WITH ONGOING counting ameliorating swings against the Coalition in a handful of critical seats, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is nearing an election win, probably with 75 of 150 seats in the House of Representatives; with an eye to the strategic prospects of the Liberal Party and the long-term welfare of Australia, this is a “victory” likely to be extracted at astronomical cost, and one the Coalition parties will regret for many years to come.
The old adage — that “winners are grinners, and losers can do what they like” — is, in this instance, a piece of histrionic frippery that applies to nobody where the 2016 election is concerned; just as this column reluctantly provided a tepid, peg-on-nose endorsement of the Coalition on Saturday on the sole basis it was not Bill Shorten and Labor, there will be no congratulations emanating from this quarter when the results are finally declared, and the leeches and parasites who will now infest the Senate crossbench should give advance consideration to the fact that the behaviour now expected of them will compound a likely national calamity.
First things first: whilst the election result remains undetermined in the most literal sense, a better-than-expected strengthening of the Coalition’s position as counting continues now sees it likely to eke out at least half of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives; yet even if its best-possible case scenario of 77 seats (and perhaps about 50.2% of the national two-party vote) eventuates, it will do nothing to overturn the judgement that the 2016 election has been a debacle that was entirely avoidable, and for which Australia is likely to pay heavily.
I am loath to engage in seat-by-seat commentary, shifting as the electoral sands continue to be, but it now appears the Coalition has taken a seat from Labor (Chisholm in Melbourne) and should hold Forde, on Brisbane’s southern outskirts; five other previously Coalition-held seats remain in the Australian Electoral Commission’s “too close to call” bracket, and whilst the Liberals trail in all five this morning, it does seem likely they will hold at least one of these to make it to the 75-seat halfway mark in the lower house.
But Labor will command a majority of the seats in all states except WA and Queensland, including a total Coalition wipeout in Tasmania for the fifth time in the seven elections since 1998, and all four of the seats in the territories; this is no endorsement of Malcolm Turnbull’s government, although it should equally be noted that (despite the arrogant post-election hubris of Bill Shorten) it is no endorsement of the ALP either, and on one level, both sides — through the humiliation delivered to Turnbull and the failure to triumph by Shorten — have been rewarded with no less than they deserve.
To be clear, there is no winner from the 2016 federal election.
Rather than the near-death experience Turnbull appears to have suffered in the lower house, the greatest disaster of this election — and the greatest disservice it will prove to have inflicted upon the country — is the outcome in the Senate, which now appears likely to be populated by up to 13 crossbenchers in addition to no fewer than nine
The new Senate (which will be constituted immediately the results are declared due to the backdating of terms after a double dissolution) is likely to prove a fatal thorn in the side of the elected government in the lower house; the behaviour of Labor and the Greens in the last Parliament provide a pointer to their likely behaviour now, and those entities — in cahoots with at least two Senators from the imbecilic Jacqui Lambie Network — will be able to block 100% of Coalition legislation through their control of at least 38 of the 76 spots in the upper house.
Opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, set to be unanimously reconfirmed in his position today for a further three years by the ALP caucus, is certain to continue the blanket suffocation tactics he directed Labor to employ over the past three years; for little Billy Bullshit, notions of responsibility and allowing the Coalition to govern are likely to be given short shrift as the malodorous stench of a terminally wounded government emboldens him to focus on the eventual kill, and with an eye to the haemorrhagic state of the federal budget, this means a continuation of the Shorten tactic of waving spending increases through the Senate (if any are even presented) whilst knocking any measures to cut outlays on the head.
The effects of this tactic were thrown into stark focus yesterday, with international financial ratings agency Standard and Poors downgrading Australia’s investment outlook from “stable” to “negative,” and whilst the country retains — for now — its prized AAA credit rating, it seems inevitable that this will soon enough be lost: make no mistake, the ALP is desperate for this downgrade to occur on the Coalition’s watch, and if it does, Shorten and his goons will proclaim it to be the final and irrefutable evidence of the inability of the Coalition to manage the federal budget, and claim final absolution for Labor’s fiscal recklessness during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period.
The reality, of course, will be rather different.
But it is at this point the Coalition is going to begin to pay — really pay — for its utter ineptitude where the ability to fashion and sell a message is concerned; as far back as the early weeks of the Abbott government, Labor was already trying to publicly wash its hands of any responsibility for the mess it left the country’s books in, and the response this effort elicited from the Coalition was misdirected.
