Some Thoughts on Election 2019

This does not purport to be an in depth analysis of the recent election. Millions of words have now been written by political commentators, party proponents and opponents and other supposedly politically well-informed writers on the issue. I just thought that I might share with you some of my thoughts on aspects of the election that interested me.

Undeniably this is a huge victory for Scott Morrison. In stark contrast to Malcolm Turnbull at the previous election he fully immersed himself in the campaign and worked tirelessly until the end. He kept his message reasonable simple and worked off the platform that the budget brought down by Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg provided. He concentrated on countering the opposition’s extraordinary tax and spend policies and importantly only committed the government to modest additional expenditure during the campaign. (This was in stark contrast to Tony Abbott’s campaign in 2013 when, although he won a substantial majority, committed to considerable additional expenditure during the campaign that subsequently made life much more difficult for the coalition in government.) In essence you might define Morrison’s pitch as mostly “maintaining the status quo” and “not frightening the horses”.

But Morrison provided something much more important to the coalition’s re-election. Voters, who had been not particularly familiar with Morrison, warmed to him during the campaign. He was shown to be the epitome of a suburban dad. He has a loving family living in suburbia paying off a mortgage. He goes to the footy to support his beloved Cronulla rugby league side and takes his family to church on Sundays and is not ashamed of his religious beliefs.

Bill Shorten on the other hand, despite his obvious talents in welding the Labor Party into a more cohesive unit and displaying some leadership traits in so doing, was someone the public has never warmed to.

Perhaps the particular genius of Morrison’s win was in turning the election into a presidential type contest between Morrison and Shorten. Despite his union background, Shorten failed to connect to middle Australia as well as Morrison. Indeed those with longer memories might have remembered Shorten’s chequered history in representing his AWU members. Overall it seems to me that voters opted to trust Morrison more than Shorten.

On top of that there were a number of issues that Labor didn’t handle too well. I will come to them shortly.

It is also edifying to look at the press’s response to Morrison’s victory.  Many (who never contemplated a Coalition victory) are now saying that Labor is no longer a political force and it will take years for them to reconstruct a platform that would enable electoral success. The Coalition might end up with a majority, perhaps, of two seats. That is hardly a commanding majority! Most elections are won on the basis of a one or two percent majority of swinging voters coming down on one side or the other. It doesn’t take a lot to change that. Recall, for example, Campbell Newman’s decimation of Labor in Queensland in 2012, only to be thrashed at the subsequent election by Anastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor team. And the large majority attained by Tony Abbott (mentioned above) was soon frittered away. Morrison may well be able to connect with the silent majority in the way John Howard did, but right now all he has is a deserved electoral victory and an opportunity to advance the conservative cause. How well he achieves the latter will determine his long term influence on political history.

But we should go back and think a little why virtually none of the pundits predicted a Coalition victory. It is so easy for them now, in retrospect, to conjure up theories about Morrison’s electoral success, but how come so few of them saw it coming?

For a start I have always thought that the electorate is always more conservative than it appears. Whilst progressive ideas about identity politics, climate change and gender issues dominate the press and the airwaves, many Australians are more concerned about their opportunities for economic advancement, the provision of basic services and acquirement of some wealth through property. They don’t want undue government restraints on their activities and resent being told what to do and what to believe. And, as Scott Morrison was wont to say during his campaign, they believe they gain more utility from spending their money themselves rather than have the government do so on their account.

Surprisingly, issues of religious freedom seemed to have had an impact on the way many voted. Even those not aligned with a particular religion resent constraining faith-based schools, for example, from being able to have as a selection criteria when recruiting, the religious beliefs of the applicants. I would suspect this was not only a factor for Christian voters but also many of our ethnic minorities.

But because the most frequent debate by the political commentariat is largely about identity politics, political correctness and climate change, those “in the bubble” convince themselves these are the prime concerns of the public. The silent majority have few avenues and little inclination to vent their concerns until the opportunity that the poll provides. But now they have spoken quite decisively, much to the chagrin of the left. (It is interesting that when things go their way they pronounce that “the people have spoken” but when it doesn’t they complain “the people are dumb”!)

