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Early poll rematch likely

Harry Bruce election cartoon
Harry Bruce election cartoon harry bruce

AS I WRITE on Sunday morning after the federal election, it is cold comfort that my dream of just a few weeks ago, recorded here in Heartbeat, has come true.

No one has won.

Moreover, Australia seems set to live out its own episode of Danish political thriller Borgen for the next three years.

After a long and confusing night for voters, politicians and commentators alike, one thing is clear: Almost one third of Australians voted for someone other than a major party.

The most likely immediate future is a hung federal parliament and the same tough road to minority rule that Julia Gillard faced in 2010.

The after-shocks of these two historic outcomes will be felt for another decade.

By comparison, Territory voters delivered a much simpler result, with Warren Snowden and Luke Gosling taking the Northern Territory lower house seats of Lingiari and Solomon respectively for Labor.

We must wait in political limbo until at least Tuesday however, for vote counters to return to work and deliver a national result.

Of course by the time you read this, Tuesday will have come and gone.

So if you want my opinion, the way the senate is shaping up? We will be back at the polls come early next year.

Let’s go through why.

The NT result

The result in Lingiari came early, with Snowden declaring a strong and widespread two-candidate preferred swing of 5.2% to a small assembly of faithful at the Alice Springs RSL, about 9pm.

Snowden has ruled Lingiari largely since 1987 thanks to a strong bush vote.

He has never won the seat off the back of his vote in Alice Springs; until now.

The Australian Electoral Commission Tally Room records marked swings to Labor in the CLP heartland booths of Alice Springs (except Braitling) of: Alice Springs 2.45%, Braitling -0.285, Gillen 5.12% and Larapinta 4.11%.

Of the mobile bush polling still coming in on Sunday, the swings were up to 20% to Labor, doubling down on a historically strong vote out bush.

Snowden’s joy should however be tempered by his primary vote that was down 0.34%, offset mainly by the 3.8% swing against CLP Tina Macfarlane.

Meanwhile, Greens candidate Rob Hoad enjoyed swings of 2–7% across Alice Springs booths. In the North, ALP candidate Luke Gosling garnered an 8.35% swing on a two-candidate preferred count in Solomon, with an equally impressive swing of almost 7% on the primary.

As for Macfarlane in Lingiari, however, incumbent CLP Natasha Griggs suffered a strong swing against: 10.37% on the primary, which she blames in part on CLP shenanigans at a local level.

The Senate was still unknown on Sunday, as the count comes in after the House of Representatives.

What is a hung parliament?

There are 150 members of the House of Representatives and to govern, a party must win at least 76 seats.

A hung parliament is when no party receives more than half the votes, and so does not hold a majority.

This means they would be unable to pass laws, without gaining support from other minority parties or independents. Like Birgette Nyborn of Borgen’s fictional Moderate Party, disparate groups could put aside their differences to form a coalition to govern en bloc.

By Sunday evening, Malcolm Turnbull was still confident that final counting would give the Coalition enough seats to govern in its own right.

Whether he governs with a slim majority or from a minority position, he would nonetheless have to negotiate with an emboldened Labor opposition and a sizable cross bench in order to pass legislation.

Australia has few hung parliaments by which to judge these events. In 2010, Julia Gillard formed a coalition with the Greens and three Independents in order to govern with a narrow majority.

Robert Menzies, of the United Australia Party and the Country Party, forged a coalition with two independents to briefly govern Australia after a close election in 1940.

A year later the independents switched sides to bring to power Labor’s John Curtin.

What now for Australian politics?

We might not know who has won for some days or even weeks. Until then, Malcolm Turnbull remains caretaker Prime Minister.

The situation persists until one side or the other can convince the governor general it has the numbers to rule.

Through the lens of the two-party system, the results are confusing. Putting the system momentarily to one side, however, things become clearer.

Long-time Territory political observer Professor Rolf Gerritsen, of the Northern Institute, detects an Australia-wide undercurrent of voter dissatisfaction.

“People are sick of the same old, same old,” says Prof Gerritsen. “(They want) their voice being heard in politics.

“If you take the Greens out of the equation, there was a 10% swing to the independents.”

And while Bill Shorten declared in his election-night address that “Labor is back”, the primary vote for Labor nationally was still down.

For Prof Gerritsen, this speaks to what lies ahead in Australian politics.

“People are prepared to put them second but not to put them first.

“Bill Shorten still has a lot of work to do.”

And this applies not only to Shorten; Prof Gerritsen believes we are seeing the gradual decline of the rusted-on inter-generational party voter.

“In the sixties, about 85% of electorate voted the way their parents did, and did so for their whole of their lives.

“That figure is down to 60%; the other 40% of the people go shopping.”

Oddly enough, a less tribal Australian voter could herald a new era of stability.

Voters make a protest statement on the first preference, returning to a major party for their second.

Prof Gerritsen estimates up to 30% of the electorate could vote this way from now on.

“It is inconvenient for the politicians but they will just have to put up with it.

“We’re sick of the autocue, the scripted nature of politics.”

Perhaps no group reflects this state of affairs more clearly than younger voters.

Research at the University of Adelaide suggests a rise in an intentionally informal vote among the 18-24 demographic.

Some rebellious young voters on Saturday chose to draw pictures on their ballot paper, photograph it and post the result to social media.

Early indications are the Senate will be difficult for a minority government to negotiate, more difficult than the one that sparked the double dissolution in the first instance.

For Prof Gerritsen, that means one thing.

“We will be going back to the polls probably early next year.”

And if that makes you nervous, spare a thought for CLP incumbent NT Chief Minister Adam Giles.

The federal result suggests the Territory CLP will be reduced to a rump, come August.

Topics:  federal election results voting


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