Rather than mounting a savage demolition of the ALP from the government benches — as John Howard and Peter Costello did to devastating effect in 1996 — the Coalition instead devoted its energies to justifying targeting its own electoral base (and swinging voters who backed the Coalition in 2013) in a hopelessly ill-focused 2014 budget instead of taking careful aim at the tens of billions of dollars of recurrent social spending legislated by Gillard.
Then-Treasurer Joe Hockey went to the trouble of conducting a Commission of Audit — as Costello did in 1996 — but unlike his predecessor Hockey sat on the final report until the week before his 2014 budget, and only then tried to use its findings against the ALP in what gave every public appearance of being an afterthought.
And despite the wimpish option of slugging its own base with tax hikes and targeting its own constituency of families to wear the bulk of what cuts is actually deigned to attempt, the Abbott government — right from the start — failed to accrue double dissolution triggers based on economic management that might have provided the Coalition with real ammunition to fight the election that is now almost concluded.
Turnbull will have no choice but to abandon the actual pretext he went to the people on — union governance — for after a truly dreadful election campaign, there is simply no point in convening the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament to which the government, after a double dissolution, is entitled; even if it manages a bare majority in the lower house with 76 seats, the Coalition will remain about ten votes short of an absolute Parliamentary majority, and looking at the Senate it is highly plausible that none of the crossbench Senators will vote for its measures to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
As veteran journalist Paul Kelly observed on Sky News last night, Turnbull is obliged, at the minimum, to attempt to pass the union governance measures through the House and the Senate, if for no better reason to be seen to be paying lipservice to the agenda he took to voters. But he is destined to fail in the upper house, and the very notion of convening a joint sitting in an attempt to prevail is now laughable.
In fact, the only group in Australia that can claim to have achieved any kind of victory from the election — unforgivably — is the union movement.
Nobody should believe the protestations from Trades Hall that unions’ overarching objective is to play the role of “safety enforcer” in Australian workplaces; their behaviour over the past three years marks them out as just another political outfit, and one committed to anti-democratic and at times violently brutal enforcement of its objectives.
Unions have been complicit with the ALP in recent years in attempts to rig state elections in Victoria and in Queensland, with rent-a-crowd ring-ins dispatched to marginal seats to masquerade as essential services personnel, and to spread the standard itinerary of Labor lies about fictitiously apocalyptic Coalition “plans” to decimate schools, hospitals, and emergency services.
In both states, unions (and particularly the rancid filth at the bottom of the virulent Trades Hall bucket, the CFMEU) have sought to extract their pound of flesh from the resultant Labor governments they helped get elected; the present attempt in Victoria by the hard-Left United Firefighters’ Union to take over the Country Fire Authority, with the sanction of the Andrews government and in defiance of the vast majority of volunteer CFA firefighters it would shaft, is merely a curtain-raiser to likely similar assaults against a range of targets from the State Emergency Service to surf lifesavers as unions use Labor governments to violate volunteer organisations and to entrench themselves where they are not wanted.
But the malevolent assumption by unions of a role to actively rig elections has been taken a step further in the election campaign that has just been held: union money has flowed to (and been accepted by) almost every non-Coalition candidate, in both Houses of Parliament, with any prospect of defeating the Coalition anywhere in Australia; it is one thing for the unions to campaign against a conservative government (the nature of their outrageous “campaign” tactics notwithstanding), but it is another matter altogether to rig an election by trying to make a conservative victory impossible at the first place before a single vote is cast.
One of the reasons we know the Senate crossbench will do whatever Labor and the unions want it to do is because of the sheer volume of union money that has sluiced through supposedly “independent” campaign funds; any idiot who took union money to bankroll themselves, whilst simultaneously clinging to the delusion they would be able to vote however they liked if elected, is in for a very, very nasty surprise.
Just as the unions were prepared to dish out the largesse to skew the electoral contest and engineer a Shorten victory, they will — as they have shown in Victoria and Queensland — now collect on their investments, and any crossbencher who regards themselves as free to vote with the government at will is going to be very quickly set straight about the realities of the agenda they surrendered to by taking union donations in the first place.
Pointedly, Bob Katter Jr — who yesterday announced “without any enthusiasm” that he had decided to offer the Coalition support on matters of confidence and supply — said that at the first sign of “union bashing,” all bets would be off: exactly what might constitute “union bashing” remains unclear, but it’s a fair bet that this spectre will be evoked if the Turnbull government tries to legislate its union governance measures, irrespective of whether such an enterprise is doomed or not.
