Labor has won the 2017 Western Australian election in a landslide, sweeping aside the long-running Barnett government and installing Labor’s Mark McGowan as the state’s 30th premier.
The ABC is predicting Labor will win 40 seats, doubling its current number of seats held and providing it with a clear majority.
The Liberals look to have held only 14 of their 30 seats, while the Nationals appear to have held five of their seven lower house seats. Several seats technically remain in doubt.
Labor’s victory is Perth-based. Thirty-five of the 40 predicted seats it won are based in the metropolitan area. Within the three non-metropolitan regions, Labor has held Kimberley and Albany, and likely picked up only three seats – Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Murray-Wellington. All, except Kimberley, are in the state’s south-west.
State-wide, the One Nation vote in the Legislative Assembly is only 4.7%. It looks like One Nation could win two seats in the Legislative Council, one in Mining and Pastoral and the other in the south-west. This is below the results expected prior to Pauline Hanson’s disastrous trip to WA.
This was an election where the vote was driven by dislike of the sitting government, rather than attraction to the opposition.
It’s rare for a party to gain a third term in WA, and the Barnett government has been trailing in the polls for some time. In particular, as the face of his government, Premier Colin Barnett is deeply unpopular across the state.
The election day ReachTEL poll of 2,573 voters, published in The West Australian, had Labor on a two-party-preferred vote of 54% to 46%. Of those planning to vote Labor, 27.2% said their main reason was that “It’s time for a change of government”, and 16.3% said “I don’t like Colin Barnett”.
McGowan will become premier after surviving a somewhat bizarre challenge on his leadership last March by former federal Labor minster Stephen Smith.
McGowan, who has been opposition leader since 2012, has patiently plugged away at the government.
In the strained economic circumstances in which WA finds itself, it is difficult to run a campaign full of expensive promises. The most high-profile of Labor’s policies was its declaration that it would not sell Western Power, which the government hoped to use to reduce state debt by around A$8 billion.
Labor also campaigned heavily on public transport, which the government had failed to deliver on over its last two terms.
The Metronet rail network plan gained a place in the public imagination during the 2013 campaign. The basics of the plan survived Labor’s defeat at the last state election as it remained popular within the electorate, providing a clear alternative plan to the changing positions of the Barnett government.
Labor cleverly claimed it would fund Metronet by cancelling the Perth Freight Link, which includes the deeply unpopular Roe 8 extension, and diverting the federal funding from that project to Metronet.
The key issues in this election have tended to be economic in nature. WA’s unemployment rates, high state debt, high cost of living, and predicted budget deficits, have not instilled confidence in voters.
The outgoing premier’s last appeal to voters was “please don’t vote for a return to Dullsville” that ended with the old argument that the unions would be in control under Labor.
Given the economic uncertainty, it was a strange plea. Many voters are more concerned with being able to pay their mortgage than take advantage of the improvements to city.
Barnett’s fundamental problem is that while his government has transformed Perth over the last eight years, voters are more concerned with their own economic circumstances, and the benefits of large infrastructure projects have not resonated.
It’s a hard sell to convince people that while the significant economic downturn over the last four years is due to circumstances the government can’t control, the government can nonetheless be trusted to turn the state’s fortunes around.
Outside of Perth, Brendan Grylls appears to have saved the Nationals from oblivion.
Grylls is responsible, through the Royalties for Regions program, for differentiating the Nationals from the Liberals. While the swing against the Liberals is projected to be around 16%, the swing against the Nationals is projected to be less than 1%.
The fact the Nationals have held their ground is impressive on two fronts. The first was the threat One Nation posed outside the metro area.
The other is that the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy spent around $2 million campaigning against Grylls’ proposal of raising the 25 cent per tonne production rental fee on iron ore to $5, which would deliver an estimated $7.2 billion over the next four years.
Grylls is the member for Pilbara, having moved from the seat of Central Wheatbelt in the 2013 election. The tax policy was high risk, particularly for Grylls himself given that much of WA’s mining happens in his seat.
While the plan seems to have worked in the agricultural parts of the state, the count will continue in the mining seats of Pilbara and Kalgoorlie, which are too close to call.
In terms of the WA election having federal implications for the Turnbull government, this really was an election determined by local issues.
During the campaign Bill Shorten visited three times, while Malcolm Turnbull made only one fleeting visit, where he failed to deliver a plan to get WA a “fair” share of the GST.
While it is generally not opportune for a national governing party to lose at state level, only internal mischief-makers would try to blame the loss on Turnbull’s leadership.
