Australian politics in 2019 will inevitably be dominated by the federal election, expected in May. So what can we expect for the year ahead? Here’s your handy politics bingo card to play as we watch the ideas, strategies and tactics of the political parties play out.
Votes for sale! The Liberal-National Coalition, currently being hammered in the polls and with the Nationals engulfed in scandal, will be desperate to save some electoral “furniture”. Victoria might well have its own specificities, but the state election delivered a crushing defeat for the Coalition. On the back of the midyear budget update with a projected surplus, expect some lavish and targeted tax cuts and laser-like spending pledges. What a time to be alive (in a marginal seat).
Neutralisation! Both the major parties will be seeking to recalibrate “problematic” policy areas and limit any potential damage. For Labor, immigration policy was a potential flashpoint, but the sniff of government will see a range of difficult policy issues neutralised. Raising Newstart? Ah, maybe next year. Right now, the Liberals would love to have an energy and climate policy that any of their MPs actually believed in.
Disaster! Facing the prospect of a huge electoral loss, the Coalition might well be hoping for a disaster-related circuit-changer. It worked for John Howard – as David Marr and Marian Wilkinson catalogued in their book Dark Victory. Whether it’s terrorism or a significant weather-related event, there is political hay to be made from disaster.
Pick me! (Not him) The Coalition thinks it sees a key weakness in the ALP’s seeming inexorable rise to power – Bill Shorten. Shorten has consistently polled poorly, and Liberals will sense an opportunity. Look out for personality attacks. Likewise, after Morrison’s risible cap-wearing, fair-dinkum efforts in Queensland, we might see a new side to the PM.
Small target nerves! Fear can do funny things to people – and political parties. In the UK in 1992, British Labour finally looked like defeating the Conservatives after long years of exile. A clever tax scare campaign by the Tories and a misplaced triumphant rally in Sheffield by Labour leader Neil Kinnock enabled the latter to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In Australia in 2019, the ALP will be desperate to stay unified and on message, and on contentious issues might play a “small target” game – minimising the space between Labor and the Coalition.
Dead cats! This is the infamous trick of Liberal strategist Lynton Crosby – to change the discourse by throwing the proverbial “dead cat” on the table. The aim is to change the political discourse by introducing a surprising new element to the debate. As the election draws nearer and desperation creeps in, expect some policy over-reach or desperation (for example, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel), or the raising of issues long ignored by the major parties.
Cross-bench hysteria! Federal elections also entail Senate elections, including, of course, the “unrepresentative swill” of the cross bench. With a handful of senators on rather shaky numbers, we can expect more outbursts from some of the more – if we want to be polite about it – “ideologically driven” senators. Ah, the reassuring light of enlightenment and reason shining its beacon of “truth” to the electorate during the election season!
Faux populism! It seems near-impossible to have political debate without mentioning two key terms: “Trump” and “Brexit”. Both are used to signify a growing trend towards populism. Alas, as scholars of populism tend to note, the term is frequently ill-applied and misused, with people often confusing “popular” with “populism”. In any case, we can expect to hear the “p word” bandied about as the major parties slug it out for office.
Hip-pocket economics! As election time draws closer, expect to hear a lot more usage of some favourite political terms in Australian politics – “mums and dads”, “ordinary Australians”, “working families” and so on. In electoral terms, the nuclear family is far from dead, and the parties want their vote.
And, of course, if Labor wins as the polls suggest, we will have had the first change-of-government election since 2013. This will trigger our “bonus ball” bingo, and we can listen out for the following:
- It’s all their fault! The classic default of any new administration is to blame their predecessors for all ills – sluggish economic growth, poor wage growth, lack of support for economic or environmental reform. Happily, we can also add at least two other main sources of blame – the (opposition) state governments for failing to sign up to X, Y and Z agreements, and the inevitable ragbag on the Senate cross bench.
And so, as the electoral countdown ticks down, the same creaking old machine of Australian politics rolls on. As the old saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.