Liberal losses: counting the cost

Now that all the results have been finalised in the Australian Federal Election 2022, we can see clearly the extent of Liberal losses. It’s been extensive, cutting right to the heart of the party in the so-called “blue-ribbon Liberal” seats.

From early on it was clear that six House of Representatives seats were lost to “teal independents”, standing on a platform of real action to address climate change, and the introduction of a corruption commission to begin to repair the shocking state of integrity in public life.

Three of these seats were in Sydney: Kylea Tink in North Sydney, the seat of former Treasurer Hockey; Sophie Scamps in Mackellar; and Allegra Spender in Wentworth, the seat of former PM Turnbull amd former Opposition Leader Hewson.

Two more were in Melbourne: Monique Ryan in Kooyong, the seat of former Treasuer Frydenberg, as well as former Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock, and foundation Liberal leader and (twice) Prime Minister Robert Menzies; and Zoe Daniel in Goldstein.

The sixth seat to fall to a “ teal independent” was in WA: Kate Chaney in Curtin, the seat of former Deputy Liberal Leader Bishop.

They join existing members Helen Haines in Indi and Zali Steggal in Warringah, both of which were once blue-Liberal seats; the latter was previously held by the former PM, the Abbott of Inequity.

The Liberals also lost to Labor in Bennelong, the seat of former PM Howard, and Robertson in NSW; in Victoria, they lost to Labor in Higgins, the seat of former Treasurer Peter Costello and former Prime Ministers Harold Holt and John Gorton, and Chisholm. In SA, they lost Boothby to Labor, and the Centre Alliance held on to Mayo, which it had taken from the Liberals in 2016; while in QLD, they lost to the Greens in Ryan.

They lost massively in WA, with four seats going to Labor: Hasluck, Swan, Pearce, and Tangney. The map of electorates in the Perth area tells the story quite dramatically!

Lots of Liberal losses in the House.

See https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/where-the-election-was-won-and-lost-and-who-is-next-on-the-chopping-block-20220524-p5ao13

In the Senate, four Liberal seats were lost: to David Pocock in the ACT, to Labor in WA, to the Jacqui Lambie Network in Tasmania, and to “it’s my kinda party” Untied Australia in Victoria.

The Liberals now have only 23 seats in the Senate—but we add to that 5 from the Liberal National Party in QLD, 3 from the Nationals, and 1 from the Country Liberals in NT, to total 32 Senators as the main opposition body.

Labor now has 26 seats in the Senate, and no doubt they will work co-operatively with the 12 Greens and independent David Pocock on much of their legislative agenda. The 2 Jacqui Lambie Network senators may well also figure in these negotiations.

The conservative rump is now irrelevant in the Senate, except for the predictably useless aggravating grunts that they will surely make as often as they can to gain media attention: Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts in QLD, and newcomer Ralph Babet in Victoria.

See https://www.pollbludger.net/category/federal-politics-2019-2022/federal-election-2022/

Lots of Liberal losses overall. And a clear indication that the Liberals are no longer anything like “liberal” in their policies or their practices.

The true cost of the Howard—Abbott—Morrison conservative hegemony is now evident: years of rhetoric about fiscal conservatism masking disastrous social policies, especially amongst the poor; years of dog whistling promoting xenophobia and overt racism, often in cahoots with various rightwingnutjobs; years of resistance to any significant action on climate, signing off on a bleak future for all humanity whilst profiting from the largesse of always-profitable fossil fuel companies; years of resisting real support for renewables; years of offering leftover scraps to the First Peoples of the country, while ignoring Royal Commission recommendations; and years of blithely ignoring the misogynistic culture that tolerated (and generated) many acts of sexist abuse.

Liberal losses: many reason to celebrate!

The Senate, house of review, place of hope

“To fulfil the role the Constitution allows the Senate in relation to the government, the Senate is able to scrutinise and judge the activities, policies and legislation of the government. This is why the Senate is known as a house of review.” So reads a section of the office Parliament of Australia website explaining the nature and function of The Senate. (https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/Senate_Briefs/Brief10)

I have known this principle, and voted in accordance with this principle, for decades. As well as holding as my personal principle to “always vote below the line” (something that has been quite challenging at various times, given the size of the ballot paper!), I have also maintained that the Senate should be a real house of review—not just a rubber stamp, like the House of Lords is in the British Parliament.

The reality is that, at times throughout the past 120 years, the Senate has indeed been simply a “rubber stamp”, acting to endorse the legislation introduced and debated in the lower house. Those times, especially, when the dominant party in the lower house has also had control of the Senate, have been times when the Senate has seemed to have lived up to its most famous description as “unrepresentative swill”. (Take a bow, Paul Keating.)

So in order to ensure that there is at least some measure of review that might occur when a bill is introduced into the Senate, I have held the practice of never voting for the same party in the lower house, as in the Senate. It has been my personal contribution to ensure (vainly, in many instances) that there are at least someone in the Senate who might advocate for a point of view different from what is advocated by the party in Government, and what is (often) blindly expressed as opposition to that point of view by those who, well, are in fact, the Opposition.

So it has been with great pleasure that I have heard the news, today, that in the ACT (the jurisdiction where I currently live), one of the two Senators elected will bring precisely that function of review—not toeing the Government line, not unthinkingly adopting the resistance of the Opposition, but considering each piece of legislation on its merits.

