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As votes are still being counted in an election that has reshaped the political map. What do the results mean for the future of Australian politics?

How did the Liberal Party get it so wrong?

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After Saturday’s election result, the Coalition have begun a post-mortem on what went wrong as incoming Liberal leader Peter Dutton vows the party won’t become ‘Labor-lite’. 

And, in his first week as Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese has wasted no time in sending signals about the kind of government he intends to lead.

But as votes are still being counted in an election that has reshaped the political map. What do the results mean for the future of Australian politics? What will the greatest challenges for the new parliament be? And where will the battle lines be drawn?

Today, to analyse all the latest events, we’re joined by chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton, election analyst from The Tally Room, Ben Raue and columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

 

Read Transcript

[Themem Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“We will establish a national anti-corruption commission. I've asked for that work to begin already.” 

RUBY:
In his first week as Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese has wasted no time in sending signals about the kind of government he intends to lead.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“And we will, of course, be advancing the need to have constitutional recognition of First Nations people, including a voice to Parliament that is enshrined in that constitution.”  

RUBY:
But votes are still being counted in an election that has reshaped the political map. What do the results mean for the future of Australian politics? What will the greatest challenges for the new parliament be? And where will the battle lines be drawn?

Today, we’re joined by our election panel:

Chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton,

Election analyst from The Tally Room, Ben Raue,

And columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

It’s Friday May 27.

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Okay. So hello, everyone, and welcome back to the panel.

KAREN:
Thanks, Ruby. 

PAUL:
Good morning. 

RUBY:
It's been...Morning Paul, morning, Ben.

BEN:
Hello. 

RUBY:
It's been almost a week now since election night and things have moved pretty quickly. And that time the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has been in Japan meeting with world leaders. Meanwhile, back at home the Liberal Party is trying to work out exactly what it is that went wrong for them on election night. So Karen, internally within the coalition, where is the blame being laid for this loss? 

KAREN:
Well, it depends who you talk to, I guess. I mean, there are a number of versions of history emerging already, which tends to happen when there's an election loss like this. I think from outside, I would say women appear to have voted in significant numbers in key seats against the coalition. I think there was a vote that was very deliberately targeting action on climate change and integrity in those so-called teal seats in particular. And I think there's a message overall of, you know, not to take your community for granted, not to ignore what the community wants, to listen and to be seen, to be responding, and that there was an anti Scott Morrison vote overlaying all of that as well. And a number of Liberals have come out since the election and said that Scott Morrison's brand and attitude was a problem for them in their seats.

RUBY:
Mm. I wanted to ask you about that, Paul because there was a lot of talk going into this election about whether Scott Morrison would actually push voters away from the Coalition because of this personal dislike for him. So is that what happened? 

PAUL:
Well, it certainly is. An inside source told me that even at Liberal Party headquarters in the last week or so of the election campaign, a notice went up. No Morrison posters backing that information up, if you like, is the way in which Scott Morrison literally was too toxic to go into the city seats of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. So, you know, you're in trouble if your leader can't campaign in your hitherto city seats and your hitherto heartland seats. I was told a couple of weeks ago, you might remember one Liberal told me that Morrison was worth three points off the party's vote. 

RUBY:
Hmm. And so, Ben, looking at the results, can you tell me about the seats then, where this election was won and lost, where it was all decided?

BEN:
Well, it was the cities. I think there's kind of three main threads. There was a bunch of coalition seats, some of which have been very safe for a very long time that were lost to independents, to Greens. The second group is there was a cluster of multicultural seats in kind of mid-suburban Sydney and Melbourne that either fell or came surprisingly close to falling. That's responsible for at least three more losses for the government. Plus they didn't pick up Parramatta that they might have otherwise picked up. And then thirdly, you have why Labor got a massive swing across Western Australia and won seats all across Perth, regardless of the other demographics that existed there. So you add those three things up and that basically explains it, whereas country Australia largely stayed still.

PAUL:
Just gonna jump in. Labor mainly redressed that enormous swing against Shorten Labor at the previous election and now is within touch in at least three of the regional seats further north in Queensland. And Labor thinks that, you know, depending on how well they go in the next three years, they may be better positioned to have a go for them.

RUBY:
Hmm. And what about voters from Chinese backgrounds, Ben? Because you raised this as an issue early on in the campaign, you said that there was a real possibility that there were seats like Chisholm would go to Labor, and that's what we saw happen.

