South Australia’s state election in which the Liberals managed to oust Labor from power and the federal by-election outcome in Batman — where Labor’s Ged Kearney fended off a challenge from the Greens — will be a source of some reassurance to Australia’s major political parties.
While over the long term there has been a bleeding of support towards minor parties and protest movements, the abject failure of Nick Xenophon’s SA Best movement, which aimed to secure the balance of power in South Australia but ended up winning not a single seat, shows there are no guarantees for parties of populism or protest in the Australian political system.
There are plenty of reasons for voters to be unhappy about the conduct of established politics, but South Australia and, to some extent, Batman showed that for now, community disillusionment doesn’t necessarily convert to seats for radicals in parliament.
People are still willing to give the major parties a go.
Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives secured a little over 3 per cent of the entire first preference vote for the lower house in SA. Xenophon’s party had 13.7 per cent and not enough in any seat to secure the representation it hoped would give it the balance of power in government. Xenophon, remember, quit federal politics to pursue this.
Over in Batman, the Melbourne seat which the Greens have been working for years to make its second seat in the House of Representatives, Labor won on a 55-45 two-party preferred margin — a relative smashing for a vote many expected would be a nail-biter.
The Greens campaign in Batman, where candidate Alex Bhathal was effectively kneecapped by her own side by leakings of internal bullying complaints against her, showed the party still has not decided if it is a protest movement that holds around 10% of the national vote or a party of influence that can command something more like 20% support. As long as that tension remains the Greens are likely to languish on the fringes of Australian politics, especially if these internal tensions continue to blow up in public.
Like the state election in Tasmania earlier this month where the Jacqui Lambie Network managed to secure only 3.2% of the vote and the Liberals retained power, these are hardly results that suggest Australians are ready to upend the political order.
It may give the major parties pause for thought if they are thinking of charging down a populist path ahead of the next election.
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