Did the lack of even an alliance of convenience between Labor and the Greens result in the re-election of the Liberal-National Coalition in the last Federal election? If the result had been different, what would Australia look like now? How would Australia's political parties respond to such a change? Is there sufficient justification for such an alliance to exist in the future? These are questions that can only be answered with a very careful consideration of the facts at hand, and with equal diligence in the more predictive and prescriptive aspects.
The 2016 Federal Election
The last Australian Federal election was held in July 2016, after a lengthy eight-week campaign and a double-dissolution. All major newspapers, with the exception of the Sunday Age, recommended a return of the LNP government under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, who had taken the leadership from the deeply unpopular Abbott government from September the year prior, and was a first term government. The major issues of the campaign were Labor's policies on negative gearing, concerns over the privitisation of Medicare, and debates over the political and economic management of the last Labor government. The election resulted in a two-party preferred swing against the government of 3.13% and a marginal victory on TPP overall (50.36% vs 49.64%), with the loss of 14 seats (LNP 76 seats, ALP 69 seats, GRN 1, XEN 1, KAT 1, Ind 2). On primary vote, the LNP lost 3.51% (42.04%), the ALP gained 1.35% (34.73%), the GRN gained 1.58% (10.23%), and XEN (new party) gained 1.85%.
A review of the changing seats indicates that Labor's gains were primarily mid-to-outer suburban and regional, which are places of lower-than-average income, and higher unemployment. Labor's TPP vote declined in the inner city seats, losing Chisolm, and losing ground in several inner urban Brisbane seats. Labor almost lost the inner urban seat Batman to the Greens and depended on a majority Liberal Party preferences to retain that seat - and to a lesser extent in Wills. Every single Labor gain depended on Green preferences, except Herbert (where One Nation preferences the difference), and Labor and the Greens had a preference agreement (likewise, the one Green seat was won with ALP preferences), and likewise the LNP preferenced the ALP above the GRN. In some seats other parties and independents also contributed significantly (Macarthur, Lindsay, Hindmarsh, Solomon). Green primary votes increased in inner urban regions, but has all but collapsed in the outer suburbs.
A Hypothetical Coalition
Dispute of the brief description provided is a dispute over facts. More controversial are the speculative scenarios and predictions which nevertheless are also based on facts, but also have estimates and uncertainties. The first, looking towards the LNP, is that the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull was necessary for victory. As a neoliberal, Turnbull is deeply unpopular among the more social conservative faction of the Liberal Party. Most commentators are of the opinion that Abbott provided a needling, simple-minded opposition, that capitalised on the ALP's extraordinary internal divisions. In actual government Abbott was deeply unpopular, with the ALP leading the LNP in TPP votes almost throughout of Abbott's leadership, with a 55%-45% TPP probable, which would have certainly meant a majority ALP government. Those who think a Tony Abbott leadership would have won the 2016 Federal election are almost certainly deluded by their own ideology.
Exploring a counterfactual Labor-Green Coalition for the 2016 Federal election, requires comparison with the operation of the coalition between the Liberal Party and National Party. Whilst preferential voting was introduced at least in part to allow for "three-cornered contests" in contemporary times when the LNP operate in coalition there is considered avoidance of such competitions recognising not only the effects of preference leakage, but more importantly, the allocation of campaign resources. In general the electoral agreement means that the partner does not campaign against sitting members of the coalition. Coalition partners do compete against each other in opposition held seats (e.g., Ballarat) or where the sitting member has retired (e.g., Murray). Even if a formal coalition does not exist, a similar electoral alliance could exist where the parties does engage in contests against each other, but with agreement on the allocation of campaign resources.
