Dutton’s Pyrrhic victory

Oct 16, 2023
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Senator Jacinta Price address the media during a press conference in Brisbane, Saturday, October 14, 2023. Australians today voted against an Indigenous voice in the country's constitution. Image: AAP/Jono Searle

Certainly, Dutton has demonstrated that disinformation, division and some outright lies can confuse and motivate large sections of the community.

There is the whiff of a Pyrrhic victory in the Dutton and No wins on Saturday.

Certainly, Dutton has demonstrated that disinformation, division and some outright lies can confuse and motivate large sections of the community. He has also given an insight into how he, the alt-right movement, social media warriors and bots will seek to influence the next Federal election campaign.

But even if the No outcome was decisive there were strong Yes outcomes in the long-term Liberal seats the Liberals lost in 2022.

At the time much of the commentary focussed on how Scott Morrison had influenced the vote. Yes he had, particularly among women, but as Nicki Savva’s book Bulldozed demonstrates, Scott Morrison was the personification of a wider view among women of the Liberal Party and its attitudes.

This was particularly pronounced among professional women who were horrified by events such as the sacking of Australia Post CEO, Christine Holgate, and the handling of sexual assault claims.

Failure to take meaningful action on climate change added to the dissatisfaction with the government among professional men and women.

The end result – the election of a series of independents in formerly safe Liberal seats.

The Liberals, after a long term in government were probably convinced that normality would return at the next election. Frydenberg would be back and voters would recognise how much they had missed him. Class interests would trump voting next time and all the seats would fall back into the Liberal camp.

The fact that Josh Frydenberg seems to have abandoned politics for a lucrative career in banking suggests he, at least, won’t be back.

It is also still possible that Dutton can win government by targeting outer suburban areas – as Morrison did in 2022 – but to get back into office they also need to win back the once crown jewel seats from the independents..

Yet an analysis of where the Yes vote was strongest indicates that the Teals and other independent women MPs might be here for a while.

In Kooyong, which was won by Monique Ryan, the Yes vote was ahead 61-39 with 50% of the vote counted. In Zoe Daniel’s seat of Goldstein Yes was 61% to 39% No.

In Sydney Warringah, held by Zali Steggall, Wentworth (Allegra Spender), North Sydney (Kylie Tink), and Mackellar (Sophie Scamps) the Yes vote won.

In Perth in Kate Chaney’s Curtin seat the Yes vote was 52-47.

Does anyone believe Peter Dutton is about to win back women voters in these and other seats?

The Dutton problem is also exemplified by the change in tone of at least one reliably conservative media voice.

It always odd for any progressive to start quoting The Age’s Peter Hartcher – he of the crusade on the China threat – but his Sunday Age (15/10) summary of the Voice referendum is well worth reading.

He started off with “Some will tell Australia to feel ashamed for rejecting idea of an Indigenous Voice but it needn’t,” he started – immediately prompting thoughts of here he goes again.

But then he wrote: “we should probably feel a bit embarrassed. Because we allowed politics to erode Australians inherent goodwill” (evidenced by early opinion polling).

“The moment a political campaign set out to wreck the Voice, Australia started to doubt itself. Within two months of the Coalition decision to oppose it majority sentiment deserted the Voice. And never returned.

“The giant Gulliver of Australian goodwill allowed itself to be immobilised by a hundred petty Lilliputian doubts and fears, turning five years of Yes into a decisive No.

“John Howard for instance, urged people to vote NO because of the need to ‘maintain the rage’. What in earth does the former prime minister have to be so angry about? What is about a disadvantaged minority comprising 3% of the population that demands a sustained national rage?”

Moreover, there is the question of trust. Before the last Federal election Scott Morrison topped the list of most distrusted Australian politicians. Peter Dutton came second. The rest of the top 10 were also Liberals.

Dutton looks as if he is set to take over the top place – much to the advantage of the Teals and Anthony Albanese.

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