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Sausage sizzles and mandates

There was a winner to the Federal Election last weekend. A lot of school parents’ organisations and charities made money on sausage sizzles and cake stalls across the country. While you could argue that if funding for education and to those less well-off was at a realistic level there would be no need for the sausage sizzle, it is becoming a tradition and clearly part of the Australian psyche.

Another part of the Australian psyche (according to politicians anyway) is that if they form a government, they have a mandate, and they can enact legislation to support their particular party platform ‘lock, stock and barrel’. To an extent they are correct, but the mandate they claim is nowhere near reality.

On 3 July, the day after the election, Clive Hamilton (Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University) published a piece on The Conversation’s website arguing:

Commentators and newspaper editors who make statements such as “the nation voted for”, “the public wants” and “Australians have spoken” actually spend most of their time talking about divisions. Yet when faced with quantitative measures of public opinion that highlight the divisions (opinion polls and elections) they begin to talk as if the nation speaks with one voice.

Like most things, elections are not ‘all or nothing’ affairs. Let’s use public transport as an example. If I catch a bus to work and home every day, I might believe there is great public benefit in the government subsidising buses for the reduction in vehicles on the road, the time I can spend checking social media (or ideas for future articles) as well as thinking about what I have to do at work or just gazing out the window. I have clearly decided the cost of the bus trip both in time and fare is lesser than the comparable costs of driving my car into work, paying for petrol, additional maintenance and parking. However, I might wish there wasn’t a 5 km detour from the most direct route to my workplace, and the bus picking up enough people to make it difficult on occasions to get past those standing to get off the bus at my stop.

So in an ideal world, I would like all the advantages of public transport without the 5km detour — apart from the reduction in time taken it would also mean that the bus was less crowded. I’ve made the decision that on balance, the service is acceptable and the benefits of the bus exceed the disadvantages.

It’s the same with picking a government. In the recent election I might be a vocal supporter of Medicare but as I own a medium sized company, I would also like to pay less tax on the profits my company makes. At the recent election, my perfect world is a combination of the ‘flagship policies’ of the ALP and the Liberals. Clearly, I can’t vote for both parties, so I make a decision based on the less important (to me) policies such as a Royal Commission into the Banking Industry, the benefits of the 2016 Budget to me and my business and my belief there is nothing wrong with negative gearing, as I have 10 properties in my investment portfolio.

So I make my voting decision based on a stack of policy variables from a number of parties and have to vote for one party at the end of the day. Should I decide to vote Labor, I can’t ring Bill Shorten and ask him to change his negative gearing policy because I plan to increase my property portfolio – just as I can’t ask the bus company to run a bus that suits my ‘wants’ above the needs of others.

As the final figures for the election are still a week or two away, let’s just say that both the ALP and the Coalition received 35 to 40% of the first preference vote on July 2. A number of smaller parties split the remaining 20 to 30% of the vote. In all probability, the number of Parliamentarians from the so called minor parties will go close to the number of National Party members (remember the National Party – they are the ones that argue that they have input into a Coalition government) who have a red or green seat on Capital Hill in Canberra.

Naturally, the members of the smaller parties (as well as the Liberals, Nationals and ALP) all have policies and commitments to various parts of their constituencies, which if they were broken without some discussion may result in a very short political career. By the same token, a politician cannot say that everyone in their electorate wants a certain event to occur. For example, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has a policy to commence a Royal Commission into Islam, it cannot be said that all Queenslanders want this to happen as Hanson’s One Nation certainly didn’t get 100% of the first preference Senate vote in that state. Hanson (in the article above) is realistic to admit she wants the enquiry but it’s not the first order of business from her point of view.

Neither Shorten nor Turnbull can claim that 100% of Australians want their particular policies enacted either – as under 100% of the population voted for their respective political parties. Whoever does eventually form the government will rely on the support of some combination of the smaller parties and Independents. The express wish of Turnbull, ‘to clean out the Senate’ certainly didn’t happen.

Andrew Elder claims the Liberals underestimated Shorten:

BILL SHORTEN should not have been competitive in this campaign. A factional warrior up to his eyeballs in Labor’s leadership changes over the past decade, a union boss targeted by the Heydon Royal Commission, he should have been chewed up and spat out by a ferocious Liberal machine and a skittish, wounded ALP. Ignored by the press gallery for two years, except as a source of zingers, Shorten should have bumbled to an honourable but decisive defeat like Howard did in 1987, or Beazley in 2001.

