From Ballot Box To Abyss

pickpocketsThere 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.

Political management

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.

35 thoughts on “From Ballot Box To Abyss

  • paksdale@bigpond.com says:

    Could it be that Australia will follow the example of Italy where the governing body(s) seem to change with alarming regularity? If so what a future we have to look forward to. (sarc)

  • pgang says:

    Democracy is not working anymore because the public have lost faith in the system, because of the people who are the system. The West has become a society without any moral compass, drifting aimlessly with whatever current takes control at any given moment.

    • Jody says:

      There’s absolutely nothing new under the sun about any of this; since time immemorial governments have taken people for granted. What’s different now is social media, identity politics, unchecked immigration, globalization which has seen entire industries go offshore, etc. etc. Politicians are no more or less moral than they ever were. Ever heard of Mussolini?

      Well, folks, if you don’t like globalization and you’re really concerned about Australian jobs – more than you think politicians are – don’t buy cheaply imported goods. Simple as that.

      • pgang says:

        Who said anything about globalisation? Does that mean I can’t buy a car, or a power tool, or a tv, or pretty much anything?

        There is something new under the sun about this. Australian democratic process used to be a process, one that was treated with some sort of respect by politicians, and this placed finite boundaries around their narcissism. Those boundaries are disintegrating, in step with the disintegration of the nation’s moral character. The senate is the most outstanding example of this, as it has become a tool for individuals to exert enormous personal control to satisfy their own vanity.

        • Jody says:

          Protectionism, a la One Nation, is all about being anti-globalization. That’s one of the reasons Pauline is popular – the people think she’s going to return Australia to the 1950s. And there are lots of Australians who feel disenfranchised because of globalization which has robbed them of their jobs.

          And I submit to you that narcissism in politicians is a function of social narcissism. Please read Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism; American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” (1979). It is very true of modern day Australia right now. Politicians don’t come from Mars – they are drawn from the general community. What’s wrong with them is what’s wrong with us.

          • PT says:

            Jody, the “progressive Greens” which love your friend Turncoat want a 1950’s standard of living without a 1950’s level of restraint or family responsibilities! See the prick for what he his, please!!!!!!!!!

          • Warty says:

            Do you not mean ‘narcissism in politicians is a REFLECTION of social narcissism’? What is wrong with politicians is not simply what is wrong with us. Politicians are supposed to be the governing class, but they get the right to govern through election. Their gratitude (if that is the right word) is returned by listening to the actual concerns of the people, not to the virtual-reality public out there. It has been interesting listening to the defensiveness of Turnbull, of Julie Bishop, and Scott Morrison this morning, on 2GB. I think the expression is ‘sandbagging’, and the effect is to reinforce the notion they really haven’t learned a great deal. One assumes they do indeed analyse the campaign behind closed doors, but the public face is one of ‘saving face’.
            I suppose Alan Moran may be right in that society today is best described as being driven by overweening expectations, fuelled by the notion that a government can be thrown out should it not go a long way to fulfilling those expectations. I am somehow reminded of the French revolutionary mob, that could only be silenced, ultimately, by Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘whiff of grapeshot’. But all is not lost, some of those minor parties are not as fiscally irresponsible as some may like to believe: if you have a moment, glance through the ALA’s policies, and you’ll find they are not all about combatting ‘creeping Islamisation’.

      • PT says:

        Mussolini???? Is that to avoid Godwins Law? How about our set: Scullan; Lyons; Menzies; Fadden; Curtin; Chiffley! .No “Mussolini” amongst them! Nor in the equivalent in New Zealand, UK, US etc. grow up!!!!!!!!

  • Rob Ellison says:

    Shouldn’t they sign up Peter Garret and be called the Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll party? What a missed opportunity.

    The increase in government spending that occurred in the 1970’s – thanks to Gough – occurred in response to expectations about the sort of society in which we want to live. Indeed the sort of society that noted liberal Hayek discussed – when he wasn’t discussing economic policy. Subsequent governments increased spending in health and education more than the economy grew. Culminating in a wanton increase in spending by Kevin Rudd at the same time as a decrease in revenue in the GFC. Governments since the 1970’s have rules over a relative decline in defence and infrastructure spending.

    The party was intense and we can anticipate a long recovery. It needs to be based on a very good model of growth, income, taxes and transfers.

