to the Senate was former broadcaster Derryn Hinch, in Victoria.  The Coalition also gained a seat there.  These gains came at the expense of crossbenchers John Madigan and Ricky Muir.

There was no change in Senate numbers in Tasmania, or in the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory.

Summing up how the major parties went, the Coalition lost one Senate seat apiece in four states, but gained a seat in Victoria, while Labor improved its numbers with a seat gained in Western Australia.

The Senate therefore has a bigger crossbench than before, so the Coalition needs more support from there to pass legislation.  How the Coalition manages to deal with these additional people remains to be seen, as well as how much it will tolerate.