Na­tion di­vided wedges ALP

The West Australian - - OPINION -

No na­tional po­lit­i­cal party can give its op­po­nent a 29-seat head start in a House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives cov­er­ing 151 elec­torates. Un­less La­bor does some­thing about its fail­ure to com­mu­ni­cate with vot­ers in Queensland gen­er­ally and the WA non-met­ro­pol­i­tan dis­tricts specif­i­cally, that’s just what will con­tinue to hap­pen.

With the dust all but set­tled on last month’s Fed­eral elec­tion, we can pick over a frac­tured na­tion and how WA and Queensland make that frac­ture an elec­toral bonus for the LNP/CLP/Lib­er­als/ Na­tion­als broad coali­tion.

Put to­gether the 23 LNP seats in Queensland and six non-met­ro­pol­i­tan Lib­eral seats in WA and the Coali­tion starts with a no­tional 29-seat ad­van­tage.

Get this: La­bor holds just one non-met­ro­pol­i­tan seat in Queensland, Blair, based around Ip­swich — it­self re­ally part of the greater south-east Queensland conur­ba­tion. In WA all five non-met­ro­pol­i­tan seats are held by the Lib­er­als.

Former na­tional jour­nal­ist and keen-eyed map­per of trends and vot­ing habits Ge­orge Me­ga­lo­ge­nis points out La­bor would have emerged the win­ner if the May 18 con­test was con­fined to NSW, Vic­to­ria and the ACT. “La­bor would have gov­erned com­fort­ably with 48 seats against the Coali­tion’s 37,” he says.

“Add the two poor­est States, South Aus­tralia and Tas­ma­nia, and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, and the La­bor ad­van­tage over the Coali­tion ex­tends to 14 seats — 57 ver­sus 43 with a cross­bench of five. More than two-thirds of the coun­try — 105 of the 151 seats in the Fed­eral Par­lia­ment — is cov­ered here.”

Me­ga­lo­ge­nis says the La­bor ma­jor­ity in this two-thirds of the coun­try was stopped dead be­cause the other one-third — WA and Queensland — has

voted staunchly con­ser­va­tive for al­most all the past 60 years.

La­bor’s his­tory in Queensland is that of a party which, on av­er­age, would only man­age one in three seats (twice the ALP held on to just one or two elec­torates). It is now be­gin­ning to look like that los­ing av­er­age is slip­ping to a new low of one in four.

Me­ga­lo­ge­nis says even though the de­mog­ra­phy of Aus­tralia leans cen­tre-left (seen in that dom­i­nance by the ALP in those 105 of the 151 na­tional seats), La­bor has to find a path to vic­tory that de­fies this eas­ily mapped ten­dency.

La­bor be­lieved it had more paths to vic­tory be­cause of the pre­dom­i­nance of nar­rowly held Coali­tion seats in the east coast cap­i­tals of Bris­bane and Mel­bourne as well as Perth on the other side of the coun­try.

“(La­bor) did not see the re­sent­ment a cap­i­tals-first ap­proach would cre­ate in the fringes of the cities and in the re­gions,” he says.

“But let’s as­sume it worked. La­bor’s met­ro­pol­i­tan ma­jor­ity would have been no more uni­fy­ing for the na­tion than the Coali­tion’s Queensland-first gam­ble.”

Us­ing Me­ga­lo­ge­nis’ cal­cu­la­tions and the­sis, it is clear both sides were play­ing with fire as they ac­tu­ally in­creased the al­ready ex­ist­ing ur­ban/non-ur­ban and lower-in­come/higher-in­come po­lar­i­sa­tion across Aus­tralia.

“La­bor lost a winnable elec­tion be­cause it couldn’t ex­pand its ma­jor­ity in Vic­to­ria,” he says.

“The Coali­tion re­stored its gov­ern­ing ma­jor­ity thanks to a blowout in Queensland. The Aus­tralian Elec­toral Com­mis­sion sorts the po­lit­i­cal map 55/45 be­tween the cities and the re­gions. Of the 82 seats in the cap­i­tals, La­bor won 49 and the Lib­er­als 30. Of the 69 in the re­gions, the Coali­tion won 47 and La­bor just 19. In each zone, there were three in­de­pen­dents.”

These num­bers tell the story. Add to this ge­o­graphic analysis the in­ter­nal splits which bi­fur­cated what had been tra­di­tional La­bor-vot­ing elec­torates.

Carmela Chivers, a po­lit­i­cal econ­o­mist at the Grat­tan In­sti­tute, pulled apart the swing to­wards and against La­bor in 4500 polling booths us­ing two-party pre­ferred re­sults.

She charted vot­ing changes with three so­cial class mea­sures: in­come, education and the dis­tance from the near­est CBD.

Chivers found the poor, the iso­lated and the lit­tle ed­u­cated were more likely to switch votes to the Coali­tion while any swing to La­bor was con­fined to “the priv­i­leged res­i­dents of the in­ner cities”. Di­vid­ing vot­ers into five groups by in­come, she found the richest one-fifth swung to La­bor while ev­ery other one-fifth pro­por­tion shifted to­wards the Coali­tion, in­clud­ing the low­est-in­come group.

Chivers’ analysis pin­pointed the largest swing as be­ing in the sec­ond-poor­est quin­tile (“lower mid­dle class”), where 2.4 per cent shifted to the Coali­tion.

All this shows how clever the Coali­tion was in gam­bling on a Queensland-first strat­egy, us­ing Bill Shorten’s en­trenched un­pop­u­lar­ity to un­lock per­mis­sion for ev­ery claim and at­tack line, backed with an equally laser-sharp cam­paign in WA. It also shows why both sides will be tempted to fur­ther po­larise the coun­try in 2022.

Noth­ing sug­gests things will get bet­ter any time soon.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Don Lind­say

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