    First the impact of trade, innovation and tax lowering on income growth and distribution across deciles. There is an unquantified meme on increasing unfairness. This is based entirely on a smaller than proportional increase in income in the lowest decile over the last 30 years. To be addressed by a reallocation of transfers. Please – do the top 50% need any transfers at all? Trade and innovation increase economic growth – as does a decrease in corporate tax. The latter decrease leakage to Singapore inter alia – as well as increasing capital intensity and creating new jobs. Dividends paid locally are taxed as income. Profits repatriated should be subject to reciprocal rules. The bottom line is how much more money there is in our pockets.

    Second the impact of superannuation, medical insurance and co-payments on expenditure. Beyond freezing Medicare benefits – why not a sliding scale that distributed benefits where most needed?
    A 21st century payments system not subject to a big, fat pants on fire might help.

    Along with eliminating wasted expenditure. There is lots. For one – it seems significant that Singapore spends less on education but gets much better outcomes.

    We can address social and environmental issues at the same time. The recent Emissions Reduction Fund auction contracted at $10.23/tonne of carbon abatement. Abatement with solar power costs some $80/tonne by contrast. This is a cost – but I argue that we should reallocate money wasted on totally ineffective command and control environmental approvals to new generation voluntary approvals – and restore our tattered landscapes across the continent. We may in this way enhance agricultural productivity in a hungry world, increase soil water holding capacity, improve drought resilience, mitigate flooding and conserve biodiversity. All well as sequester immense amounts of carbon. The EMF has contracted to sequester 150 billion tonnes – no small bikkies.

    It is more than time to build a coherent narrative around an economically rational – and socially progressive – future. For this we need numbers and not rhetoric.

    Socially progressive implies equality before the law and freedom of religion I’m afraid. Pauline Hanson – the champion of an extreme 5% – is far from a champion of either. I don’t think she is the ‘real Australia’ at its tolerant and civilised core. I’d hate to be wrong.

    • Rob Ellison says:

      Low corporate taxes attract investment. The other big fat pants on fire. This was the election of lies – ya really need a solid counter punch.

  • Wayne Cooper says:

    The Labor Party may well be hoist on its own petard following the perceived “success” of the Mediscare campaign. Given that Labor was actually formed on the basis of the White Australia policy and it was the House of Lords which prevented the Nationalisation of the Banks in 1948-9, I can think of at least two scare campaigns which could easily be run against Labor in 2019, if their opponents were desperate enough. After all, they are already calling for a Royal Commission into banks – who knows what their motives really are?

  • Jody says:

    The best conservatives can hope for is a leader sitting in the Opposition benches. I agree with Paul Murray who says that’s the most prized job in all of this; that an Opposition Leader can spend 3 years sitting opposite a ‘government’ cobbled together and just ridicule it, laugh and make life difficult. It sounds a tad unparliamentary but let’s not pretend there are people who don’t relish that job! The gloves have come off because the electorate has said so.

    My neighbour just told me an hour ago, “I didn’t vote for Turnbull (in an electorate hanging by a thread as I write this) and only one Liberal in the Senate. I wanted to make things tough for Turnbull”. My response was, “and what you do think you’ve done for your country; are you willing to accept responsibility for that?”

    He still wants Tony Abbott to come back and, like others, is totally living in the past. Yep, that’s good for Australia!!

    • pgang says:

      Yes, it would be much better for Australia if we just let the establishment do whatever they like without making any protest. That way we can be sure that the future really is in their hands. Turnbull is a walking, breathing disaster. Get used to it already.

      • Jody says:

        Just be sure that your protest doesn’t blow back in your own face. As ever, be careful what you wish for.

        • PT says:

          Jody, what part of Turncoat’s attack on super escaped you? The Prime Ego will do whatever it takes. So long as this bloke and his cronies are in, what’s acceptable in Australian politics will drift evermore to the left!

          • Jody says:

            I’m appalled by the attack on superannuation, yes, but Labor has done much the same thing. The Coalition succumbed to the pressure exerted by the Grattan Institute and people like David Marr who have NEVER let up, day in and day out, about the “Cayman Island tax advantages to retirees”. But do you think my own self-interest should take precedence over the opportunity for stable government to be formed in this country? I’m not happy about it, but I’m not happy about the middle class carrying the major burden of income tax. What is the Coalition doing about that? NOTHING.

          • PT says:

            Jody, you saw the Brexit as the best news if our time (rightly so BTW, esp as other European countries are likely now to pluck up the guts!!!’). But Turncoat was against all if this. The issue was he was going to drag Australian politics towards the “progressivist left”, which could not have done anything but hurt you!

          • Rob Ellison says:

            A problem with limiting tax free income to some $75,000 per year? Restricting the amount that can be put in a tax free account? No middle class entitlement there.

    • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

      Jody, what your neighbour did might prove to be sensible in the long term. If treachery, such as that indulged in by MT in his coup against Abbott, is/was rewarded, then civilisation risks breaking down. Sometimes medicine might not taste nice, but it is still necessary to swallow it when needed. MT stabbed Abbott to become PM for no other reason than that he wanted the top job to satisfy his ego, not to make different policies that might help improve Australia. MT acted like a typical socialist in that he wanted what somebody else [Abbott] had earned without putting in any effort himself. MT acted as if campaigning was beneath his dignity.

      • padraic says:

        A very accurate summation by Alan Moran, particularly the bit about the Senate now being a House representing political parties rather than the States’ interests, as was the original intention. It is outrageous that the Senate can deny legislation passed in the Reps. It may be time for us to indulge in the lawfare so beloved of the leftist ratbags and next time the Senate refuses to pass something, mount a High Court challenge on the basis that the current Senate does not represent the States’ interests. Even if it failed, it may act as a wakeup call for our 19th Century Constitution (wonderful for the most part) to be adjusted to fit current circumstances. Did you hear this morning one new Senator saying that he knew nothing about the Constitution? What a shambles. People who run for Parliament should have to pass some sort of basic online exam before they can be accepted as a candidate.

        • Jody says:

          Spot on! Totally agree about the Senate being subjected to constitutional challenges. Bring it on.

          We do live in dangerously un-democratic times and Keating’s ‘unrepresentative swill’ is a glance back to a more stable polity.

      • Jody says:

        I certainly agree with your comment about Turnbull’s “campaign”!! It was a national disgrace. But the ‘medicine’ of which you speak is to be visited upon the next generation in the form of disastrous debt levels, entitlement and profligacy which I’ve never seen in my over 60 years on this planet. Sometimes ‘whatever it takes’ IS the answer – ask Richo. And in the modern polity I’m afraid “whatever it takes” will actually be needed to stop our economy from being hurled over a cliff. There are too many restive ‘progressives’ wanting to shape society in their own Marxist view and which can only be headed off by a concerted effort from conservative forces.

        I don’t care at all about Malcolm Turnbull or personality politics, but I do care about stable government for Australia – no matter how much I might wish the leader was somebody of my personal preference. And for those advocating a resignation from Turnbull – just remember that in a hung parliament the seat of Wentworth will become the subject of a bi-election which would surely topple the Coalition should they ‘win’ and Turnbull pulls up stumps in a predictable huff. For me, the Coalition AND the country are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

        A return to the polls is the only option short of any party forming a majority government in our toxic political environment.

    • Rob Ellison says:

      I just put this on my Facebook page. This is how farmers are using very simple grazing principles to change things for the better.


    • Rob Ellison says:

      Wow. I live in Capricornia (hehehe) and the preferences from nominally conservative minor party candidates are flowing to the Labor Party. Michelle Landry seems more probably than not likely to hang on being 991 votes behind with 76% of the vote counted. It’s knife edge – but it was always going to be close. Listening to the post-hoc pundits – you’d imagine that was a surprise.

      Essentially we have a rapidly expiring conservative rump lamenting with manufactured umbrage the passing of a chimera. I’m pretty sure that the only reason Abbott won in the first place with the comparative shambles of the Rudd government. I have little doubt that Abbott would have lost convincingly. Going down with right wing credentials intact is, however, so much better than winning with a shift to the centre where most Australia lives. Despite the desertion of the dinosaur right. Who f..king needs them I say.

      What we do need is a coherent strategy to win hearts and minds in the rational centre of politics and defeat the lies with rational economic and social policy – backed up with numbers. Calling Pauline Hanson? Don’t think so. She’s bound to crash and burn again.

      • PT says:

        Rob, toleration of homosexuality I have no issue with. Enforced acceptance (which is what Gay Marriage is) I reject. Gays and lesbians should not be attacked, berated, etc. (which goes for everyone). But apart from legal recognition for inheritance and such issues, gay relationships are different. There is no “procreation” understanding there. Marriage, even if it’s arranged, is ultimately about family and its continuance.

        • Rob Ellison says:

          As I keep saying – there are two incompatible democratic principle here. Equality before the law and freedom of religion. I’m inclined to opt for the latter. They have democratic mandate to redefine marriage given the traditional and religious significance marriage has. It is in fact a breach of a fundamental human right. Not the UN ambit claim – but the Scottish enlightenment version. Bestowed by God.

