Monthly Archives: September 2013
Legislative elections were held in Norway on September 9, 2013. All 169 members of Norway’s unicameral parliament, the Storting (or Stortinget), were up for reelection. The members of the Storting are elected for fixed four-year terms (and unlike in most countries,
Norway’s Parliament cannot be dissolved before the end of its term) in 19 multi-member constituencies corresponding to the 19 Norwegian counties (fylke). 150 of the seats are ‘district mandates’, elected by open list proportional representation with no threshold for representation. Each county has a variable number of seats based on its population and land area, ranging from four seats (Aust-Agder and Sogn og Fjordane) to 19 seats (Oslo). This system is somewhat controversial because rural areas, especially sparsely populated counties such as Finnmark in northern Norway, are overrepresented compared to urban areas (such as Oslo or Akershus). The number of seats allocated to each county was revised prior to this election, with five counties losing one seat, three counties gaining one seat and one county (Oslo) gaining two seats. The remaining 19 seats (one per county) are ‘leveling mandates’ which are distributed to parties, polling above 4%, whose initial seat count is not proportional to their share of the popular vote.
Therefore, while there is a 4% threshold for leveling seats, there is no official threshold for district mandates – the ‘unofficial’ threshold to win seats depends on the district magnitude, with a lower threshold in districts with more mandates. Therefore, small parties with strong urban support or a regionally concentrated base, are often able to win one or two seats even if they poll below 4%. For example, in 2001, the small Coastal Party won one seat despite winning only 1.7% nationally because it won over 10% of the vote in Nordland. Similarly, in 2009, the Liberal Party held on to two seats, both from Oslo, despite falling below 4% nationally.
Norway’s political and partisan system
Norway’s remarkable electoral stability which endured for two or so decades after 1945 was first disturbed in the early 1970s, with the rise of new political forces on the left, but especially on the right as well as increased electoral volatility and anti-incumbency.
As in other Scandinavian countries (particularly neighbouring Sweden), Norwegian politics has, since the early 20th century, been marked by a clear opposition between a dominant socialist/social democratic working-class party and a “bourgeois coalition” made up of a number of weaker so-called ‘bourgeois parties’. Despite significant changes in the character of the anti-socialist right and increased electoral volatility since the 1970s, Norwegian politics has nevertheless retained this left/right divide.
The Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) is Norway’s dominant political party and something of a natural government party. It has been the largest party in every legislative election since 1927, and it has been in government for the vast majority of the time since 1945. As such, it has left a profound mark on Norwegian society, most notably with the creation of the generous and universal post-war welfare state.
The Ap was founded in 1887, but only elected its first MPs in the 1903 election (when Norway still used FPTP). Ap’s strength at the polls increased continuously between its foundation and 1912. In the 1915 election, Ap won 32% of the vote. However, its political ascendancy was halted by internal divisions over the Russian Revolution in 1918 – the Ap originally joined the Comintern, which led a right-wing minority to create a splinter party. In 1923, Ap withdrew/was kicked out of the Comintern, which now led a left-wing minority to create the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP) and the right-wing minority to eventually rejoin the mother party in 1927. In 1927, with 37% of the vote, the Ap became the largest party – a title it has held since, uninterrupted. Christopher Hornsrud became the first Labour Prime Minister of Norway in January 1928, but his radical agenda – ‘preparing the transition to a socialist society’ – threw the divided right into a frenzy, and they overthrew the government to replace it with a Liberal-led government.
Ap progressively moderated, and by the 1933 election, it had dropped the revolutionary socialism/Marxism in favour of reformist social democracy. It won a record 40% in the 1933 election, but fell short of an absolute majority. The Ap was unable to form a government of its own until it reached an agreement with the Farmers’ Party (Bp) in 1935, whereby the Ap agreed to policies to support Norwegian agriculture (higher prices on butter and meat, and a grain security scheme to protect farmers) in return for the Bp’s acceptance of the Ap’s Keynesian economic plan, which marked a sharp departure from the bourgeois right’s laissez-faire liberalism. Johan Nygaardsvold became the second Labour Prime Minister of Norway, remaining in office until the liberation of Norway from German occupation in 1945 (he led the Norwegian government-in-exile).
After the war, the Ap became the hegemonic force of Norwegian politics, holding an absolute majority in the Storting between 1945 and 1961 (despite PR), a feat which no party has since come close to repeating. Einar Gerhardsen, considered by some as the father of modern Norway, served as Prime Minister between 1945-1951, 1955-1963 and 1963-1965. In a period marked by political consensus across the board, even with the right, Gerhardsen’s government laid the bases of the modern welfare state, and significantly reduced poverty and unemployment through interventionist industrialization policies and redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation. Diplomatically, successive Ap governments maintained a generally pro-American and pro-NATO foreign policy: Norway received American aid under the Marshall Plan, and it was a founding member of NATO in 1949. Nevertheless, Oslo had to tread carefully, given that it shared a land border with the Soviet Union and the Soviets operated several large mining towns on the remote Svalbard archipelago (in fact, Russia continues to effectively own one mining town, Barentsburg, on Svalbard to this day).
The right finally won a majority in the 1965 and 1969 elections, but Per Borten’s bourgeois government collapsed in 1971, allowing Ap to form a minority administration until it resigned following the NO victory in the 1972 referendum on European Community (EC) membership. Ap has been rather pro-European, having backed a YES vote to EC/EU membership in the 1972 and 1994 referendums, both of which failed. The rise of a new socialist party to the Ap’s left, in the wake of the NO victory in 1972, led to sharp Ap loses in the 1973 election, which marked the end of Ap’s clear dominance of Norwegian politics. Since that election, politics have become more volatile and contested, and ideological differences between left and right have become more pronounced. Labour retained power until the 1981 elections, which saw a right-wing victory. However, a weakened right-wing coalition collapsed in 1986, allowing former Ap Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to return to power in 1986, but a difficult economic situation in 1989 led to Labour’s defeat in the 1989 elections. Dissent within the right-wing government over EU membership led to its premature death in 1990, and Gro Harlem Brundtland returned to power, holding office until 1996, despite Ap being on the losing side of the 1994 EU referendum. She was replaced in 1996 by Thorbjørn Jagland, who resigned following the 1997 elections, in which the Ap’s result (35%) was below the ‘ultimatum’ Jagland had set for himself to remain in power (36.9%).
The Ap was weakened in the late 1990s and early 2000s by the popularity of the right-wing Bondevik cabinet, as well as a bitter and protracted leadership struggle between Thorbjørn Jagland and Jens Stoltenberg, who became Prime Minister in March 2000 after Bondevik’s cabinet fell (but Jagland remained Ap’s leader until 2002). Stoltenberg’s first term, which expired with the 2001 elections, was also marked by internal tensions in the Ap. In particular, the government’s partial privatization of the state-owned oil company Statoil, and a major hospital reform which transferred control of hospitals from county councils to regional health authorities (staffed by unelected technocrats) were quite unpopular with the Ap rank-and-file, which saw both of these reforms as being dangerously edging towards ‘market fundamentalism’.
With this backdrop, Ap suffered an historic drubbing in 2001, winning only 24% of the vote, their lowest result since 1924. Labour was thrown out of government, for the duration of the Storting’s term. However, Stoltenberg, who came out on top of the drawn-out battle for party leadership with Jagland’s withdrawal in 2002, progressively rebuilt the party, and, in 2005, the party won nearly 33% of the vote. Stoltenberg formed a coalition government, widely known as the Red-Green government, with the Socialist Left (SV) and Center Party (Sp). It was the first time since Gerhardesen’s short-lived grand coalition (1945) that the Ap governed in coalition with other parties. In the past, it had formed minority (or, from 1945 to 1961, majority) governments exclusively made up of Ap ministers. Ap’s political dominance, its detractors often argue, has made it complacent and arrogant. However, despite several policy differences and disagreements between the three coalition partners, Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition managed to stay together for eight years. Ap played a major role in keeping the coalition together, and voters rewarded Stoltenberg’s leadership in the 2009 election, when the Ap won 35% of the vote.
Stoltenberg’s government since 2005 has steered clear of divisive and explosive issues like those which had killed his first government at the polls, and greatly benefited from a very robust economy: fueled by Norway’s rich oil resources, the economy has grown fairly steadily (except for one year in recession, in 2009), with 3% growth in 2012 and 2.5% growth in 2012. Unemployment is only 3%. The country’s finances are exceptionally healthy, with the debt down to 34% of GDP (59% in 2006) and consistent budget surpluses since at least 2000 (a 14% surplus in 2013).
Norway created, in 1990, the Government Pension Fund – two sovereign wealth funds into which the surplus from oil income is deposited, and invested in Norwegian and international (Government Pension Fund – Global) companies following strict ethical standards. The Government Pension Fund – Global is the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. The Stoltenberg government, in 2001, created the handlingsregelen, stating that a maximum of 4% of the fund’s value should be allocated to the government budget. With this rule, Norway has avoided the ‘Dutch disease’ and hyperinflation.
Stoltenberg has been active on the world stage, particularly invested in issues such as economic growth, rainforest protection and climate change (arguing in favour of private and corporate taxation to tackle the issue). The Ap is in favour of Norway joining the EU, but there is little chance of that happening anytime soon. Therefore, as the next best thing, the Ap strongly supports continued Norwegian membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), currently a free trade organization of four non-EU members (the others are Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). Within the EEA/EU Internal Market, Norway adopts EU legislation on almost all domains, except – crucially – agriculture and fisheries
His second term was marked by the July 22, 2011 attacks in which white supremacist/far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and injured hundreds. 8 were killed by a car bombing at a large government office complex in Oslo, while 69 – mostly children – were shot to death by Breivik in Utøya, where the Ap’s youth league (AUF) was holding its congress. Stoltenberg’s reaction to the attacks, calm and composed, were hailed by the entirety of the Norwegian political class and the Ap experienced a net uptick in support in the polls. Breivik was sentenced to preventative detention (21 years), a sentence which may be repeatedly extended for periods of five years afterwards – effective life imprisonment in Norway. The report (Gjørv Report) of the 22 July Commission, received in August 2012, found that authorities could have done more to prevent the tragedy at Utøya.
The Ap maintains a general social democratic orientation, although Stoltenberg certainly represents a centrist direction within the party – though perhaps not a Blairite Third Wayist, given how Norway has remained relatively close to the Scandinavian model and the public sector continues to play a leading role in the economy.
