• Nick

Where does the Liberal party go from here?

With the Australian 2022 election results coming to a conclusion, one might characterise it as a decisive loss for Liberal party (for overseas readers, this is Australia’s traditionally conservative party) and a reasonable gain for the Labor party (Australia’s traditionally more progressive ‘workers’ party) being the two main political parties. As it stands, in the lower house of parliament the Liberals appear set to lose (net) around 17 seats (out of 151) and Labor appears likely to gain around 9 seats. Accounting for the disparity between these numbers, the balance has been gained by the Australian Greens party (the socially progressive and environmentally concerned party) which appears set to gain 3 seats (previously only holding one seat) and independent candidates appear set to gain 6 seats.

Interestingly, almost all of the changes in seats have occurred in inner-city areas. The balance have been made up of outer-city seats and a small number of regional seats. One of the regional seats is a touch under an hour’s drive from Australia’s most populous city (which is passing from Liberal to Labor) and the other is a touch over an hours drive (which is likely to pass from Labor to Liberal.

Demographics of the seats changing hands

Before going into an analysis of why the Liberals soundly lost the election, and their directional choice over the next few years. Consider the following table (taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics) regarding the seats confirmed to change hands.

The income statistics are now 6 years out of date, however, there are some clear trends that can be seen here. The average median income of the electorates which changed in the latest election is 25%, being greater than the overall Australian Median income. They are, by and large leafy inner-city seats. For the electorates won by the Greens and independents, this statistic is even more pronounced at 36%.

I have also highlighted the two significant outliers of Fowler and Robertson. As to Robertson, I would be interested in comments as to the main issues in that electorate. As to Fowler, the independent Dai Le dethroned Kristina Keneally. Le’s platform was largely focused on neglect on the historically safe Labor seat from both the major parties, with a focus on financial strain and the ostensible fly-in-fly-out nature of Labor’s candidate, Kristina Kenneally, who Labor inserted into the electorate rather than a rusted-on local.

Focus of the independents

Having a look at the ‘policies’ section on the website of the independents (excluding Dai Le) the following are the first to be listed:

  • ‘real climate action’ for Kate Chaney;

  • substantive policy action on climate change’ for Zoe Daniel;

  • ‘Action on climate change’ for Monique Ryan;

  • ‘Climate change and electric vehicles’ for Sophie Scamps;

  • ‘Urgent climate action led by facts, not politics’ for Kylea Tink.

For contrast, Dai Le’s policies were “fix our local hospitals, NDIS funding health & disability, improve local infrastructure, investment in local jobs, fight for affordability” followed by two more local policies and ‘environment’ (noting her policy page doesn’t feature the work ‘climate’).

Why do the wealthier suburbs care so deeply about climate change?

The fundamental reasons for the ostensible concern as to the climate in the leafy inner-city seats are not as important as another element occasioning the massive swing against conservative government. These electorates have the capacity to care about climate change. Carrying on from the above median weekly household incomes, consider the following more conservative and poorer electorates:

  • Kennedy, with Bob Katter as the member of parliament receiving a two-party-preferred vote of 63.5%, where the income is 18% under the average;

  • Mallee, with Anne Webster enjoying a two-party-preferred vote of around 66%, where the income is 29.5% under the average;

  • Maranoa, with David Littleproud receiving an astounding two-party-preferred vote of 73.5%, where the income is 25% under the average.

At a time where there are significant increases to petrol prices (bearing in mind public transport in these poorer country electorates is not as simple has getting on the free tram), skyrocketing rent prices, stagnant growth to wages, and where mortgage payers are staring down the barrel of a series of interest rate rises, why would an average constituent in the Mallee be concerned with climate change in front of the more tangible threat of losing their home?

What can the Liberals learn?

It will be interesting to see the direction that the party takes in the post-defeat-soul-searching that must inevitably occur. I wouldn’t be astounded by them heading in any of the following directions:

  • The same overall trajectory and policies are taken to the next election;

  • An overall conservative shift, recognising that many of the progressive seats have now been lost forever; Or

  • An overall progressive shift, recognising that the party is too conservative to be palatable in progressive seats.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the second option will occur, given that some politicians have already publicly backed the frontrunner conservative candidate for the new leadership. However, still fresh in my mind is the Liberals approach in the State elections in Queensland, Victoria and most catastrophically in Western Australia. Their overall in these elections mirrors that of the one in the Commonweath election, being an ever-so-softly conservative version of their Labor counterparts. Voters were not given a genuine alternative option to the government, and were instead required to strain to find points of difference.

A widening gap

The Liberal party’s broad church is looking very empty at the moment. The progressive side of the church has been eviscerated, so it will largely be up to the conservative remainders to consider what tack they will take.

On the back of the forementioned symptoms of inflation, coupled with the past two years of intermittent lockdowns, increasing flabbiness of public service and their ability to work from home whilst youth on casual employment has sat redundant with nothing to do but whatch housing become more and more unaffordable, a gap widens. A North Sydney constituent, has watched their real estate portfolio increase by around 30% over the past few years and their shareholding increase around 25% in the past five.

The Liberal party has been stung by a side-effect of the morbid obesity of affluence in its heartland. It has sought to attempt a middle ground, to keep their conservative voters happy whilst appeasing a diametrically opposed progressive population and it has failed spectacularly.

Should the economy fail, a multi-million-dollar mansion townhouse has a lot further to fall than a modest (yet overpriced) country abode. It would be interesting to see how the high-end progressive seats would cope and vote should that occur. In the meantime, the Liberal party will commence its introspection while it would be sage of Labor to consider these same concepts as on its current path, their seats will be next in the firing line.

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