With 67% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC’s election computer was giving Labor 36 of the 59 lower house seats, to 11 Liberals and 5 Nationals. Of the seven doubtful seats, I expect the Liberals to overtake narrow current Labor leads in two seats on late counting. If that happens, Labor will win 38 seats to 21 for the Liberals and Nationals, a reversal of the 2013 result (38 Liberal/Nationals, 21 Labor).
Primary vote shares were 42.8% for Labor (up 9.7 points since the 2013 election), 31.4% for the Liberals (down a massive 15.7 points), 5.4% for the Nationals (down 0.7), 8.5% for the Greens (up 0.1), a disappointing 4.7% for One Nation and 7.2% for all Others (up 1.9). As post-election day votes are processed, I expect Labor’s share to drop slightly, and the Liberals and Greens to slightly improve.
No statewide two party result has been provided by the Electoral Commission, and this will not be known until after all other results are finalised.
At the time of One Nation’s last peak from 1998-2001, they won 9.6% at the 2001 WA election. After polling in the 12-13% range early in the campaign, One Nation’s vote slumped to 7-9% in the final polls. Polls may have overestimated One Nation as they were only standing in 35 of 59 lower house seats.
There were two reasons for One Nation’s loss of support late in the campaign. First, the preference deal with the Liberals damaged their brand: it is hard to be an anti-establishment party if you deal with an established major party. Second, One Nation’s policies received more exposure in the closing days, causing some One Nation supporters who disagreed with the party’s far right agenda to desert.
The preference deal with One Nation also had dire consequences for the Liberals. While the Liberals were behind prior to the deal, it did not appear that Labor would win a landslide before the deal was announced. The fallout from this deal will mean that the Coalition parties and One Nation, in other states and federally, will be more reluctant to trade preferences.
Barnett was deeply unpopular, WA’s economy was weak, and the unpopular Federal government was a drag. These factors made a Labor win probable, but the deal with One Nation probably exacerbated the Liberals’ losses.
This will be Labor’s first true landslide in any state or federally since 2006, when Labor had landslide wins in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. By “landslide”, I mean not just defeating the opposition, but thrashing them in both seat and vote terms. That Labor won a big victory in the most conservative state at Federal level will make it even sweeter for them.
Polling appears to have underestimated the Greens and Labor’s primary votes a little, and overestimated One Nation. Galaxy and Newspoll had the Liberals and Nationals about right, but ReachTEL overestimated their vote.
Fluoride Free could win a seat in WA upper house
While 67% of enrolled voters for the lower house have been tallied, only 47% has been counted in the upper house. The WA upper house is severely malapportioned, and still uses the group voting ticket system that was abolished in the Senate.
Using the group voting tickets, the ABC is currently predicting Labor to win 15 of 36 upper house seats (up 4 since 2013), the Liberals 9 (down 8), the Nationals 4 (down 1), the Greens 3 (up 1), Shooters 2 (up 1) and One Nation, Liberal Democrats and Fluoride Free are currently predicted to win one seat each.
The ABC currently gives one seat to Daylight Saving, but Kevin Bonham spotted an error. The Daylight Saving candidate in Mining and Pastoral region is actually the Shooters candidate.
With the upper house count well behind the lower house count, these results may change. However, currently Fluoride Free is winning a seat in East Metro region on just 0.35%. A quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.
The West Australian election will be held today. Polls close at 6pm local time (9pm Melbourne time). All three polls taken in the last week give Labor a 54-46 lead, which would represent an 11 point swing to Labor since the 2013 election. If this polling is accurate, Labor leads the combined Liberal/National total on primary votes. Here is the WA final poll table.
The last Newspoll was taken in late January. Primary votes in this Newspoll were Labor 41% (up 3), Liberals 32% (up 2), Nationals 5% (steady) One Nation 8% (down 5) and Greens 7% (down 2). 34% (up 2) were satisfied with Premier Colin Barnett’s performance, and 57% (steady) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -23. Opposition leader Mark McGowan had a net approval of +5, down 7 points. 54% thought Labor would win, with 27% backing the Liberals.