          But at this stage it looks like a losing proposition unless you’re arguments are unassailable. Especially if Capricornia falls and Labor can form a minoriy government. I’m not going to get too fussed about something I can’t control.

  • Advertise@AustralianByte.com says:

    I find that our politicians are extremely poor and I do not think you can blame the voter for everything. They don’t speak well they don’t lead they don’t try to inform. We need a leader who has the same charisma and presence that famous politicians of the past had. For instance Margaret Thatcher when she said “it is not the government’s money it is the taxpayers money” was trying to inform she said it well. She realised she needed to be an orator and knew at one stage of her life that in this regard she was very poor. She took training from Sir John Gielgud and changed it. We do not have leaders anymore who wish to actually persuade the public. We have a debt which is currently taking $1.2 billion a month in interest that is $40 million a day. I speak to people and tell them this they are quite often amazed and say that couldn’t be true. None of these useless pack of dolts have no idea how to sway the public. All the time they need to speak about what is happening economically and how it will affect their children and their children’s children.

  • iain says:

    Interesting times – my time is coming to its end, but it’s instructive watching the decline of western civilization as it abandons the values and beliefs that once made it strong, and now divides into splinter groups advocating this, that and the other

    • Warty says:

      I think things may get a lot more ‘interesting’ and in some respects you may be rather fortunate indeed to be out of it. There are those still who speak out against the moves of the ‘progressives’ to tear down everything relating to our Judaeo Christian heritage. I, for one, hope to do all I can to stem the rot.

    • Jody says:

      But don’t you think those social tensions have always existed? I remember some of those 1950s British films like “I’m Alright, Jack” which were a direct challenge to the establishment and announced the arrival and power of the unionized British masses.

      My late father was an executive at BHP in Newcastle and the biggest problem he had was British shop stewards who continually disrupted the business of the steelmaking giant. Everything from mice in the lunchroom to the biggest industrial issues meant that the unions had precious little credibility. The company embarked on a “safety first” campaign, which was huge and genuine, but this was never enough to still the loathing of the shop-stewards. They were a significant threat to the company’s operation and that was the 1960s.

      Nothing much changes; what does change is the manner of change (if that makes any sense).

      • Warty says:

        Indeed, social tensions have always existed and had been arguably more intense in earlier era. We need to deal with the tensions before us now, particularly when they threaten to undermine any sense of society as we know it. I know Mr Ellison (above) loves to refer the Enlightenment and the Scientific Enlightenment (which really go hand in hand) and there was much that was beneficial that came form it, and there were contemporary reactionary forces that were diametrically opposed to it. But it marked the start of the incremental undermining of the influence of the Church (which, again, Mr Ellison would argue was a good thing). My problem is with what goes with it, when one consigns the Church to the dustbin, and there is a hell of a lot that was decent, respectable, balanced, uplifting about our society, and yet able to combine with the strength of reason that the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on intellect, contributed.
        It is very interesting to read what Fredrick the Great of Prussia had to say about Christianity: “Christianity was stuffed with miracles, contradictions and absurdities, was spawned in the fevered imaginations of the Orientals and then spread to our Europe, where some fanatics espoused it, some intriguers pretended to be convinced by it and some imbeciles actually believed it”. Now this was uttered in the early 1780s, before the French Revolution, and reveals not only the ability to say it, and get away with it, but that the illustrious critic had never spent more than five minutes studying the Bible or understanding the contribution of Christianity to the Renaissance, from which it was pretty well inseparable.
        We have to be very careful indeed about what it is we tear down. The French, for instance, have still not recovered from their revolution with its ghastly reign of terror. Russia may take a few centuries to recover form its revolution, despite the fact that Marxists throughout the West took as gospel everything that Lenin and Stalin ever vomited up.

        • Rob Ellison says:

          You do talk a lot of rot. The modern view on the proper constitution of government comes via the Scottish Enlightenment. It was founded on a profoundly religious bedrock. So much so that these inalienable rights – bestowed by God – demand freedom of the individual and imply the separation of church and state. You may believe what you will.

          But don’t worry I will get my just reward. I was just trying to find out which circle of hell – let’s be realistic – I’m going to.

          The first is Limbo where all the nice pagans live in a castle. Not quite premier real estate but not too bad I thought.

          The second is Lust. Oh bugger. They have to live outside and get blown around all the time in tornados. Maybe I could get used to it?

          The third is Gluttony. Oh for Christ’s sake. Looks like I’m spending eternity lying in stinking ooze while icy rain pelts down.

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