The most significant issues that will resonate across the country will be the outcome of the preference deal with One Nation, and the ability of the Nationals to differentiate themselves so convincingly from the Liberals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Treasury’s pre-election financial projections statement has growth for the financial year dropping from 1% to 0.5%.
While the current and next financial year budgets are expected to have smaller deficits than projected, primarily due to a three-year high in iron ore prices, state debt is expected to reach A$41.1 billion in 2020. Treasury does not foresee an operating surplus in the forward estimates period.
Population growth, driven by interstate and international migration, has fallen from 4% a year in 2012 to just over 1%.
Many Western Australians are now fearful of losing their jobs while having to maintain large mortgages. This is in a climate in which the median value of a house in Perth has fallen back to 2013 levels, down 2.3% in 2016.
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.
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.
At the time of the 2013 leaders’ debate, state debt was around A$18 billion, but Barnett insisted the rate of increase would not be maintained. Instead, over the last four years, the debt has risen by around A$15 billion.
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.
Part of the reason for the government’s high debt levels are investments in Perth infrastructure, such as a new stadium, which will open in 2018, Elizabeth Quay and the sinking of the railway line and bus station in Northbridge.
Without funds to play with, promises are limited. Barnett is arguing that his government is a strong pair of hands for these hard times.
There are two significant issues separating the Labor and Liberal parties at this election.
The first is the privatisation of Western Power, which the government will use to pay off part of the state’s debt.
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.
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.
In the 2015 electoral boundary redistribution, the Liberals notionally gained a seat from Labor.
To win government, Labor needs to win ten seats, with a uniform swing of around 10%.
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%.
A swing of this magnitude would deliver a decisive Labor victory, with the party winning 41 seats.
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.
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?
Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke recently intervened to allow a 16-year-old girl with autism spectrum disorder, who had been ordered to leave Australia, to stay in the country.
Sumaya Bhuiyan had been living in Australia for eight years, but was rejected for permanent residency in 2013. Her mother, a practising doctor in Sydney, told newspapers the immigration department had found Sumaya’s “moderate developmental delay” would be a burden to taxpayers.
Hawke’s personal intervention followed media coverage of the situation and a change.org petition that received nearly 38,000 signatures.
This isn’t the first time a minister intervened to prevent deportation of a family who have a dependent with a disability. In 2015, a Bangladeshi couple – also two doctors – with an autistic son had their application to stay in Australia approved.
For two years the Banik family exhausted all other avenues against the rejection of their autistic son for permanent residency. Their only recourse was to appeal directly to the immigration minister to intervene on compassionate grounds. After a widespread public appeal, Peter Dutton decided to let them stay.
Australia’s immigration laws require migrants to be screened for medical conditions. This is to prove they will not be a “burden” on the community, specifically its health services. Children are most affected by this policy, as costs are calculated over a lifetime.
For someone found to be “burdensome”, the outcome isn’t always as positive as for Sumaya and the Baniks. A dozen or so families or their disabled members are deported from Australia every year.
Democracies have a long history of excluding people deemed undesirable as migrants. Those considered to have mental or physical disabilities are targeted most forcefully.
Australia has done little to ameliorate restrictions on disability in immigration policy. This is despite a 2010 parliamentary inquiry into the issue that recommended several changes to loosen them.
The chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration said at the time:
Australia needs a modern migration health assessment, with scope to positively recognise individual or overall family contributions to Australia and that takes into consideration development of contemporary medicine and social attitudes.
The Migration Act was amended in 1958 to remove restrictions based on race. But the health clause excluding people with disabilities remained. Despite ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the government ensured the Migration Act remained exempt from its own 1992 Disability Discrimination Act.
This means immigration is effectively quarantined from these national and international human rights instruments. The result is often that all able-bodied family members will receive permission to migrate to Australia, or gain permission to stay if they are already here, while a disabled child is refused. Families are either broken up or forced to leave.
The public has little awareness of this issue, due in part to the secrecy surrounding the formulation of migration criteria and policy.
The truly tragic dimensions of the issue were exposed most forcefully in the case of Sharaz Kiane in 2001. Kiane set himself on fire outside Parliament House in Canberra in protest of the government refusing him a visa. This seems to have been based on the fact his 10-year-old daughter had disabilities that required expensive medical treatment.
Kiane died of his injuries. An Ombudsman’s report described the history of Kiane’s case as “one of administrative ineptitude and of broken promises”.
My research has explored stories of families who gave up their disabled children in the period after the second world war. They often did this under duress to forge new lives in countries like Australia, the US and Canada.
