How much influence will independents and minor parties have this election? Please explain


Chris Salisbury, The University of Queensland

For some time now, Australian voters have rattled the cage of the political establishment. Frustrated with prime ministerial “coups”, political scandals and policy inertia, growing numbers have turned away from the major parties.

Does this mean minor parties and independent candidates will have a significant impact on the coming federal election?

Anti-major party sentiment doesn’t usually disrupt the numbers in parliament by much. Only five of 150 seats weren’t won by the major parties at the 2016 federal election, despite a national minor party/independent vote of over 23%. But a nationwide minor party Senate vote of over 35% in 2016 resulted in a record 20 crossbenchers – helped by a lower quota bar at a double dissolution election.

Familiar groups and faces are well placed to capitalise on this sentiment during the current election campaign.




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Chasing the protest vote

Despite internal instability rocking its New South Wales branch, the Greens will hope to capitalise on growing progressive support (in Victoria especially) and an expected anti-Coalition swing to secure Senate influence.

Yet with recent Senate voting rule changes being tested for the first time at a normal half-Senate election, the Greens may in fact struggle to retain, let alone build on, their current nine Senate spots. Final Senate seats in most states will be fought over by a slew of (mainly right-wing) minor parties.

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP), Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON), and – unlikely as it seems – Fraser Anning’s new Conservative National Party will chase the “protest vote” in all states and (apart from PHON) territories.

But intense competition for the conservative vote means they and other minor parties stand only an outside chance of winning lower house seats. One exception is Bob Katter likely holding Kennedy in north Queensland for his eponymous Australian Party.

Still, an expected high minor party vote will keep the major parties – and the media – focused on preferencing arrangements throughout the campaign. These preferences will likely play a key role in electing minor party candidates to the Senate, potentially returning familiar faces like One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts from Queensland.

Deference to preferences

Recent opinion poll results have unexpectedly placed Palmer’s party ahead of the field of minor parties on the right. Months of saturation advertising, it seems, have imprinted the billionaire’s messaging on voters’ minds. Yet this sudden poll prominence, like Palmer’s billboard pledge to “make Australia great”, is largely illusory.

Nevertheless, both major parties have responded to this seeming upsurge in UAP support. The Coalition has hurriedly concluded a preferencing arrangement that sees Palmer and Prime Minister Scott Morrison somewhat “reconciled”. The deal might deliver much-needed preferences to Coalition MPs in marginal seats, particularly in Queensland. It also increases the chances of Palmer candidates – and the man himself – winning a Senate seat.

But these are big “maybes”. Minor party voters are renowned for following their own preference choices. In 2013, voters’ preferences from Palmer’s United Party candidates split only 54% the Coalition’s way.

Clearly stung by the attention being shown to Palmer, Hanson has announced PHON will preference Labor last in some key marginal seats held by Liberal incumbents. That includes Peter Dutton, whose seat of Dickson is under siege. In 2016, PHON took a different approach when it preferenced against sitting MPs, costing the Coalition its hold on Queensland seats like Herbert and Longman.

As part of the same deal, PHON will exchange preferences with the Nationals – whose leader Michael McCormack claimed “it just made sense” – lifting the Nationals’ hopes in marginal and at-risk regional seats.

Labor has also sealed a deal to boost its chances in marginal Victorian seats, concluding an arrangement with Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. This will see Labor how-to-vote cards in tightly contested seats like Dunkley and Corangamite suggest second preferences go to Hinch’s Senate candidates ahead of the Greens (repeating Labor’s approach at the 2016 election).




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The reputational risks of preference deals

But doing preference deals with minor parties carries reputational risks, as former Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has warned. As has often been the case with personality-driven outfits, choosing suitable or qualified candidates easily brings minor parties undone.

Anning’s party has already stumbled badly. A pair of candidates in Victoria and the ACT has been called into question, and a party supporter allegedly assaulted journalists in Sydney.

Hanson’s party, no stranger to this pitfall, is still hosing down the controversy of the Al Jazeera taped conversations with party insiders, which has likely cost the party some support. Freshly released video footage has now forced Queensland Senate candidate, Steve Dickson, to resign in disgrace, in another blow to the often shambolic party’s standing.

Palmer’s candidates are similarly coming under scrutiny with doubts raised over citizenship qualifications, putting legitimate doubts into voters’ minds just as pre-polling has commenced.

Familiarity is key for independents

The best chances for independents are in lower house seats, yet there’s been only a dozen elected to parliament in the last several decades. Those who’ve broken through in election campaigns, like Kerryn Phelps at last year’s Wentworth byelection, typically benefit when there’s some controversy or ill-feeling towards an incumbent or their party.

But in the absence of full-on media glare of a high-profile by-election contest, Phelps might struggle to hold her seat – assuming the angst of local voters over Malcolm Turnbull’s deposing has dissipated.

Personal profile and high media interest puts Zali Steggall in with a chance to unseat Tony Abbott in Warringah. Likewise, a well-organised local campaign structure such as “Voices for Indi” behind Cathy McGowan’s hopeful successor, Helen Haines, can make the difference – though transition of support from one independent to another isn’t assured.

Newcomers on the ballot paper generally find the odds against them. Candidates with an established record and voter recognition, such as Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania’s Clark (like the Greens’ Adam Bandt in Melbourne and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie in South Australia’s Mayo), enjoy an easier path to reelection.

Similarly, Rob Oakeshott is given a good chance of winning the New South Wales seat of Cowper from retiring Nationals MP, Luke Hartsuyker. He carries strong name recognition from his time as Independent MP for the neighbouring seat of Lyne.

