By Denis Bright
Only Nostradamus would dare to predict the final outcomes of Federal Election 2022.
The federal political checkerboard across Metro Sydney and near-Metropolitan electorates along the transport corridors between the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra Region south to the federal electorate of Gilmore and in Outer Sydney’s West to the Blue Mountains continues to be highly contestable.
Perhaps the wealth divide will be a more significant issue as the Australian economy slows and concern mounts about environmental issues relating to sustainable urban planning, housing affordability and climate change.
Outer near-Metropolitan Sydney electorates will be the first to be affected by the prevailing recession in private sector investment beyond the LNP’s cherished property-market which continues to thrive. New data is expected to be released on 28 February for the December Quarter.
As the 80th Anniversary of the appeal by Robert Menzies on behalf of the Forgotten People approaches in the next election year, there is a significant new wealth income across Sydney and near-Sydney electorates. Here the top 10 per cent of income-earners take 36.6 percent of overall income (Matt Wade in the SMH 16 June 2019).
The new generation of Forgotten People comes from a very different background to those anointed by Menzies in his radio broadcasts during the early phase of the war with Japan in 1942 (ABC News 22 May 2017). There was a strong element of intra-coalition rivalry embedded in Menzies’ radio address.
Relations between the two coalition parties were so toxic that Menzies had invited the Governor-General to install John Curtin as the leader of a bipartisan national government. Instead the UAP-Country Party Coalition struggled on until two independent members decided to support the formation of a minority Labor government without the need for an early wartime election.
Just after the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942), Menzies’ canvassed the future political prospects for a new generation of Quiet Australians whom he anointed as the Forgotten People in a radio broadcast in Sydney on 22 May 1942 (Tom Switzer, ABC News 2017):
On May 22, 1942, Menzies delivered the first of his weekly broadcasts on Macquarie Radio. The essays covered an extensive range of national political issues — from problem drinking, to compulsory unionism, to taxation policy.
In it, the former (and future) prime minister did what all successful political leaders have all too often done: appeal to the middle ground — in this case, the forgotten middle class, who neither ran big business nor were members of labour unions.
Menzies specifically named “salary earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers” and the like.
“They are envied by those whose benefits are largely obtained by taxing them,” Menzies said. “They are not rich enough to have individual power,” he noted. In turn, he said, “they are taken for granted by each political party.”
Menzies admonished a bishop who had wanted to divide society into two classes, by observing:
If we are to talk of classes, then the time has come to say something of the forgotten class — the middle class — those people who are constantly in danger of being ground between the upper and the nether millstones of the false war; the middle class who, properly regarded represent the backbone of this country.
Understandably, this is a sensitive period for LNP historians, and the details are usually selectively omitted.
Within days of the anointment of the Forgotten People broadcast, five Japanese submarines rendezvoused some 35 nautical miles off Sydney to fine tune plans to attack Sydney Harbour. Three midget submarines took on the daring mission between 31 May and 8 June in 1942. Details of the raids are provided by the Australian Navy. The Japanese sea plane used in aerial reconnaissance was mistaken for a US light aircraft on a training exercise.
John Howard also conveniently broadened the political target base of the Forgotten People to include the aspirational voters who had just elected LNP members to Macquarie, Lindsay, Parramatta, Hughes, Gilmore, Robertson and Paterson in the 1996 landslide. Electoral redistributions have since modified this checkerboard. Labor has only partially recovered its heartland base over twenty years later.
With the return of majority LNP government by the slenderest margins on 18 May 2019, Scott Morrison’s one seat majority after the appointment of the speaker is challenged by internal leadership tensions. Such tensions are not confined to the comparatively recent post-Howard era since 2007 although they have been intensified recently by the size of the National Party bloc in both houses of parliament which is now running at twenty following the withdrawal of the now Deputy Speaker Llew O’Brien (Wide Bay) from the National Party caucus. Almost one fifth of LNP Coalition in the House of Representatives is still from the National Party.
Historical Examples of Coalition Rivalries
Back in 1940, gains by the Labor Opposition tilted the balance in the UAP-CP Coalition towards the Country Party. By 1943, the Country Party held almost 35 per cent of conservative seats as Labor made further gains in urban areas like Sydney. In Sydney, the urban conservatives within the UAP were reduced to just three federal seats of Wentworth, Warringah and Parramatta at the 1943 election with the Country Party surviving in four regional seats.
Aware that Prime Minister John Curtin ran a minority government until the 1943 landslide to Labor, Robert Menzies worked to revitalise urban conservatism while Arthur Fadden was still Leader of the Opposition from the now marginal regional Country Party Electorate of Darling Downs. Most of the Menzies’ breed of Forgotten People are from the urban middle-classes and are highly compatible with Scott Morrison’s references to the Quiet Australians of Sydney and beyond.
