Australia will elect its 31st Prime Minister on Saturday, with a choice between Labor’s Bill Shorten and current Liberal Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
Mr Shorten and his team are tipped to win, though the gap between Labor and the Liberal National Coalition appears to be narrowing according to opinion polls. They have of course been proved wrong at recent state elections, including this year’s New South Wales poll.
What pundits have agreed is that Mr Shorten’s Labor team have campaigned unusually, presenting what is considered one of the most reformist (or radical, depending on one’s point of view) agendas since the ‘70’s. Labor’s extensive list of policies target tax reform, increased health and education spending, wage rises and action on climate change. Campaigning on income tax cuts and a first home owner grant scheme funded by massive cuts to the public service, the Liberals are also trying to capitalise on Mr Shorten’s widely believed unpopularity. Mr Morrison has proved an energetic, likeable and formidable campaigner with a propensity for donning baseball caps. He has fought the campaign almost single- handedly, due to the turmoil within his team and the departure from politics of key ministers. But will it be enough?
Throughout the campaign, Labor’s mantra has been a ‘fair go for workers’ and that it will ensure business pays its share of taxes, boldly adding that each of its policies would be funded by, ‘making multinationals pay their fair share and closing tax loopholes used by the top end of town.’
Liberals counter that Bill Shorten is a ‘bill’ Australia can’t afford.
Shorten’s ‘fair go’ mantra calls for wages growth and packages to ease the cost of living burden for ‘ordinary’ families, including making cancer treatments free, giving certainty to casual workers and raising wages. It’s a canny move, coming after a deluge of appalling examples of corporate greed, including banking and finance institutions openly ripping off customers with dodgy or non existent policies, and excessive fees.
Climate change and energy policies are another striking difference. The Liberal Party lacks credibility in this arena. Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, infamously called climate change, ‘crap.’ He is now battling to hold his once very safe seat against a high profile independent, who has climate change action a central policy. The Liberals also ‘killed off’ their next Prime Minister (the more moderate, Malcolm Turnbull) after his energy policy further polarised the Party’s battalions of moderates and conservatives. The Conservatives won. The policy was dumped, along with Mr Turnbull. Labor then largely adopted the policy, and added commitments to more renewables and support for electric vehicles.
A more obvious point of difference between Labor and the Coalition is unity and consistency in leadership.
Over the past twelve years, consecutive Labor and then Liberal administrations each culled some of their own Prime Ministers. Labor started it, with the Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard/Kevin Rudd bloody leadership coups that alienated its faithful and the general public. It learned, and changed Party rules to ensure it could not be repeated. With Mr Shorten secure as leader, Labor has spent the last six years in opposition with the same team. It is a virtue regularly promoted throughout this campaign, with slick media presentations and regular public appearances of Labor’s experienced, gender-balanced team.
The Coalition, which had benefitted from Labor’s turmoil, seemed not to have learned. After extolling its own unity and consistency, the Liberal team immediately engaged in internal warfare and toppled two of its own Prime Ministers.
The Liberals have also suffered the appearance of a ‘woman problem’. That is, a dearth of senior women in its ranks. Those women who had held leadership positions, and were also popular, chose not to stand for re-election. Some even publicly referred to their Party’s ‘women problem’ directly. The contrast with Labor was stark, made even more so at the Liberal’s campaign launch, curiously held on Mother’s Day. Largely alone, with no former Liberal Prime Ministers or heroes by his side (let alone women leaders), Scott Morrison’s on stage support were his mother, wife and young daughters.
For campaign junkies, this election offers at least two contemporary dynamics; the rise in early voting and surprising social media misbehaviour. That there are people who are, or have been, very stupid online is not a surprise. That they made it through Party selection to become candidates for government, is. A large number either resigned, were sacked, or publicly counselled for an array of crass, offensive and insensitive posts – including nude selfies.
More than three million Australians have already voted. ‘Pre Polling’, as it is known, has been a growing trend in recent Australian elections, most noticeably in the March 2019 New South Wales state election, where a third of voters pre polled.
Nonetheless, future campaign strategists will rethink timings for releasing dirt files or popular policies rather than dumping them in the traditional final week of a campaign, when conventional strategies dictate that voters are (finally) listening.
The certainty, we are assured, is that counting on Saturday night will be long and complex due to this early voting trend. If the result is as close as some predict, we might not know the outcome for days, which is unusual in Australia. Of course, pollsters said the same about the New South Wales election and the result was obvious within 90 minutes of the polling booths closing.
The Powell Tate election nerds will be tweeting throughout the counting (@jacwillcox). Expect our analysis of the outcome, including top takeout policies of the future government, shortly.
By Jacquelynne Willcox, EVP & MD Powell Tate Australia