The last ReachTEL was taken for Fairfax on 27 February. After excluding 3.5% undecided, this ReachTEL has primary votes of Labor 41.8% (up 6.6), Liberals 33.9% (down 0.7), Nationals 6.0% (down 0.8), One Nation 6.8% (down 1.7) and Greens 6.5% (down 4.2). 61% thought the Liberals should not have entered a preference deal with One Nation, with only 22% in favour.
The only Galaxy poll since the last election was published last Sunday. It had primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.
On better Premier, McGowan led Barnett 45-37 in Newspoll, 56.5-43.5 in ReachTEL and 46-33 in Galaxy.
Much of Labor’s strong primary vote is coming at the expense of the Greens. Greens preferences help Labor in two party terms, so Labor will not do as well from preferences with a low Green primary.
It appears that the preference deal between the Liberals and One Nation has damaged both parties. From a peak of 12-13%, One Nation’s vote has slumped to 7-9%. The Liberals started the campaign behind, and this deal was an attempt to win One Nation lower house preferences. It is now likely that the Liberals will lose by a greater margin than if they had avoided this deal.
There may be shy One Nation voters, but neither ReachTEL nor Newspoll use live phone interviews. ReachTEL is a robopollster, while Newspoll uses robopolling and online panel methods.
Tasmanian EMRS poll: Liberals slump to 35%
A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted 1-4 March from a sample of 1000, has the Liberals on 35% (down 5 since November), Labor on 29% (up 1), the Greens on 19% (up 1), Independents on 10% (down 1) and One Nation on 6%.
Kevin Bonham says that EMRS skews to the Greens and Independents and against Labor. He interprets this poll as having primaries of 37% Liberal, 33% Labor, 16% Greens and 6% One Nation. Under Tasmania’s Hare Clark system, this poll would result in a hung Parliament with the Greens holding the balance of power; Bonham thinks 11 Liberals, 10 Labor, 4 Greens the most likely result.
No approval ratings are provided, but Premier Will Hodgman has a massive 52-20 lead over Labor’s Bryan Green as better Premier. Although better Premier is skewed in favour of the incumbent, the lead should not be this huge on a poll that would result in a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority. It is likely that Green’s lack of popularity is driving this disparity.
With Zelig-like serendipity I was in Stockholm when #lastnightinsweden went viral. While echoing the melancholic majesty of a classic ABBA song title, the hashtag #lastnightinsweden actually referred to yet another Donald Trump dump of alleged “fake news” on an increasingly exhausted world.
We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden? Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.
Trump, it appeared to most observers, was alleging that an act of Islamist terrorism had just occurred in that far-off Nordic land – one that was illustrative of the existential threat faced by the American people and from which only he and his immigration clampdown could save them.
It hadn’t, of course. No atrocity had occurred in Sweden that weekend, Islamist or otherwise. It’s true, there was a minor riot the evening after Trump’s speech in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby when two cars were burnt out and a policeman was yelled at by a man who was possibly Muslim, but it’s more likely that Trump’s remarks caused that ruckus than that he was reacting to it. Even Trump’s most-dedicated admirers don’t believe he can foretell the future.
The hashtag #lastnightinsweden became a global media story – a paradigm case of fake news, as it has come to be called, first by Trump and his advisers and then by the rest of us, ad nauseam.
Since his election in November fake news has become a powerful, ubiquitous meme, replicating and evolving with every iteration of the news cycle until one can’t open a newspaper or download an edition of Breitbart without being greeted by the words “fake” and “news” in some combination or other.
Barack Obama wiretapped the Trump campaign? Fake news!
The Australian accused senator Nick Xenophon of planning to increase taxes? Fake news!
Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and who knows how many other Trump advisers are in cahoots with the Russians? Fake news!
Everyone is familiar with the term by now, indeed over-familiar. Far too many people use it when they shouldn’t, and a lot of people are confused as to what it means. When a word or phrase can be applied to anything, it means nothing.