. . . and . . .

The mistake the Liberals are making with Shorten is the same as that Labor made with Howard. They underestimated him. They believed their own publicity, refracted back to them by a witless press gallery. Their folly has allowed their opponent not only to steal a march on them, but to present himself in his best light, using skills developed assiduously well out of sight of sniggering opponents.

It seems likely that the Liberals will not learn their lesson quickly. Shaun Carney (Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Monash University) wrote in The Conversation

Malcolm Turnbull has been leader of the federal Liberal Party twice – once as opposition leader, the second as prime minister. On both occasions, he has blown it. He has not been the victim of outside forces, nor an ambush, nor terrible luck. He has inflicted the damage on himself.

The narrative he and his Liberal deputy Julie Bishop tried to get up on election night – that the near-disaster of the result inflicted on their government at the nation’s polling booths was down to Labor lies about Medicare – is not convincing.

This excuse goes to Turnbull’s real problem: he’s not a very talented politician. By focusing on Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign, he was as good as telling Australians who shifted their vote from Liberal to Labor that they were gullible dills.

Which could be construed as suggesting the mood in the Coalition is ‘how about we blame everyone else without looking at our problems’. When this article was being written, Turnbull was still claiming he would be the prime minister of a government with a working majority. He may yet get there – but it is far more likely that he won’t.

Not that the ALP is much better. The ABC’s QandA on the Monday following the election was, naturally enough, focussed on questions around who was able to form government. The panel included Chris Bowen (ALP) and Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens).

In response to a questioner who asked if Labor should “stop being so bloody-minded” and “join hands” with the Greens, with whom they share ideological similarities, Bowen said he did not agree.

Chris Bowen ruled out any collaboration with the Greens, in a move criticised as “arrogant”.

“We said before the election, it was a firm commitment, no deals, concessions, agreements with any minor party. Greens, Xenophon, anybody else,” Bowen said, as Sarah Hanson-Young laughed incredulously.

While on an ideological level you can understand the argument that the ALP went to an election with a set of policies (with bonus points for releasing them prior to the election), given the trend towards a number of different views, isn’t it cutting your nose off to spite your face to reject any talk of alliance, coalition or discussions of equals regarding a future government – after all government is the aim, isn’t it?

On a purely practical level, whoever does form a government as a result of the 2016 election will have their work cut out for them. The ‘herding cats’ comparison has already been done so we’ll leave it there.

We are in a world where duopolies are certainly out of fashion. We don’t just go to the local Holden or Ford showroom to get a car anymore, Aldi (and to a lesser extent IGA) are doing well on their ‘mission’ to break the Coles versus Woolies supermarket stranglehold, Myers and David Jones are struggling due to the number of alternatives from IKEA to DFO that are now available and the days where the workers vote Labor and the managers vote Liberal have long gone as well.

There seems to be a day of reckoning occurring where those who choose to work in politics need to understand plurality – there are a number of views, they differ from each other to some extent and they all need to be respected.

Which gets us back to mandates. Across three major English speaking democracies the people are apparently telling the political leaders of their country what they want rather than what the politicians and business leaders would prefer. In the US, it could be argued that Bernie Sanders was far more popular with individuals than Hillary Clinton who is perceived as ‘establishment’, while the ‘anti-establishment’ Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee. In the UK, the Conservatives won the election in 2015, however, the 2010 election winners were the Conservatives in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The ‘Brexit’ vote was also unexpected. In Australia, neither major party is making a convincing argument to obtain over half the vote at a general election; as demonstrated at the 2010 and 2016 elections.

Clive Hamilton was quoted earlier in this article arguing that the nation doesn’t speak with one voice. In a postscript to his article, written on Monday 4 July, he reinforces the point to counter the MSM’s ‘silliness’ in claiming that Turnbull was rejected:

“Australians have resoundingly rejected PM Malcolm Turnbull”. No they haven’t. Some 42% of Australians (of voting age) accepted him.

And “Voters have sent a loud and clear message”. Well, the message of 42% was “We want the Coalition to form the next government” while 35% sent the message “No, we want the ALP to do it”. And the loud and clear message of the 10% who voted for the Greens was a completely different one.

