Meanwhile in Australia

I promised that I would answer questions about Australia and this puts me in the difficult position of explaining last weekend’s election result. There are so many factors, and they’re not all clear yet, so consider this a beginning rather than a complete explanation. Also, let me make it very clear that I am very worried about the LNP’s position. The fact that Morrison claimed government when the massive pre-polls were not yet counted raises potential problems in how he sees his position. Even if he wins, he’s created a problem by declaring victory before enough votes were counted.

I’m starting this on Sunday night and I’ll finish it on Monday, when more is known. The full results won’t be out for a few days, but you’ll get the big picture. That big picture is complicated.

What we have now is an unexpected interregnum, because normally counting votes is a bit more straightforward than this year. Nearly a third of voters used the pre-poll option, and all the numbers on election night were crunched as if very few voters had used this option. On Sunday night (now) we don’t know what over a quarter of voters think and that means that all the close races have yet to be finally decided, even the ones that have been called. The deductions that led to the leader of the opposition resigning and the leader of the previous government (Morrison) claiming a miracle victory are based on the patterns of voting from previous elections… yet everyone knows that the voting is different this year. The result right now is based on a set of extrapolations, not on a precise count.

What I did this morning was dump all the thoughts of the analysts from my overburdened brain and go to the Australian Electoral Commission’s website and look to see what was actually happening. There are so many seats that could change if a significant number of voters changed the direction they voted in. If, for example, all of those voters voted according to the opinion polls from before the election (which predicted a Labor victory ie that the opposition, whose leader has now resigned, would take government) then a Labor victory is still possible. A landslide victory is impossible. A bare victory is possible. A minority government is possible.

Right now, the extrapolated numbers that everyone’s acting on say that we have a Liberal/National Party (Coalition – right wing) minority government. Morrison has first dibs on forming a government if these figures stick, for LNP have more seats according to the current count than Labor does, but it is not a majority government and it needs negotiation. Despite this, Morrison has claimed government outright. Even on these extrapolated figures he will have to find independents willing to work with him before he can get the requisite approval from the Queen to actually form government. Most of the independents are likely to be left wing (there’s one Green, for certain) or far right.

Not all the independents have indicated they’re willing to work with the LNP, so significant bribes may ensue. One bribe we know about is actually a good one: Kali Steggall (who is replacing a previous prime minister in a very strong Liberal seat) has said she’s prepared to work with the LNP as long as they add climate change to their list of major issues to be addressed urgently.

So much of Australia is angry at Queensland today. Much of Queensland voted far right. A lot of Queensland has done this for years , but the extrapolated figures suggest it’s much more of the state than it has been. The firm figures suggest it’s business as usual. We have a lot of reactions based on insufficient evidence, and it’s not at all fair on voters who are being blamed for something they probably didn’t do.

If Queensland did make a shift right, the popular belief is that this is because of the Adani affair. Most of Australia is really worried about a coal mine that could destroy many natural resources and Queensland is really worried about not having jobs. Instead of offering replacement jobs, the left went to Queensland and persuaded it that nobility would help the planet. This may well have been annoying to locals. (And that’s a mega oversimplification – Queensland is really not that simple.) One thing very few Australians like is being told what to do and how to think, so the tactic the Greens used to persuade Queenslanders was one likely to produce the exact wrong reaction.

In some respects, this election acted as people said it would. Several key members have been dislodged. Grass roots voting has been very effective in a couple of electorates. A large number of current politicians have stable employment. These things are clear.

For the rest of it (ie who is in power and whether they need to persuade others to work with them), we have to wait until more numbers are counted. Then I can tell you more about how people voted in reality. If the extrapolated figures are close to the final ones then we’re following the US in outcomes. They may not be, in which case we’re doing our own thing. Our own thing is a bit US and a bit UK and a bit New Zealand and partly pure ornery Australia.

As for the Upper House… it always takes longer to count. No-one knows yet who has control in the Senate. So many of us voted below the line (choosing our own preferences rather than going with a whole party) that it’s going to slow count there, too. It always is a slow count and we already know the Senate is likely to be hung. We like hung Senates – they keep politicians honest. The remarkable thing would have been if the Senate were not hung. The new thing in the Senate is the higher proportion of those from small parties that have quite extreme views. Whether they are a problem… depends. The most contentious senator (Fraser Anning) lost his seat, and so many of us are thankful for this.

The bottom line is that Australia is in an exciting quandary with a lot more complications than anyone wanted, but with all of them perfectly visible from day one. It’s a very twenty-first century election.