They were known as Displaced Persons, mainly of eastern European origin. Most had survived Nazi concentration camps and forced labour schemes. Displaced Persons’ migration to the few western countries available for resettlement was complicated by the requirements of various migration schemes.
These were largely created to satisfy the labour demands of postwar economies. Physical fitness for manual work was the most important factor in assessing potential migrants for countries like Australia and Canada. Single, able-bodied men were therefore most desirable.
In family units, dependants were not allowed to outnumber breadwinners. Despite the proclaimed motives of rescue and humanitarianism towards Nazism’s victims, western migrant selection missions carefully checked each displaced person for traces of physical or mental damage. They excluded anyone who didn’t meet the strict requirements.
Many survivors of concentration camps and Nazi forced labour were rejected, as were the elderly and handicapped. A mass check of more than 100,000 displaced persons in 1948, for example, revealed half of them were still suffering from the effects of malnutrition and hardship.
Children who were disabled were also categorically rejected, often forcing parents with other children to make drastic decisions. Moral pressure by allied welfare workers to institutionalise disabled children contributed to children being left behind in Europe by families who emigrated.
The break-up of families is a relatively well-known consequence of Nazi Germany’s policies of forced labour, population transfers and liquidations. There has been far less recognition of the ways western governments furthered these separations through immigration policies that ignored postwar humanitarian ideals.
An irony is while Australia is actively excluding those classified as a burden because of their disability, it is disabling people by its policy of offshore detention.
As has been widely documented, children detained in Australia’s remote offshore detention centres suffer from sexual and physical assault. Some have self–harmed or threatened suicide.
Research also shows that children who spend time in immigration detention are often plagued by nightmares, anxiety, depression and poor concentration. They may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder for many years after the experience.
The protection of children is often hailed as the strongest evidence of a civilised society. This claim cannot, at present, be held by Australia if its most vulnerable members – children who are refugees and who might require first-world care because they are disabled – are being actively discriminated against in the name of an impoverished calculus of burden, cost and contribution.
The West Australian election will be held in eight days, on 11 March. A Fairfax ReachTEL poll, conducted Monday night from a sample of 1660, has Labor leading 52-48, a 2 point gain for Labor since a ReachTEL poll for The West Australian, two weeks ago.
ReachTEL asked a main voting intentions question with an undecided option, then further queried the 5.1% undecided as to which way they were leaning. Combining responses for these questions gives primary votes of Liberals 34.6% (down 0.8), Nationals 6.8% (down 1.6), Labor 35.2% (up 0.2), Greens 10.7% (up 4.7) and One Nation 8.5% (down 3.2).
The surge for the Greens is likely a correction from previous low Green votes in ReachTEL’s polls. At the 2016 Federal election, the Greens won 12.1% in WA, above their national vote share of 10.2%. In WA, the Greens tend to do relatively well and Labor relatively badly compared to the national vote at Federal elections.
The drop for One Nation may be due to discontent at One Nation doing a preference deal with one of the big parties that its voters despise. Research reported by Possum (Scott Steel) also indicates that many people voting for One Nation are doing so as a protest against the major parties, but they do not agree with One Nation’s policies, and dislike Donald Trump.
If this is the case, some people who currently say they will vote One Nation may desert as the election approaches and they become more aware of One Nation’s policies. This is also happening in the Netherlands; December polls had Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom easily winning more seats than any other party, but a dramatic slump in their support now has them second. The Dutch election will be held on 15 March.
At the 2013 WA election, the Liberals thrashed Labor 57.3-42.7 after preferences, and the Liberal/National alliance won 38 of 59 lower house seats, to 21 for Labor. Labor notionally lost a seat following a redistribution, so they need to gain 10 seats to win majority government.
On paper, Labor requires a uniform swing of 10.0 points to gain their 10th seat (Bicton). Labor would thus need 52.7% of the vote after preferences to win the election. However, marginal seat polling suggests that Labor is winning the required swing where it counts, though seat polls have not been accurate in the past.
A Galaxy poll, conducted Wednesday to Friday from a sample of 1115, has Labor leading by 54-46, from primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.
A Newspoll in late January and this Galaxy poll have both bad Labor well ahead of the combined Liberal/National vote on primaries, while ReachTEL’s polling has been more favourable for the Liberals. It will be interesting to see which pollster is correct next Saturday.
The Liberal Party is riven by internal bickering, with various camps claiming to speak for its “true” values and traditions. The contest is leading not to any prospect of unity or discipline, but to the party’s fragmentation. The war is fought in the guise of a contest over leadership appropriate to the party’s soul and to the national interest.