In such a scenario, Labor would not run, or would run a "flat" campaign in Melbourne. The same would apply for the Greens in Batman and Wills, rather than Sydney and Grayndler, North Sydney and Wentworth, rather than Fremantle, Curtin, and so forth. In Realpolitik this may seem to be a significant ask of the Greens who have bated breath in the prospect of winning at least Batman from a less than popular sitting Labor member. However, even allowing for locational leakage from re-allocation of electoral resources, the numbers suggest that a Labor-Green coalition or alliance would have resulted in a much closer result in Higgins, and perhaps even a Greens victory. Likewise for Labor, the redirection of resources would have almost certainly resulted in victory in Chilsolm, and probably Forde, La Trobe, Petrie, and Dunkley. If half of these seats fell to the ALP, then the LNP would have been defeated. An alliance would make such a result probable, a coalition virtually a certainty.
The Spoils of Defeat
For Turnbull, the marginal victory has been condemned by conservatives and he has lacked the political will to emphasize how a loss would have been extremely likely under a conservative leadership. With the only major economic policy being a partisan opposition to Labor's sound housing policy, the Australian economy has stalled, entering negative growth, increased unemployment, and astoundingly new levels of government debt. Given the current international circumstances, it is difficult to imagine the economic situation improving.
On other issues, instead of having a prime minister who lacks the numbers and courage to stare down his internal opposition, Australia would already have marriage equality, and it certainly wouldn't the Australian Christian Lobby directing the government on the Safe Schools Program. There would have been an emissions trading scheme back in place instead of subsidies for 'clean coal'.
The Future Political Environment
The key question that effects every political organisation is their relationship between achieving power and achieving social change. Partisan loyalties are often strong to members of political organisations, and certainly among political representatives who often have an astounding inability to recognise their own temporal limitations. For an organisation that does not seek political power in its own name, there is some advantage in being able to take a degree of neutrality in such matters. Does it really matter who introduces an emissions trading scheme to fund renewable technology industries? Or who introduces the legislation to ensure that this country finally drags itself into the new century by introducing marriage equality? Or who has the political courage to end the insane existing policies of negative gearing and capital gains tax against those powerful vested interests which make housing increasingly unaffordable? Who are prepared to defend and extend public health prevention, insurance, and single-payer pharmaceuticals? Who would be prepared to introduce a lasting infrastructure in the form of FTTP National Broadband Network. In the long run, a Liberal Party would be prepared to introduce these liberal policies would be preferable to a Labor Party who would not.
Political organisation however, tend to reflect social class interests as much as they reflect ideology commitments. The carefully documentation form the assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, Kos Samaras, is worth reviewing in this consideration even if it is largely limited to said state. With a careful and factual approach Samaras points out that the beneficiaries of the "new economy" vote Liberal or Greens, whereas those who have suffered from it vote ALP or One Nation - which also outlines the future political battlegrounds; Liberal vs Green, ALP vs One Nation. The Greens, under Di Natale's leadership, have become a party of radical liberalism rather than their origins as eco-socialists, and whilst that has generated electoral gains it has also led to a factional division. For its part, Labor has returned to being a party that focusses working-class interests primarily - even if that is a shrinking population as a whole.
It seems that the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull is terminal, lacking the internal numbers to promote his more centrist policies, the hard right and mad evangelists have taken the opportunity to assert control of the party. As Turnbull's poll numbers and political behaviour languishes, it will be only a matter of time before there is a new leadership spill, probably led by Abbott, in time for the 2019 Federal election. In the meantime, with a careful analysis of policy issues the inner-city liberalism of the Greens can in fact form a united approach with the suburban and regional social democracy of Labor, based on using different approaches to reach similar conclusions. Of course, this is faced with the difficulties of dealing with right-wing Labor MPs who would prefer to deal with the Liberals rather than the Greens, or Green members who think acquiring a seat off Labor is good even if it means the return of a conservative government. Against such partisanship extremists there are those who see the possibility of marching separately and striking together - and politics is the art of the possible.
The Isocracy Network is hosting a meeting for those interested in a Labor and Green alliance at Loi Loi, 364 Victoria Street, Richmond, Victoria, Australia, on Friday 10th February from 19:00-21:00
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