As I write, the Coalition is close to having 76 seats, and might get 78, which the ABC is tipping. I’m not concerned with these final numbers, which won’t be known for a week or more. Rather, like so many others, I expected a Labor victory, a close one, I thought. The actual result was a major surprise, and a dreadful one for Bill Shorten and his team. So, how did they get it so wrong?
First, the ALP seemed to coast along on what the polling organisations were saying, and had been saying for a couple of years. Labor would win. It was open and shut. The bookies said so too. Why would you argue with any of them? And on what basis? In an earlier essay I pointed out that the polling organisations no longer properly sample the States and Territories, so I couldn’t get data for Queensland, even though APOP (Morgan Gallup) and I go back into the 1960s, and they are always helpful to me. What the pollsters always provide us with is what I would call a ‘nationalised’ outcome, where the whole country is treated as a single domain.
Second, there are two technical reasons for this change. One is the loss of telephone landlines. When I was doing this sort of work fifty years ago, we used the electoral roll as the primary source of respondents, and we wroteto each of those who had come up in the sample. We got more than 80 per cent in response. Those were the days! The second is the much greater frequency of polling, which now can occur every week. The loss of landlines means that the White Pagescan’t be used as an effective sampling domain. And using mobile numbers is no more effective, because you can’t define where the numbers come from, which might mean that all your respondents come from Ipswich, for example. Not likely, I accept, but a flawed domain means that the outcome is likely to be rubbish.
Third, Mr Shorten claimed that he had put in place a ’bold and progressive’ program of policies. Did he? It didn’t come through to me, and much of what I heard came via the ABC. What I heard was traditional Labor emphasis on education and health, with promises galore. Not that the Coalition’s promises were any less generous. Yes, the Labor leader said, and kept on saying, that he would end the imputation of credits and negative gearing, and this would hurt some Australians, but the money was needed elsewhere. That was bold, to be sure. Progressive? Depends on your point of view. My own view is that if you’re going to do this sort of thing you say nothing at all about it unless you have started very early, long before an election campaign, and done your best to deal with it persuasively over time. Or you bring it out quickly and decisively in Year Two of the electoral cycle, which tends to be the year for doing the hard things.
Fourth, at the end of his campaign Mr Shorten threw everything he had into his ‘climate change’ policies, having proclaimed early in the campaign a fifty per cent by 2030 target for EVs and alternative energy sources for electricity generation. In all this he was extremely badly advised, but by whom I do not know. There was every indication that in two seats that Labor was expecting to win, Warringah and Wentworth (here Labor was supporting the Independent MP, Kerryn Phillips) the campaign was very much about climate change. Perhaps Mr Shorten thought the same would be true everywhere. But his advisers should have known that only a tiny minority, just seven per cent at last count of Australians, when asked, ‘What are the problems [facing Australia] that really worry you?’ will respond with ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ or a comparable environmental slogan. The same is true in most developed nations. And there is a growing backlash in Europe against climate change policies that do nothing to reduce global gas emissions or lower temperatures but lead to much higher electricity prices. The nationalised polling data might have led Labor astray.
In any case, it was not long before the actual results on election night showed that Australia is, with respect to ‘climate change’, a society with regions of very different attitudes. Paradoxically, the areas where dealing with ‘climate change’ gain their greatest support are the more or less comfortably off inner metropolitan electorates, and one or two country seats where alternative lifestyles have for some time attracted those who also think global warming is a threat, there should be no mining for coal or gas in their electorate (though they’re happy enough to turn on the electric power, 85 per cent of which comes from fossil fuels), and all food should be sourced locally. Queensland above the Brisbane River would have none of that, and Labor won nothing there that they had hoped for.
In fact, the night got worse and worse for the challenging party. At the end of it there was no way Labor could achieve power, and it will finish with fewer seats than it had in the last Parliament. The polling organisations will tell us, sooner or later, what they think went wrong. Perhaps their consistent suggestions that Labor was ahead for a couple of years was also wrong. We shall see. The Labor Party is trying to work it all out too, when its members aren’t being jockeyed to support this or that candidate for the leadership, now that Mr Shorten has retired as leader. A friend asked me, the other day, ‘Why do they all hate Mr Shorten?’ I replied that I didn’t know anyone who felt that way. He was always behind in the leader poll (maybe that was wrong too!), but he came across as a decent, well-spoken man who was disciplined in what he said and how he said it. That I disagreed with his EV policies didn’t mean that I hated him. Life is too short for hate, which is a useless sentiment.
He conceded late in the evening, congratulated the Prime Minister, and anounced that he was retiring as leader. There was not a skerrick of disagreement, no call to the barricades. This is a democracy, and the people had spoken. But consider this statement by Greenpeace Australia (at https://www.facebook.com/greenpeaceaustraliapacific/posts/10157704112247971)
From their official statement:
“This is not a post we thought we’d have to make.
We’re looking into the eyes of our friends, families and colleagues and seeing them all searching for answers, but only able to ask the same questions:
How? Why? Where do we go from here?
This result flies in the face of all Australians who’ve fought for our climate. For pristine oceans, for clean air, for the thousands of young Australians scared for what their future holds. We demanded they declare an emergency, and they shook a lump of coal in our faces.
So it’s right now, more than ever, that we want to tell you this:
This fight is not over, and none of us are going anywhere.
Tonight we learned something profound, something that changes the ballgame. Something that will require every one of us to stand up and take action in a way we’ve never before.
The system is broken. And as long our politics are shackled to the coal industry and vested interest, we’ll never fix it.
It’s time to change the game. It’s time to be disruptive. It’s time to take the power back.
If our government won’t declare a climate emergency, we’ll declare an uprising.
Last week Laura, one of the brave climbers who scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, said that that we can’t afford to rest on our laurels amidst this climate emergency. She put her body on the line and promised us that she’d never give up. And we shouldn’t either.
Now is not the time to leave. Now is the time to hold each other close, to pick each other up, and to stand up and fight.
If the climate-wreckers in the Coalition think we’re going to go away quietly, they’ve got another thing coming.
If Scott Morrison thinks he’s won the war on coal, he’s got another thing coming.
If anyone thinks the fight for our planet is over, they’ve got another thing coming.
We’ll be fighting back. Harder than we ever have before.
Now a new fight begins.”
Consider the phrases: ‘It’s time to be disruptive. It’s time to take the power back. If our government won’t declare a climate emergency, we’ll declare an uprising.’ Such statements are the antithesis of democracy, and tell me, once again, that Greenpeace has much less to do with the environment than it has to do with disruption and challenge. Stuff the people, who did speak, quite loudly, and against such talk.
I don’t like it at all. I doubt that the Labor Party does, either. I hope there is a backlash against this subversive organisation.