After relating how Murdoch ‘ruperters’ were losing their minds after Labor and Centre Alliance swept the by-elections in late July1, and now that my mirth at their discomfiture has subsided, it is probably useful to analyse the results, hopefully to try to work out what it all means.
Firstly, the results were quite decisive:
In Braddon (NW Tasmania), Labor’s Justine Keay got a primary vote of 36.99%, with a two-party preferred vote of 52.32%2.
In Fremantle (SW Western Australia), Labor’s Josh Wilson received 52.63% of the primary vote and 67.21% of the two-party preferred vote3. The Liberal Party did not run a candidate.
In Longman (SE Queensland), Labor’s Susan Lamb received 39.83% of the primary vote and 54.35% of the two-party preferred vote4.
In Mayo (SE South Australia), Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie received 44.43% of the primary vote, and 57.60% of the two-party preferred vote5.
In Perth (SW Western Australia), Labor’s Patrick Gorman received 39.32% of the primary vote, and 63.12% of the two-party preferred vote6. The Liberal Party did not run a candidate.
During the campaign for these by-elections, Turnbull stated that the Longman by-election was a test of leadership between himself and Bill Shorten7. This bravado was presumably engendered by polls indicated that the Liberal’s Trevor Ruthenberg could win the seat. However, when it became clear that Ruthenberg was going to be trounced, Turnbull used the convenient excuse that ‘by-elections always go against the government’8. Clearly, the ‘leadership test’ was an embarrassment and was never mentioned again by Turnbull or anyone else in government.
The fact that by-elections tend to have a swing of a few percent against the government, and have done for most of the last century, makes these results unexceptional on the face of it. However, when you look at the opprobrium heaped on Bill Shorten in particular, with all sorts of fabrications published in the main media outlets, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, it was a stunning result. One of the funniest piles of ordure spread around was the supposed leadership tensions between Anthony Albanese and Shorten. This was based on a single speech given by Albanese on the future of the Labor Party. To spin it as being at odds with the views of Shorten was nothing short of miraculous9. To fabricate this story and effectively ignore the constant sniping at Turnbull from within the Liberal Party by Tony Abbott, demonstrates clearly the lack of integrity of many journalists, particularly the ‘ruperters’ from the Murdoch zoo.
The by-election results have seemingly cemented Shorten’s leadership, but seriously weakened Turnbull’s. Rumour has it that his disappearing act over the four or five days after the by-elections were due to him, initially, coping with the blue funk caused by the loss, then hitting the phones with the aim of shoring up his leadership against the Abbott insurgency. The Liberal Party realise that they are in deep electoral trouble, given that they lost all by-elections (where they ran candidates) by a much greater margin than expected. This was despite the concerted media efforts to undermine the Labor Party in general, and Shorten in particular.
A couple of thoughts if I may about Arthur’s comments on the various ALP leaders. On the whole Whitlam was a dud as PM–the best thing he did was win the 1972 election and thus end 23 years of conservative rule. Unfortunately his government was a shambles, but the boy could speak. I agree with the comments about Hawke and Keating, both very capable. Rudd and Gillard were also duds, although at least Gillard showed that a woman could become PM of Australia. Indeed of all the PMs that I can remember there are only four that I have much respect for: Menzies, Hawke, Keating and Howard.
I grew up with Menzies as PM. He was not known as Ming the Merciless for nothing–an excellent speaker and a shrewd, ruthless politician, aided of course by the major ALP split of the fifties. One good thing he did was to start serious Commonwealth funding of the universities in the fifties–without this a lot of us would not have got to university. I did not like John Howard one little bit, but at least you knew what he stood for, although he and Costello are the basic reason for Australia’s present financial difficulties.
Without doubt Billy McMahon would have to be at the bottom of the pile. How he ever became PM instead of Paul Hasluck says a lot about the incompetence of the Liberal Party at the time.
I have absolutely no respect for Howard. He is a disgraceful human being, who was very fond of using the race card against Asians, Aboriginals and refugees. Absolutely beneath contempt.