But Katter — who also took union money — has also made it known that had the Parliament been hung (which it now seems certain not to be) and had Anthony Albanese been leading Labor instead of the noxious Bill Shorten, he would have backed the ALP to form a government: his “support” for Turnbull can only be understood in this context, and his threat about “union bashing” likely to prove merely a foretaste of the unions’ return on their campaign investments.
Unions are just about the most tainted and compromised organisations in Australia; they are a ship you do not board unless the political agenda of the Left is something you are prepared to unquestioningly back.
Labor, and the unions, have gone to inordinate lengths in recent years to make money from lobbyists, property developers and tobacco firms a no-no, and lethal to the political touch: and so too should be money from the union movement, for the genesis of such funds lies not in the pursuit of industrial safety but rather political brutality, and its objectives are anything but democratic.
Just as Labor and the Greens bang on about “campaign finance reform” — which is code for chopping the Coalition off from funds from the business sector — union money, which both Labor and Greens take, is an absolute no-go where this “principled” stand on donations is concerned.
To be frank, we are very close to the point Australia would be better off without the unions altogether in their current form.
But they will now wield greater influence in this country than they have ever done, with so many little elves and sprites on the loose in both Houses of Parliament to do their bidding; it is a reality that adds a very ugly undercurrent to what promises to be a very ugly three years, in which little is achieved but which lays the groundwork for even more damage to the national interest in coming years.
Whatever the eventual seat tally, the government enters its second term in office with dozens of marginal seats; with no electoral buffer remaining, the Coalition is now exposed to an absolute belting at the next election if things do not go well for it — which is why I have consistently opined that it might have been better for the Liberal Party to go into opposition now.
With a bare majority in the lower house, a gaping shortfall in the Senate and a majority of the two-party vote by the barest of margins — secured against a woefully thin election “manifesto” prosecuted with an appalling campaign — it is difficult for the Coalition to argue it has a mandate for anything at all.
The forces ranged against Turnbull in the upper house will see to it that what little authority he has emerged from the election with is smashed to pieces in extremely short order; it is not without reason that this column has questioned whether Turnbull — a decent individual, even if we disagree with many of his ideas — is really cut out to handle the stifling pressure and incessant crisis atmosphere that will soon enough engulf his government.
He faces an opposition “leader” who will continue to be utterly unscrupulous about the tactics and methods he uses to try to destroy the Coalition once and for all; Bill Shorten received no support from this column over the past three years (where a more reasonable Labor leader might have had his or her moments) and he will receive none now.
He faces a Senate hellbent, either by outright intent or through the puppeteering that will be enforced on it from Trades Hall, on laying the groundwork for a thumping Labor win at the next election.
He faces (justified) internal criticism of not just the terrible campaign he presided over, but of his leadership for the duration of 2016 and the dithering, aimless management style that has seen what might have been a solid election triumph squandered.
And in tackling the increasingly urgent problem of Australia’s fast-deteriorating fiscal position — against the backdrop of a likely, cyclical global economic slowdown or recession within the next few years — the only remedial action the Senate is even remotely likely to permit is a massive increase in taxation to preserve what was always Labor’s spending agenda: pinning the mantle of “highest spending government ever” on the Liberal Party, and fixing the budget ahead of Labor’s return to office.
Two problems fixed at a stroke if you’re Shorten; only one that Turnbull will ever be remembered for if he falls into the trap, and one the Liberals will pay for at the ballot box for many, many years to come.
It is appropriate that Turnbull ultimately, if belatedly, accepted full responsibility for the mess that was the Coalition’s election campaign; the real question is whether or not he will accept responsibility for the next, for electoral humiliation in three years’ time is likely to be the price for Turnbull’s survival by a hair’s breadth now.
This is a “victory” of the hollowest possible kind; a government re-elected to do very little will in practice be able to do almost nothing unless it accedes to the belligerence of its opponents, in which case it will be absolutely crucified for its actions.
A perfect storm has been established with more than a little help from the shockingly deficient capacity of the Coalition — from the very top down — to competently prosecute the political imperatives of the excellent position in which it found itself three years ago.
Aside from the government’s ongoing electoral prospects, the biggest victim will be the national interest, which has been heavily compromised for almost a decade, but which is likely to suffer now in ways that haven’t been experienced in 25 years.
Over to you, Malcolm.