Brian, they ask me: as a professor of journalism, what is fake news, exactly? So, let me offer a brief user’s guide both to what fake news is, and what it is not.
First, though, let’s remind ourselves that fake news isn’t news. By which I mean not that it isn’t news, which it is at present (stick with me here); but that it isn’t new. On the contrary, fabrication, fakery and falsehood have been part of journalism since the first journalists put quill to parchment.
Award-winning journalists such as Janet Cooke have been exposed as cheats. Her Pulitzer Prize was snatched back La La Land-style when it turned out that her heart-rending story of an eight-year-old heroin addict, little “Jimmy” from the ‘hood, was entirely invented.
In the late 1990s Stephen Glass of the New Republic was found to have fabricated dozens of major feature articles for one of the US’ most-prestigious journalistic publications – also known, at least until Trump took over, as in-flight reading for Air Force One.
In 2002 Jayson Blair of the New York Times became a major news story for plagiarising other journalists’ content, and then making up some more lies all on his own.
In 1997, a Channel 4 documentary production team were caught out faking a story about male prostitutes in Glasgow, and the company was fined. Around the same time Channel 4 also broadcast a fake documentary about Colombian cocaine smugglers.
A few years later the venerable UK Guardian printed a front-page story about Chinese police brutality that turned out to be entirely made up.
So, the idea that journalism is sometimes fabricated, and news sometimes faked, is hardly controversial. Even the term isn’t original.
Jon Stewart’s Daily Show was often referred to as part of the fake news genre which emerged in the 1990s – in his and Stephen Colbert’s case it meant savagely sarcastic commentaries on, and satirical parodies and pastiches of, “real” news as produced by the US networks.
They, and more recent comedians such as John Oliver, had and have great fun with the absurdities and pretensions of Fox News in particular, although they are deeply serious in their underlying purpose: to blow the whistle on bullshit of the type that Fox pours out daily.
They and publications such as the UK’s Private Eye, The Onion and Daily Currant have succeeded by providing a form of “fake” news that is obviously untrue and functions as commentary on the mainstream news media, but is just close enough to the real thing in style and form to be genuinely funny as satire.
These “fakers” are not journalists, as Oliver stressed in an interview with the Sunday Times this week, although they can be at least as influential as the most po-faced of pundits.
So, fake news is not in itself news. What is particular about our era, however, is that the term has become a widely used political tool, to denounce journalistic content with which one disagrees on the one hand, and to attack free and independent media on the other.
Because of its use by Trump and his supporters, the concept has become a core political issue, now impacting on the freedom of the media in the US and elsewhere. Questions around the veracity and authenticity of journalism have become central to concerns about the health of journalism and the Fourth Estate more broadly.
These debates are not merely academic, but essential to the evolution (and perhaps survival) of liberal-democratic societies in the 21st century.
The capacity of the digitised, globalised, networked media space to disseminate news and information of all kinds, including unsubstantiated rumour, malicious gossip and content which is fake or in some other way problematic, has coincided with a particular political moment where journalistic objectivity and professionalism are under challenge from state and non-state political actors as never before.
Some call it a “crisis” of objective journalism – and it is. But I hate crisis narratives so I won’t.
Remember that the critique of objectivity goes back to Einstein, and was then reinforced by postmodernism and cultural relativism. The left, exemplified by the likes of Noam Chomsky, never believed in objectivity anyway, while the right didn’t care about the truth of anything as long as it made money. Fox News is a Murdoch company, and Murdoch claims to believe in objective journalism.
What is new, though, is the politicisation of this struggle over truth.
Globally, Vladimir Putin has since 2010 or so deliberately cultivated disinformation, propaganda and myth as part of his hybrid warfare campaign against liberal democracy and unmanly things like gay rights and Pussy Riot.
His people didn’t shoot down MH17, oh no. That was the Ukrainian neo-fascists, or the CIA, or the EU.