A further comment if I may re the substance of the original blog. The fact that in both Longman and Braddon the ALP primary vote was less than 40% is a bit of a worry, although the Liberal vote in Longman was catastrophically low. The Braddon electorate is difficult for either major party to hold for any length of time and indeed since 1975 has changed hands on a regular basis. Given that it was a by-election the ALP should have done better. However, as noted, it is a difficult electorate because of its variability. There are three large towns (Devonport, Burnie, Ulverstone) with Burnie in particular having lost its industrial base. There are the mining towns of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan on the West Coast–all of these are struggling. There are the small fishing/tourist towns of Stanley and Strahan. There are a lot of dairy farmers who are being screwed by the milk companies and they are generally simply pissed off with everyone; there is also an active timber industry with timber mills and logging for wood chips in various places. However, the work force in the timber mills has decreased markedly over the last 60 years due to mechanisation. Many of the farmers also grow spuds for the McCains factory in Smithton and there is always an argument about prices. The environmental movement has never got very far in that part of the world. In a way Braddon is a snapshot of regional Australia.
I have rellies in that part of the world, and when there I have had to keep my trap shut.
The Whitlam government was a frenzy on many fronts Jim but it achieved more in 3 years than any government – Labor or Liberal – in our modern history. Gough was a man on a mission from day one. After decades in the doldrums under Menzies he had reason to be. He gave the nation new hope and set in train numerous actions which have endured the ravages of both time and the destructive urges of conservative politics (now far, far worse than they were in the 70s).
Some of his govt’s enduring gifts to Australian society: Medibank;, No fault divorce – Family Law Act; Supporting Mothers Benefit; “Equal pay” for women; Law Reform Commission and Legal Aid office; Free university; “Recognition” of China; Trade Practices Act and tariff cuts; Lowered voting age to 18; Australian Honours system and new anthem (as bad as it is); Racial Discrimination Act; Women’s affairs; Land Rights; Environmental Protection; Support for the arts and heritage (Australia Council, Australian Film Commission, National Film School, National Gallery etc); Ended conscription and Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam debacle; Abolished the death penalty; Youth radio – JJ;
Yep, dragging Australia into the 1970s from the 1950s where we were with the Liberals. Then Hawke and Keating dragged us into the 1990s from the 1970s. Then Rudd/Gillard/Rudd attempted to drag us into the 2000s, unfortunately not that successfully, now Abbott and Turnbull have attempted to drag us back to the 1960s.
While the Whitlam government undertook some excellent social reforms, their financial activities and the results thereof is what sticks in the mind of many people and certainly stuck in the minds of the general population in the “dismissal” election of December 1975. What Malcolm Fraser and John Kerr did was unforgivable, but the election result was catastrophic from the ALP point of view. In my view the main reason for the election result was the financial incompetence of the Whitlam government, highlighted by the absurd “loans affair”. On a more personal note I remember sitting in our tent in Antarctica in late 1974 when I received a letter informing me that I had had a back dated 50% increase in salary–this was clearly financial madness and unsustainable, and was when I first started to wonder seriously about the competence of the Whitlam government. Sometime in 1975, at one of our campuses, the federal government literally turned off the financial tap overnight so that work on all building projects had to stop. This meant that the third floor of one of our buildings that had got to the stage of having several rows of bricks laid stopped overnight and the institution had to fight like hell to even get permission to put on a temporary roof to protect the rest of the building. Who paid out the contractors and subcontractors I have no idea–it was a shambles. People such as R.F.X. Connor and Jim Cairns were out of touch with reality as exemplified by Jim Cairns comments on the night of the 1975 election when many of his colleagues were flogged in their electorates. Cairns’ comment was “we have to get more radical”. That is when I knew he was totally out of touch with the real world. Whitlam’s main problem was that they tried to fix all our problems in one hit; Hawke and Keating did not make the same mistake and led a very successful government that lasted thirteen years instead of a chaotic three years.
The economic management of the Whitlam govt have been well dissected Jim and despite some obvious failings they weren’t as bad as you and others think. The Murdoch press blew everything out of proportion, as is their wont to this very day. Hawke/Keating may have learnt from Whitlam’s failings but their impacts on the social fabric of this nation were comparatively small – nay, miniscule. Whitlam’s big mistake was his lack of Ministerial discipline and oversight, Cairns’ personal behaviour being just one example. I for one am extremely thankful for those 3 years of so called “chaos”.