New Era of Labor Revival in Sydney
The swings and round-abouts from the 2019 election essentially maintained the status quo in near-Sydney electorates. Labor was still ahead by 22 seats to 13 in Metro Sydney and on the near-Sydney corridors despite the intensity of the LNP’s campaign to remain in office.
With the football season approaching, it could be noted that federal seat tally near Sydney and Melbourne is currently 43 to 23 in Labor’s favour on the AEC’s metropolitan and near-metropolitan spatial maps. Ironically, the safest LNP seats like Bennelong, North Sydney, Warringah and Wentworth have become volatile and receptive to moderate liberals and independents.
In the electorate of Wentworth, Dave Sharma MP was keenly aware of the closeness of the likely result with strong pockets of support for the Progressive Independent Kerryn Phelps who won the by-election on 20 October 2018.
As a seasoned ex-diplomat Dave Sharma tends to focus on security issues and international relations in his Hansard speeches and relishes in coverage of perceived non-controversial electorate issues like the pre-election sports grants to the Wentworth electorate (Megan Gorrey, SMH 26 April 2019):
Mr Sharma, who is gearing up for a rematch against Independent MP Kerryn Phelps in the federal seat of Wentworth, joined the Swans chief executive Tom Harley, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday.
The Coalition said at the event that it would set aside funding allocated in the federal budget to build a facility for elite football and netball teams at the Moore Park site.
Dr Phelps, who holds the once-safe Liberal seat on a narrow margin after last year’s byelection, said she had not been invited to the announcement in her electorate and Mr Sharma “had no role there”.
“It certainly created a lot of controversy in the area,” Dr Phelps said. “People stopped me in the street and said they were really angry about it.
Significant numbers of voters in less affluent parts of Sydney still wanted to give market ideology another chance either directly through the LNP or in-directly by casting protest votes for minor centre-right parties in the outer metropolitan and near-metropolitan electorates.
As the hopes generated by the Morrison Government for a speedy economic revival fade, it is doubtful if the old rhetorical mantras will retain their magic until 2022 (Prime Minister’s press conference 6 February 2020):
The Liberals and Nationals have always enjoyed a wonderful relationship. Indeed it’s been the Coalition of Liberals and Nationals that has formed the governments that have been able to deliver for Australians to provide that stability, to keep our economy strong, to keep the focus on national security, to keep our borders secure. But most importantly, the heart of the relationship between the Liberals and the Nationals is our deep passion and conviction for supporting the needs of rural and regional Australians and our belief in the future of rural and regional Australia. And at its heart, that’s what the Coalition is about.
Responding to the social divide in the vicinity of Sydney and responding to hopes for action on climate change is a potential challenge to the existing balances on the 2019 election map from the AEC.
Loss of the seat of Lindsay in 2019 was a major blow to the permanent revival of Labor’s fortunes in Sydney’s Outer West. Here the Green primary vote was insufficient to get Labor across the line after preferences.
The LNP is quite deeply entrenched in Sydney’s Inner Western Seats of Reid and Banks since 2013. The LNP’s hold on Hughes commenced in 1996. The LNP’s margin in Hughes easily survived the strong swing to Labor in 2007.
Even in Sydney’s Inner West, the size of the Green vote was hardly threatening to Labor’s hold on Sydney and Grayndler.
As public opinion swings more strongly in favour of action on climate change, progressive independents might win currently safe LNP electorates like Bennelong on Green preference votes as in the current electorate of Warringah.
The Emergent Problem of Urban Disadvantage
Such progressive appeals are less receptive in near-Metropolitan electorates.
Surprising inroads were made into the primary votes of the major political parties in electorates like Hunter and Paterson from the return of One Nation in 2019. Here the One Nation vote is essentially a protest vote that is embedded in insecurity about jobs, living standards and confusion about energy policies.
A One Nation vote of over 20 per cent in some booths in Hunter should be cause for concern because there is no strong balancing Green vote. In the Muswellbrook East Booth for example the One Nation vote of 28.31 per cent exceeded the National Vote of just 22.10 per cent with Labor losing almost 25 per cent of its primary vote on 2016 returns.
Except for the Central Coast electorate of Robertson, Labor’s final vote held up well after preferences at least in the near-Metropolitan electorates.
Acknowledging the rise of One Nation in disadvantaged Labor Heartlands, justifies a reappraisal of the value of lobbying for a more even-handed allocation of One Nation preferences. Federal Labor managed to secure support from both One Nation and the Jacqui Lambie Network on other controversial issues such as reductions in company tax rates for large corporations and changes to industrial relations legislation.
A more proactive stance on housing affordability, sustainable energy transitions and protection of liveable wages will certainly help Labor in its management of the protest vote from One Nation in disadvantaged near-metropolitan and regional seats without affecting strong preference flows to Labor from Greens candidates.
