Australia’s Bellwether Election Weekend is Ominous for Turnbull

I’ll be occasionally posting some stuff that was written a while ago for other blogs, and which I never got around to posting here, just because it’s interesting to see how some of my “analyses” have stood the test of time.

This one is mostly interesting because of its observation on the downward spiral of the Coalition under Turnbull’s leadership.

Bill Shorten: when you’re losing to this guy, you know you’re in trouble.

The most recent round of Australian elections — two state elections and a Federal by-election — has some interesting things to say about the state of play at both levels of government. At a state level, voters are deserting minor parties, and the Greens especially — but Labor rarely reap the benefit. All of this goes directly to Malcolm Turnbull’s floundering rule: just how is it even possible that he’s losing to a rabble like this?

The South Australian state election ended 16 years of Labor rule, but the big loser was Nick Xenophon and his SA Best party. Despite being touted by some over-eager media pundits as “potentially South Australia’s next premier”, not even Xenophon won a seat.

Xenophon was first elected to the SA parliament as an anti-pokies independent, before moving to Federal politics in 2008. Xenophon became one of the cross-benchers holding the balance of power in the Upper House. He leveraged his image as a kingmaker, but ultimately looked too much like he desperately wanted to avoid becoming king. All power and no responsibility: Xenophon wanted to be able to call the shots while safely leaving someone else in the top seat to take the hits.

Bill Shorten is pursuing a similar policy at the Federal level. As part of that, and also to steal the Greens’ thunder in the Batman by-election, Shorten finally came out against Queensland’s planned Adani coal mine after months of trying to keep an each-way bet.

Labor tried to keep up appearances, parachuting a former union boss into the seat for some blue-collar cred, but the issue was always Adani. Shorten straddled a barbed-wire fence for as long as he could: opposing the mine risked alienating the powerful blue-collar unions, supporting it would lose him the greenies for whom the mine has become a totemic issue. The Batman by-election was a pivotal battle in the war for the left-wing vote.

Batman is a Labor redoubt. They’ve held the seat since 1969, and only lost it, briefly, twice before over the preceding century. But Batman is also smack inside the “hipster-proof fence” of inner-Melbourne suburbs that form the Greens’ voting base.

With their vote plummeting around the country, the Greens desperately needed to win Batman to prove they were still relevant. But their horrendous campaign was riven by open factional warfare.

Money was no expense for Labor. Shorten threw a 250 million bribe at the Catholic school sector, and the Micks went to work, robo-calling literally almost every household in an electorate where private schooling is a key status symbol.

But Shorten also finally stopped pretending, and made it clear that the “worker’s party” has finally gone full watermelon. Shorten finally showed his hand, and declared that he was opposed to the Adani coal mine. Not doing so would have seen the hipsters of Batman flocking to the Greens. Shorten has to hope that mining workers in battleground state Queensland will get over their betrayal before the next Federal election rolls around.

Shorten can also bank on Malcolm Turnbull continuing his hapless clown show in Canberra. This is not a contest the Coalition should be losing. Labor have openly shafted their political base, and are lead by a deeply unpopular weasel who is a byword for grubby deals and blatant hypocrisy. The economy is humming along nicely. Labor have lost elections in two states in as many weeks.

The next election should be the government’s to lose: and thanks almost entirely to the waffling incompetence of Turnbull, they almost certainly will.

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