It’s Monday evening and things are a bit clearer, but still not clear. Only seventeen seats have been fully counted, and those seats have almost all gone to sitting members. Morrison still has the lead… but seventeen is not a high enough number for us to know what that lead looks like or even if he loses at the last minute.

The leader of the Labor Party has announced his resignation and one voter favourite has announced she’s not standing for the job, which may well mean that the next leader of the Labor Party is someone who was rude to me once. At least I’ll have a new story for dinner parties.

Around mid-afternoon, I looked back at the swing necessary for Morrison to lose power and it may well have happened, but in the wrong electorates. At this moment, my interpretation of Saturday is that electorates strengthened along lines they were already comfortable with. It’s the echo chamber effect we see so often on social media. People talked to people who were like themselves and they came up with a result that fitted their own background. This explains standout changes (like Tony Abbot losing to Zali Steggall) – Abbott still had his personal support, but climate change was a major topic in the particular echo chamber surrounding Abbott’s electorate and Abbott was the prime minister who rolled back environment action for Australia. It also explains a lot of the Queensland results. Queensland’s culture outside the south east has always tended right wing and even far right, so an echo chamber affect would strengthen that trend.

In terms of people outside Australia understanding our government, the current situation is not easy. With such a solidly minority government (which is still the most likely outcome given voting patterns currently), no matter who runs a given house, their views do not reflect majority Australia.

This makes sense, in an Australian kind of way. We tend to subtle politics nationally. In a perfectly normal election we will vote in a clear power structure in the House of Representatives then quite intentionally hobble the leader with the Senate, so the party in power has to negotiate. We’ve been doing this for years. This is the year we’ve pushed that to the cliff edge and we discover if our choice of government model flies. Right now we’re all rather scared, because I’m not at all certain we intended to push it this far.

It may be a week or two before we know full outcomes, so I’m happy to try to answer questions for as long as it takes. If you really want to know the final outcome, I’ll make my next fortnight’s post about the actual government – who they are and what this means. It will help me understand the very interesting situation into which Australia’s got itself.

One thing I can say for certain: if another government has tried to buy an outcome the way they’ve been doing recently for other countries… this was maybe not quite the outcome they wanted. Even Morrison with his miracle victory is hobbled, even if the last of the votes all support his new reign.

The big outcome of this momentous and strange election is that we now have clear evidence that Australians do not trust politicians. It’s going to be very interesting to see how many parties take this on board and go into the public as human beings rather than as ‘vote for us’ machines and earn some trust. Labor promised a lot of things Australians crave and yet didn’t get votes because many voters didn’t trust them to deliver. This has been the situation for a while. Morrison’s vote was partly because Liberal is the default party from the days when it was a centre-right party and thus was a place to go when there was no place to go. Or when we were lazy. I don’t know why so many Australians haven’t realised just how far right it’s drifted, but that’s something that the centre will have to address if they want to be elected. At state level they deal with all these things, but at federal… you’re seeing the result.

We’re still waiting and seeing. There’s not as much hope as there was a few days ago, for this election has given us one of the worst possible results for clear government… but there’s still hope. In government terms the good and bad both rest in the fact that the government will probably have to negotiate to get results – it’s at the far end of the spectrum from a dictatorship. This is a powerful statement by Australians.




Meanwhile in Australia — 5 Comments

  1. It sounds like a messy time, but that is better than authoritarian.

    How does pre-poll work? Here in the US some states have early voting, where you can go to certain spots and vote for a couple of weeks before the election. Counting of those votes happens before or with those on election day. However, in California and some other states we have voting by mail (in some states that’s all they do) and ballots must be mailed by election day, which means they often aren’t received for several days and are very slow to be counted. We had several races in California in 2018 that looked like they were going one way until the mail ballots were all counted.

    • Pre-poll is early voting. We also have voting by mail. Those votes haven’t all arrived yet, because they can be sent from quite far away. These are standard. The big thing here is the sheer number of the pre-poll votes – almost 1/3 of the total votes for Australia.

  2. In our last major election what all those close races gave us was a huge victory for the party out of power, but that was not apparent at first. We also learned just how badly gerrymandering had twisted the elections in some states.

    Hope you end up with a government that has to listen to everyone before choosing a good path.

    • I admit, I do not want the government that has claimed the victory. They are not good economic managers and have destroyed many lives by reducing the welfare net and by giving us 3rd class telecommunications and for them, climate change is fictional. Forcing them to listen is the only way of us not following the US path.