He didn’t order the killing of Boris Nemtsov, or Alexander Litvinenko, or Anna Politovskaya, oh no. That was the Islamists (whom he hates just as much as Trump).
The Trump campaign studied the Putin playbook carefully, and has brought it into the Oval Office. Flood the global public sphere, it instructs them, with lies and conspiracy theories for long enough – birther movement, anyone? Pizzagate? – and some sucker, somewhere, will buy it.
Alas for America and the world, Putin was right. Just enough of those useful American idiots bought into the Trump mythology to give us Melania as First Lady, Ivanka as counsellor-in-chief and alt-right white supremacist Steve Bannon as the One-To-Rule-Them-All.
But we are where we are.
Fake news is not journalism you dislike or disagree with, for whatever reason. That’s just journalism, dude, as practised in the democratic world for four centuries and more. Get used to it.
Fake news is not stuff that other people say that you don’t like or agree with. If Pauline Hanson says she thinks Australians would like Vladimir Putin as leader – which she did on ABC’s Insiders the other day – that’s not fake news.
Fake news is not the unintentional misleading of audiences by journalists and news organisations, if they are sincerely applying the conventions of objectivity but producing erroneous content because of human error or organisational dysfunction. Mistakes happen.
And fake news is not the unintentional misleading by media of their audiences, when it is rooted in intentional deception and misleading by dishonest sources. When The Guardian led with that story about Chinese brutality, that wasn’t fake news.
All of the above are part of journalism’s history, and we must be vigilant in calling out errors and sloppiness in the news production process. But they are not fake news as the term is currently being used.
Fake news, in the contemporary context, is simply this: intentional disinformation (invention or falsification of known facts) for political and/or professional purposes, such as the fabrications of Stephen Glass or the activities of paid-for Kremlin trolls trying to prove that Russian troops are not in Ukraine and that Russia didn’t annex Crimea.
Fake news is when Michael Flynn Jr., the son of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn Sr. (he who lied about meeting the Russian ambassador to reassure him that once that uppity Obama was out of the way, sanctions would be lifted), disseminated the Pizzagate story before the US election (the story that leading Democrats were involved in a paedophile ring centred on a Washington burger joint).
Fake news is when organisations like Fox News and Breitbart report these stories as credible, knowing them to be fairytales.
So, what about #lastnightinsweden? Was that fake news, or just Trump being Trump?
I was in Stockholm when the story broke, as I mentioned before, and here is what I learnt from the journalism students I was teaching that week.
Trump, as was made clear by his own “alternative facts” people in the following days, was referring not to an actual thing that happened “last night in Sweden”, but a Fox News item he’d watched “last night”, in which an alleged documentary-maker by the name of Ami Horowitz had described some of the integration challenges faced by the Swedes after they took in nearly 200,000 migrants from the messy and out-of-control war George W Bush started back in 2003.
The young journalism students in my class confirmed that, yes, there were issues around the integration of so many foreigners into such a small and relatively homogeneous country in such a short time. But nothing “last night”, and nothing that one wouldn’t find in every country which had taken in migrants over the decades and centuries (not least the US, with its long history of migration from all over the world).
One student pointed out that Horowitz’s documentary had been condemned by one of the policemen quoted in it. The Swedish cop’s words had been edited out of all context, and this student named Horowitz as a “far-right activist” not to be trusted as an honest reporter of anything to do with Sweden.
On the way to the airport when leaving Stockholm, my Uber driver told me that he was an Iraqi Jew, a refugee from Saddam decades before, who had found a home and a life free from persecution in Sweden. He spoke five languages, he told me with pride, and had children in Australia as well as Sweden (we discussed the weather down under with some longing).
He told me that he, as a Jew, had been subject to anti-Semitic abuse by other taxi drivers, young Muslims in particular, and suggested Trump was quite right in his attitudes to Islamism.
Was #lastnightinsweden fake news or not, then? I’d say not.
What it was was a famously lazy populist latching onto a poorly researched piece of journalism that reflected his worldview (Horowitz’s documentary), which he had come across while watching the “fair and balanced” Fox News – his preferred news source when not reading the National Enquirer.