BEN:
Yes. So we saw across a swathe of seats in Sydney and Melbourne that wasn't just that seats with a large Chinese population swung to Labor because there could be multiple explanations for that. But specifically the suburbs within those electorates had very large Chinese populations of. Had the peak of the swing to Labor. You saw this in Reid, Bennelong, you saw it in Banks which Labor did not win, but they, they did gain swings in kind of the Hurstville area. And then in Melbourne you saw it in Chisholm and you saw it in Menzies too, which was a surprise close race. The Liberal Party almost lost. Menzies has some large Chinese populations in Menzies, around Doncaster and those areas had the biggest swings as well. So, you know, we have a lot of theories about why that happened. It clearly was a topic of conversation early in the campaign, but it clearly did hurt the Coalition and they didn't do well with that demographic. 

KAREN:
When I spoke to people in both major parties partway through the campaign and that emerged as an issue, they were both sides saying privately that the language the government had used around China was offending people because the coalition government kept talking about the Chinese instead of the government of China. And there was an anger about the use of the phrase The Manchurian Candidate against Labor's Richard Marles in the Parliament too, before the election was called. We noticed in the last week or two of the campaign that Scott Morrison started being more specific and saying the government of China and saying When I speak about China, I'm talking about the government, I'm not talking about the Chinese people who are great Australian citizens of Chinese background, etc., etc.. So that was confirmation that that was the problem in those seats. And I agree with Ben. You've seen a distinct swing to Labor in seats and in booths in suburbs in those seats that normally would vote coalition and the Chinese Australian vote, insofar as you can distinguish it in those places, has tended to favour the Coalition in the past. 

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:
Karen, what is your sense of how Albanese will operate in this kind of Parliament with this large cross-bench in either a minority or a very slim majority government? 

KAREN:
I think he means what he says when he talks about consensus. He's drawn a lot from the Hawke style of government. He's talked about that. He talked to me about that when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago and Bob Hawke became a kind of a mentor to him in the last years of his life in terms of talking about how government works. On the inside, I mean, Albanese's been in government before under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. He, as we've discussed under Julia Gillard, was leader of the House and responsible for negotiating with the crossbench in minority government. So he understands the need to maintain good relationships with those people and give a bit and take a bit and try and find a consensus. And he's been pushing that line all through the pandemic as well. And I think he's also aware of the fatigue and disillusionment in the community, the lack of trust, the anger at the way government has operated in the last few years. So I think the overall overriding feeling at the moment will be to try and take the community with them in whatever they're seeking to do. And they've been laying the groundwork on some of the thornier issues, like potentially thornier issues that they could see some pockets of resistance like the voice to Parliament, the Uluru Statement, things like that, that should be bipartisan and have the whole community behind them, and that it's important going forward that they do to achieve change. So I think you'll see him trying to make sure that he doesn't foment those kinds of divisions and provide opportunities for opportunist political opponents to exploit them in the way that we've seen on climate change in a number of other issues in the last decade or so.

PAUL:
And on that point, Karen, I think that we could see conflict and pressure on the Albanese Government coming not from the right, for example, on Climate Change and Integrity Commission, but if you like, from the progressive left. So we could actually see a fight not over the end goal, but what it should look like. And it's going to be fascinating to test Albanese's consensus style. And don't forget, whatever happens in the reps the Greens are going to have a mighty big say up there in the Senate. 

KAREN:
Well, I think they'll also have a say in the Reps and I agree with you, Paul. I think that's right. I think the Greens are putting stakes in the ground now on issues like climate action and targets, things like that, where they will press the Labor Government to go harder than they have gone. And that's going to be a test for Albanese trying to manage the left flank as well as any risk of exploitation on the right. And if he's talking about bringing everyone with him, that means both sides. 

RUBY:
Mm.

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“I've learnt a lot from the leaders I've served under and I believe that we can win the next election. But there's a lot of work between now and then and the Liberal Party has to get back to being a Liberal Party…”

RUBY:
Let's talk a little bit more about Peter Dutton because he missed out on the Liberal leadership in 2018, but that was only by five votes at the time. So is his selection now a natural step for the Liberal Party, Karen, or is there some opposition internally? 

KAREN:
There's some anxiety internally amongst people who who see him as too conservative and who are critical about some of the things he has said and done in the past. You know, the fomenting of concern about African gangs in Victoria, which was, you know, found to be unwarranted. Police raised concerns about, you know, some of the attitudes he took. I think he he took a critical attitude to the apology to the Stolen Generations and the like. So there's some concern amongst some of his colleagues about that. He's saying, you haven't seen my nice side. You'll get to see it more. We've heard him say that before. He said that at a news conference when he announced he was going to challenge for the leadership in 2018. I get to smile now and you get to see it. One wonders why we don't get to see it, if that's the real Peter Dutton. You know, always it's problematic for every politician in any party when they start saying now you're going to see the real me, the real Scott Morrison during the campaign, the real Julia back in 2013. It smacks a little bit of ‘hang on…’. I mean, so there's those concerns. Having said that, Peter Dutton is the obvious choice now in the absence of Josh Frydenberg, he's not around. Peter Dutton is the one lined up in the box seat and those who know him well say he is a different person in private than he is in public. So maybe he's just failed to cultivate that public persona in a warmer and more engaging way. And we've seen that he's got some work to do even when he becomes Liberal leader in engaging with the public in a different way. You know, he'll be under pressure from the right to go further to the right. He'll be under pressure from those moderates remaining to pull the party back to the centre. And he's got some analysis to do on where to position the Liberal Party best. Probably is a good idea to start with working out what they believe in and advocating for that quite strongly because I think there's been a bit of an absence of that in recent years.