In this election, Ap’s platform highlighted its successful stewardship of the economy and its positive record on job creation. While stressing that “everyone must contribute” to the welfare state – notably, Ap opposes getting rid of the wealth tax and other ‘asocial tax cuts’; it also has a fairly pro-business twist, arguing that the government has reduced the costs of doing business and simplification policies have increased competitiveness. The Ap says that its tax policies are ‘fair’, increasing taxes on the wealthiest while reducing taxes for most Norwegians – by raising the minimum allowance significantly, considerably less Norwegians pay the wealth tax now than in 2005. During the campaign, Stoltenberg announced intentions to cut the corporate tax by if he was reelected (at least by 1%), the first such cuts since 1992 and a change to the principle of ‘neutrality’ in the Norwegian tax code (whereby marginal tax rates are supposed to be broadly the same, with a 28% base tax for both corporate taxation and taxation of capital income).
Ap vigorously defends public schools, and often points out that it stopped a ‘proliferation’ of private schools when it gained power from the right in 2005. Rules regarding creations of private schools are quite strict in Norway, with the vast majority of students attending public schools.
Ap is generally pro-immigration, but its platform talks of ‘balanced and controlled immigration’. It has somewhat tightened the screws on laws regarding asylum seekers, and attracted some controversy recently when asylum seekers – including children – were deported.
Stoltenberg’s tenure has also been marked by socially liberal policies, most notably the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2008. It continues to strongly support LGBT rights, equal pay for women and proposed extending paternity leave to 14 weeks (from 10, previously 6). The total parental leave period would be 53 weeks, at full pay.
The Right (Høyre, H), widely known in English as the Conservatives, is Norway’s second-oldest party and traditionally the largest anti-socialist/bourgeois party. Today, the party, whose support is disproportionately urban and suburban, is a generally liberal-conservative party which supports traditional centre-right values such as economic freedom, free enterprise, lower taxes, limited government and personal freedom – although all in a Norwegian context, which invariably gives these terms different meanings than, say, in the United States.
H was founded in 1884, a reaction to the formation of the Venstre (Left, known as the Liberals) and the birth of parliamentarianism in Norway. One of its main difference from Venstre was that it generally supported a continuation of the personal union with Sweden, which was dissolved in 1905. In the early 1900s and throughout the interwar era, the Conservatives were closely allied to a small right-wing/moderate faction of Venstre.
Conservative support, like that of the Liberals, declined significantly with the rise of the Ap. However, likely because it catered to a much more reliable and solid urban bourgeois base, the Conservatives did not suffer the same fate as the Liberals (aka, near-death) and stabilized themselves as the largest anti-socialist bourgeois party starting in 1918. Between 1945 and 1973, Conservative support was stable at low levels, winning between 17% and 21% of the vote, always placing a very distant second to the hegemonic Ap. Conservative politician John Lyng served as Prime Minister for a month in 1963 after an unholy coalition of the right and non-Labour left briefly overthrew Einar Gerhardsen’s government following a mine disaster on Svalbard. The Conservatives participated in, but did not lead, Per Borten’s government (1965-1971) and supported Lars Korvald’s government (1972-1973).
Under the leadership of Kåre Willoch and Erling Norvik, H’s support skyrocketed between 1973 and 1981, a period referred to as the høyrebølgen (right-wave). H’s support increased from 17% in 1973 to 25% in 1977 and 32% in 1981 (their highest result since 1924). Following the 1981 election, the bourgeois bloc – dominated by the Conservatives – had a solid majority and Kåre Willoch became Prime Minister, staying in office until 1986.
Willoch’s policies were the first challenge to the social democratic and Keynesian policies implemented by the Ap since 1945. His government dissolved the state monopoly on radio and television broadcasting, allowed for private radio stations, liberalized business opening hours, liberalized the housing market, allowed for private health clinics and deregulated credit policy (a controversial decision which led to a banking crisis in the 1990s). In 1985, H’s support to 30% and the bourgeois bloc lost its majority and was dependent on the small anti-tax right-wing Progress Party (FrP)’s two members. Facing declining oil prices, Willoch proposed austerity policies including increasing the gasoline tax. The FrP opposed the government’s decision to increase the petroleum tax, and, lacking support from the left, Willoch’s government fell in May 1986 and was replaced with a Ap minority government.
Conservative support collapsed in the 1990s, first to 22% in 1989 then to 17% in 1993 and a catastrophic low of 14% in 1997. After the 1989 election, the Conservatives returned to government with FrP’s external support. However, Jan Peder Syse’s government was to be short-lived. Owing to internal tensions with the Center Party (Sp) over EU membership, the Sp withdrew and Syse’s government fell a bit over a year after taking power.
The Conservatives did not participate in Kjell Magne Bondevik’s first government, between 1997 and 2000, and contributed to its downfall in 2000 when it joined Ap in voting against the government on a no-confidence motion. In 2001, H recovered somewhat, winning 21%. This time, it participated in Bondevik’s government, although it did not lead it (despite having the most seats of all coalition parties).
The Conservatives collapsed to an all-time low in 2005, winning only 14.1% of the vote and falling to third place behind the FrP. Although they recovered somewhat in 2009, H still won a paltry 17% and remained in third behind the FrP in that election. H has been badly hurt by FrP’s success since 1997. However, in the 2011 local elections, the Conservatives reemerged as the strongest anti-socialist party, winning 28% of the vote and a strong second behind Ap.
The Conservatives broadly agree to the outlines of the Norwegian welfare state; they certainly do not bring into question the country’s generous social security benefits or universal. Where they differ from the left on those issues, such as healthcare or education, is that they are far more supportive of private options. For example, on education, H’s platform promotes to right to establish, run and access private and religious schools, unlike Ap which seeks to curtail private schools.
On healthcare, the Conservatives are critical of the Red-Green government for longer health queues and allegedly ignoring vulnerable groups (mentally ill and drug addicts). It proposed to use available capacity at private clinics to provide patients with quicker treatment, and also defends ‘freedom of choice’ – allowing patients to choose where they want to receive treatment, either in the public or private sector, at the government’s expense in both cases.
In this campaign, the Conservatives placed considerable emphasis on infrastructure development. It wishes to increase investment in infrastructure, and initiate major public-private partnerships for road and railway construction yearly.
The Conservatives are concerned by the economy’s dependence on oil wealth (which is post-peak) – the oil economy has led to higher salaries and higher costs, which has hurt other sectors of the economy (particularly those exposed to foreign competition) and led to a decline in the competitiveness of the Norwegian economy. H supports the handlingsregelen, but it wants to invest revenues more in infrastructure, R&D and tax cuts. The Conservatives proposed to abolish the inheritance tax, and reduce the wealth tax (by increasing deductions and cutting the tax rate) before it is eventually abolished. It also campaigned, as it often does, on tax cuts for low and middle-incomes. They contend that the wealth tax drains capital from workplaces and reduces the motivation to save and invest. Ap counters that the Conservatives want to make millionaires pay no taxes. Overall, though, many noted that the Conservatives moved towards the centre on taxation and were less vocal about major tax cuts.
For businesses, the Conservatives want to reduce bureaucratic constraints and red tapes on private businesses (for example, allowing for longer opening hours on weekdays and Saturdays and allowing businesses to open on Sundays). While the Conservatives have traditionally been quite keen on privatization, they significantly moderated their positions on that controversial issue this year. They want to gradually reduce state ownership of industries, and reduce the state’s share in Statoil from 62.5% to 51%, but apart from that its platform was mum.
The party has a strong law-and-order line. This year, the Conservatives proposed increasing the police’s manpower, prosecuting and punishing even minor offenses and raising the penalties for violence and abuse. While the Conservatives are generally pro-immigration, they do support stricter laws on immigration and asylum seekers and call on immigrants to integrate into society by learning the language. The party’s current platform wants to make it easier for businesses to attract highly qualified labour, including from non-EEA countries. Low unemployment in Norway means that the country, especially the oil industry, needs to attract qualified immigration to fill jobs.
On foreign policy issues, the Conservatives strongly support EU membership, and, like Ap, also strongly support Norway’s continued membership in the EEA/EFTA and Schengen Agreements as the next best thing. However, Conservative leader Erna Solberg said during the campaign she would not hold a referendum on EU membership during her term if elected. H is also strongly supportive of NATO.
The Conservatives’ fiscal conservatism does not extend to social issues. The party supports same-sex marriage (and voted in favour of the bill), although, unlike the Ap, its platform does not mention LGBT rights or gender equality issues. In 1980, Kåre Willoch refused to impose stricter abortion regulations as the Christian democrats (KrF) demanded, two years after the country legalized abortion.
The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP), a right-wing populist party founded in 1973 (as the Anders Lange Party), is certainly Norway’s most controversial party. It is also a rather contradictory. It is often identified (mostly by detractors and the foreign media) as a far-right party, with some degree of truth, but it is also clear that while the FrP has often used more extreme language on immigration, its positions are considerably more moderate and less controversial than those of continental far-right parties in Europe or even that of the Sweden Democrats or the Danish People’s Party. Anders Behring Breivik, the white supremacist terrorist who killed 77 in 2011, was a member of the FrP in the early 2000s (before leaving it, finding it too moderate) and that has certainly worsened the party’s international image, but it is clear that Breivik was far more extremist than the party and the FrP never sympathized with his actions (which is more than can be said for some members of the Lega Nord or FPÖ…). Others, often more friendly to the party, say it is a libertarian party, but while it is anti-tax and supports limited government, it also opposes the handlingsregelen (unlike all other parliamentary parties) and is generally supportive of the welfare state. It might be described as a nationalist party, and its positions on immigration and identity do reflect a certain nationalism, but at the same time it is surprisingly ambivalent about the EU issue, unlike the Centre Party (Sp).
The party was founded in 1973 by Anders Lange, a political activist and World War II resistance member, as a right-wing populist protest party against high taxes, subsidies, regulations and bureaucracy. It was modeled on Mogens Glistrup’s Danish Progress Party, which won its remarkable electoral breakthrough that same year. Lange’s success was not as spectacular, although his party did win 5% and 4 seats in the 1973 election. Lange died in 1974, and the party took its current name in 1977 under the leadership of Carl I. Hagen. It retained its anti-tax and generally libertarian image. In the 1977 election, its support collapsed to 2% and it lost all seats. It returned to the Storting in 1981, winning 4.5% and 4 seats, and held two of those seats in the 1985 election. Following the 1985 election, Kåre Willoch’s bourgeois government was dependent on FrP support and promptly collapsed when Hagen refused to back him on a gasoline tax increase, having campaigned against any tax increases in the 1985 election (in which the FrP was also very critical of the Norwegian welfare state).
