Australian Election: Unprecedented uncertainty

Last week an old QUT colleague reminded me that I normally compose a blog post identifying my prediction about major elections and I had not yet done so for the forthcoming Australian election. So this is a response to that request, but as the subject line notes, I’ve never been less confident about predicting an outcome.

Statistically speaking, at no time in Australian electoral history has there been a goverment that has failed to be reelected for a second term after the kind of landslide victory that Kevin Rudd achieved in the 2007 election. With a swing of 5.74% the 2007 election should have produced a government that was secure for at least another full term, even if it had not achieved an increased majority. However, at no time in Australian history has a Prime Minister that achieved such a victory been ousted before the end of his first term.

Speaking as someone who reads the news in Australia every day, but who is living on the other side of the planet, my perspective in this election is certainly skewed by media reporting. But if I am reading things correctly, we might as well throw statistical precedent on elections out the window for this election. Not only has public opinion about Labor plummeted in 3 years, but the establishment of Julia Gillard as Australia’s first woman Prime Minister has divided the sexes as well as the states. Terrifyingly, Australian men are demonstrating their prejudice against women in their droves, and Queenslanders are being as parochial as ever, holding a grudge against the rest of Australia for ousting their man, Rudd.

I can only say I’m embarrassed about this kind of absurd regressive behaviour, both as a woman and as someone who chose to make Queensland my home.

Of course I know about the mistakes. The Emissions Trading Scheme, the insulation disaster, Utegate, and several other issues did damage this Labor Government badly. Rudd was looking like a man who couldn’t make up his mind, even if he was responding to public opinion and altering policy accordingly. But for all his errors, I’m not sure the new ‘moving forward‘ Labor policies under Gillard are attractive to those who elected Rudd in the 2007 election. Gillard’s conservative response to asylum seekers, her change to the mining tax policy and her conservative climate change policy is a significant shift from the radical plans that were Labor policy only months ago. Further, her reputation in having removed Kevin Rudd from office is affecting her image as a caring Prime Minister. The fact that neither she nor Kevin Rudd could meet each other’s eyes in the first public meeting between the two after her accession to power shows just how much bad feeling still exists between them.

But what of the alternative? What about ‘Action Man’ Tony Abbott? Best known for stripping down to his Budgie-smugglers (that’s speedos, for you people reading this from outside Australia), Abbott is the most conservative leader of Australia’s conservative party, the Liberal Party, since John Howard. He believes in no sex before marriage, no Australian republic (ever), he doesn’t really believe the science behind climate change, and he opposes stem cell research. He wants to reinstate ‘at fault’ divorce based on proven adultery, and he opposes gay marriage. He has no interest in taxing the mining sector and he wants to cut government waste by reducing public service positions.

And yet, in spite of this extraordinary list of highly conservative, highly regressive policies, there appear to be a huge number of Australians who would rather vote for Abbott than see a non-married, apparently scheming woman be re-elected to lead Australia.

Frankly this entire election scares me. The fact that voters are focusing on characteristics of the players, rather than the policies is worrying. And I’m disappointed by the growing conservatism in the policies that are being released.

But worst of all, I see this election resulting in a government where no bills will be passed.

I’m predicting a very tiny victory to Julia Gillard. I think Labor will lose between 10 and 15 seats and that the Liberal-National Coalition will win perhaps all of those seats. I think the resulting government will be unstable and passing any bills will be difficult. I think it will be hailed as a victory for women, only to be trashed thereafter as an unstable, wasteful government.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that more people will focus on policies and that a clear election result will go closer to statistical precedent, and that Labor will get back to the business of government. But I’m not confident. And I think this will go down as a rather embarrassing period of Australian political history.

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