To say Australians sent “a message” is an incoherent averaging across various messages, and is a bit like saying “Australians on average have 1.99 legs”.

While both major parties have significant volumes of work in front of them to sort out who will govern (because the public ‘will’ speak with one voice if there is another election anytime soon), how to manage themselves and form alliances to be effective in the 45th Parliament and beyond – self-preservation will ensure it happens. There will be missteps, scandals and dramas along the way but there will be a stable government, just as there was in Gillard’s Australia between 2010 and 2013 (where a lot of good social policy was legislated) and Palaszczuk’s Queensland seems to be sailing serenely along; despite the feeling at times that there is a lot of furious paddling going on under the surface. The days of two major parties and majority governments are coming to a close – which really isn’t a problem, New Zealand and most of Western Europe have operated in this way for decades.

We do give our politicians a mandate. It is to turn up at the appointed time in Parliament, listen and contribute to the debate and make decisions in the best interests of the community they represent and also the nation; no more than that and no less. The decision on who to send to Canberra is based upon the policies they stand for, our personal observations of the candidate in question and the competing priorities that support the way each individual numbers the ballot paper.

The good thing about Australia is that while the politicians (and political nerds) sit there and fret about what may come, those who catch the somewhat crowded bus to work inclusive of the 5km detour will continue to do so, the sun will come up in the morning and the only thing that will go up in flames on election days in this country are sausages, not democracy.

This article by 2353NM was originally published on TPS Extra.


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  1. Phil

    Great read. Thanks. So importent to resist the temptation to polarisation of views and this article is a good persuader.

    BTW I cannot understand why we cling, as a nation, at every election, and despite all rational health and dietary evidence to the contrary, to such junk food as white bread surrounding a piece of animal offal topped with chemical tomato.

  2. Freethinker

    Quote: There will be missteps, scandals and dramas along the way but there will be a stable government

    You are very optimistic IMO, there are 2 policies in the budget that will be no negotiable in the senate, the tax reduction to the big business and the one about the bulk billing.
    If we add the original investigation to the union corruption then we have 3.
    Also do not forget the others belong to the 2014 budget.
    IMO we are going to have a bad government indeed.

  3. Angry Old R


    Because it’s delicious, and having one every three years won’t kill you.

  4. diannaart

    The sausage sizzle may be a bit of a social event for some. How many, having a bite after voting, consider that public schools, increasingly, have to raise money given the cuts to INVESTMENT (not funding when it is of benefit to the future) by successive governments. All those people snacking on a snag after voting for more funding for private schools at the expense of public.

    I understand the point of the article of how difficult it is to represent the needs of ALL the population, and, quite rightly, questions the entire idea of a mandate. However, there are clear public benefits – somehow the idea of the ‘public good’ has been lost.

    Labor may have more ‘socially’ based policies, but none of them promised repairing the years of slashing to education, health, science… we still have to manage on less investment into our nation’s well being.

    …my belief there is nothing wrong with negative gearing, as I have 10 properties in my investment portfolio…I can’t ring Bill Shorten and ask him to change his negative gearing policy because I plan to increase my property portfolio…

    If someone already has 10 properties in their investment portfolio – which would not be affected by Labor’s negative gearing reform (if Labor had won), isn’t 10 properties enough?

    You need more?

    Which HAVE to be negatively geared?

    It is possible to invest in property without use of that tax loophole.

    To someone who is clinging to owning her own home, property investment is not even a dream. To others struggling to pay rent… words fail me.

    How many people on average incomes have property portfolios?

    How relevant to deciding on which party to vote for is such a policy?

  5. zue

    Apparently more Australians voted for the Coalition than for the ALP or Greens. They voted to entrust the good of our country to Turnbull, Joyce, Brandis, Morrison, Bishop, Dutton, Sinodinos, Pyne, Bernardi, Abetz, Abbott, Cash, Christiansen and others of their ilk. I can’t think of an occasion when the lack of ability of those on the winning team has been more obvious. By contrast the ALP’s shadow cabinet and the most prominent of the Greens seem a fairly talented bunch. After three years of embarrassingly bad government, most voters have decided that they want more of the same.

  6. Freethinker

    Yes zue, people still get a good life here, financial pain and suffering is the best school, better than any political campaign.

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