I’m referring, of course, to the election of David Pocock as the second Senator for the ACT. He was elected alongside Katy Gallagher, of the Labor Party—a fine Senator, in my eyes, who has been an excellent representative for the ACT over her term in parliament (as, indeed, is my local member in Bean, David Smith).

Ever since the ACT has elected senators, the second Senate spot has been held by the Liberal Party (John Knight—Margaret Reid—Gary Humphries—Zed Seselja). This year, however, Zed Seselja failed in his bid to return to the Senate. And so it is that Zed has dropped off the end of the alphabet (at least, in the ACT)!

Pocock stood as an Independent, with a platform advocating for real action in relation to climate change; the establishment of a national integrity commission; the adoption of what is advocated by the Statement from the Heart to ensure First Nations people have a voice in shaping our nation;

and measures to improve the safety of women and girls in their homes, schools, and workplaces. (He also had other economic measures and more parochial territory matters in his platform.) All of this augurs well for the next three years in Australia—especially if the Labor Government does act in accordance with its rhetoric about climate, integrity, and First Peoples. See https://www.davidpocock.com.au

Alongside the 12 Green senators (who are committed to similar policies) and the two Jacqui Lambie Network senators (Jacqui Lambie herself has a track record of independent thinking about legislation), the Senate is well-placed to be a real house of review that will consider, debate, and advocate for a range of important matters—holding the Government to account, refining legislation and e surging principles are adopted that are in the best interests of the country.

So I’m pleased that my choice has been elected—and that the Senate has a really good chance, over the next three years, of fulfilling its intended purpose.

Looking forward to co-operative leadership in a “collaborative parliament”

I am really glad that we are cracking open the two-party duopoly in federal politics. We already have a good number of Green members in the federal parliament, led by Adam Bandt, with prospects of some more joining them once the results of this election are finalised.

And we have had a good collection of thinking independents in parliament in recent times—Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Cathy McGowan, Rebecca Sharkie, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall—with the prospects of quite a number of new members in this ilk (collectively known as “the Teal Independents”) joining them on the cross benches.

This will most likely produce what the commentators regularly call “a hung parliament”–although one of my colleagues says that we really should call it “a collaborative parliament”. For that is what the members of this next parliament will need to do: collaborate!

This will be in stark contrast to the disastrous shirtfronting, bulldozing approach of our feral federal leadership over the past decade, as both The Abbott of Inequity and The Liar from The Shire have relentlessly driven the COALition further to the right, turning the public discourse into a series of hate-speech episodes, fanning the flames of misogyny, xenophobia, and anti-science attitudes, targeting renewable industries, people below the poverty line, females in the workplace, same-gender attracted people, and transgender people. It has been a shameful period, thriving on the partisan conflict generated by confrontational rhetoric and aggressive actions.

Regardless of how many Greens and Teal Independents are elected to the lower house, the incoming government will still need to work with the range of Senators sitting on the cross benches in the red house, the Senate. There are currently Greens, a number of independents, and members from the Jacqui Lambie Network, the One Nation Party, and the Centre Alliance in the Senate. More Greens and perhaps some RWNJs may well be joining them once the Senate votes are all counted and the preferences distributed.

A “collaborative parliament” is not a disaster. Having a minority government which needs to propose legislation that it negotiates with cross bench members (Greens, Independents) to get through the House and the Senate, is a sensible, mature, responsible process.

In the last “collaborative parliament”, with a minority government led by Julia Gillard (2010–2013), more than 560 pieces of legislation were passed — more than the preceding Rudd government and more than John Howard when he controlled both houses of government between 2005 and 2007.

Some major policy initiatives of the Gillard government included: the Clean Energy Bill 2011; the Mineral Resource Rent Tax; a National Broadband Network; a schools funding formula following the Gonski Review; the National Disability Insurance Scheme; the carbon price package; a means test on the health insurance rebate; paid parental leave; a plan for the Murray Darling Basin; plain packaging for cigarettes; and the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office, which is available to cost policies on request. That is an impressive list.

Michelle Grattan wrote that in a hung parliament, “Parliament has a much more active role, rather than the House being a rubber stamp. The government is kept on its toes. Having the parliament “hung” is another check and balance in the system.” See https://theconversation.com/looking-back-on-the-hung-parliament-16175

She notes that in 2010–2013, about a quarter of House of Representatives time has been used for private members business. 357 private members bills and motions were introduced and debated; 150 were voted on and 113 supported, according to figures supplied by the Leader of the House’s office. By comparison, in 2005 under the Howard government no private members motions were voted on. Democracy works much better in a situation where the parliament has to work collaboratively.

Rob Oakeshott reflected that the great lesson for him out of that parliamentary term was that “bipartisanship is the best and politically the only way to achieve long-standing reform”. Tony Windsor noted that people do not understand what it is. “In some ways they do not fully comprehend what a hung parliament is, and still look at it through the prism of the two party system. It is not that”.

Bob Katter’s assessment was, “a hung parliament … is a multiparty democracy which is experienced everywhere else in the world. The two party system is primitive”. Andrew Wilkie noted that “the parliament itself has proved to be remarkably stable, reformist and productive.”

I am looking forward to the next three years, as collaboration and co-operation become the key markets of our federal leadership.