The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has repeatedly ruled out an early election, claiming “there is no plan, intention or consideration given to doing anything other than having an election at the usual time, which will be in the first half of 2019”.
This statement, of course, is not correct. Political parties of all persuasions constantly war game the ‘what-ifs’ of politics – possible election dates under different leaders, and different scenarios, and take in as many external factors as possible: other state elections, budgets, world events, economic circumstances, polling.
Right now, the team of researchers at Liberal Party headquarters would be punching in all the permutations under different leaders: the incumbent, Malcolm Turnbull, and the wide range of possible challengers; Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg.
But how likely is a 2019 election, and would it be an advantage to the government to hold an early election? A normal election for the House of Representatives and half-Senate can be held between 4 August 2018 and 18 May 2019. The conventional wisdom is that governments don’t call elections unless they are convinced they can or will win, or at the least, choose an election date where they are less likely to lose.
My feeling is the Government will choose a date in August 2018, as this offers the best chance of winning, or putting it a different way, the least chance of losing. And what of the idea of holding onto government for as long as possible? That’s not in Turnbull’s nature – if he feels his chances are better in August 2018, rather than May 2019, that’s when he’ll call an election.
And if an election is called for August 2018, what are the chances of the Liberal–National Party holding onto government? Although it’s never wise to write off a political outcome in a two-horse race, and especially when we never can tell which political events will arise in the future, I’m not saying anything new when I suggest their chances are very slim. Behind in the polls, long odds with bookmakers, with a Coalition that seems to be permanently at war with itself, and well as continuous poor political management.
Whatever reservations the electorate has about the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, it seems these will be cast aside at the next election, in the same way these reservations were cast aside for the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, during the 2013 election.
So, what are the issues this government can actually run on, and what have they done since they’ve been in office since September 2013? Well, not very much is the answer but, true to the essence of a conservative party, there is a massive list of the areas they have opposed.
Here’s an abridged version:
- Opposed the Royal Commission into the banking and financial services industries ever since it was proposed in 2016, and rejected it more than 20 occasions in Parliament.
- Opposed a far superior fibre-to-premises broadband, even though their mixed technology method will be more expensive, and less reliable.
- Opposed renewable energy technologies and ignored new industries of the future.
- Opposed an increase in superannuation contributions.
- Rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the timetable for recognition of Indigenous rights.
- Rejected the original Gonski plan for reforms to education funding, and made the funding system more inequitable.
- Rejected permanent funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
- Repealed the carbon tax, even though this was bringing in revenue to the government and reducing carbon emissions.
- Opposed increased wages for low-paid workers.
- Implemented funding cutbacks to the ABC and SBS.
- Implemented funding cutbacks to legal aid support across Australia.
- Implemented funding cutbacks of $500 million to Indigenous social, health and legal services.
- Opposed a rise in aged pensions payments.
- Implemented funding cutbacks for aged nursing homes at the beginning of 2017.
- Opposed proposals for a federal corruption commission.
- Opposed changes to negative gearing to make the system more equitable and affordable for the budget.
- Removed weekend penalty rates for workers in many service industries.
- Decimated the car manufacturing industry in Victoria and South Australia.
- Opposed same-sex marriage.
- Ignored international conventions for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.
- Opposed reforms to the political donations system.
- Reduced the amount of national marine parks.
- Reduced funding for biodiversity schemes and support.
In addition, government debt has increased to an estimated $626 billion, wages have stagnated, and unemployment has risen. Even their good economic news, such as the creation of over 403,000 jobs in the 2017 calendar year, is littered with asterisks and caveats. The only serious economic claim the Government can make is they’ve kept interest rates low – and it may turn out to be the case that this is not such a great economic panacea.
The Liberal–National Party has failed on many levels, and is more intent on trying to resolve the leadership schism between the progressive and conservative rumps, than providing good governance. But for all their woes, why are the average national polls only showing a lead to the Labor Party of 52.5 per cent in the two-party preferred figure?
This figure needs to be placed into context. In psephological terms, around 60 per cent of the electorate is ‘rusted-on’ with their vote intentions, evenly divided between conservative and progressive politics, with the remaining 40 per cent likely to change, or swing their vote at each election. Taking away the voters that are likely to vote in the same way each election, the polls indicate 56.5 per cent will vote Labor, and only 43.5 per cent that will vote LNP. And that’s the main reason why it will be difficult for the LNP to win the next election – this vote has been constant since August 2016, and there’s very little to suggest the government has done anything to improve their fortunes since that time.
While it’s possible for a party to win government with a figure of 47.5 per cent of the two-party preferred figure, this has never occurred before, and the lowest two-party preferred vote to win government was the Howard government in 1998, with only a TPP vote of 48.5 per cent. And the proposed redistributions in Victoria and South Australia will technically place the LNP into a minority position, meaning that it will need to increase its vote from the 2016 election to win government.
If the average polling moves closer to 52 per cent, or 51.5 per cent, that’s when politics and the next election could become interesting. While I think this is very unlikely to happen, if the Labor Party feels that it needs a change of leadership to secure an election victory, it will manufacture a change closer to the next election – similar to the way Opposition Leader Bill Hayden was removed by Bob Hawke, just before the 1983 election was announced.
Otherwise, expect to see a replay of the 2016 Turnbull–Shorten election contest at some point in August 2018 – not because it offers the LNP the best chance of victory, but because this schedule offers its lowest chance of losing. And under this scenario, outside events and pot-luck are the biggest factors that come into play.