The FrP made immigration one of the cornerstones of its platform starting in 1987. During the campaign for that year’s local elections, Hagen read out the infamous Mustafa-letter, a fake letter written by a “Muslim immigrant” which portrayed a Muslim invasion of Norway and the Islamization of the country. Its support increased to 10% in the 1987 local elections, and it gained over nearly 10 points over its 1985 results in the 1989 election, winning 13% and 22 seats.
The FrP suffered sharp loses in the 1993 election, winning only 6% and 10 seats, a poor performance attributable to internal divisions between Hagen and a more extreme libertarian minority, as well as the polarization of the 1993 election on the EU issue (on which the FrP was ambivalent, in contrast to the vocally anti-EU Sp). The party split at a 1994 convention, during which the libertarian minority – which emphasized economic issues and was supportive of immigration – split from the FrP. Hagen was able to re-centre the FrP around ‘core issues’ such as immigration and cement its right-populist profile. The FrP recovered lost ground in the 1997 election, winning 15% and 25 seats – becoming, for the first time, the largest anti-socialist party.
There was more turmoil prior to the 2001 elections, this time with a more extremist anti-immigration minority opposing Hagen’s leadership and his intention to moderate the FrP to make it a tolerable coalition partner for other right-wing parties. Dissidents were expelled, many of them going on to try their luck with a small anti-immigration far-right party (Democrats). As a result of the turmoil, the FrP was unable to make gains in 2001, but won 26 seats and 14.6%. The right-wing bloc refused to allow the FrP to join the Bondevik cabinet, but the party provided Bondevik’s cabinet with external support although it was rather annoyed by its refusal to allow it to join cabinet. In the 2005 elections, the FrP cemented itself as the second largest party, winning 22% and 38 seats. Hagen stepped down in 2006 and was replaced by Siv Jensen.
In 2009, the FrP increased its support slightly, to 23% and 41 seats. It was, however, a disappointing showing for the party in comparison to pre-electoral optimism for a record showing (up to 30% in polls).
2011 was an annus horribilis for the FrP. It began with a sex scandal involving FrP rising star and Stavanger mayoral candidate Trond Birkedal, accused of sexual relations with underage boys and filming sex scenes with young party members. Siv Jensen broke her back and was rushed to the hospital while party elder and Oslo mayoral candidate Carl I. Hagen clamored for a larger role in the campaign. The July 2011 terrorist attacks, finally, had a terrible impact on the party, which lost considerable support. It won only 12% of the vote in the 2011 local elections, a distant third behind Ap and H.
FrP has caused the bourgeois right a great amount of headaches as it has gotten increasingly influential and powerful since 1997. Unlike far-right parties such as the FN in France which reject government participation, the FrP has been eagerly looking to participate in a right-wing cabinet since 2001, but each time they have been excluded. They have tried to tone down their more controversial positions and keep the extremists on a tight leash, in order to present a more respectable image. However, in 2001, all right-wing parties in Bondevik’s majority refused to allow the FrP to participate in government. The FrP grudgingly tolerated that government from the outside. After 2005, however, the FrP has clearly stated that they would not support a government in which they do not participate. They reiterated that in 2009. The Conservatives, originally hostile to governing with FrP, came around to accepting FrP cabinet participation. However, the two smaller right-wing parties, the Liberals (V) and Christian democrats (KrF) have remained far more reluctant to such an idea. In 2009, the Liberals ran a virulently anti-FrP campaign, whose failure likely motivate V’s leadership to a more measured attitude of grudgingly accepting FrP in a cabinet. Prior to 2011, when the FrP was the strongest right-wing party, the question of what would happen if the right won the elections but with FrP as the leading party, further complicated matters.
The FrP defines itself as a liberal or libertarian party, in a “Norwegian and Western tradition with a Christian worldview.”
On economic issues, the FrP is strongly individualistic, placing ‘freedom’ as one of its core values. Throughout its history, it has remained extremely critical of Norway’s tax burden, one of the highest in the world, and wants to limit taxes ‘to the greatest extent possible’, abolish certain taxes such as the property tax and create a flatter tax system by limiting the surtax on higher incomes. It is critical of bureaucracy and the large public sector, wishing to liberalize the economy, reduce bureaucracy and remove certain regulations on private businesses. Furthermore, unlike the Conservatives, the FrP wants to privatize the state broadcaster (NRK) and the state railways. Strongly supportive of free trade, it wants to reduce tariffs and bring down trade barriers. Subsidies to businesses, they say, should also be reduced or cut.
The FrP strongly promotes the idea of ‘freedom of choice’ in the delivery of public services. Through unit price financing, the state should allow the public to choose where they wish to receive their treatment (in public or private hospitals) or send their children to school. The party supports Norway’s public healthcare system (unlike in its first years) but it also wants to boost private hospitals.
One major contrast between the FrP and the other parties, including the Conservatives, is that it opposes the handlingsregelen on the use of oil funds. It wishes to use oil revenues to invest more money in infrastructure (notably roads and hospitals), healthcare, welfare services and to pay for tax cuts.
The party’s platform places particular emphasis on seniors and elderly care, pushing for more investment in healthcare and elderly law, notably by creating a legal entitlement to places in nursing homes.
The FrP wants to make welfare benefits subject to ‘enforceable conditions’ to ‘prevent misuse’ and sees welfare as a last resort for those who cannot make ends meet on their own.
The FrP’s immigration policies have caused the greatest amount of controversy for the party. Wishing to embellish their image, especially given how the foreign media has taken to branding them ‘Breivik’s party’, the FrP denies that they are anti-immigration – they just want controlled immigration and stricter integration of immigrants into Norwegian society, they say. However, at the same time, it is also quite clear that FrP’s position on immigration is markedly to the right of all other parties and, since 1987, it hasn’t hesitated to use immigration as a wedge issue (often presenting immigrants as scourges on the welfare state or associating them with crime). The FrP wants to significantly reduce the intake of asylum seekers and refugees, especially from non-EEA countries. It has a strict policy on family reunification, wishing to limit it to spouses and children under 18, and setting a high income threshold for Norwegians to bring in foreign wives to the country (setting it at about $70,000). Their English summary of their policies says that they want that “people who take up residence in Norway do not automatically receive welfare rights, which burdens the Norwegian taxpayer.”
Unsurprisingly, the FrP takes a strong ‘law-and-order’ position on crime, proposing to increase police visibilty on the streets and stricter punishments for serious crimes.
The FrP tends to be fairly conservative on social issues. It opposed same-sex marriage in 2008, but it recently changed its policy and supports both same-sex marriage and adoption. The party laments that Christianity and the country’s Christian heritage has lost its place in religion/life/ethics courses in schools, and wants to replace Christianity at the centre of such courses.
On foreign policy issues, the FrP is strongly pro-NATO and pro-American, and, in contrast with most other parties, is also militantly pro-Israeli – it was the only Norwegian party which supported the 2008-2009 Gaza War. The party is ambivalent on the EU, calling it a non-issue and pledging to respect any referendum result on the issue. The party’s development policy is markedly orthodox, wishing to reduce foreign aid and claiming that free trade is the key for developing countries to achieve growth and prosperity.
FrP leader Siv Jensen in the past denied man-made climate change, but again as part of its recent ‘moderation’ and respectability evolution, it has stopped talking about climate change and its environmental policy is vague and non-committal, consisting mainly of meaningless pablum although it opposes ‘market-distorting regulations’.
The Christian Democratic Party or Christian People’s Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) is a centre-right bourgeois party largely known for being Norway’s most socially conservative party, although it is otherwise rather moderate.
The KrF was founded in 1933 as a response to the secularization of society and the disaffection of certain Liberal voters in southern and western Norway, members of low-church groups (notably the Indremisjonen and Kinamisjonen). It won its first seat that same year, but its support only took after 1945, stabilizing at around 8-12% of the vote until the 1997 election.
KrF’s support peaked in 1997, winning 13.7% and 25 seats. Kjell Magne Bondevik, KrF’s leader between 1983 and 1995, who had softened the party’s image and expanded its reach, served as Prime Minister between 1997 and 2000 and again between 2001 and 2005. The party, which held tight with 12% in 2001, lost nearly half of its support and seats in 2005, winning only 6.8% and 11 seats. The Christian democrats have been hurt by the success of the FrP, which took many of their former voters in southern and western Norway.
In 2009, the party won 5.5% and 10 seats, setting a new post-war record low for the party.
The party’s platform focuses on family and human life, and opens with topics such as abortion, families and children. The KrF is pro-life, but it does not support criminalizing abortion – it seeks to change or at least amend the current law in a more pro-life orientation. The party supports ethical sex-ed and free contraceptives to limit abortions by young women. The party opposes euthanasia, late-term abortions, surrogacy, cloning, biotechnology and early ultrasound screenings for pregnant women.
On family policy, the KrF wants to increase total parental leave to 68 weeks, significantly increase child cash benefits and improve the quality of kindergartens.
KrF opposes same-sex marriage and adoption and wants to overturn the law.
On other issues, KrF is significantly influenced by the Christian democratic tradition and Christian social teaching (human dignity, compassion, charity, social justice), and the overall flavour of positions on those issues is significantly less right-wing . Their healthcare platform barely mentions private healthcare, unlike FrP or H, and even on education their mention of private school is fairly brief. The party’s environmental policy is fairly ‘green’, similar on the broad outline to Ap. Furthermore, unlike the three main parties (Ap, H, FrP), they oppose oil exploration in the Lofoten/Vesterålen/Senja area, for environmental and fisheries reasons. On immigration, the party’s policies are rather left-wing. KrF wishes to strengthen the development aid and policy, setting aside some of the oil fund for investment in poor countries.
Economic and fiscal policy is a lesser focus for KrF, which has moderately right-wing positions – reducing bureaucracy for businesses, removing the wealth tax on working capital – but compensating loss of income with ‘green taxes’ on environmentally harmful behaviour.
KrF opposes EU membership, appreciating the ‘freedom of action’ which Norway’s EEA/EFTA membership gives it (and which, they argue, it would lose if it joined the EU).