Treating the One Nation vote as essentially a protest vote against the excesses of market ideology should attract more One Nation preferences back to Labor at a higher rate than the 45 per cent flow in Patterson or the 29.73 per cent in Hunter.
Back in the 2016 election, the One Nation preference flows in Patterson ran at 63.73 per cent to Labor. There was no One Nation candidate in Hunter. In Dobell, 55.84 per cent of One Nation preferences went to Labor in 2016.
Through pragmatic negotiations and direct campaigning against tight preference allocations against Labor, it might be possible to revert to this situation which helped to deliver the Queensland seats of Herbert and Longman to Labor in 2016 and created an even distribution of One Nation preferences in the then highly marginal Central Queensland seat of Flynn. This does not involve any drift to One Nation policies but a re-emphasis of Labor’s traditional policies against social disadvantage, particularly in outer-metropolitan areas.
Under the circumstances of the LNP shrill appeal to self-interest in 2019, maintaining the status quo was surely a remarkable result.
Just off the AEC map, the seat of Gilmore was won back by Labor after being held by the LNP since 1996 under two LNP members. It is immediately to the south of the electorate of Whitlam on the AEC Map.
Retaining the electorate of Macquarie was a high priority for the LNP in 2019. Labor’s Susan Templeman held on in Macquarie despite a 2 per cent swing after preferences by the narrowest margin of 371 votes after winning the seat in 2016.
Further south and well outside the Newcastle-Wollongong Corridor, Labor comfortably retained the three ACT electorates and the marginal bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro despite a swing against Mike Kelly on both primary votes and preferences.
With the right consensus-building policy leadership, Labor can overcome the challenges faced in 2019 in less advantaged metropolitan and near-metropolitan electorates. The protest vote from One Nation delivered seats like Herbert and Longman to Labor through a more balanced allocation of preferences in 2016.
Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Dr Ken Henry raised his concerns about the limitations of market ideology and reliance on commitments to interest rate reductions and cuts to government spending as the crucial variables for our future welfare (Michael Janda, ABC News 6 December 2019):
Former Treasury boss Ken Henry says “something is desperately wrong” with Australia’s economy, which is beset by “structural deficiencies” that cannot be fixed by interest rate cuts or government largesse…
…The man who guided the Australian Government’s economic policies for about a decade after the turn of the century said current policymakers needed to question whether their present course of interest rate cuts and tax reductions could do anything to boost the economy given these more fundamental problems…
…Dr Henry argued the main reason productivity was declining was a lack of business investment in new technology and equipment that increased the efficiency of their workforce.
“Business investment today as a proportion of gross domestic product is almost as low as it was in the depths of the early-90s recession,” he said.
“The reason why Australia celebrates a current account surplus today is because business investment is so weak, we should not be celebrating this, this is sending us a signal that there is something desperately wrong in Australia.”
Just recently, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was still welcoming the upturn in the property market as a positive sign without any inhibitions about the problem of lack of affordability in housing and rents (Jennifer Hewett, AFR 20 January 2020):
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg may still be talking happily about “stabilisation”, but the rapid price increases of the past few months render that description ludicrous. Prices are only stable in the sense that a fast-speeding car can still stay on the road but risks a big fine or a crash. In this case, those in charge of the rules of the road are still trying to catch up to a race they hadn’t realised was restarting.
After a late and unexpected surge in the last few months of 2019, Melbourne and Sydney prices are already up nearly 1 per cent in January according to CoreLogic figures. Real estate agents are juggling a flood of potential buyers rather than the typical January drought.
Cut-backs in federal revenue sharing with the NSW Government are expected to increase in the post-federal election cycle as National Partnership Payments to NSW are wound-back. The 2019-20 NSW Budget Papers show the financial stresses which are being imposed on NSW by the Morrison Government:
There are no National Partnership Payments to NSW for Housing under the Morrison Government. This places pressure on the state government to embark upon more privatisation initiatives to off-set revenue shortfalls.
The days of the Quiet Australians are surely numbered in these times of environmental catastrophes, stagnation of private sector investment and social injustice as well as the shocks generated by recent intrigues within the LNP Coalition.
Wanting Australians to be so docile is really an attack on our national character as noted by the ETU in its opposition to an attempted ban on Union logos on building sites which has been ignored on unionised construction sites:
In a shock to many, the order explicitly included the Eureka flag – a longstanding symbol of freedom and democracy for millions of Australians. The ABCC wrote to builders instructing them that they had to remove:
“images generally attributed to, or associated with an organisation, such as the iconic symbol of the five white stars and white cross on the Eureka Stockade flag.”
Citizens’ journalist Denis Bright checking out the good, the bad and the ugly in corporate society and back-pedalling against unfair wages and working conditions under the false flags of free enterprise and trickle-down wealth agendas.
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