The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 21:08

Strip clubs, Borat and the Nissan Leaf – Australia’s general election

The last 12 years of Australian politics have seen seven different prime ministers hold office and with the country heading to the polls again in just two weeks, we are likely to see an eighth.

It was just 8 months ago that incumbent prime minister Scott Morrison, of the Liberal Party, entered office following a party leadership coup that ousted the former leader Malcolm Turnbull.

Morrison was seen by the party as a compromise candidate after his predecessor was ousted by far-right factions in the party. Morrison was deemed palatable enough for the electorate, yet extreme enough on immigration policy and his opposition to climate change action to at least temporarily satisfy the far right parliamentary factions.

However, after 8 months at the helm, it looks like the compromise candidate has failed to capture the imagination of Aussie’s and seems certain to be defeated.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten currently leads in the polls by around 2%, running at around 51% whereas the Liberal/National coalition – which sees the centre-right national party aligned with the centre-right liberal party – sitting on around 49%.

This may seem extremely close – and it is – but the Labor party have maintained an advantage in the polls almost constantly since the last election back in July 2016.

However, this is largely misleading and is adjusted for second party preference. When all parties are accounted for, the Liberal party slightly edge out Labor, whilst the Australian voters by a 9 point margin believe that Morrison would make the better prime minister.

Morrison is also the preferred candidate to go for a beer with, leading by a margin of 31-29, whilst he also edges out Shorten as a companion to watch the nation’s national sport with; favoured by over 6% in the eyes of who Aussie’s would most like to watch the footy with.

As a parliamentary system, however, the most important metric of who is likely to win is by analysing the individual seats, Labor has the edge. It is believed that if held today Labor would pick up 77 seats, 9 more than the Liberal/National coalition, seeing Shorten take the keys to The Lodge – Australia’s primary prime ministerial residence.

Although these seem purely comic – and they mostly are – a down to earth politician who doesn’t fit the traditional mould is a favoured option today and Morrison’s advantage in this area may serve him well if the election becomes about personalities, not policies.

In fact, it is over a year since the Liberal/National alliance had a lead, with the governing coalition failing to find themselves ahead during the entire tenure of the Morrison government.

Australia’s electoral system is largely a hybrid of the United States and the United Kingdom, operating a parliamentary democracy embedded within a federal system that is largely unlike any other.

Monday saw the first in a series of debates between the party leaders, with most stating that the Labor leader Bill Shorten outperformed the incumbent PM.

But more interesting than the face-off is how the debate showed the issues of the day in Australia.

The debate held in Western Australia covered issues such as trust – which is severely lacking in Australian politics – and on issues such as climate change and the economy.

However, the debate was somewhat muddied by cheap shots and typically Australian insults, which prevented a meaningful discussion on many policy issues. This was notable during the climate change discussion, where the two leaders exchanged insults over the price of the Nissan Leaf electric car, rather than discussing how their governments would aim to tackle climate change – a threat that would damage Australia’s delicate ecosystem and coastal populations perhaps more than anywhere else.

This is perhaps not surprising given that Scott Morrison ascended to the leadership position on the back of opposition within the Liberal party to a climate change policy with the Liberal party placing the economic value of fossil fuels ahead of the damaging effect these have on the environment.

The election thus far has also been underlined by several scandals, with several Liberal candidates being forced to withdraw from races over xenophobic and homophobic rants. In separate incidents in recent days, two candidates have been pressured to withdraw.

Jeremy Hearn, over an Islamophobic rant, made last year, which pedalled many conspiracy theories. The refusal by the liberal party to sack the candidate has drawn intense criticism, with detractors stating that it exposes the party for some of their underlying beliefs.

Meanwhile, Peter Killin resigned after homophobic comments were made by the prospective representative regarding a homosexual liberal candidate. He called the ‘homosexual lifestyle…distressingly dangerous’ in a string of comments made last year, forcing him to step down.

Scott Morrison himself has received significant criticism for a Borat impression made during a parliamentary debate in recent weeks. Whilst again turning their back on climate change action, Morrison criticised the Labor plan for emissions reduction by evoking the famous Borat phrase ‘very nice’, receiving a swath of backlash for racism and cultural insensitivity.

Meanwhile, other Liberal candidates have faced criticism for likening marriage equality to paedophilia and made distressingly racist remarks.

However, such scandals are not unique to the Liberal’s, with the Labor party recently being forced to take action over anti-Semitic remarks made by Northern Territory candidate Wayne Kurnoth.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Labor candidate Luke Creasey apologised for a series of rape jokes that he made whilst younger, calling them ‘stupid’ and ‘immature’; with the party leadership yet to comment on these remarks.

Even the smaller parties are not immune to scandals, with several Green Party members being accused of sexual misconduct in recent months and former One Nation Party candidates being embroiled in a strip club and corruption scandal.

The One Nation Party lead by the overtly racist Pauline Hanson have been floundering in the polls recently, perhaps given the fact that the liberal party have started to cover much of the ground they previously had a monopoly over.

Meanwhile, the Green Party are struggling to gain much support and have fallen out of favour even more since Labor leader Bill Shorten rejected the idea of working with them on climate policy.

It seems likely that come May 19th Australia will have yet another prime minister, but given the closeness in the polls and the constant stream of scandals, this race certainly is not over.

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