But recognition alone mightn’t be enough for Julia Banks, the former Liberal MP for Chisholm in Victoria who is now challenging in Greg Hunt’s seat of Flinders. Her decision to preference Labor’s candidate above Hunt might turn away potential support from Liberal-leaning voters, yet could put the seat within Labor’s grasp.




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Minors and independents cloud the outcome

The chances of an “independent tide” sweeping several seats this election is unlikely, in part due to the ability of major parties to drown out the competition. And counter to long speculation about the “march of the minors”, there could in fact be a reduced crossbench in both the lower house and Senate.

But voter dissatisfaction with the major parties persists, and minor party preferences are likely to play a critical role in many seats.

The prominence of minor parties will maintain an air of unpredictability for the remainder of the campaign, clouding an election outcome many saw not long ago as a foregone conclusion.The Conversation

Chris Salisbury, Research Associate, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Australia: 2019 NSW Election


NSW election neck and neck as voters face a 1950s-style ‘I’ll see you and raise you’ campaign


David Clune, University of Sydney

On Saturday, March 23, the people of New South Wales will head to the ballot boxes for a state election. It is looking increasingly close, with polls showing government and opposition neck and neck on about 50% of the two-party preferred vote. This is a decline in the Coalition vote of 4% compared to the 2015 election.

The current campaign is reminiscent of a 1950s “I’ll see you and raise you” one. Government and opposition are engaged in an auction to outbid each other in the amounts committed to schools, hospitals, transport and other basic services. The campaign is one of the quietest in a long time, with little excitement about the respective leaders and no major clash of visions for the future.




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Mike Baird’s victory in 2015 laid the foundation for this. The then Coalition leader won a mandate to privatise the state’s electricity network, although sacrificing seats his successor would be glad to have in reserve. The mountains of money produced by this and other privatisations have allowed Premier Gladys Berejiklian to go to the election with a massive war chest.

In addition, the NSW economy is in good shape, performing well compared to most other states. The budget is in surplus and predicted to remain there. Net debt is negative. Unemployment is at a record low.

The Coalition government has a large array of infrastructure projects in progress, including the Westconnex and Northconnex motorways, Sydney Metro – the largest public transport project in Australia – and the CBD and South East light rail. The amount committed for infrastructure over the next four years is just under A$90 billion.

Berejiklian’s pitch is: don’t jeopardise all this by electing Labor. She is keen to remind the electorate of the factional bloodletting, policy paralysis and corruption that marked the final years of the last ALP government in NSW. The release during the campaign of Ian Macdonald, another ex-ALP minister, after his conviction was quashed, assisted the government by putting their misdeeds back on the front pages.

The Coalition also has some significant problems. Overdevelopment is devastating many Sydney suburbs. Residents angry at the disruption to their lives are likely to turn against the Liberals. The premier will not be presiding at many opening ceremonies for infrastructure projects before the election. More apparent are cost over-runs, delays and short-term inconvenience.

The general unpopularity of the federal Coalition government is a handicap for its NSW counterpart. In rural NSW, a belief that the Nationals have neglected voters’ interests could cost the government seats.




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Opposition Leader Michael Daley struggled at first to gain momentum and attention. His campaign ignited three weeks out from polling day when he took on influential radio commentator Alan Jones over the Sydney stadiums issue. This has been a festering sore for the government since November 2017, when Berejiklian announced that both Allianz Stadium at Moore Park and ANZ Stadium at Homebush would be simultaneously demolished and rebuilt at an estimated cost of A$2.5 billion.

The public outcry at what was seen as wasteful expense was so great that she quickly backed off. The rebuilding of Allianz would proceed, but ANZ would now be renovated, saving A$1 billion.

Labor quickly seized on the issue, opposing the demolition of Allianz and coining the effective slogan of “schools and hospitals before Sydney stadiums”.

Jones is a member of the prestigious Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, which controls Allianz and has lobbied strongly for its rebuilding. Daley attacked Jones and promised to sack him and most members of the trust.

Daley instantly became the people’s politician, unafraid to stand up to a powerful broadcaster and an elite board. He put the stadium issue back at the centre of the campaign. It crystallised the perception that the government is more concerned about developers and big business than the community.

But does Daley have anything more positive to offer? There is some policy differentiation.

Labor has promised there will be no more privatisations and will re-regulate the electricity industry. Labor also has stronger policies on the environment and climate change than the Coalition. It will be more generous to the public sector. But the main thrust of Daley’s campaign is: we will give you more of the same but do it better.

The government has 52 of the 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The opposition holds 34. A uniform swing of nearly 9%, just under what it achieved at the last election, would be needed for Labor to gain a majority in its own right.

A feature of this poll is the difference between Sydney and the bush. In 2015, Labor picked up most of the low-hanging fruit in Sydney and only a handful of seats are in play this time. In rural and regional NSW, the Nationals face a strong challenge from independents and minor parties.

If the government loses six seats, it will be in a minority. After appointing a speaker, its numbers would drop to 45. The crossbench would be in a crucial position.

Currently, there are seven crossbench MPs in the lower house: three Greens, a Shooter and three independents (Alex Greenwich, Joe McGirr and Greg Piper). The Greens have already indicated they would support the Coalition. Greenwich is on the left and has close links with his predecessor, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. The other three are more conservatively inclined. The election of additional crossbenchers would add to the unpredictability.

Daley is hoping the electorate has forgotten about Obeid and that accumulated dissatisfaction with the government will translate into a victory for him. The result hinges on whether voters have lost faith in the Coalition to the extent that they are prepared to trust Labor again.The Conversation

David Clune, Honorary Associate, Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.