The Centre Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) is a centrist agrarian party, in the tradition of Nordic agrarian parties like the Finnish and Swedish Centre parties. Arguably, Norway’s Sp has remained an even ‘purer’ agrarian party than Sweden’s C or Finland’s KESK – it certainly hasn’t had the weird transition towards green-libertarianism which the Swedish Centre Party is currently ongoing. Like other Nordic agrarian parties, Sp’s core themes are protection for farmers, rural development and decentralization.
Sp finds its roots in the Bondepartiet (Farmers’ Party or Agrarian Party), founded in 1921 as the political wing of a powerful farmers’ union, the Norsk Landmandsforbund (later Norges Bondelag, which exists to this day, independent of Sp), founded in 1896. Farmers’ candidates first won seats in 1915, and by its first election (1921), the Bp already won 13% and 17 seats – from the outset, an important player in politics. The party’s main issues were protection for grain farmers, lower taxes for farmers and government intervention (through protectionist policies and state aid) for agriculture. That latter position stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing ideology of laissez-faire liberalism backed by both the Conservatives and Liberals. The Bp’s support increased continuously, reaching an historic high of 16% and 26 seats in the 1930 election.
The Bp tolerated bourgeois cabinets in the 1920s and early 1930s, but they were unreliable allies for any government. Following the 1930 election, two Bp leaders served as Prime Minister: Peder Kolstad (1931-1932) and Jens Hundseid (1932-1933). The farmers switched their political allegiances in 1935, when it reached a ‘crisis settlement’ agreement (kriseforlik) with the Ap, accepting the Ap’s Keynesian interventionist economic policies in return for protection for farmers. The Bp did not participate in Johan Nygaardsvold’s cabinet, which was an exclusively Ap cabinet, but provided it with external support. During this era, however, Bp’s support began a slow decline: 14% in 1933, 11.5% in 1935 and 8% in 1949 and 1949.
The party flirted with nationalism and even fascism in the 1930s, which remains a rather controversial period for the party. Infamous traitor Vidkun Quisling was minister of defense in Jens Hundseid’s government, and Hundseid himself went on to join Quisling’s pro-Nazi Nasjonal Samling after the German invasion of Norway. He was sentenced to ten years in jail after the war for collaborating with the Nazis.
After the war, in an era of Ap dominance, the Bp slowly moved back towards the bourgeois parties. In 1959, the party adopted its current name. Per Borten, the Sp leader between 1955 and 1967, served as Prime Minister between 1965 and 1971, at the head of a bourgeois coalition including H, KrF and the Liberals (V). The Sp returned to cabinet under Lars Korvald (1972-1973).
Sp’s popular support, remarkably steady at 9% between 1953 and 1969, increased to 11% in 1973 (because of Sp’s strong anti-EEC stance), but fell significantly afterwards: 8.6% in 1977, and settling at around 6.5% until 1993. The party’s new environmentalist outlook, skeptical of Norway’s oil boom in the late 1970s, was a poor fit in an increasingly urban electorate. The Sp participated in Kåre Willoch’s second cabinet (1985-1986) and Jan Peder Syse’s cabinet (1989-1990). It was Sp which pulled the plug, prematurely, on Syse’s Conservative-led cabinet over the EU issue in 1990. That year, the Sp broke with the bourgeois bloc – forming an independent centrist alternative between right and Ap – and became the leader of the anti-EU movement which was heating up in Norway. In the 1993 elections, fought largely over the EU issue, Sp’s support skyrocketed to nearly 17% and 32 seats, winning more seats that any single bourgeois party. Sp won another victory with the NO’s victory in the 1994 EU referendum.
As the EU issue faded, however, Sp’s support returned to the 5-6% (10-12 seats) level it had stayed at between 1981 and 1993. Sp participated in Bondevik’s first cabinet, in office between 1997 and 2001. In 2005, in another shift of political allegiances, the Sp joined Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition government, which was reelected in 2009. Since 2005, the Sp held the portfolios of Local Affairs and Regional Development (held by Sp’s leader, Liv Signe Navarsete, since 2009), Transports and Communications, Agriculture and Food, Oil and Energy.
This year, Sp’s platform was centered around ‘transport and communications’, ‘food and environment’ and the elderly. These priorities somewhat betray the party’s strong rural and agrarian focus. The party wants to continue building or upgrading more roads and railways, but at the same time their platform also reveals another key aspect of Sp’s ideology: environmentalism – the party considers climate change to be the most important issue facing the world. In urban area, they wish to reduce pollution by expanding public transit, restricting car traffic and accommodating cyclists and pedestrians. They also want to increase the use of renewable energy, make significant investments in renewable energies (including wind, hydro, biofuels etc) and major domestic emission cuts. Like other smaller parties, Sp opposes oil exploration in Lofoten/Vesterålen/Senja.
‘Food’ seems to be a neater way of saying that they’re still a rural farmers’ party. Sp’s platform talks of increasing domestic food production by 20% over 20 years, reducing income inequalities between agriculture and other sectors, weaken the power of large food distributors and increase subsidies. In government, the Sp continues to lobby for tariff protection and higher subsidies for Norwegian farmers and producers. In 2012, the government – pushed by Sp – significantly increased tariffs on meat and cheeses, an unpopular decision which strongly displeased the EU but also irked Norwegian consumers, who have been forced to pay even higher prices for food when they already pay some of the highest food prices in the world.
The Sp has long supported decentralization and local autonomy, notably through the devolution of more powers to the municipalities. For example, the Sp wants to devolve management of hospitals to the municipalities. In contrast with other parties, Sp strongly opposes the forced amalgamation of municipalities – Norway has 428 municipalities, and many argue that there are too many small municipalities which struggle to be viable as they are.
Sp sees itself as a guarantor of Norwegian independence. It strongly opposes EU membership, and also wants Norway to withdraw from Schengen and the EEA, which, they say, should be replaced with free trade agreements. They also want stricter border controls.
The Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) is a democratic socialist party, to the left of Ap, founded in 1975.
SV finds its roots in the Socialist People’s Party (SF), a party founded in 1961 by Ap dissidents at odds with Ap’s foreign and security policy, namely its pro-EEC and pro-NATO. SF’s support was limited, winning 2 seats in 1961 and 1965 before losing both of them in 1969. SF supported what they called the ‘third position’ (det tredje standpunkt) – independence from both the US and the Soviet Union, unlike the small communist party (NKP) which was aligned with Moscow. In 1963, SF briefly allied with the bourgeois parties to bring down Einar Gerhardsen’s Ap government following the mining disaster on Svalbard, but the unholy alliance broke down and Ap returned to power within months.
The EEC controversy in the early 1970s provided a chance to anti-EEC leftists. In the wake of the 1972 referendum, SF allied with the NKP and smaller socialist groups and parties to form the Socialist Electoral League for the 1973 election. The league won 11.2% of the vote and 16 seats, a resounding success which drew on Ap loses – Ap lost about 11 points from its previous result that year. In 1975, the alliance transformed into a party, SV, but the NKP refused to join the new party and went their own separate way.
Success, however, was short lived – and that’s remained a constant in SV’s history since then. Internal struggles, between a more social democratic right-wing seeking to collaborate closely with the Ap and a more doctrinaire left-wing which argued that Ap was moving too far to the right, severely weakened the party, which collapsed to 4% and 2 seats in the 1977 election. It increased its support to 5% in 1981 and 5.5% in 1985. In 1989, because of an unpopular Ap government, SV’s support shot up to 10% and 17 seats. Again, however, success was ephemeral – it suffered loses in the two next elections, being reduced to only 6% and 9 seats in 1997. In 2001, the annus horribilis for Labour because of Stoltenberg’s controversial economic and deregulatory policies, SV cashed in on Ap’s collapse, winning a record high 12.5% and 23 seats.
Between 2001 and 2005, SV leader Kristin Halvorsen, who took over in 1997, built a strong relationship and de facto alliance with Jens Stoltenbrg which culminated in the Red-Green coalition with the Ap and Sp. However, the 2005 election proved disappointing for SV, whose support fell back to 8.8% and 15 seats after a poor campaign. In 2009, its support declined to 6% and 11 seats. In the 2011 local elections, SV won barely 4%.
Halvorsen resigned after SV’s catastrophic showing in 2011, and was eventually replaced by Audun Lysbakken, a fellow cabinet minister. Lysbakken, however, had just been involved in a scandal involving the award of funds from his ministry to a girl’s self-defense organization affiliated with the SV’s youth wing and, later, allocation of funds to an NGO he had been a member of before joining cabinet. He resigned from cabinet five days before he was elected to the SV leadership.
SV has held the portfolios of International Development; Environment; Children, Equality and Social Inclusion; and Education. Between 2005 and 2009, SV leader Kristin Halvorsen was Minister of Finance. SV lost that office, their fifth portfolio, after their loses in the 2009 election.
SV is a democratic socialist and environmentalist party, which is also strongly influenced by feminism and, to a lesser extent since 2005, pacifism. The party’s platform focused on the environment, social justice and education.
SV wants to reduce Norway’s dependency on oil and gas revenues, by reducing investments in the oil industry and setting limits on oil and gas activities. Unsurprisingly, they strongly oppose oil exploration in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. The party wants environmental ‘green’ taxes which would lay the burden on polluters, while cutting taxes on low incomes.
On economic and fiscal policy, SV’s priorities are defending the welfare state, re-distributive tax policies, reducing poverty and housing. SV supports increased taxation of high incomes and imposing a tax of the financial sector (they also support a global tax of financial transactions), to support the welfare state and reduce income inequalities. The party holds that public ownership of essential public assets and infrastructure is essential. Education and housing are other main priorities for SV.
The party opposes EU membership and would also withdraw from the EEA, claiming that the agreement endangers the Norwegian model. It would replace the EEA with a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. It also remains opposed to Norway’s membership in NATO, but after joining government in 2005, SV was compelled to reluctantly support Norway’s NATO commitment in Afghanistan. The party, alongside the Liberals, have one of the most pro-immigration policies. They opposed Labour’s toughening of the immigration law and want to increase the quota for refugees.
The Left (Venstre, V), widely known as the Liberal Party, is Norway’s oldest party, founded a few months before the Conservatives in 1884. The party’s Norwegian name – which means ‘left’ in English – reflects the party’s position on the left on the political spectrum in the late nineteenth century, like the Venstre party in Denmark. And just like the Danish party, V is no longer a left-wing party – they’re a member of the bourgeois bloc, although still the most leftist and reluctant of the bourgeois bloc’s parties.
