Ben's back: electric boogaloo.
Following on from Part 1 on the numbers and seats breakdown of the new Parliament, here is a more detailed analysis of some of the ideas and issues that determined the Australian Federal Election 2022.
The Australian election on 21st May delivered a modest majority government for Labor with 77 seats. This was the same number of seats won by the Coalition during their “miracle” win in 2019, though alas, no miracles were coming again for the former Prime Minister.
The big surprise was the massively expanded cross-bench, with 7 new independents and 3 new Greens members. With these cross-bench gains coming mainly at the expense of the Liberals, it was a crushing defeat for the Coalition (worst result by number of seats since 1983).
The axiom of Australian politics is that lower house seats won by an insurgent independent or minor party are very hard to reclaim. Kerryn Phelps is the exception that proves the rule, elected in Wentworth in a 2018 by-election but losing in the 2019 election. Liberal Dave Sharma would only serve for one term before another independent Allegra Spender would win with an even greater margin (with 53.90% to Phelp’s original 51.22%). This makes the path back to power for the Coalition (especially in seeking a majority) very narrow indeed. Cue tremendous soul-searching about what to do to win these seats back, or whether to bother at all!
To explain the result, it is instructive to look at the platform of many of these community-backed “voices of” or “teal'' independents. Broadly, they wanted stronger climate action, restoration of integrity in politics and ensuring better treatment of women (more detail can be found in my earlier Policy Comparison series).
Australia experienced severe natural disasters recently with the searing 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires and the 2022 Eastern Australian flooding. These put intense scrutiny on the government’s preparation (such as not meeting with a fire chiefs coalition), the disaster management response, and broader action on climate change. The Government only belatedly adopted Net Zero by 2050 as a target, which Coalition candidates such as Colin Boyce or Matt Canavan insisted was “flexible” or “dead” respectively.
Labor’s policy of 43% emissions reduction by 2030 was a good deal higher than the Coalition’s 26-28%. Many of the Independents (elected in heartland Liberal electorates) called for between 50-70% emissions reductions, with the Greens emphasising 75%.
There were numerous scandals regarding integrity, including over finance and grants schemes such as the “sports rorts” or “car park rorts” or overpaying for the “Leppington triangle” land. There remain questions about how Angus Taylor obtained a doctored document about Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s supposed travel emissions.
There have been frequent calls for an anti-corruption commission. While the former Coalition government has provided a model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC), this was a rather weak option. Both Labor and the Independents have advocated for an integrity commission with much stronger investigatory powers.
On the treatment of women, long-held frustrations exploded after the account of Brittany Higgin’s alleged rape in Parliament House. Grace Tame, as Australia of the Year, used her platform calling on people to “make some noise Australia.” The toxicity of Australian politics was being increasingly exposed, with mistreatment and downplaying of women. There was a window in which the Government could have responded constructively, squandered by comments such as that women should celebrate “not being shot” while protesting.
Overall, the election has brought a big increase in female representation, including with most of the new crossbenchers being women. Labor notably also has a record number of women in leadership, with 19 women in the 43 member frontbench (an increase of seven from the previous government, including two more in Cabinet).
These are not an exhaustive list of all the issues on which people could have voted. Issues such as cost of living, housing affordability, Chinese influence in the Pacific, Indigenous recognition were all raised during the campaign. Health issues could have shaped people’s experiences, even with the COVID-19 pandemic being curiously absent throughout the campaign. However, the platform of the “teal” independents with climate action, integrity and gender equality do encapsulate some of the biggest issues which shaped the electorate’s dislike of the Coalition and Scott Morrison. By extension, these issues also contributed to the election of the incoming Labor government and with the biggest cross-bench since the years of Federation.