22 January 2018
Due elections around Australia in 2018 make me think of turning points for the time being. The reason is that three states will hold general elections this year, with their last elections all being in 2014, and that year might’ve been a turning point, at least as far as the major parties were concerned.
Although there doesn’t have to be a Federal election until around the middle of next year at the latest, there’s been speculation that it could happen in the second half of this year. But even if that election doesn’t come this year, the state elections coming up will attract some attention. The results of those elections will invariable trigger some discussion about the message for Federal politicians.
Those states with elections taking place this year are South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria. Because both South Australia and Victoria have fixed parliamentary terms, their election dates are also fixed, for March and November respectively. Tasmania doesn’t have fixed terms, but its election is due in the first half of the year, and might well come around March – the month when its last three elections took place in 2014 and 2010 and 2006.
Back in 2014, the Liberal Party won its first election in Tasmania since the 1990s, but fell just short of winning in South Australia, while the Labor Party returned to office in Victoria after just one term out.
The thought of turning points, though, comes from how the political scene looked in 2014. To understand this, I go back to this time ten years ago – the beginning of 2008.
Back then, Australia had wall-to-wall Labor governments – meaning that Labor was governing in every state and territory, as well as at Federal level.
Actually, Labor by that stage had been in office in every state and territory since the first half of 2002. But it wasn’t until about the end of 2007, when Labor won its first Federal election since 1993, that Labor had wall-to-wall governance.
During 2008, however, one of the Labor governments fell, in Western Australia. The next of them to fall go in Victoria in late 2010, followed by New South Wales in early 2011. Both Queensland and the Northern Territory voted Labor out in 2012.
And then came 2013, when Labor lost a Federal election after three fraught years of leadership squabbles and governing with crossbench support. The triumph of 2007, when Kevin Rudd became the first Labor leader since Bob Hawke in 1983 to switch from Opposition Leader to Prime Minister, seemed so remote. Rudd had long been immensely popular with voters, but when his popularity began to drop away during 2010, Labor MPs suddenly dumped him in a surprise coup, and installed Julia Gillard as PM. Labor lost its majority at an election just months later, and was only just able to hold office with crossbench support. Tony Abbott, who was unbelievably vicious as Opposition Leader, rejected the legitimacy of his close election loss, and tried hard to force the country back to the polls over the course of the next three years. During 2013, after simmering over that 2010 leadership coup, Rudd managed to convince Labor MPs to dump Gillard and make him leader again. But voters had likely made their minds up already to throw Labor out, and Abbott became PM. Although Abbott won the election comfortably, Labor was so offended at Abbott’s behaviour during his time as Opposition Leader that it copied his tactics whenever possible.
In the first half of 2014, Labor lost office in Tasmania, but only just managed to hold office in South Australia, despite a major swing away from it. By then, seven Labor governments across Australia had lost office since 2008. If Labor had lost in South Australia, only the Australian Capital Territory would’ve been in Labor hands.
This left the Liberals, and other non-Labor forces, two governments short of having wall-to-wall non-Labor governments for the first time since 1970. It’s worth noting that, while the Liberals normally team up with the Nationals, to form the Liberal-National Coalition, this doesn’t exist everywhere. It exists in NSW and Victoria, as well as at Federal level, but not really elsewhere except Queensland, where the Liberals and Nationals actually merged to form the Liberal National Party, while the Northern Territory has the Country Liberal Party.
By the end of 2014, Labor had returned to office in Victoria, after only a single term out. It turned out that this might’ve been a turning point for Labor.
In 2015, Labor regained office in Queensland, again after only a single term out, and the same thing happened in the Northern Territory in 2016.
Between these wins, however, Labor only just failed to win a Federal election in July 2016. Before then, Malcolm Turnbull had become PM after the hugely unpopular Abbott was dumped in a leadership coup.
Since then, Labor has regained office in WA, to govern in four states and two territories.
The coming polls in South Australia and Tasmania and Victoria, together, might well lead to, or represent, a kind of turning point for the major political parties. The results might vary in each state. But much interest, as well as possible implications for their Federal leaders, will be in them.