The party was founded in 1884, advocating for parliamentarianism, independence from Sweden, universal male (and later female) suffrage and linguistic equality between bokmål and nynorsk, the two written forms of the Norwegian language. As a party representing farmers, low-church members from western Norways, urban radicals and some workers, the party was prone to divisions. The more right-wing Liberals quickly split off and became close allies of the Conservatives. The Liberals saw their support fall sharply at the turn of the last century with Ap’s emergence. The Liberals last won a plurality of the vote in the 1915 election. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Liberals were further hurt by the creation of the Bp and KrF, both of which largely backed by former Liberal constituencies. Between 1915 and 1965, Liberal support collapsed from 33% to 9%.
The Liberal Party suffered a major split in 1972 over the EEC issue. A pro-EEC wing, including the party’s leader and most of its MPs, walked out and created the Liberal People’s Party (DLF). As a result of the split, Liberal support fell from 9% in 1969 to 3.5% in 1973 (the DLF won 5%, but its support collapsed after that). Liberal support remained stable at around 3-4% until 2005. In 1985 and 1989, the Liberals were shut out from the Storting. The Liberals enjoyed a small recovery in 1997 (4.5%, 6 seats) and 2005 (6%, 10 seats).
The Liberals have been a member of the bourgeois bloc, with the exception of the 1985 election when V said that they would back a Labour government. V participated in John Lyng, Per Borten, Lars Korvald and Bondevik’s cabinets. However, V, which is known for its pro-immigration, environmentalist and socially liberal politics, has been a reluctant member of the bourgeois bloc in recent years. It has, alongside KrF, been the right-wing party most strongly opposed to FrP and potential FrP cabinet participation. In the 2009 election, V leader Lars Sponheim led a virulently anti-FrP campaign in which the Liberals said that they would not govern in coalition with FrP. The result was disastrous, with the Liberals winning 3.9%, falling under the 4% threshold and winning only two seats. Since then, under a new leader, Trine Skei Grande, the Liberals have been far less vocal about their opposition to FrP, being willing to support a government with FrP participation.
Education, environment, small businesses and welfare formed the four key themes in the Liberal platform this year. The party’s general orientation is centrist and socially liberal; somewhat left-libertarian on the whole, perhaps slightly more right-wing on economic issues.
The Liberals have tried to paint themselves as an environmentalist party, but their efforts to impose themselves as Norway’s leading green party have been stymied by competition on that front from SV, but also Sp and KrF. As a result, the Liberals could be said to be the only of the small parties which are not strongly associated with a pet issue – social conservatism for KrF, agrarianism and rural communities for Sp and eco-socialism for SV. Like those parties, V opposes oil drilling off of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja, they also want to cut GHG emissions (by 40% by 2020, like SV), invest in renewable energy, provide tax credits for environmental measures and invest more of the oil fund in climate-friendly projects.
The Liberals’ focus on ‘small business’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ reflects a more right-wing policy on economic issues. It emphasizes reducing bureaucracy, cutting corporate reporting requirements and red tape, supporting the self-employed and promoting ‘innovation’. The party also wants to progressively eliminate the wealth tax and cutting taxes on labour income (to be compensated by ‘green taxes’ on environmentally harmful consumption). On the other hand, it is not overly enthusiastic about private options for welfare services (only saying they are a possible option), it supports increasing funding for post-secondary education and research as well as social assistance.
Venstre has a liberal immigration policy, seeking to loosen some of Norway’s immigration requirements. On foreign issues, while Venstre is fairly internationalistic – pro-NATO and pro-UN – it has often been split down the middle on the issue of EU membership; the party’s current platform is noncommittal about the topic and keeps it vague.
A number of smaller parties have sometimes managed to win representation in the Storting. The last such party to do so was the Coastal Party in 1997 and 2001, a small right-wing party based in two small fishing villages in northern Norway. Its support has collapsed since it lost its two seats in 2005.
In 2009, the Red Party (Rødt), a small far-left party founded in 2007, was the largest non-parliamentary party. Red was founded by the merger of the Red Electoral Alliance (RV) and the Workers’ Communist Party (AKP). RV was founded in 1973 as a political front for the AKP, a Maoist organization (the NKP was pro-Soviet). RV gained independence from the AKP in 1991, and dropped the more radical aspects of the AKP’s ideology – most significantly weird Khmer Rouge fanboyism. RV won less than 1% of the vote between 1973 and 1993, at which point it won 1.1% and a single seat. It lost that seat, although its vote share increased to an historic high of 1.7% in 1997. Since then, RV/R’s support has oscillated between 1.2% and 1.3% (in 2009). The party has no chance of passing the 4% threshold, but it has come very close to winning a district mandate in Oslo (the party’s best county) on several occasions.
Red is a socialist party which advocates for a proletarian revolution to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist state. In the meantime, the party supports strengthening the welfare state, stop privatizations, taxing the rich (including a 100% tax on incomes over 1.5 million kroner), reduction of oil production, increased taxation of oil companies, free dental and eyecare, withdrawal from the EEA and NATO, and abolishing the monarchy (among others).
The Greens (Miljøpartiet Dei Grøne, MDG) is a green party, founded in 1988, but which never achieved electoral success until 2011. The party claims to be neither left or right, but the Conservatives consider them a left-wing party. The party won 0.4% in its first election, in 1989, but initial support and enthusiasm for the party soon disappeared and Green support fell to 0.1-0.3% in elections after then. It won 0.3% in 2009. Likely as a result of environmental issues and politics already being dominated and ‘owned’ by several parties, both left and centre/right, the Greens failed to achieve any kind of electoral success.
In the 2011 local elections, Green support rose sharply, winning 1.3% of the vote and winning seats in major cities including Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger.
The Greens policy agenda is centered around environmental issues, climate change and sustainability. They consider climate change to be the planet’s biggest challenge and want major cuts in emission (but just to show how some of the other small parties have strong environmental policies, their emission target proposals are the same as SV or the Liberals). Its economic policies appear rather eclectic, although it is clearly left-wing on immigration.
Election results and aftermath
Turnout was 78.2%, up from 76.4% in 2009. Although it was not an exciting campaign or even a closely fought battle, the change of government as well as the ruling Ap mobilizing its voters led to increased turnout. The results were:
Labour (Ap) 30.8% (-4.5%) winning 55 seats (-9)
Conservative (H) 26.8% (+9.6%) winning 48 seats (+18)
Progress Party (FrP) 16.3% (-6.6%) winning 29 seats (-12)
Christian Democrats (KrF) 5.6% (nc) winning 10 seats (nc)
Centre Party (Sp) 5.5% (-0.7%) winning 10 seats (-1)
Liberal (V) 5.2% (+1.4%) winning 9 seats (+7)
Socialist Left (SV) 4.1% (-2.1%) winning 7 seats (-4)
The Greens (MDG) 2.8% (+2.5%) winning 1 seats (+1)
Red (R) 1.1% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others 1.6% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Bourgeois (right) coalition 53.9% (+4.9%) winning 96 seats (+13)
Red-Green (left) coalition 40.4% (-7.3%) winning 72 seats (-14)
Without much suspense, the opposition centre-right coalition – the so-called bourgeois bloc – won the Norwegian election handily, ending eight years of Red-Green government.
It may seem surprising that the government lost reelection, by such a significant margin, when the Norwegian economy is doing so well and unemployment is so low. In fact, the government lost reelection because of voter fatigue rather than any one unpopular policy or major scandal. No Norwegian government, left or right, has won a third term in office since 1961, which was a whole different political era. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Red-Green parties lost, despite a robust economy and a relatively good record.
Voter fatigue was certainly the main factor playing against the government, after eight years in power. It was, however, not the only issue which ‘did it in’. There were clear signs that the government, particularly its leading party, Ap, was running out of steam and energy after two terms in power. Ap did propose any new flashy ideas or proposals, and their overall flair of their platform was defending their record. The Ap’s campaign also gave that impression: it mostly played a negative campaign, playing on the bourgeois bloc’s internal divisions and attacking the leading right-wing party – the Conservatives – on fiscal (taxation) and economic policies, notably on the wealth tax. Ap’s detractors called it a ‘scare campaign’ warning of doom and gloom if the right won power. Negative campaigning does certainly work out for a lot of parties, but it doesn’t work out when it appears like a halfhearted bid to win reelection for a tired government. The Red-Green government had been trailing the opposition parties for almost the duration of the Storting’s four year term (often by double digits, 10 to 20 points), and they knew that a third term would be extremely unlikely.
Nevertheless, Ap’s result wasn’t all that bad. It was about 2% below its 2011 local election result, which, it must be noted, was boosted by likely the same amount from the fallout of the July 2011 terrorist attacks. More importantly, perhaps, for the symbolism and all that, Ap remained the largest party – retaining the title it has held since 1927. Polling since 2012 had shown that the party was in second place behind the Conservatives, who polled upwards of 30% until the start of the actual campaign. Labour, as in the last election, was still able to mobilize its core supporters to turn out and boost its vote share.
Ap’s coalition partners, Sp and SV, have both been dragged down by their participation in government and their close association with it. The government, for example, cut aid for farmers, hurting Sp with its core electorate. SV has been rocked with internal turmoil and a lackluster new leader whose leadership began with a scandal which had forced him to resign his ministerial portfolio five days before becoming leader.
Voters, however, were also angry at the government over a few issues. There is a widespread feeling, in both rural and urban areas, that the country’s infrastructure – especially roads and rail – remains sub-par despite Norway’s oil-fueled prosperity. That explains why all parties placed significant emphasis on infrastructure development in their platforms, often through quicker construction of roads and a renewal and expansion of Norway’s poor rail service. The opposition also successfully played on concerns related to healthcare, where healthcare/hospital reforms still haven’t gone down all that well with a lot of voters. Hospital queues were, for example, a significant issue in this campaign and were emphasized in H and FrP’s platforms. A wedge issue – introducing a ban on begging (supported by the Conservatives, FrP and Sp; but opposed by Ap) – might have hurt Ap as well.
On the right, the main winner was the Conservative Party, which won 27% of the vote, its best result since the 1985 election and one which firmly re-establishes the Conservatives as the leading force of the bourgeois coalition. The Conservatives had placed third, behind the FrP and with less than 20% of the vote, in the last two elections. However, their result is basically the same as their result in their 2011 local elections – in fact, actually 0.8% lower.