The opposition’s play on negative gearing and franking credits was surely ill-advised.

Many blue collar workers have investment properties. Doesn’t it make sense that someone with manual skills would buy a house and renovate it? Instead of putting an impost on the wealthy, as they may have intended, Labor alienated part of their natural constituency.

Much was made of the issue of franking credits and how that advanced the cause of the wealthy. But of course most of the seniors benefitting from franking credits were on only modest incomes and paying their own way instead of depending on government provided old age pensions. And again anecdotally it seems that not only did seniors abandon Labor for this impost but many of their children did as well in support of their parents.

But perhaps the most significant factor propelling Morrison into government again was the result in Queensland. And in that regard the Adani mine situation was pivotal, particularly in my neck of the woods in Central Queensland.

(Our local MP is the LNP’s Michelle Landry. Being interviewed on Sunday after it became clear she had been returned with a substantially increased majority, she commenced her interview by giving thanks to Bob Brown for helping her to increase her majority! Brown of course led a cavalcade of southern green supporters opposed to the Adani mine development around Central Queensland just prior to the election. The locals strongly resented this, being seen to be another incursion by overly idealistic, progressive southerners trying to tell us how to live our lives.)

Labor, in order to stave off the Greens from encroaching on their inner-city seats in the capital cities, ran an aggressive climate change agenda, proposing rapid transition to renewable energy, an accelerated adoption of electric vehicles and hastening the closure of coal-fired power stations and restricting the development of coal mines.

Their electoral defeat was both a shock and a severe blow to the aspirations of climate change warriors. Let me share with you the thoughts of a friend of mine who champions the cause of climate change:

Well, we worked damn hard for this not to happen, but selfish short term greed won out over our grandchildren’s future. I’m now really frightened for my granddaughters’ future – (they) will still be alive at the end of this century, and Australians just didn’t give a shit for them last Saturday.

Now it is hard to fault his concern for his grandchildren, but it is wrong to assume that those who voted for the coalition don’t have similar concerns. This might I say (with due respect to my friend) is opportunistic virtue signalling.

This is a problem for those activists who are dominated by a single issue. Some inklings of why this blinkered thinking is such a problem emerged during the campaign. Bill Shorten steadfastly refused to quantify the cost of pursuing his extreme global warming policy. Governments have finite resources and ideally we would hope that they allocated those resources in such a way as to provide the greatest utility for its citizens.

Unfortunately, even those who are concerned about climate change, as indeed I am, must recognise the futility of Australia leading the pack in seeking to minimise its effects. If we concede that CO2 emissions are a major contributor to global warming, Australia’s contribution is miniscule on a global scale. On the other hand we need to acknowledge that pursuing strategies to reduce such emissions can be extremely costly.

Countries have pledged to reduce CO2 emissions since the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Few have honoured those pledges and Australia has done far more than most. Political rhetoric is cheap but drastic cuts in CO2 emissions are prohibitively expensive and technologically challenging.

So what would be the best outcome for our grandchildren? Should we spend inordinate amounts of money pursuing CO2 abatement to little effect and substantially reduce the standard of living our grandchildren might aspire to? Or should we be circumspect and take affordable measures to minimise our nation’s impact on global warming but preserve an economy where our grandchildren might have employment opportunities and with a government wealthy enough to provide them with the essential services they might need? I suspect this election we voted for the latter.

Liberal MP for Sturt, James Stevens speaking on Sky News summarised the position well.

I do support our policy position on meeting the Paris targets. I think we should do our fair share as a country but no more than that. And we certainly shouldn’t penalise Australian businesses and Australian families by having a disproportionate approach to reducing carbon emissions that just exports our jobs to other countries that aren’t putting the same overly ambitious targets in place.

With respect to climate change our best bet is to research ways that we might adapt to global warming and foster the development of competitive renewable technologies to transition out of fossil fuelled generation. But we need to be careful to manage such a transition. If we fall for the trap of moving too quickly into renewables we will pay the price of both more expensive electricity and insecure supply.

Bjorn Lomborg director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre warns:

Declaring a climate emergency generates headlines and makes politicians and activists feel better. But empty rhetoric that ignores economic reality and common sense will not help the planet.

