The federal election was always Labor’s to lose. It was the front runner for the past three years in all the published polls and that lasted right up until the exit polls on the Nine Network at 6pm on Saturday.
It came crashing to the ground around 8pm when the ABC’s expert election analyst, Antony Green, concluded on the weight of evidence coming in from the Australian Election Commission that the voters were behaving very differently than we were all led to believe.
But before we get carried away the pollsters weren’t horribly wrong, just wrong. The result is still a tight election with a narrow majority government. In many ways it is a status quo result. The Coalition is in power – just, as it has been for the past three years. At the time of writing, the Australian Electoral Commission has the Coalition nationally leading Labor 50.87% to 49.13% after preferences. Even if that blows out to closer to 52%, the Morrison Government’s majority looks like being three seats and therefore vulnerable next time to defeat – much as Paul Keating’s surprise “victory for true believers” in 1993 did not save him from the Howard landslide in 1996.
Politicians and journalists take notice of opinion polls in between times as a guide to how a government is travelling; much weight is given to polls and not enough to how the government is performing in terms of its delivery of policies that are in the national interest (and that is a nice way of saying for the benefit of as many citizens as possible).
In the past, governments and prime ministers were prepared to make unpopular decisions in between times and argue for their merits. But as we have seen over the past 12 years, a loss of popularity has triggered internal revolts and a revolving door of our nation’s leaders. Scott Morrison is in the fortunate position of having no discernible rival and, having won the “unwinnable” election, is further bolstered by a deserved authority within the governing Liberal Party. If this proves not to be the case, the odds of the Coalition pulling off another “miracle” win will be slight indeed.
In Canberra we have again seen the voters buck the national trend and emphatically return Labor MPs but despite a strong “Dump Zed” campaign, our only federal Liberal representative Zed Seselja held off all challengers for his Senate seat. Katy Gallagher is back as Labor’s Senator and has already identified how this public service town could be in for a rough time in the three years ahead. She says the Coalition’s proposed $1.5 billion cut to the public service means there are dangerous times ahead.
Further discomfort for Canberrans could come if pork barrelling in the guise of decentralisation sees more agencies transferred to Nationals’ electorates. But Morrison’s promise to deliver a strong economy is a more immediate concern for us all.