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“We can't be Labor-lite and we won't be If I'm elected leader of the Liberal Party. We need to make sure that we have points of difference, that we stand true to our values, that we understand our heritage and those that support us. We're not the moderate liberal-...moderate conservative party, we're not the conservative moderate party, we are the Liberal Party, and that's the approach that I want to take…” 

RUBY:
Well, ultimately the question will be whether or not he will be attractive enough to voters. And I wonder, Ben, what previous polls tell us about that, because he has been a fairly unpopular figure with the public, hasn't he?

BEN:
When pollsters have asked about who you'd prefer to be the Liberal leader to be prime minister, he hasn't done very well in those polls. You know, he was easily beaten by Josh Frydenberg in the recent polls that were all saying who would be your preferred leader? And before that, in the previous round of leadership speculation, he was usually down the bottom of the ticket. The one thing I would say is maybe he has a little bit of room to breathe by the fact that the Coalition is not super critical to passing legislation or anything in the new parliament. Sure, there's still a small chance it might be a hung parliament. Labor won't…even if Labor does get a majority, they won't have a large majority and they won't have the numbers in the Senate. But, in a sense Peter Dutton can kind of sit back a little bit, reinvent himself, give the Government a little bit time to work. He doesn't have to be an attack dog. Any kind of has a little bit of time to work his way into the job. 

PAUL:
We can't really have a discussion about the Liberal Party without discussing the National Party. They joined at the hip, if you like, handcuffed. And we know Barnaby Joyce is fighting hard to remain leader. He's already put out there that he sees the job of the Nationals to oppose from day one. He sees this as the sort of style of politics that has allowed the Nationals, despite a few frights here and there, to retain all of their seats. So we could well see the first big battle that Peter Dutton has is with his Coalition partners. 

RUBY:
And what's your sense, Karen, on the next moves for the Liberal Party under Dutton? 

KAREN:
Yeah, it's a big challenge. As I said, I think Peter Dutton has to decide if he wants to attack, if he wants to move to the right as some of the more right wing commentators are urging him to do. I think that's a misreading of the electorate myself, because I think the whole reason the moderates were targeted by Teal candidates in those seats was because the moderates were seen to have not had a moderate enough influence on the Liberal Party that a lot of them campaigned saying, well, you know, you really the Liberal Party is really adhering to the views of Barnaby Joyce and not the views of the moderate MPs that they were targeting. So I suspect he will try to moderate and to be more of a consensus figure in the Liberal Party, but they have got a massive rebuilding job to do because they've hollowed themselves out rhetorically in policy terms and physically now in the Parliament over the last four years, and they have to rebuild on all of those fronts if they're going to have a hope of winning again in three years time. And and Anthony Albanese told me a couple of weeks ago that his strategy involved not only a campaign to get into government and a list of agenda items once in government, but an agenda for a second term in government and and a way of staying in government and being able to legislate change that, he says, will take two terms. So he's thinking about a second term already and the Liberal Party should be doing the same.

RUBY:
Thank you all for your time once again. Much appreciated. 

KAREN:
Thanks, Ruby. 

BEN:
Thank you, Ruby. 

PAUL:
Thank you. Bye. 

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Also in the news today,

 

The Foreign Minister Penny Wong has made a trip to Fiji, to meet with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. 

 

Wong stressed Australia’s commitments to security and addressing climate change to the government in Fiji.

 

She said that “Australia will listen to our Pacific partners as we work together to face our shared challenges.”

 

And in London, the full report into lockdown-breaking parties in and around Downing Street has been released.

 

The report investigated 15 events which involved people gathering during Covid lockdowns and found UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson attended eight of these events.

 

The report concluded that “the public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”

 

**

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Anu Hasbold and Alex Gow.

 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

 

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Scott Mitchell. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

** 

And this week was the final week at 7am for our Senior Producer Ruby Schwartz. She’s been part of the team since the very beginning of the show, and she’ll be very missed. We wish her all the best on her next venture.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See you next week.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guests

Karen Middleton is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.

Ben Raue Election analyst from The Tally Room