18 May 2022

The uninspiring blandness of the Australian Federal Election

I quite like elections, I like them being a battle of ideas, of philosophy and of personalities, as they provide the most obvious time to focus on what are the differences between the individuals who want the power to impose laws on people.

Australia is having a Federal Election, and as someone with a second home in Australia, I'm interested in the outcome, but I am not very interested in the contenders. I don't get a vote anyway (and if I did, it would be compulsory, which is just grotesque, as government shouldn't be decided by the proportion of the public who vote because they have to, without having a clue as to what is going on).

Typically I should be aligned with the Liberal Party - which is meant to be liberal in the classical sense, as the party of less government, of individual rights and freedoms.  However you wont see much sign of that in Scott Morrison and the Liberal/National Coalition (the "Coalition") agenda for what would be its fourth term (albeit second term for Scott Morrison).  It's gone from Tony Abbott, a committed conservative with some classical liberal instincts, to Malcolm Turnbull, a dripping wet centrist, to Scott Morrison, a marketing man. It is campaigning mainly on being a safe set of hands compared to the Labor Party (the ALP). 

The best that can be said about the Coalition is it isn't the ALP, which is currently led by a shiny light of its left faction - Anthony Albanese. A man who was a low ranking Infrastructure Minister when Kevin Rudd was PM, but who was adamently against the Hawke/Keating reforms that opened up the Australian economy, and stripped away decades of neo-mercantalist, protectionist inefficiency.  

However, the Coalition ought to be better than just that.  It might claim that it has been a safe set of hands over the pandemic, but the pandemic is almost over, and nobody cares anymore (especially since the States had a key role - the Federal Government was primarily responsible for vaccinations, and control of the national borders).  The Coalition has spent up large protecting the economy from collapse during the pandemic, and to its credit has advanced on national defence. Unlike the weak and almost irrelevant New Zealand, Australia does have a serious defence force, and the Morrison Government did scrap a ridiculous contract for French diesel submarines, in favour of US/UK nuclear-powered ones. The Morrison Government has been tough on the People's Republic of China and copped a lot of flak over that, for simply asking for an investigation into the origins of Covid 19. Australia has pivoted from its high dependency on Beijing for trade, to being clearly on the front-line of challenging Beijing over Covid and its expansionism.  It deserves some credit for this.

Domestically though, it is characterised as being a Government that grants favours to marginal electorates in terms of public spending, and has grown the public sector incrementally. It has embarked on no serious reforms to address issues such as housing or the hotch-potch of taxes at Federal and State levels.  There have been numerous report on how to raise productivity in Australia, and little to show for it. In short, the Coalition is virtually out of steam, and I doubt anyone who votes for it (or preferences it over the ALP) thinks they are supporting a reformist Government.  They're voting to stop the ALP.

And what of the ALP? It governs in 6 out of the 8 states or territories (the Coalition only governs in New South Wales and Tasmania), but it has focused on character with attack campaigns that claim Morrison is a flake who rejects he is accountable for anything. Yet the ALP's main promises are around being tougher on climate change (claiming enormous cuts in power bills by spending a fortune on renewables) and more for areas of social spending such as salaries for (mainly unionised) staff in aged care and healthcare.  

The rhetoric of both Albanese and Morrison is largely vacuous and banal.  The ALP is promising not very much, because last election it thought it would win, and lost because Australians feared more taxes and an unproven leader. 

On the sidelines are the Greens, who want to radically undermine mining and have candidates who think Australia should be much more accommodating to China.  Pauline Hanson continues to attract rightwing voters mainly in Queensland who are less tolerant of the woke culture wars, and billionaire Clive Palmer has been spending a fortune promoting his United Australia party which has wacky policies on taxing mining to pay off debt, and freezing interest rates.  This appeared as a full page ad in several newspapers (Craig Kelly has been touting Ivermectin as a cure for Covid for ages).

I mean really?

On the bright side is the Liberal Democrats, the closest to a libertarian party, which actually does campaign for less government and isn't socially conservative.  However, it will be a push for it to get a Senator elected (don't even get started on talking about the Australian electoral system).  A lot of attention has been paid to the so-called "climate independents" who all share branding and are funded by billionaire heir Simon Holmes à Court, to stand only in Liberal seats (and in many cases against moderate liberal MPs).  They are basically centre-left MPs who want radical action on climate change, but odds are maybe one might get elected.

So if you care, you might pay attention to Saturday night's election in Australia.  Polls suggest the ALP will win, which will send Australia facing left, and see it jumping down the line to spend a lot of money and/or intervene a lot to look like addressing climate change, as well as bungs for its usual union constituencies.  However, it isn't a huge jump from the status quo, and its hard to see it being a significant majority.  If Scott Morrison pulls off another win, it will solidify his faith, but it wont mean anything to be excited about except schadenfreude over the ALP, Greens, GetUp! (a leftwing campaign group), the ABC (the staffed by Green-left aligned people, state broadcaster) wondering what went wrong?  It will be business as usual, and Australia deserves better than that.

Australia deserves a clean sweep of Government, of political culture, to take down the shibboleths of corporatism, statism and entrenched bullying style unionism. It should embark on reforms that open up markets, reduce barriers to competition and look forward, but it wont.

If Albanese wins, it wont be good for Australia, but it might refocus the Coalition on principles and on standing for something rather than incremental electioneering based policies.  

If you want more freedom less government, then hope for a Liberal Democrat senator, but otherwise unless you're just going to hope to annoy the ALP and the Greens by watching them lose, there's little to care for a Coalition victory, and absolutely nothing to care for an ALP one