Disenchantment with the established parties is massive
Recent opinion polls on intended voting patterns relative to federal politics in Australia have been at once fascinating and deeply uncertain.
It is clear that a significant percentage of former Liberal/National voters have departed to support Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Such a move was entirely predictable. Many Australian voters hold deeply conservative views. There were sufficient of them at the Federal election before last to give Tony Abbott victory with a large majority.
Yet within the first term of that government Abbott was deposed, not by voters but by members of his own party concerned only, apparently, with holding onto their seats. The leader of that movement, Malcolm Turnbull, has in the past stated views at the far end of the political spectrum from those held by Abbott. The result was that, at the most recent Federal election, Turnbull being spared by one seat the ignominy of seeking to cobble together Australia’s second minority government in three terms.
Nor has this loss of conservative support benefited the Labor Party. Recent polls have shown first preferences for Labor standing at only about 30 per cent.
There is clearly another movement going on that pollsters are incapable of recording. At the last Federal election voter abstentions and informal ballots were at record numbers. Well over 10 per cent of those eligible to record a formal vote in the seat of Gilmore, for example, declined to do so. Had they turned up to cast their ballot, this was enough voters to change the result. In three recent by- elections for state seats in NSW some 30,000 of those entitled to vote did not choose to do so.
Many Australians are walking away from the political process.
There are many answers to the questions of why so many citizens now see parliamentary elections as irrelevant, and why major parties are on the nose.
A basic factor is the growing belief that politicians live in their own privileged bubble and have little concern for the ambitions and frustrations of the Australian people.
High among those frustrations is the fact that many well-educated, hard-working Australian couples face the impossibility of ever owning their own homes; they see the rate of rise in home prices massively outstrip their ability to save for a deposit. They realise that this situation exists because of tax policies that mitigate against their hopes and which benefit only the privileged and the wealthy.
The creation of a new class of marginalised Australians has massive social implications. These same citizens also observe cases of their so-called electoral “representatives” buying Canberra real estate, registering ownership in the names of partners and then claiming living allowance to reside in their own homes while reducing their tax by access to negative gearing provisions and benefiting from untaxed capital gains on their investment.
Given that it remains the political arm of the union movement, the ALP faces major challenges. Union membership in this country has declined substantially to something less than 18 per cent of the workforce. Many Labor supporters now are elderly. Labor’s astonishing decision to support the massive reduction in standard of living of hundreds of thousands of their supporters through changes to access to the old aged pension has seen those directly affected desert the party.
It is often said, “They’re not going to vote Liberal, are they?” Well, no, but in fact many are choosing not to vote for anyone.
It is simply impossible for current means of political polling to reflect the outcomes of this massive disenchantment. Those contacted are scarcely going to say “I’ll be breaking the law; I won’t be voting.” Until the current reality is reflected in improved opinion poll methodology, a gauging of the intentions of the electorate will be impossible.
It was easy to describe how Australian governments have been formed in the past. Our political future is extremely difficult to predict. But the end of certainty in Australian politics is something relatively new and dangerous.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University and the author of 39 books.
The Canberra Times, December 3. 2016 and The Age, The Brisbane Times & The Sydney Morning Herald online.