No party receiving more than two per cent of the vote proposed cuts in the social areas which comprise two-thirds of the budget and must be addressed if the nation’s books are ever to be balanced. The Senate’s activism and changed conception of its role reinforce such fiscal other-worldliness
There has been a major shift in voting across Australia. Of the Senate votes registered on Saturday, the left and right minor parties obtained 35% of first preferences. In 2013, minor parties attained only 21%.
Of first preferences at the booths, the Left polled over 21%. This group was dominated by The Greens, with just under 9% and Xenophon, now seeking a centerist re-badge, at 3.4%. The only other Left parties polling above one per cent were the Derryn Hinch/ Animal Justice Party, (Left on climate, Right on crime) at 2.86% and the Sex-Hemp-Drug Reform parties, campaigning in alliance, which got 2%.
The Right got 13% of the vote. Those polling above one per cent were One Nation (4.12%), LDP (1.87%), Shooters and Fishers (1.39%), Family First (1.38%), and Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats (1.25%). Only the LDP and Family First of those of the Right could be said to be unambiguously in favour of a less regulated, lower taxed economy, though the makeover of One Nation, clearly influenced by the second Queensland candidate, Malcolm Roberts, has brought a remarkable transformation in this direction. At this stage One Nation looks likely to get two or even three Senators in the new Parliament, with gains by the others an outside chance.
Radical Islam was avoided as an election issue by the Coalition and by Labor (which is heavily reliant on Muslim support). The parties making this concern a feature of their policies — the Christian Democrats, Australian Liberty Alliance and One Nation — collectively won 7% of the vote.
The result makes Malcolm Turnbull a vulnerable leader, as party rumblings are now demonstrating, but any notion that it heralds room for a new conservative party is, at best, premature. Many on the right favour protectionist policies, and the baggage One Nation carries would make it inconceivable that others on the right would contemplate allowing it the leadership its electoral support might be seen to justify.
Management of the economy
Both Andrew Bolt and Craig Emerson have argued that the ALP would have done better had it offered a balanced budget. This is unlikely. The continued success of The Greens and other minor parties, as well as the ALP itself, shows that most people’s eyes blur when fiscal responsibility is mentioned. The ALP made only the most cursory attempts at pretending to it would get the budget balanced. The Coalition planned a deficit that would remain at over $5 billion after five years, even with a fair breeze and following wind.
While Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign may have been a low blow, it was only successful because its thrust had credibility. The Coalition is seeking to make more savings than Labor – it has to if it is to retain its self-identified credibility as an economic manager. It would be looking to make economies in health, education and welfare funding, hence that scare campaign tapped into a rich vein of anxiety. The voters, however, want to eat their cake and keep it too. The Coalition, recognising this, was keen to hide the future cuts that would be required.
The fact is that all but a handful of voters favour looting the rich and future generations (via budget deficits) and most hold this view in the blithe assumption that it will have no effect on future productivity and income levels. No party that received more than two per cent of the vote proposed cutting spending in the social areas which comprise two-thirds of the total budget and must be addressed if spending is to be reined in. The Coalition suggested a modest tax cut on business while also making a grab for superannuation funds, which may have harmed it electorally.
Compared to the other parties of the Left, the ALP is a paragon of fiscal rectitude. The Greens care little for this since their paradigm is one where income levels are accepted as rising inevitably and automatically. Others on the Left have no interest in macro management. They and most other parties have also been easily persuaded that regulations forcing the abandonment of cheap energy in favour of renewables will pose either a trivial cost or actually reduce those costs.
We have reached a state of affairs whereby democracy, as we know it, is eating itself. The people see little merit in balancing the budget and are certainly not prepared to vote for measures that involve personal sacrifice. Indeed, most voters think the economy is a bottomless money pit capable of providing them with whatever additional freebies the whim of the moment suggests. Need a child-minding service? No worries, Canberra will make your tax-paying neighbours cover the cost.
The tax burden, if it is to be felt anywhere, must therefore fall on those who have little political importance because they are foreigners or affluent or too young to vote. The myth is fostered and believed that creators of wealth and generators of income will not be dissuaded from investing, that they will not recognise their capital and industry are better deployed outside Australia. None of that matters — for voters, the issue is how to tap the wealth created by others.
One interesting aside, however, is that if Turnbull does emerge with enough seats and/or support to form government he will owe his victory to Victorian premier Dan Andrews, without whose unpopular attack on volunteer country firefighters Labor would most likely have claimed another three Victorian seats. Perhaps this provides some solace in that there are limits on what politicians can pursue in the interests of their political allies — in this case the firefighters’ union — at the expense of the community as a whole.
One thing the election does establish is the Americanisation of Australian politics. Forty years ago it was rare that the Senate would reject aspects of a budget. The role deemed appropriate for the “house of review” in regard to new laws, not the administrative details of tax increases to balance increased spending.
What we have seen is the importance of the two houses reversed. Even if the incoming government requires a deal with an independent in the House of Representatives, its role is now simply furnishing most of the Ministry and training future Prime Ministers. Although it originates legislation, this only happens when the executive supported by the bureaucracy chooses to do so.
The Senate, by contrast, has become a legislative originator and an amender. It was modelled upon the House of Lords, which at the time of Federation would very rarely use its power to block the legislation originating in the House of Commons and had certainly given up its powers over money bills. But, having commenced life as a bulwark to ensure against the small states being dominated, this function of the Senate has ceased to be of any real importance. It would be very rare today for senators to break party ranks and pursue a state-specific agenda, rather than party-political goals.
Australian politics is little different from that played out in Europe, where upper houses are less prominent and the executive controls the lower chambers, or in the US where there is a three-way split between the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House in regard to control of and influence over budgets and legislation.
Throughout the democratic world the same policy approach ses constantly rising spending levels, normally accompanied by budget deficits. Over the past decade economic stagnation has been the outcome.
Australia now has a system inferior to that of other democracies. Constitutional developments have ensured the political composition of the upper and lower houses is different, a discordance that cannot be disciplined by a two-party system. Nor does Australia have the US tradition (possibly only operational with a two-party system) of give-and-take bargaining over spending.
Constitutional originators, such as Richard Baker, later the first President of the Senate, argued in 1897 that responsible government was not possible if the upper and lower chambers were equal in powers. Maybe they were right. If so, the mismanagement Australia has endured since 2006 is going to look like the golden era of sound finance.