Fox News was only doing what it always does, as was Trump. Calling #lastnightinsweden fake news elevates it to a level of calculation and conspiracy that probably wasn’t justified (it’s always possible that Bannon or some other nutjob in the inner circle planned it as a diversionary tactic).
In the end, it was just crap journalism, endorsed by a wannabee despot who knows that stirring up ethnic hatred is what his followers respond to best.
As for what to do about fake news? I’ll come back to that. For now, remember the revolutionary power of laughter, and watch the Daily Show for the real news.
The past four years have not been kind to Western Australia. Coming off a once-in-a-lifetime boom, the bust, which for some reason the state always forgets to anticipate, is cutting deep, and it’s proving a problem for the Barnett-led Coalition government.
It’s worse in some remote parts of the state, where property prices have dropped by up to 75% over the last three years.
For those who have maintained their jobs, many are still in a worse financial position as bonuses and other financial incentives from the boom dry up. Others managing to find employment now have reduced salaries.
The public education system has increased its share of the students in each of the last five years. Part of this rise has been attributed to the downturn in the economy, as people divert money from school fees to the mortgage and other essentials. This in turn adds costs to the state budget.
Who’s responsible for this situation?
During his two terms, Premier Colin Barnett has projected the image of a leader in control. Treasurers have come and gone, and most ministers have minimal presence in the media. Barnett is the face of the government, and he bares the brunt of a scared and angry population, wondering what happened to his 2009 promise of a 20-year boom with growth of 5-7% a year.
During the recent leaders’ debate on February 22, Barnett pointed to his government’s investment in schools and health, with construction of the Fiona Stanley and new Perth Children’s hospitals. The latter has yet to open and is now more than a year behind schedule.
Labor leader Mark McGowan is running an old-fashioned scare campaign claiming prices will rise if the monopoly is sold. Energy prices have long been contentious in Western Australia, with the Barnett government overseeing a 67% price increase for households since 2009, admittedly off an artificially low base. McGowan is arguing the state should not sell off a revenue-generating monopoly to deal with the debt.
The second issue is public transport. The Barnett government has broken promises to deliver improved services to the outer suburbs of Perth, in places such as Ellenbrook.
The government’s key 2013 election transport promise of Max light-rail was abandoned as the state’s economic situation deteriorated.
Labor has resurrected its highly popular Metronet rail plan from the last election. Federal leader Bill Shorten is promising to help fund the plan should Labor return to government at the national level.
The costs of Metronet appear rubbery at the moment, but WA Labor is also planning to divert federal funding from the controversial Roe 8 highway.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated the Commonwealth will not allow the diversion of funds, McGowan is pointing to the success of the Victorian Labor government in cancelling the East-West Link and using the funding for other projects.
WA is also seeing an increase in crime, some of which is linked to the so-called ice epidemic. Both parties are promising to be tough on crime. The Liberals are promising mandatory sentencing and Labor is advocating a maximum sentence of life for meth dealers.
During his blink-and-you-miss-it trip west, Turnbull disappointed Liberals with his lack of a plan to provide WA with its fair share of GST. Barnett has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the claimed A$4.7 billion annual shortfall in funds would help with the budget deficit.
Just how big is the swing to Labor?
There are 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals go into the election holding 30 seats and the Nationals seven, for a total of 37. Labor holds 21 seats. There’s one independent, former Liberal minister Rob Johnson.
Polling has been somewhat inconsistent. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian on February 19 showed a two-party-preferred (TPP) result of 50-50. The two previous polls had Labor at 52-48 on TPP.
On February 23, The West published a private poll of marginal seats funded by advocacy group, The Parenthood, again conducted by ReachTEL. The West noted a surge to Labor, with all six seats polled (Southern River, Perth, Mt Lawley, Wanneroo, Joondalup and Bicton) predicted to fall with an average TPP swing of 15%.
