You can’t draw a line from the Wentworth by-election to the general election. Nevertheless, the electoral outlook for the Coalition and the Liberals in particular looks bleak. In retrospect it might have been better to allow Malcolm Turnbull to stay on and take the fall. As it is, barring a miracle, Scott Morrison’s the fall guy. I doubt he can do anything about it.
Sure, he comes across as wishy-washy, but so did Howard on many things. And when he wasn’t on the GST he lost the popular vote and nearly the election; and when he wasn’t on Work Choices he lost the election. Abbott was fairly decisive but then he had the boats to stop and the tax to axe. Rudd’s and Gillard’s policies were a godsend.
To be clear, I am not a fan of Morrison. I thought that his policies as Treasurer to put a discriminatory tax on the five biggest banks and to penalise part-pensioners were both shameful in themselves and reckless in opening the door for Labor to apply more-of-the-same socialist policies. All the same, when it comes to being less than bold, he is par for the course.
Two bold ideas have taken hold among conservatives. One is to make a profound (not tinkering) cut to immigration levels. The other is to effectively walk away from the existing Paris commitment to reduce carbon emissions (by 26% to 28% on 2005 levels as of 2030) and build some new coal-fired power stations. The story goes that if Morrison turned these ideas into Coalition policies he would win.
I’d vote for him, but that’s conservative me. Would the populace at large be swayed? I am not so sure. It’s only a hypothesis but I wonder whether Australia’s compulsory preferential voting system counts against both bold leaders and bold ideas. America and the UK provide a contrast.
America has a voluntary first-past-the-post system, as does the UK. It’s a system which tends to produce more division between political parties as each tries to gin up its base to come out and vote. There is a rump of independent voters to appeal to and this tends to moderate extreme positions. But, as we can see, both in the US and in the UK, the distinct turn to the left of the Democratic Party and the Labour Party has not left them in the cold. And, of course, there’s the rise of Trump.
What’s going on? For one thing, no party need bother too much about what non-voting eligible voters think. In the US that applies to around 60% of eligible voters in midterm elections. And, to 40% in presidential elections, as it does in general elections in the UK. In a three candidate race it is possible, in the extreme, to be elected with just 35% of the vote and only 14% to 21% of those eligible to vote. Ideas on the edge are not necessarily ruled out by this system.
In Australia everyone is made to vote and to order preferences. Sixteen candidates were on the ballot in Wentworth. Candidates are eliminated and their preferences distributed sequentially from the bottom up. Once just three were left in Wentworth with Liberal Dave Sharma on top, it was crucial to Kerryn Phelps being elected that she edged out Labor for second spot. Consider this illustrative scenario, if Phelps ends up beating Labor by one vote she’s likely elected. Labor beats Phelps by one vote and Sharma gets home in a canter. It’s a chancy system in my view. But that is by the way.
The voting system goes to great lengths not only to count everybody’s view but their subsidiary views as well. It is not a system which rewards those near the edge. It produces guys like my local federal member, dripping-wet Trent Zimmerman. Obviously, this can be a good thing in preventing a socialist anti-Semite whacko like Corbyn rising to the top. On the other hand, would a Mrs Thatcher (or Mr Trump) ever be elected? I think not. Not at any rate in near normal times when dithering and having two bob each way trumps resolution.
A case in point is the decision – or more correctly non-decision – on moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The joint media statement (Oct 16) by Morrison and Marise Payne has the government undertaking to “carefully examine arguments [that] we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state.” Notice the double-barrelled hurdle between now and any decision being made, which is then followed by pathetic pandering to Palestinians.
Trump simply announces that the US embassy is moving and acts expeditiously. And he doesn’t contemplate giving away East Jerusalem. Yes, that is the same East Jerusalem which contains the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. And some bureaucratic bozos in the Department of Foreign Affairs – presumably advising Morrison – think that Israel might give that up. They should go to Israel and find out. If through some egregious calamity Islamists were ever to take ownership of the Old City, I doubt Israel would be still standing. And if Israel were to go so would Western civilisation.
What in the world was Morrison doing putting his name to what amounts to an anti-Israel diatribe? He could have partly followed Trump in not mentioning East Jerusalem and simply stopped with his caveat: “without prejudice to its final boundaries.” The answer to why he didn’t is clear. If he gives something to Israel he has to give something to the other side. That, after all, is the wishy-washy thing to do; to try (forlornly in this case) to please everyone. Mind you, I note that Albert Dadon, the chairman of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Group, writing in The Australian on October 18, more or less echoed Morrison. Infirmity of purpose knows no political, professional, religious, ethnic or national boundaries.
Shorten’s policies on taxation, on government spending, on union-influenced workplace relations, and on renewable energy would undoubtedly damage Australia. However, I hold out no hope of Morrison having the mettle to adopt the kind of policies espoused by conservatives, which would undoubtedly benefit Australia. At the same time, I am far from sure that adopting such policies would win him the election. If we want a Mrs Thatcher we need to reform the voting system (which won’t happen) or, perhaps, to get into such deep doo-doo that a conservative leader and conservative policies are seen as the only resort by most of the people. With Shorten in the wings, that might well happen in coming years. Take some meagre hope from that.