Another interesting feature of this election is the minimal effect of the union campaign supporting Labor and their Change the Rules agenda. The union movement under the Secretary of the ACTU, Sally McManus launched an expensive campaign in support of Labor who if elected had promised to further amend the Fair Work Act enhancing union powers in the workplace. The paradox here is that the Act was legislated under the Labor Gillard government when Bill Shorten was the relevant minister! Union members were co-opted to doorknock tens of thousands of households in support of the ACTU’s demands but seem to have had little impact. In the previous Federal election there was widespread opinion that the union campaign had been quite effective but in this election, it seems to have had little impact. There was even some anecdotal evidence that many households were turned off by the aggressive sales pitch peddled by union members.

Many commentators on the basis of Labor’s campaigning strength in recent elections, bolstered by the unions and Get Up, were confident that Labor would easily out-campaign the coalition. This proved not to be the case. The coalition’s campaign was consistently on message, focussing on Labor’s high taxing, big spending ambitions. And of course, in contrast to Malcolm Turnbull’s efforts, Morrison campaigned superbly and indefatigably.

Let me close with two thoughts.

There can be no detracting from Morrison’s great victory. It already has established him as one of the coalition’s great leaders, whatever happens from here. It has also earned him great authority within the party. But this is just the beginning. Although the coalition won a famous victory, it only holds government by a slender margin. Any major misstep by Morrison and his government could easily see the coalition ousted from government. Above all Morrison must work as hard as possible to deliver his election promises. Given that he didn’t promise the earth, this should be a far easier task than it might have been for Shorten if he had won. So for Morrison these next three years should focus on delivery and consolidation.

However, even though the coalition’s majority is whisker thin, Labor has a hugely difficult task in front of it. It is certain now that Anthony Albanese will be their new leader. Albanese is a popular politician with the same sort of everyday, knockabout persona as Scott Morrison. Labor’s difficulty is that it now has two distinctively different base groups in its constituency. Labor has traditionally appealed to the working class, blue collar and union supporting members of our society. But in recent decades it has come also to embrace the inner city elites, left wing academics, highly paid professionals, the activists from identity politics and the global warming catastrophists. It is almost impossible to reconcile the needs of these two disparate groups. If it chooses to align more closely with the elites, working class voters will flee to the conservatives. If they choose to align more closely with their blue collar supporters the inner city elites will flee to the Greens.

Albanese is potentially a more difficult political foe for Morrison to deal with than Shorten was. However Albanese’s success or failure is going to be more influenced by how he can reposition Labor than how he can deal with Morrison. Albanese is both popular and politically experienced and savvy. But he is perhaps Labor’s most ardent left wing warrior. In light of his history it will be difficult for him to take his party to the centre ground to engage more effectively with the coalition.

But let’s congratulate Scott Morrison on his historic win, wish him well in righting the conservative ship and hope he maintains and further enhances the trust of middle Australia.

12 Replies to “Some Thoughts on Election 2019”

  1. Hi Ted
    Your informative and perceptive analysis of the election prompted me to think about my experience with the election and now that I fall into the “senior” category I wish to share two observations.

    Firstly, I could not understand why the election commentators, media and betting agencies had the two major parties so far apart with Labor predicted as absolute favourite prior to the election. On Saturday afternoon, one betting agency was offering 8 to 1 for the Conservatives to form Government. Everyone that I spoke to including friends, colleagues, my children and extended family members were not supporting Labor. This was largely due to the potential of increasing or introducing taxes that would have an adverse impact on retirement savings, investments, age pension entitlement and superannuation. Whether this was misunderstood or not, was not the issue, but rather a reality that nearly everyone I communicated with had this view about Labor. Further, there was widespread concern about Labor’s big spending approach creating further cost of living pressures within our economy. As your article identified, I experienced no election issues in relation to Australia taking a global stance on climate change and that is not suggesting that my contacts are any less environmentally responsible about protecting their environment. Like you Ted, I cannot understand why election commentators, media and betting agencies could not read the community sentiment that I experienced that was not captured by polling and research.