The Conservatives largely benefited from FrP’s decline, as in 2011, although the Conservatives likely won the backing of a sizable share of voters who had voted for Ap (or the two other Red-Green parties) in the last election as well. The FrP significantly moderated or toned down their politics since 2009, in a bid to become respectable and accepted as a full governing partner by the other right-wing parties. It focused less on immigration and totally sidelined other controversial topics such as climate change. In doing so, the FrP lost its ‘protest’ edge which made it attractive to many voters. The party was also dragged down by the 2011 terrorist attacks or the scandals involving the party that same year, although the impact of both those events was likely rather limited in 2013. Besides, while FrP lost over 6.5% of their support from the 2009 election, they improved on their 2011 local election results by 4.6%.
With the economic turmoil in the rest of Europe, combined with fears that it might spread to Norway, voters were perhaps more likely to vote for moderate parties with reputations as being ‘fiscally responsible’ (Ap and the Conservatives).
To appeal to the middle ground of politics, the Conservatives have also moved to the centre on a number of issues. As briefly mentioned above, the Conservatives placed much less emphasis on privatization of state assets or tax cuts this year, two positions which had been damaging to the party in the past. The party focused on more consensual issues: jobs, healthcare, education and infrastructure. The Conservatives also ‘softened’ the image of their leader, Erna Solberg, who had become known as ‘Iron Erna’ after tightening immigration rules when she was a cabinet minister in Bondevik’s cabinet nearly a decade ago. For example, the Conservatives showed their leader all smiles and made heavy use of hearts in their their campaign lit and on the party’s website.
Sp and KrF both held their electorates. Sp’s stability over the years, except for 1993, remains rather remarkable. It has won between 10 and 12 seats in all elections since 1977 (except 1993, obviously). The Christian democrats won almost exactly the same percentage of the vote as in 2009, which was the party’s lowest point in the post-war period.
SV suffered sizable loses, as in the 2011 locals, and ended up barely above the 4% threshold. On election night, the party dropped below the 4% threshold on a few occasions, which would have meant that the party would have been wiped out besides one or two district mandates from Oslo (SV leader Audun Lysbakken, whose seat is in Hordaland county, would have lost). By placing above 4%, the party saves face and its future outlook is slightly brighter. There is, arguably, a chance that SV could die off: the right-wing would join Ap, the environmentalists would join the nascent Greens and the left-wing would join Red. However, such an event still looks fairly unlikely: the Ap will likely remain dominated by Stoltenberg-like centrists, nothing says that the Greens aren’t a fad which will pass and Red is far too radical and dogmatic to go anywhere. Furthermore, there is a place for a parliamentary party to the left of Labour – even if it isn’t very big, like in the 1980s.
The Liberals recovered lost support fairly well, pulling back over the 4% threshold and increasing their seat count by quite a bit because they did so. The party’s clearer ideological positioning this year likely explains their relative success.
The Greens finally scored a breakthrough and won one seat, a district mandate from Oslo, and nearly 3% of the vote nationally. They very likely fed off left-wing dissatisfaction with SV, which likely lost the lion’s share of its support to Ap or the Greens. It remains to be seen if the Greens manage to become a new force in Norwegian politics, or if they will go the way of other parties which have won a seat or two in the past and eventually faded away for a variety of reasons.
With 96 seats, the bourgeois bloc has a comfortable governing majority in the Storting. It is clear that the next Prime Minister of Norway will be Conservative leader Erna Solberg, and that it will be a right-wing government. What remains murkier, however, is the composition of her government. Three options were evoked during the course of the campaign. The unlikeliest option is a Conservative minority government, supported by the three other parties from the outside. The FrP insists on cabinet participation, so it is unlikely they would agree to such a government. Slightly likelier is a Conservative-FrP coalition government, with outside support from KrF and V. That idea might have stood a stronger chance of seeing light of day if the two parties had won a majority of seats (85) to themselves, which they did not (77 seats). Besides, the idea of a Conservative-FrP was met with strong resistance from KrF and V.
The likeliest scenario is a four-party coalition led by the Conservatives with FrP, KrF and V cabinet ministers. The Conservatives have no issues with FrP participating in cabinet. However, the centrist parties – KrF and V – remain much cooler on that possibility. Prior to the election, both parties warned against a Conservative-FrP coalition and also listed a number of issues on which they disagree with FrP – notably oil exploration, immigration policy and the environment. Erna Solberg prefers a four-party government. While KrF and V are both rather cool on the idea, they will probably accept it as the least worst of the options presented to them. Both parties recognize that being inside government, even alongside FrP, would increase their chances of weighing on policy making and governance.
The map above (below the results) show the results by municipality, showing both the leading party and the leading coalition/bloc.
Certainly one of the most striking aspects of the results map is a noticeable coastal – inland divide, at least in southern and western Norway. The governing coalition won their best results in inland counties of eastern Norway, such as Hedmark, Oppland and Nord-Trøndelag, while right-wing support was strongest along the coast in southern and western Norway.
Red-Green support in inland Eastern and Northern Norway is due not only to Ap’s strength – the aforementioned counties are the three counties where the Ap won over 40% of the vote – but also strong Sp results in most rural municipalities. Sp won a handful of municipalities in the region – although its best results (by far) came from Sogn og Fjordane (21%), the three other counties were it won over 10% of the vote were again these aforementioned counties. The cumulative totals of Ap and Sp make for extremely big numbers for the Red-Greens.
Labour’s strength in inland Eastern (and Northern) Norway reflects the working-class nature of the counties. The Ap polled best in small industrial centres – many of them aluminium smelting towns. The party’s best result in the entire country, Årdal (Sogn og Fjordane, 63% for Ap), is an aluminium smelting town, just like Sunndal (Møre og Romsdal, 52% for Ap). It also performed very strongly in other aluminium smelting towns – 46% in Rana (Nordland), 40% in Vefsn (Nordland) or 44% in Høyanger (Sogn og Fjordane). Other industries include timber – Labour won 46% in Namsos, an industrial town historically driven by timber (sawmills) in Nord-Trøndelag. Other towns and regions in the east and north have a mining history – Labour, for example, won 45% of the vote in Røros, an old copper mining community in Sør-Trøndelag; or 47% in Bindal, a gold mining town in Nordland. It alsp polled well in mining towns in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county. Simply put, Labour’s support is, unsurprisingly, strongest in small industrial towns – especially, it seems, those which are not overly popolous and somewhat isolated.
The second half of the explanation for Labour’s strong support in rural, inland Norway is that it has historically had a strong grassroots base in those counties. The party built up a strong network of local organizations throughout the Norwegian territory, even in rural communities, in the late 1930s and early-to-mid 1950s. In contrast, the bourgeois parties, except perhaps Sp, were far less efficient at establishing their own distinct branches in smaller towns. Impoverished farmers and husmen (a kind of tenant farmer), subjected to a larger landowner, were radicalized in the last half of the nineteenth century and have provided Ap with a strong base.
In contrast, Southern and Western Norway has been the Norwegian right’s traditional base. Although it has its share of industrial or mining centres, the region’s contemporary economy tends to be driven by oil, with Stavanger (Rogaland) considered as Norway’s oil capital. The area is also considerably more religious than the rest of Norway: the Norwegian ‘Bible Belt’ extends along the southwestern coast from Agder to Møre og Romsdal, with some outcrops further north in isolated fishing communities on the Lofoten and Vesterålen. The conservative branch of the Church of Norway (Indremisjonen) as well as Free Churches are strongest in this region, which also exhibits significantly higher rates of church attendance than the rest of the country. KrF support closely reflects the Norwegian Bible Belt. This year, KrF won 14% in Vest-Agder (Norway’s most conservative county), 11% in Aust-Agder and 10.6% in Rogaland. These results were very low for KrF, which won upwards of 20% in Vest-Agder in better years. The FrP and, perhaps, the Conservatives (this year) ate into their support in the Bible Belt.
Conservative support was more evenly distributed this year than in past years, with the party making important gains throughout the country. However, the Conservatives remain a very urban and suburban party. The party won its best results (see here) in more populous municipalities. Its best result was, as always, Bærum (Akershus), Oslo’s most affluent upper middle-class suburb where the Conservatives took 46% of the vote. Their second best result was 43% in Asker, which neighbours Bærum to the south.
Conservative support is also above average in the country’s largest cities. While Ap won a bare plurality in Oslo (30.4% vs 29.8%), the Conservatives polled a plurality (and the right-wing bloc overall won a majority) in Bergen (33.6% H, 60% right), Stavanger (33.4% H, 62.9% right) and Kristiansand (29.6% H, 66.7% right). The left won Trondheim (36.8% Ap, 47.9% RG). While Ap won a narrow plurality of the votes in Fredrikstad/Sarpsborg (an old shipbuilding city in Østfold), Skien and Tromsø, the combined sum of the right-wing bloc was higher in all three cities than that of the governing coalition.
Norway’s capital, Oslo, is a city divided. The right won a narrow majority of the votes, although, as mentioned above, Ap outpolled the Conservatives by a tight margin. As these maps show, Oslo is internally divided between the West End and the East End. Conservative (and right-wing support overall) is strongest in Oslo’s West End, the wealthiest boroughs of the city. The Conservatives won 42.5% in Frogner, 47.7% in Vestre Aker and 46.9% in Ullern, all affluent West End boroughs. On Bygdøy peninsula in Frogner, an area considered as the most expensive in Norway, the Conservatives won 53% and Labour only 13.9% (third place). Labour (and left-wing support) is strongest in Oslo’s East End, which covers the city’s historically lower-income working-class neighborhoods, which are now home to large immigrant populations – immigrants, most of them from Asia or Africa, make up about 30% of the population in the boroughs of Bjerke, Grorud, Stovner and Alna, four working-class districts in the Grorud Valley of eastern Oslo. Ap won 38.9% in Bjerke and well over 45% of the vote in the three other boroughs. It also won 44% in Søndre Nordstrand, a southeastern borough with a 32% immigrant population.
In the four downtown boroughs, smaller parties – namely the Liberals, SV, the Greens and Red – find their strongest support. Historically working-class in good part, these boroughs (Gamle Oslo, Grünerløkka, Sagene, St. Hanshaugen) are gentrified, with a large number of young(er) highly-educated professionals. While Gamle Oslo, where SV and Red (11.7% and 7.5% respectively) find their strongest backing, is still fairly poor and has a large non-white immigrant population, it has also been gentrified and includes the usual ‘hip’ trendy inner-city areas. The other districts are wealthier, with high property prices. Grünerløkka and St. Hanshaugen also have a high proportion of immigrants from EU/EEA countries, like other West End districts (where most immigrants are European). The Liberals and the Greens, as well as SV, strong with academics and students, won very strong results in these boroughs.