Fairfax commissioned a ReachTEL poll published on March 3, in which Labor had a 52-48 lead on the TPP vote. The swing of 9% suggests Labor could fall one seat short in its bid to gain government.
How important are One Nation Preferences?
From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Barnett’s preference deal with One Nation is a legitimate gamble. His unpopular government is facing electoral defeat and with One Nation’s fortunes on the rise again in WA, shoring up the two party preferred vote is essential.
There are risks in the deal. The first question put to the premier by the panel at the leaders’ debate focused on how a man with integrity could engage in a “dirty preference deal”. While One Nation may have become more politically savvy, the party’s distasteful views remain and trying to suggest the party reflects mainstream opinion is disingenuous.
Barnett risks losing preferences from Nationals who are outraged at being placed behind One Nation in the Legislative Council, Greens who won’t direct their preferences on principle, and moderate Liberals protesting the deal.
The flow of preferences from One Nation supporters isn’t guaranteed either. Despite Pauline Hanson’s “it’s my party, I am the leader and I make the deals” position, a number of WA One Nation candidates are unhappy. Two were disendorsed — although it is unclear how large a role their position on the preference deal played.
A week out, the bookmakers have Labor at A$1.30 and the Coalition at A$3.40. The betting would suggest that WA is about to have a change of government.
The proposed housing affordability package in the May budget will target people relying on social housing as well as those trying to break into the market, Treasurer Scott Morrison has said.
Morrison said housing would be a very strong focus of the budget and he stressed the rental side.
“It won’t just deal with the challenges faced by first home-owners,” he said. “You have got to remember that over 30% of Australians actually live in homes that are rented, and when people are finding it hard to get into the housing market that puts a lot more pressure on the rental market.”
Noting that the number of people on low incomes in rental stress had gone up, Morrison said: “I am as much concerned about someone who is on a low income struggling with their rent as I am with someone who I know wants to get on the home-ownership market themselves. They are both important challenges for Australians.”
Morrison renewed his criticism of “one of the most disgraceful failures of public spending” – the National Affordable Housing Agreement. This was “a one-way cash ATM to the states which asks for nothing in return.
“We are handing over A$1.3 billion every year and the number of people on public housing waiting lists has gone up. The number of social housing dwellings which are owned by the state governments has gone down. We have basically shelled out billions and billions and billions for a program that isn’t achieving anything,” he told Sky. These were matters that would be addressed in the budget.
“We have to spend that money better. We don’t necessarily need to spend less on that. It is a very important issue,” he said.
He was frustrated as treasurer that while serious money was spent on a lot of problems, “the debate is so often that you need to spend more here. No, just spend what you are spending really well and more effectively and get the outcomes that we are accountable for.”
He said social housing often got overlooked in the debate, and he was “quite passionate” about it.
The Victorian government at the weekend announced relief from stamp duty for first home-buyers purchasing properties below $600,000. Investment properties would not be eligible.
There will be a concession, applied on a sliding scale, for properties between $600,000 and $750,000. The exemption and concession applies to both new and established properties and the state government says it will help 25,000 Victorians with first homes.
Morrison also highlighted the problem of flat wages growth and the consequences that brought.
“Whether it is the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme], whether it is schools, whether it is hospitals, whether it is Medicare – at a time when wages growth is admittedly and regrettably flat, Australians – particularly hard-working Australians on middle incomes – rely more and more and depend more and more on these services,” he said.
“And so the budget does need to signal, and the government has been signalling this, the need to ensure that people can feel confident about the support for those services.”
He made it clear that any improvement in commodity prices or wages growth would be used for budget repair rather than for new spending.
With an eye to the imperative that the budget must be convincing to the ratings agencies, Morrison said: “We have to deal with the political environment that we work in. You can’t just go out there and announce a whole range of things which you don’t have a reasonable prospect of being able to implement.”
He said Labor seemed “to be engaged in a very cynical process of sabotaging the budget to try and crash the AAA rating”.