    Secondly, I have a view that our media including television, radio and print are becoming increasingly lazy and tending to run stories from media feeds that spoon feed them. It was hard to see any evidence of good quality investigative journalism that could zero in and research particular sectors of our voting public. The senior sector which is increasingly becoming a larger sector would have provided investigative journalists with an interesting insight prior to the election that they were nervous and scared of Labor’s perceived attack on retirement entitlements and cost of living. This nervousness was then picked up by middle aged Australians and the young to some degree who wish to plan their retirement with confidence without increasing the cost of living. What happened to qood quality investigative journalism in this election?

  2. Ted, A good analysis, but nothing startling here.
    However, you are starting to seriously over-use three terms: “virtue signalling”, “elites” and “climate change catastrophists” and I find it getting a little tiresome.
    You friend in the 19th paragraph may genuinely believe what he said, and if there was no vanity or showing off involved, then it is not ‘virtue signalling’ but simply his strongly expressed view. What is wrong with that? You may disagree with his view, but don’t denigrate him by putting the VS label on it. Similarly with the other two terms. You are using them as labels to denigrate particular people. (Maybe you are going in for a bit of Virtue Signalling yourself to your own followers.) We are all meant to admire our sporting “elites”, but not our intellectual elites. Why is that? Cheers,

    1. Ian, my comment about “virtue signalling”, related to the implication by my friend, that those of us who don’t feel compelled to take precipitate action to halt climate change don’t care about the future of the next generations. We do care. I want to secure a good future not only for his grandchildren but for mine and everyone’s for that matter. Any significant strategy to mitigate climate change is hugely expensive. And Australia acting alone can have an insignificant effect but at huge cost to our economy. It is not that I (and other like minded people) don’t care about future generations, we are sceptical that an over-zealous effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will provide the greatest utility of our investment options.

      1. Dear Ted,

        I have been a long time reader and respect your insightful opinions.

        If we as a global and truly connected civilization were to enact change for the betterment of future generations, would we be best served by a belief that any country acting alone would have an insignificant effect?

        1. Will, it seems to me that Australia’s efforts will have insignificant effects whilst countries like China and India are hell-bent on building new coal fired power stations. And this is an understandable reaction when their populations don’t have widespread access to electricity supply that we take for granted.

          When I was CEO of Stanwell Corporation we opted to promote renewable energy. We had a supply contract with Korea Zinc in Townsville. When I had to travel to South Korea to renegotiate their contract, the Koreans asked why we had made such a commitment to renewable energy. When I tried to explain that we were concerned about global warming, the Koreans responded that this was just a subterfuge by the West to prevent developing countries from achieving the same standard of living that we enjoy.

          When you look at the commitment of other countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Australia has largely met its avowed commitments yet few other countries have.

          I believe that if we are to make further commitments which will have undesirable impacts on our economy and international competitiveness without commensurate commitments from other countries we are unduly disadvantaging ourselves.

  3. Dear Ted,

    I have been a long time reader and respect your insightful opinions.

    If we as a global and truly connected civilization were to enact change for the betterment of future generations, would we be best served by a belief that any one country acting alone would have an insignificant effect?

  4. I’m curious Ted why you didn’t mention Morrison’s position on (the moral issue of) abortion, given that it was and is a very hot topic in Queensland and Queensland carried Morrison over the line. The labour split of 1953 to 1957 was over a moral issue and the Catholic labour party (badged DLP) kept the ALP out of power for nearly 20 years…… Surprised you didn’t notice the parallel, or the possible parallel…… Yours Jack

    1. Well Jack you surprised me with that one. I believe that the issue of religious freedom had some currency in the election but I didn’t see much evidence that the abortion debate was a significant factor.

  5. Thank you for your interesting and insightful comments as usual Ted. Lets hope this is the end of political option polls being used to depose prime ministers and destabilise governments, when the polls do not appear to accurately reflect public opinion. Looking at the polls over the last three years and comparing them to the election result, I am not sure what legitimacy they can now have and it seems anti-democratic to topple prime ministers based on such misinformation.

    1. You are right Mark. It is unlikely that opinion polls will have the same impact in the future. There are now some real concerns about the validity of such polls. At the very least I think that such polls should be commissioned much less frequently and afforded a lot less importance.

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