The exception to the East-West divide in Oslo is Nordstrand, a very affluent coastal borough on the East End. The Conservatives won 37.5% of the vote in that borough.
A victory for the right, now led by the Conservatives, ends eight years (two terms) of left-wing rule in Norway. It was a fairly unremarkable election, fitting in the with the cycle of Norwegian politics which sees governments serve no more than two terms since the 1960s. In fact, the most interesting changes came within the blocs, particularly the bourgeois blocs: the success of the Conservatives, regaining a position of prominence and power over the bourgeois bloc that they hadn’t held since the 1980s, and the failure of FrP, dramatically halting the party’s gradual advances since the mid-1990s. However, paradoxically, after a poor election showing (still their ‘third best’, but their top two best showings were the last two elections), FrP now finds itself more powerful than ever. It seems very likely that, for the first time ever, the controversial party will be allowed to have cabinet ministers in a right-wing government. While the FrP’s clear attempts to make themselves more respectable have not paid off electorally, they have paid off in terms of power calculations. If the FrP is on the verge of entering government, it is because they have managed to turn themselves into a respectable right-wing/libertarian party rather than a repugnant right-wing populist/far-right party (like they were under Carl I. Hagen). The cordon sanitaire which had confined FrP to the sidelines of Norwegian governance in the past, despite strong electoral showings since 1997, has come down. To be sure, a good dose of realpolitik from the traditional right, especially the Conservatives, played a major role as well: they have understood that they need to come to terms with FrP if they wish to govern themselves.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg will have a tough time, however, keeping her likely four-party coalition together. While relations between the Conservatives and FrP should not be too rocky, as long as FrP is willing to partake in give-and-take (mostly give) on contentious points; relations could be far more tumultuous between the FrP and the two smaller parties (KrF and V). Both are fairly reluctant members of a coalition which includes FrP, a party which they generally dislike and disagree with on a number of issues, including important ones. Both (especially V) could potentially be convinced, in the long run, to switch allegiances, though certainly not for the time being. Will Solberg be able to keep an unwieldy governing coalition together for four years?
It will be interesting to evaluate how government participation affects the FrP, both ideologically and electorally. Will the party keep ‘moderating’ itself, pushing ever so slowly towards the centre-right, or will they keep to their more extreme positions and play a role not unlike that played by DF in the Danish government between 2001 and 2011? How will FrP’s voters, including 2005-2009 supporters they lost this year, react to their party being in government?
Next: Germany, and two German state elections (Sept. 15/22) and Austria (Sept. 29)
Federal elections were held in Australia on September 7, 2013. All 150 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Australian Parliament, and 40 of the 76 seats in the Senate, the upper house, were up for reelection.
Australia’s political and electoral system
Australia has a bicameral Parliament made up of the House of Representatives, whose members represent single-member constituencies (known in Australia as ‘divisions’ or ‘electorates’), and the (directly-elected) Senate, whose members represents the states and the two territories. Australia’s political and electoral system differs quite markedly from that of Canada and the United Kingdom, two other major Commonwealth realms. For starters, Australia’s bicameralism – with a nearly as powerful upper house – is unlike either British or Canadian contemporary bicameralism where the directly-elected lower house predominates over the appointed upper house.
The House of Representatives is made up of 150 members elected in as many single-member electorates, serving a term no longer than three years. Like in many other bicameral federal countries, apportionment in the lower house reflects population. According to the Australian Constitution, the House should have – “as nearly as practicable”, twice the number of Senators. Additionally, the Constitution guarantees all original states in the federation at least five seats, a clause which overrepresents Tasmania, Australia’s least populous state which has five seats with about 71,000-73,000 voters (in contrast, most divisions in New South Wales have about 90,000 to 105,000 voters). The Parliament also guarantees that Australia’s two territories – the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT) have at least one member each; both territories currently have two seats in the House, with the ACT underrepresented (both members represent about 130,000 voters) and the NT overrepresented (about 64,000 voters per seat). The baseline quota for the number of voters in an electorate is determined by the number of voters in the state (rather than the whole country), with a maximum 10% deviation allowed.
Another Australian political particularity is that most electorates are named after historical figures, rather than geographic features or urban areas included in the seat. Only a handful of seats are named after geographic features.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected by preferential voting (also known as IRV or AV). On their ballot, voters must rank (number) all candidates in order of their preference. In federal elections, unlike in certain states (NSW, Queensland etc), full preferencing is mandatory – voters must rank all candidates, or their vote will not be counted (deemed as an ‘informal vote’), although their vote is counted if they leave one box blank – it is assumed that candidate would be their last preference. In polls, first preference votes are called the ‘primary votes’.
A candidate needs win an absolute majority of the total first preference voters. If no candidate has won an absolute majority, the candidate polling the fewest votes is excluded and his/her votes are transferred to the remaining candidates on the basis of his/her voters’ second preferences. This process of exclusion and transfers continues until one candidate has more than half of the total votes.
However, even in seats where a candidate has already been allocated, a full distribution of preferences takes place (until two candidates are left standing), to calculate a two-candidate preferred (2CP) and two-party preferred result (2PP). Australia basically a two-party system, with the centre-left Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the centre-right Coalition made up of the Liberal Party and the National Party. Therefore, in almost every single of the 150 electorates, the 2CP result is also the 2PP result. Only eight electorates in the last election, in 2010, had a ‘non-classic’ result where the 2CP was different from the 2PP – where one of the top two candidates was from neither major party (they were Greens or independents). In seats where the 2CP and 2PP are different, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) notionally distributes preferences to the two major parties to determine a 2PP, which is purely informative.
The Senate is made up of 76 senators, 72 of which serve fixed six-year terms while the four remaining senators (the two senators representing each of the two territories) serve a term which runs concurrently to that of the House of Representatives. Similar to the United States Senate, Australian senators represent states – with each states, regardless of population, electing 12 senators (and the territories, as aforementioned, electing two each). Except in cases of a double dissolution election, the Senate is renewed by halves every three years (a half-Senate election). Therefore, in this election, each state elected six senators and the two territories both elected their two senators.
The Australian Senate, unlike the Canadian Senate or the House of Lords, has roughly equal powers to that of the lower house. It must pass all legislation, but the Senate cannot introduce or amend money bills (supply) – that prerogative is reserved to the House of Representatives. However, the Senate has the power to block supply, a power which led to a major constitutional crisis in 1975 when the government, which had the confidence of the lower house to govern, was denied supply by the opposition in the Senate – eventually leading to the Governor General controversially dismissing the sitting Labor Prime Minister.
If the Senate twice in a three-month period refuses to pass a bill approved by the lower house, the Prime Minister may use this bill (and any other bills which suffered similar fates) as ‘triggers’ and ask the Governor General for a double dissolution – in which the entirety of the Senate is up for reelection alongside the House. There have been five double dissolution elections since federation: 1914, 1951, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987.
The state senators serve fixed six-year terms. An election to renew half the Senate may only be called within twelve months of the term’s expiration. Therefore, if there is an early House election outside the twelve-month window in which Senate elections may occur, the synchronization of the election is disrupted and there may be elections in which only half the Senate is up for election. However, the House and Senate elections have been synchronized since 1974.
The Senate is elected by single transferable vote (STV). On the Senate ballot paper, voters may choose to either vote ‘above the line’ (or ‘group voting ticket’) or ‘below the line’. The vast majority of voters choose the former, which consists of simply placing a ‘1’ in the box next to their party or group of preference. The party or group they vote determines the order of their preference. The ABC’s website lists group voting tickets and how each parties chose to distribute Senate preferences in this election here. For example, a voter who voted ‘above the line’ for the Labor group voting ticket in South Australia would have his vote distributed to the three Labor candidates, then to the Greens, then to Family First and so forth. Some voters – usually more ‘sophisticated’ voters who know more about each candidate – vote ‘below the line’ where they individually rank every candidate. Full preferencing is mandatory. Voting ‘below the line’ allows a voter to distribute his/her top preferences between the candidates of the various parties as he/she pleases.
Counting for the Senate can take several weeks until it is fully finalized. To be elected, a candidate needs to gain a certain quota of votes (calculated using the normal valid votes divided by the number of seats +1). Candidates who reach the quota on the first count are automatically elected, and their surplus is then transferred to other candidates before the lowest-placing candidates are excluded. Only after other candidates are elected with other candidate’s surplus and their own resulting surplus is further transferred are the lowest-placed candidates progressively excluded and their votes distributed to the remaining candidates. This process continues until all seats have been filled. The sixth and final Senate seat in many states often takes days (if not weeks) to determine, being won by intricate vote transfers from minor candidates or surplus votes.
It is very rare for a government to win an absolute majority in the Senate; the Coalition’s Senate majority between 2004 and 2007 was the exception rather than the rule, and it is something which governments will find very hard to replicate in the future. As a result, the government may be held ‘hostage’ by the opposition in the Senate (as happened to Gough Whitlam’s Labor government in the 1970s) or they are reliant on the swing votes of the ‘crossbench’ – minor parties and independents holding the balance of power (as the two Labor governments since 2007 have been).
Context: Australian parties and leaders
I won’t run through an endless summary of Australia’s political history since 1901; if you’re interested, I wrote a rather dry and chronological summary of that back in 2010.
Australia has been governed since the 2007 federal election by the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The ALP is a centre-left party, although like numerous other social democratic parties in the west, it has shifted towards the political centre since the 1980s/1990s – Bob Hawke and later Paul Keating’s Labor governments (1983-1996) radically transformed the Australian economy through dismantling protectionist policies, privatizing industries, floating the Australian dollar and extensive deregulation of the financial and banking sectors.
Australia has a two-party/coalition system, albeit one in which some third parties have been able to poll particularly well and influence government policies through their presence in the Senate. The main opposition to Labor is the right-leaning Coalition, a quasi-permanent electoral and governing coalition (since 1922, with few interruptions) made up of the centre-right Liberal Party and the conservative agrarian National Party, with the former as the dominant actor. The Liberal Party, founded in 1945, is the latest incarnation of a string of anti-Labor right-wing parties beginning with the Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1909, and later the Nationalist Party and the United Australia Party.
