After days of counts and recounts, the results of the Australian general election are just about in. In the limited coverage I given to this election, although I believed that Bill Shorten’s brand of leftism was not radical enough, I argued that in the two horse race between soft-leftism and hard-right conservatism, my preference is obvious. Unfortunately the result was not as we on the Left would have wanted. Whilst there are a couple of results still yet to be decided, the Coalition have won the required 76 seats to form a majority government.
The Australian people went to the polls what seems like a year ago, but with the dust beginning to settle it appears that the island nation has re-elected a right-wing government. According to figures from ABC News the Coalition won exactly 76 seats with 42.2% of the vote, which was 14 seats and 3.4% down on the 2013 general election. The Labor vote increased by 1.7% up to 35.1% and their total number of seats is predicted to rise to 69. The Greens and the Xenophon Team also picked up one seat each after garnering 9.8% and 1.9% of the vote respectively. Two independents and Bob Katter picked up the other three seats.
If Labor (ALP) want to win the next election I believe that they must be bolder in their offer to the Australian people. The Labor manifesto had a lot of positive measures that would have improved the country but together these nuanced policies didn’t inspire people to go out and vote for the party. I’m all for nuanced arguments but the party also failed to effectively convey a core set of policies to the electorate. In my view it is important to get the messaging of these policies correct first and then offer the nuance. If you go out to offer a complicated argument but then cannot market the policy effectively, people will not flock to the polls.
For example, offering free higher education to anyone who wants to attend university is a solidly left-wing idea that will enthuse party activists as well as appealing to students, many of whom opted to vote for the Greens. Obviously this wouldn’t have closed the gap enough to win the election but it would have inspired young people to go out and support Labor. Not only would young people be inspired to campaign, but parents of students would also have a financial motivation to see a change in government as many middle class parents provide financial support to their children whilst at university.
In addition to this pledge, Labor should have campaigned on investing in super-fast broadband access across the country and creating a high-speed transport network. Not only would such a proposal create thousands of jobs but businesses would be enthused by such a move. Labor needed to put a bold vision for Australia forward and although there were many positives from the manifesto that they put forward, they should have focused more on boosting the economy. The Coalition had made a big deal about getting Australia back into surplus however promising huge capital investment in order to boost growth would allow the party to claim to be representing the entire country.
Don’t get me wrong, the ALP manifesto wasn’t terrible, but I would argue that the level of detail was such that the leadership couldn’t put across its message effectively. Policy substance is necessary but as is the ability to market that message. If voters are unclear as to what your policies are or how they would be implemented, they aren’t going to flock to the polls for you. There a number of bread and butter issues that the party should have played up including the Coalition’s record on the economy and the Turnbull’s Ministry’s refusal to extend full equality to LGBT Australians.
In 2019 Labor will need to adopt a manifesto that is sufficiently detailed to give them the appearance of competence whilst also giving the leadership to ability to put across a clear, cogent message to the electorate. However in the mean time the ALP will have to organise with the wider trade union movement to resist the undoubtedly damaging policies that the Coalition will implement. In addition to this act of solidarity, Labor must work to make substantive change in opposition like on social and environmental issues.
Although the Coalition have a majority of two, Bob Katter has said that he would vote with the Coalition on a lot of different issues, and there is potential for an increased parliamentary majority with the support of the two elected independents. However even in the best situation, the Coalition would only have a majority of ten. This slim majority will make massively controversial legislation difficult to push through and Labor can surely take this silver lining from this agonising election.