In the process, the party is incrementally diverging from popular opinion on issues essential to future electoral success. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is currently in the crosshairs. But whether or not he survives to fight another election, whoever leads the party next time is unlikely to be the saviour of the party or Coalition government.
The predicament is best understood by analysing what is at the heart of this struggle: the pragmatic liberalism that was the Liberal Party’s foundation; the divergence of the party base from majority opinion; and the contemporary obsession with “the leader” as solely responsible for the party’s fortunes.
All exponents of Liberal Party values lay claim to the “Menzies” tradition. The most vehement contemporary claimants are on the party’s right wing. Their plaint is that the commitment to individualism, private enterprise, small government, lower taxes and free trade has been forgotten. Cory Bernardi split with the Liberals to establish his own party, Australian Conservatives, “to reconnect with voters and restore traditional Menzies-era values”.
Others of like mind remain in the fold — and threaten Turnbull’s leadership. The most prominent is his predecessor, Tony Abbott. Abbott continues to advocate more extreme budget austerity, climate change scepticism, immigration restriction, market fundamentalism and regressive taxation reform than even Turnbull (who has compromised on everything he once promised in an attempt to mollify the right) has yet conceded.
Such claims depart from Menzies’ principles in two core texts. The first is his famous “Forgotten People” broadcast in 1943. The second is his essay on “The revival of Liberalism in Australia” in Afternoon Light.
Menzies championed thrift, self-reliance, private enterprise, individual responsibility and freedom, and the family as the bastion of our best instincts. He warned of the danger of an “all powerful” state. But he pitched his appeal to the middle class, excluding the rich and powerful (who did not need his help) and the “unskilled people” (protected by unions and with wages safeguarded by common law). Thus he mobilised an election-winning constituency between what he saw as the extremes of exploitative financial power and the incipient socialism of the organised working class.
Yet Menzies insisted:
There is no room in Australia for a party of reaction. There is no useful place for a policy of negation.
He never claimed that his was a conservative party. On the contrary:
We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise, and rejecting the Socialist panacea.
Still, the state had its part to play. Menzies supported protection, not free trade. He “did not … [believe] that private enterprise should have an ‘open go’. Not at all.”
He identified the state’s obligation to address unemployment, and secure economic security and material well-being through social legislation. He advocated fierce independence, but the difficulties of those who fell through the cracks were to be ameliorated:
… we have nothing but the warmest human compassion … towards those compelled to live upon the bounty of the state.
This philosophy served Menzies well. Not until the late 1980s did the party change, when it “torched its traditions” as it sacrificed ameliorative liberalism in the interests of economic reform. Only then did the split between “wets” and “drys” lead to liberal moderates being increasingly marginalised. And only then party did hardliners begin to assert their claims as “conservatives”, a term that had never been indigenous to Australian anti-Labor politics, but was appropriated from the US culture wars of the time to serve the same purpose.
The bipartisan commitment to neo-liberal reform did what was intended. It increased prosperity, but at the cost of increasing employment uncertainty and astonishing inequity in the distribution of rewards. Inflation was defeated, but some communities were devastated as industry disappeared.
By the early 2000s, surveys revealed that the “new consensus” had not won popular acceptance. By 2016, there was pervasive distrust in the institutions of the new order and an unprecedented loss of confidence in the leaders who had brought this about.
It is a collapse that has impacted both major parties. Pointedly, for the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, after election, reverted to policies that mirrored the party’s base — now increasingly divergent from majority opinion on social issues, especially climate change.
Unable to garner public support, Abbott was supplanted by Turnbull, whose initial popularity depended on a progressive liberalism akin to a contemporary adaptation of Menzies’ stipulations.
But the “broad church” was gone. Progressive liberals have given up; the hard right has claimed Menzies’ mantle and threatens retribution if Turnbull “offends” against the much diminished and now atypical membership base. He is besieged on both sides: an uprising if he confronts those who claim to speak for the party; and a loss of popularity (and electorate support) as he compromises on the more progressive liberalism he promised the public.
It is not, finally, an argument about who is more and less Liberal, but a manifestation of the unravelling of the party. Who could break the impasse that looks likely to defeat Turnbull? Schisms between liberals and self-proclaimed conservatives will continue within, potentially with more splintering of populist, libertarian and hard-right fringe parties.
Any new leader would need to be a master tactician and negotiator without peer to achieve consensus across this morass. No-one currently in the ranks demonstrates such skills. And a return to Abbott or any of his ilk guarantees electoral oblivion. We may be witnessing the end of a once great party.