Labor surges after ‘falling across the line’

Dec 24, 2022
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

A recap on this year’s federal election result, prompted by a poll in the Financial Review this Monday and a comment by its political editor that the Albanese government was ‘starting to consolidate power in its own right after falling across the line at the May 21 election’.

Following the election the state of the parties in the 151-seat House of Representatives is: Labor 77, LNP 58, Independent 10, Greens 4, Centre Alliance 1, Katter 1.

Falling across the line? True. In terms of majority government, Labor got there just with one seat to spare – 76 constitutes a bare majority, but after providing a Speaker who does not exercise a deliberative vote, Labor’s 77 seats actually provides it with just that minimal one-vote edge over the combined forces of the LNP coalition, the independents and all the smaller parties.

Not that anyone expects the non-Labor MPs ever to find common ground and unite against Labor on any significant issue.

Indeed, voting in the House of Representatives since the election has demonstrated that on key issues identified during the campaign by the major parties, the independents (or most of them) and the Greens have almost always sided with Labor, not the coalition.

In practice, the coalition is unlikely to muster more than a few additional, occasional votes when it opposes the government. The numbers say the coalition has a little more than 40 percent of the votes in the House of Representatives, but in practical terms it might as well have half that proportion – or less.

The problem for the coalition is that since the election – at least until now – it has ceased to be relevant. What it says and does simply doesn’t matter. While it still possesses a significant number of seats in the House (and has the potential to team with others to defeat the government and chop away at its legislation in the Senate) it has made no impact whatsoever on what happens in parliament.

Its morale has been shattered.

It was devastated not so much by its loss of government – that was not unexpected – but by the Teal (and other independents) revolution that seemed to strike at its very being. An existential crisis? Judging by the post-mortems and the hand-wringing over whether the party needs to move further to the right, or target outer suburban seats, or … what? … you would think so.

The Nationals have appeared ready, if not anxious, to differentiate themselves from their coalition partners, as well they might having held all of their seats from the previous parliament. While Barnaby Joyce may have been as much on the nose as Scott Morrison in the Liberal heartland, he was still a winner in his own patch.

Since the election the Nationals have been polishing and displaying their own identity, including by attending the government’s Jobs and Skills summit – an invitation rejected by the Liberals – and causing the government (and the Liberals) headaches over their likely/possible opposition to the referendum on the Voice.

Parliament, normally the opportunity for the Opposition to hold the Government to account, has instead been used by the Labor government to showcase its policies as they enact them – and in doing so, pressure the Coalition over whether to support or oppose the policies which are clearly favoured by a significant majority of electors.

The government’s decision to hold additional sittings to deal with the coming energy pricing crisis, to cap the price of gas, to make a code of conduct for the gas market mandatory, and to provide $1.5 billion (to be matched by the states and territories) for welfare recipients strangled the Opposition, which was unable to separate the proposals within the legislation. To retain faith with its backers in the minerals and energy industries it opted to vote against the package. Its opposition to providing welfare payments will no doubt be used against it in the future.

Meanwhile the government continues to score points outside the parliament as well in, particularly through Penny Wong’s and Anthony Albanese’s successes in the foreign affairs portfolio. Wong’s invitation to go to Beijing to commemorate Gough Whitlam’s diplomatic recognition of China half a century ago is but the latest of a string of achievements.

It has been tough going for her Opposition shadow, Senator Simon Birmingham, who responded to that announcement by listing a number of ‘tests’ by which the Foreign Minister would be judged. The tests were basically matters which his own government had failed. Worse still those parts of the electorate that are concerned about relations with China – particularly people of Chinese origins, know that it was Prime Minister Morrison who was largely responsible for the freeze in relations with China through his demand for an international inquiry into the origins of the covid virus and the war-talk he and his ministers engaged in.

In fact the new government has already passed two basic tests that the Morrison government conspicuously failed: after a three year stalemate, talks have resumed between the Australian and Chinese governments at leadership and ministerial level, and Wong scored the invitation to go to Beijing.

Returning to the election result and the latest poll. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, the final first preference vote for Labor in the May election was 32.6 percent, and for the coalition, 35.7 percent. According to the Financial Review’s latest polling, Labor has improved by just over 4 per cent, to 37 percent, while the coalition has improved by just over 1 percent, to tie with Labor on 37 percent. In two-party preferred terms that would give Labor a commanding 54-46 split of the vote, and a very substantial majority in the House of Representatives.

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