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Lessons from the 2016 Australian Federal Election

July 10, 2016

10 July 2016

After a week of counting, the Liberal and National Party coalition will hold onto power, mostly likely with 76 of the 150 lower house seats, or a slim chance of 77. The senate retains its structure of minor parties and independents holding power. It proved a far more interesting election than expected, and provided some interesting lessons.

election-issues2

1) 1, 2, 3, Yawn

Why does it take so long to count ballots? It was bizarre late on election night, with counting “completed”, most seats had only 75% of the votes in, with some as few as 65%. In this day and age, it’s ridiculous that we need to wait for over a week. Having watched much of the US primary season, they get to almost 100% counted on the night. While our preferential system complicates the matter, the US has pre-poll voting, and that is all counted on the night. For some reason, Australia  doesn’t even unpack it until the day after the election, and resumes counting two days after that. The US also have electronic voting, while many countries are moving to online voting. Meanwhile, backward Australia is stuck with people manually sorting and counting ballot papers on school tables. If it isn’t slow enough in the lower house, the senate won’t be done until early August!

2) Exit Polls

Much of the election coverage on the various TV channels was speculation about voting habits of the day. Here’s an idea: run exit polls! This is another feature of American elections. Who knows, maybe asking people about their vote is illegal in Australia. While our preferential system won’t allow an accurate forecast of results from exit polls, those polls are still full of useful information. By the end of the week, private polling companies were able to provide some answers. They showed that Medicare was the most important issue for 38% of people, with 23% of people making their mind up on the day.

3) Preferred Prime Minister

Is there a more irrelevant statistic in election campaigns? Former PM Tony Abbott was able to destroy Labor to win the 2013 election in a landslide, and he was never popular. Likewise, current PM Malcolm Turnbull was always wildly more popular than Bill Shorten and nearly lost.

4) Scare Campaigns Work

As much as the Liberals can whinge about the disgusting lie from Labor that the Liberals would privatise Medicare, such campaigns work. They especially work in a country with compulsory voting, which forces imbeciles to vote. These clueless, detached people, roughly 30-40% of the population, roll up on polling day like zombies and are easily persuaded on even the most superficial or irrational grounds. They see a sign with “Save Medicare”, bang, you’ve captured the imbecile vote – particularly effective in marginal seats. It’s certainly more persuasive than “Jobs and Growth” from the Liberals! That’s the inherent weakness of the compulsory system. Ordinarily such people would have no incentive to vote and would need something tangible to persuade them. They’d then be far more invested, and even if they heard or read about the lie, they’d see the other side countering it, so would arrive the polling booth far more informed.

5) Negative Campaigns Work

The most bizarre situation of this election was that lack of negativity from the Liberals. Where were they smashing Labor as wreckers of the economy, irresponsible on borders and irrational on emissions? Labor even admitted their budget deficits would be bigger, their border policy was not unanimous, and another carbon tax was on the way. These issues were all the reasons Labor were smashed in 2013. The Liberals also ignored attacks over Labor’s cosseted relationship with unions. This double dissolution election was even triggered on the issue after two ABCC bills were blocked twice by the senate. You also had chaos in Victoria with the dictatorial premier aiding a takeover of the volunteer Country Firefighting Authority by the firefighter’s union. That was effectively its own self-fulfilling negative campaign, which saw Labor receive 3% less swing in Victoria compared to nationally and losing one seat instead of winning up to three.

6) The Liberal Party are Wimps!

Defend your policies! Even if Labor wildly extrapolated a few minor budget issues as a case for privatising Medicare, rebound by saying you are SAVING Medicare. Rebound by saying the country is going broke. Rebound by saying that if wealthy doctors can’t absorb $1 or $2 off their $70 basic charge then they need to go to Labor’s school of “fairness”. Instead, the Liberals were lured into Labor’s fairness game, where Labor dragged them to their level and beat them with more experience. The Liberals trying to appear fair by making retrospective changes to superannuation contributions only infuriated their base without gaining votes elsewhere. So play to your strengths. Say you are the economically responsible ones. Explain that the nation is currently blowing $1b every single month on interest on our debt. Explain if Labor get back in power, watch that $1b interest bill grow as the debt increases and, possibly, Australia’s credit rating is downgraded.

7) Stay In Touch

Liberals went to the election with the spurious “jobs and growth” mantra – complete with a $50b company tax cut over 10 years. What! $50b? Over 10 years? How does this help the average person in the street? They won’t comprehend the rationale for such a policy, and all it does is leave you open for attack. Bang! The Liberals were hammered in the socially conservative and average working western Sydney and Tasmania. Even though big corporations would only benefit in 10 years, that’s four elections away. These days people can barely look 5 minutes into the future and want everything now, if not sooner. This left Turnbull appearing elitist and seriously out of touch. Those are especially dangerous traits these days.

8) Advertising Blackout

Banned from electronic or print advertising in the final 3 days of the campaign, yet allowed to inundate people with fraudulent and unsolicited text messages and robo-calls, that’s backwards Australia! The ban must be lifted, while ALL forms of political advertising must be subject to disclosures revealing their source. The Liberals’ big peeve about the Medicare lie was the text messages inferred “Medicare” was the source, while the robo-calls were similarly misleading about their nature. If electronic and print advertising must include disclosures, so should all other forms of advertising. An independent body to monitor advertising fraud would be a step too far, with limits difficult to set. While Medicare is obviously easy to nab at the high end of fraud, what about the lower end like the Liberals price scare about Labor’s carbon tax in 2010? One difference is the carbon tax was actual policy, whereas privatising Medicare was a total fabricating. Transparency in political advertising should suffice. By transparent that means an opening and closing statement or comment “Authorised by whoever”.

 

As a firm believer in the will of the people, even in a flawed system like Australia’s compulsory voting system and compulsory preferential voting, the people got it right again. We don’t know the direction to head to fix our budget problems. Is it higher taxes or less middle class welfare? We’re still incredibly self-entitled and refuse to take the national debt seriously. We don’t want a cent taken from Medicare either. So we re-elected the government and stripped them of much of their mandate. We told Labor it’s way too early for you to return to govern and continued to dismiss the Greens as a fringe rabble. We elected a senate with a swag of populists as balance of power to ensure the major parties do not over extend themselves. In essence, we voted for stagnation and more butt scratching. Personally, I’m happy with that!

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