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A nation of voters weary of change just wants to know if politicians are on their side


Australia has had six change elections which Dennis Atkins thinks explains the weariness of the voting public. He joins up the dots and finds a startling failure by the Coalition campaign team.

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Australian voters have been through so much disruption, disconnection and dereliction in the last 15 years of politics and government, it’s unsurprising and somewhat comforting we ended up where we did after the May 21 general elections.

This decade and a half of public life whoopsie (supercharged by an unprecedented health and economic shock in the last 28 months) was actually half a dozen change elections on end – just not change elections as they are commonly understood.

Usually change elections produce an actual changing of the guard at the top. These change elections did herald actual change even if on a couple of occasions it was more illusionary than reality.

Think about it. In 2007 there was an abrupt change from John Howard to Kevin Rudd, in 2010 the change was not just from Rudd to Gillard – who appeared barely legitimate – but to a government with even less legitimacy and no Parliamentary majority.

Three years later another real change took place when Tony Abbott blustered and blasted his way into power before being dumped by his own party just two years later, replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.

Let’s call Turnbull’s nervous electoral gamble – months after a time when an almost assured victory was likely – another tentative change. The public only just resisted giving the untried Bill Shorten a go after less than a year of Turnbull.

Given the brutality of the Abbott smash, grab and discard 2014 budget it was a miracle Turnbull survived. It was a Clayton’s change.

The 2019 poll was a change like no other. One trick pony and one man advertising slogan Scott Morrison reinvented himself and his party after six years of chaos, budgetary pain and leadership mayhem.

It was a change from a bad, ridiculous, Liberal led Coalition to an apparently better version under the blokey suburban dad from the Sutherland Shire. The alternative was a shifty, taxing and lecturing Labor risk under Shorten. A change without change. A bit risk free like Rudd in 2007.

Now, in June 2022 we have a change that’s as real as the one when the country swapped Howard for Rudd although the consequences were unexpected and still have a long way to go before we know what it all might mean.

No wonder people have change fatigue and turned against the major parties in the hundreds of thousands – turned to the Greens, to smart, focussed pale blue liberal women, to One Nation, to an environmentally active former rugby player, to a Jacqui Lambie pal and to the legalise-cannabis crowd.

People didn’t just turn away in protest. They thought about their votes and changed because of specific issues – perhaps primarily in respect of climate action and accountability and transparency – or they did on economic grounds, unable to believe the endless spin of the ever shrinking small targets our traditional parties have become.

Both Liberal and Labor campaigners report a surge in the number of these “up yours” voters over the last seven to 14 days. Many were toying with voting for Anthony Albanese but had significant doubts after what was a shaky campaign performance.

Labor might have had a brilliant strategic plan – to go where Morrison was weakest and to bet on him going back to his 2019 playbook – but Albanese’s stumbleathon did sow doubts and depressed what should have been an 80 plus seat win to something just north of the needed 76.

Now Albanese has his big chance. They say you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. If this was true for Labor it was more of a shouty poetry slam than Proust or Auden – now is the chance to govern with a bit more stability, surety and certainty.

The success of governing after this time of great uncertainty is going to be giving people some reassurance and maybe hope. It’s not going to be easy with everything from asymmetrical international security threats to a toxic mix of home grown and globally brewed economic dangers and the need to deliver some big changes on climate, accountability, respect and cost of living.

In this mix, any day Labor spends not telling people they are on their side and fighting for them, day and night, is a day wasted. The language of process, the jargon of the multi-national consultants and the insulting double speak of political cowardice has to be binned.

This would be common sense advice for either side of politics but Labor in power has a better chance of making something of it. They also have an easier path to follow for staying in government than the Coalition has to navigate a return to where they were a month ago.

There is no sign new Opposition leader Peter Dutton has any idea what happened at the May elections. Instead of taking a breather and absorbing the loss with introspection and reflection, he has hit the ground opposing.

At the moment Dutton is Tony Abbott without the intellect or ideology. The big danger in going out too hard, too early is that by the time people want a voice of questioning and opposition (maybe after a honeymoon?) they might have already given up on Dutton and his whinging.

Of course, the disconnect between the Coalition and suburban voters in 2022 cannot be overstated.

The national campaign headquarters for Morrison’s team – headed by the architect of tactical defeat, Andrew Hirst – was in the western Brisbane suburb of Milton, on the border of the flourishing green streets of Ryan and Brisbane where incumbents Julian Simmonds and Trevor Evans were whacked by 10 point swings each. Those Coalition campaign workers would go out for coffee unaware the tide was turning before their eyes.

Liberals were reassuring people up until the last 24 hours there was no real threat to Simmonds. Talk about being clueless.


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