The minor league steps up

Here I am 12 years ago in Crikey on that year’s federal election:

Once upon a time, nearly everybody voted for the major parties. In 1975, after the collapse of the DLP and before the rise of the Democrats, 95.9% gave their primary vote in the House of Representatives to either Labor or the Coalition. That figure was still well above 90% as late as 1987.

Then things started to happen. In 1998, with One Nation, the Democrats and the Greens all in the field, the major party vote fell to 79.6% – the second lowest in history … As One Nation dwindled it rose again, reaching 85.5% in 2007, but now it’s back down. On the latest figures (which will change, but only slightly, with postals) Labor has 38.5% and the various components of the Coalition between them have 43.5%, for a total of just 82%.

… The electorate is tired of sloganeering, opportunism and focus-group-driven policies. If Labor and the Coalition learn that lesson, they may yet recapture their dominant position. If they don’t, the Greens – or someone else – will fill the vacuum.

The major party vote on the final figures in 2010 finished at 81.6%. And they did not “recapture their dominant position”: in 2013 it fell further, below the 1998 low point, to 78.9%. In 2016 it fell to the lowest in history, 76.8%, below the exceptional year of 1934 (when Labor was split in New South Wales). But it could go lower still: last time, in 2019, it was just 74.8%.

That’s the essential background to the extraordinary result on Saturday, when (on the latest figures, which again won’t change much) the Coalition in aggregate could manage only 35.7% (down 5.7%) and Labor, despite winning the election, just 32.8% (down 0.5%). The total major party vote is down six points to 68.5%, having now fallen 17 points in 15 years.*

Where has it all gone? The Greens, who were the big gainers in 2010, have mostly trod water since then: their current figure of 11.9% is up 1.5% on 2019 but only 0.1% ahead of where they were in 2010. Nor have they acquired any real rivals on the left; the Animal Justice Party has 0.5% and some smaller left-wing groups a similar amount between them.

The big movement is in the right and centre. Six far-right parties (including the Liberal Democrats, who must now be classified that way despite their libertarian origins) attracted 11.5% of the vote in total – almost as much as the Greens. The two largest, One Nation and the UAP, have 4.9% (up 1.8%) and 4.2% (up 0.7%) respectively.

But note the difference in representation. The Greens have apparently won three seats (up two), with a fighting chance at a fourth. But the far right still only has one seat, and that belongs to Bob Katter, who heads a small and relatively moderate group. Craig Kelly, the UAP leader, could manage only fourth place on 7.5% in his seat of Hughes, which he had previously won as a Liberal.

The big shift, however, is harder to see from the raw numbers. The independent vote is on 5.5%, up 2.1% from 2019. Most of that increase is due to the group of “teal” independents, who, contesting seven seats (one of which they already held), won all of them, with an average vote of 36.6%. With some help from Labor and the Greens, they have all but annihilated the Liberal Party in its traditional upper-middle-class heartland.

More about that on another occasion. With seven teals and three Greens the crossbench will swell to 15, a completely unprecedented number. Katter is a wild card, but the other four are likely to line up with the teals, although the newcomer among them – ex-Liberal Dai Le, who beat Labor’s Kristina Keneally in Fowler – is rather an unknown quantity.

Fifteen seats is impressive, but it’s still less than 10% of the whole House: a poor return on the 31.5% non-major vote. And the new crossbench is unlikely to hold the balance of power; Labor, with less than a third of the vote, is on track for a majority – most probably 78 seats (leaving 58 for the Coalition), although it may be a couple of days before we know for sure. (Kevin Bonham is the best at monitoring the late counting.)

The political class seems completely desensitised to this sort of thing: the absence of democracy at the heart of our system never seems to even get noticed. But the voters are not happy, and on Saturday they sent that message in very clear terms.

I’ll have more to say about the overall figures when counting has been completed. Tomorrow I plan to look more closely at the rise of the teals.

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* All figures, of course, are for the House of Representatives; we’ll talk about the Senate in another post.

2 thoughts on “The minor league steps up

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