“They won’t engage in getting spending under control, they want to see the nation’s welfare bill be higher. They want to tax people more to pay for a higher welfare bill.”
Alert readers in the eastern states may have heard that their neglected cousins in the West are about to go to the polls. So what, I hear you say. It won’t make much difference at the national level, and the whole business is stupefyingly dull in any case.
You might have a point. But while the various campaigns have been a little underwhelming, and the candidates are somewhat lacking in charisma – a good quality in my view, by the way – the entire process has a wider significance, if only for students of comparative politics.
Disenchantment with democratic politics is a famously global phenomenon. It’s hard to think of a single country where the local political class is not regarded with scepticism or outright contempt. Politicians are routinely regarded as self-interested careerists with little time for, or understanding of, the needs of “ordinary” people.
According to a poll published in the Financial Review, Western Australians are no different. No less than 45% of the population described themselves as “fed up with both major parties”. It’s not hard to see why radicals, reactionaries and even racists might flourish in such an environment.
I have always thought that part of Australia’s problem is its antiquated federal system: there are simply too many politicians per person performing overlapping and/or duplicated roles – or doing nothing at all – at enormous and needless expense to the long-suffering taxpayer. And yet given the universal demise of democracy, there’s plainly more going on than just the mediocrity of our local representatives.
Nor is the idea that “they” don’t represent “us” entirely convincing. True, the major parties have to try to appeal to a wide spectrum of beliefs that they can’t hope to satisfactorily represent. But there’s no shortage of niche political products on offer that look to cater for every taste and interest.
The net result is that the traditional parties are losing members to special interests, while the anachronistic idiosyncrasies of our electoral system mean that formerly fringe players can now stop the big parties from actually doing anything.
When the balance of political power is tight – as it always seems to be these days – opportunists, defectors and egoists can add to the picture of dysfunction and incompetence.
WA is no exception to any of this. On the contrary, the political gene pool is a bit on the shallow side.
Whether WA politicians are really that much worse than their counterparts elsewhere is debatable, but what is self-evident is that the much-hyped resource boom has been squandered. WA is also a timely reminder that house prices can go down as well as up.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this election actually flows from the mining bust. There is a noteworthy spilt within Coalition ranks over how to deal with the overwhelmingly foreign-owned multinationals that dominate the WA economy.
WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has bravely broken with his Liberal colleagues – and decades of bipartisan policy – in suggesting that the mining levy paid by Rio Tinto and BHP should be lifted from 25 cents per tonne to A$5.
The reaction of the big miners was entirely predictable: a lavishly funded campaign suggesting that such a tax is unsupportable and unaffordable. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? Such a campaign worked pretty effectively against Kevin Rudd, after all.
Interestingly, despite the miners throwing the political kitchen sink at Grylls, nearly 40% of Western Australians still think it’s a good idea.
Equally interesting has been the reaction of the other parties. The Liberals have criticised Grylls’ policy and even made a groundbreaking preference deal with One Nation ahead of the Nationals in the upper house. Even though the mining boom is over, it seems that Sandgropers are going to have to live with the politics of the “resource curse”.
Significantly, WA Labor’s “Plan for Jobs” makes hardly any mention of policy toward the resource industry, despite its dominant position in the state economy. Perhaps this reflects a recognition that the mining sector doesn’t actually employ that many people – especially now the investment phase of development is over. More likely it reflects an unwillingness to risk the same fate as Rudd.
Nobody seems to know who is going to win next week’s election – or whether the outcome will make the slightest difference to the state’s fate.
Mark McGowan looks to have a sporting chance of consigning Colin Barnett to the political scrapheap. He may be doing him a favour: Barnett increasingly comes across as testy and past his use-by date.
I’m a professor of political science and I don’t know if I can be bothered to go and vote. Not a good example to the students, I know. It’s not just the fact my vote won’t be decisive, but that I wouldn’t know who to give it to if I did.
Living in leafy Cottesloe with the premier as my member, I can’t vote for the Nationals even if I wanted to. Where’s the Socialist Workers’ Party when you need them?