The Coalition dominated Australia’s post-war politics, governing the country between 1949 and 1972. Under Prime Minister Robert Menzies (1949-1966), the Liberals/Coalition represented conservative conformism: solid and visceral anti-communism, protectionist tariff policies, a free enterprise economy at home (albeit one with substantial government intervention), social conservatism, sentimental affection for Britain and the construction of Australia’s close military alliance with the United States – Australia sent troops to Korea and Vietnam. After Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government lost the 1983 election, the Liberals progressively shifted towards ‘New Right’ conservatism in vogue in the west around that time. Under Prime Minister John Howard (1996-2007), the Coalition continued Labor’s neoliberal economic policies – notably with initial spending cuts, the introduction of a GST, a strong commitment to low interest rates and a controversial deregulation of industrial relations laws (WorkChoices). Howard’s government was also marked by strong support for Washington’s post-9/11 counter-terrorism and foreign policies (the government sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq), a tough stance on asylum seekers (the ‘Pacific Solution’) and a controversial decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
The National Party, founded in 1920 as the Country Party, is an agrarian party which claims to represent rural areas (‘regional Australia’), traditionally through lobbying in favour of policies favourable to farmers, producers and rural areas in general. The party’s heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s, when they exerted significant pressure on the Liberals in favour of high tariff policies for their rural base. However, outside Queensland, the Nationals have always remained the weaker of the two parties in the Coalition. Rural depopulation, demographic changes in rural areas and strong challenges from the Liberals or third parties/independents in their rural strongholds have led to a marked decline in the Nationals’ electoral fortunes and political influence. In recent years, observers have put into question the continued relevance of the party, given the general absence of major policy differences with the Liberals and the Liberal Party’s ever-stronger hegemony within the Coalition.
The Queensland branches of the Liberal and National parties merged in 2008 to create the Liberal National Party (LNP), the first and, to date, only merger of the Liberal and National parties in any state. In the Northern Territory, however, the Country and Liberal parties merged as early as 1974 to form the Country Liberal Party (CLP), which remains the right-wing Coalition party in the NT.
The Western Australian and South Australian Nationals (although only the former are of any relevance today) are independent from the Coalition and they may run candidates against Liberal candidates in state and/or federal elections. The WA Nationals held the balance of power in the WA state legislature after the 2008 election; they chose to form a coalition with the Liberals, although the party remains outside the federal Coalition. In effect, the Nationals continue to exist within the Coalition framework only in NSW and Victoria.
Of particular relevance to this election is that the ALP is a very factionalized party. Internal politics in the ALP are dominated by a complex web of factions, backroom ‘factional bosses’ who wield considerable power within the party and rival trade unions aligned with the ALP. Although each state branch of the ALP has its own factions, the national factions of the ALP often boil down to a conflict between the ALP Right and the ALP Left (although it’s often much more complicated that it appears).
Australia has a fairly unique leadership culture; certainly one which is quite different from that of the United Kingdom and even Canada. To begin with, the parliamentary leaders of both the ALP and the Coalition are elected by their respective parliamentary caucuses rather than party members and activists at a national convention. Party leadership in Australia is a cutthroat business marked by incessant intrigues, backstabbing, knife sharpening by ostensible ‘allies’ and ‘colleagues’ and conspiracies. To be sure, the ALP isn’t the only party with such a cutthroat leadership culture – although because of its organized faction system and the influence of ‘backroom’ union and faction bosses in the ALP’s leadership, it probably is a bit more cutthroat than the Liberals.
Factional bosses within the ALP have the power to create and destroy party leaders. Kevin Rudd, a Queensland MP, won the Labor Party’s leadership in December 2006 following a ‘leadership spill’ (the Australian for a leadership challenge or a snap leadership ballot) staged by the Right against hapless ALP leader Kim Beazley. Kevin Rudd went on to win the November 2007 election, handily defeating Prime Minister John Howard’s right-wing Coalition government, which had held power for eleven years. Rudd enjoyed a long honeymoon, which basically extended until early 2010. A mix of unpopular or fumbled government policies (a Home Insulation Program scandal, a delay in Rudd’s landmark Emissions Trading Scheme and a proposed ‘super tax’ on mining profits) and Rudd’s leadership style weakened his popularity throughout the spring and summer of 2010, with an election looming later that year. Sensing that Rudd was turning into a liability for the ALP, the factional bosses who had installed Rudd in 2006 turned against him and played up his Deputy Leader, Julia Gillard, a Victoria MP associated with the Left faction. Within the party, Rudd’s two cardinal sins had been his weak ties to either of the main factions and his leadership style – his colleagues came to see him as a chaotic manager, a control freak and a narcissist. In June 2010, the NSW and Victorian Right’s main power-brokers, later joined by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) – a union aligned with the Right – turned against Rudd. They informed Gillard that they had gathered sufficient caucus support for her to win the leadership. His back against the wall, Rudd called a leadership spill for June 24. Initially, Rudd had said he would contest the leadership, but with insufficient support, he withdrew before the vote and Gillard was installed unopposed.
Julia Gillard quickly went to the people to seek her own mandate. Although the ALP was confident that it would have little trouble defeating the Coalition’s polarizing and very conservative leader, Tony Abbott (who had himself won the Liberal leadership in 2009 following a coup against previous leader Malcolm Turnbull); a poor campaign, lingering bad blood between the Gillard and Rudd camps and the weight of unpopular Labor state governments (especially in NSW and Queensland) meant that the 2010 election ended in deadlock. For the first time since 1940, neither party won an absolute majority in the House – in fact, with 72 seats apiece, the ALP and Coalition ended up tied, both short of the 75 seats required for a majority. Gillard was only able to hang on after signing a confidence and supply deal with the Greens (who had elected their first MP and held the balance of power in the Senate) and three out of four independent MPs returned (two of them former Nationals). One of these independents, Andrew Wilkie (Tasmania), withdrew his support in January 2012 claiming that Gillard hadn’t kept her word on poker-machine reform. The Greens ended their agreement with Labor, while continuing to guarantee confidence and supply, in February 2013.
Julia Gillard was never a popular Prime Minister. Although she had been one of the most popular member of Rudd’s cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister – hence the reason why the ALP Right chose her when they dumped Rudd; as Prime Minister, she was never remarkably popular and failed to catch on with the Australian electorate. One of the reasons why Gillard never caught on with voters was the way in which she became Prime Minister in June 2010. Although Rudd was unpopular within the ALP caucus because of his arrogant, overconfident and narcissistic behaviour, he was far more popular with voters who came to see him, after he left office, as a betrayed man, unfairly and wrongly stabbed in the back by Gillard and his own caucus. Many voters saw Gillard as opportunistic and disloyal, and sided with Rudd over Gillard. Gillard never took the time to explain ‘her side’ of the June 2010 coup: the official version was that it was a ‘good government which had lost its way’, until 2012, the stories of Rudd’s domineering command of his cabinet and his chaotic management style were the preserve of political circles in Canberra and savvy followers of Australian politics.
To make matters worse, however, Rudd did not retire from Parliament after losing the Labor leadership. He was reelected in his Brisbane electorate in 2010 and became Foreign Minister in Gillard’s cabinet. Quickly thereafter, Gillard’s leadership was undermined by persistent speculation that Rudd was planning his revenge. Leadership speculation and internal divisions ran wild in February 2012, with both sides conspiring behind the scenes to undermine the other. Senior Labor MP and cabinet minister Simon Crean accused Rudd of disloyalty, comments which led Rudd to resign as Foreign Minister and later announce his intention to challenge Gillard for the Labor leadership. Gillard called a leadership spill for February 27.
Tensions flared between both sides. Gillard’s supporters, led by Deputy Leader/PM and Treasurer Wayne Swan, attacked Rudd as dysfunctional, chaotic and a poor team player because of his temperament. Rudd criticized some of Gillard’s policy decisions and her behaviour in the 2010 coup. However, Rudd still lacked strong enough support within the caucus to defeat Gillard, who won with 71 votes to 31.
In March 2013, with a heavy defeat looming for the party in the September 14 federal election, leadership speculation propped up again. On March 21, Simon Crean – the very man who had called Rudd disloyal a year prior – called for a leadership spill and announced that he would support Rudd. Gillard, in a show of strength, sacked Crean and called for a leadership spill that same day. Rudd, citing insufficient support within caucus (he had said he would only return if an ‘overwhelming majority’ of the caucus requested him to do so), did not contest and Gillard was reelected unopposed.
The March 2013 spill, Gillard’s show of strength and the Rudd team’s removal/resignation from cabinet did not fix matters for Labor, which was still badly trailing Tony Abbott’s Coalition in polls. On June 26, after an alleged caucus petition by Rudd supporters, Gillard called another leadership spill to end speculation. This time, Rudd announced that he would challenge Gillard. Prominent Labor leaders, including some who had toppled Rudd in 2010, sided with Rudd. Gillard had become a liability for the ALP, and Rudd was judged as the party’s only hope of winning – or at least not losing too badly – the September election. Victorian Right leader Bill Shorten, who had backed Gillard in the 2010 spill, came out in support of Rudd, alongside other leading cabinet ministers. Wayne Swan, however, remained firmly behind Gillard. Rudd won the spill 57 votes to 45. Gillard resigned as Prime Minister and announced, keeping with her pre-ballot pledge, that she would not seek reelection as MP. Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Prime Minister, and announced, on August 4, that the election would be held on September 7 (instead of September 14, as first called by Gillard on January 30).
Climate change has been a major issue in Australian politics since at least the 2007 federal election, when tough action on climate change with the introduction of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) became a cornerstone of Kevin Rudd’s ALP platform. Rudd’s ambitious ETS/Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) quickly became bogged down in Parliament. The Greens found the CPRS’ target limits on GHG emissions to be inadequate, forcing Rudd to negotiate with Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who supported an ETS over the opposition of several right-wingers and climate change skeptics in his caucus. Turnbull’s decision to support the government’s policy and engage in negotiations angered many Liberal backbenchers and prominent right-wingers within the caucus, notably Senator Nick Minchin and former Howard cabinet minister Tony Abbott. Turnbull called a leadership spill for December 1, which was contested by Turnbull, Tony Abbott (as the leading right-wing/anti-ETS candidate) and Joe Hockey (a moderate who supported the ETS). Surprisingly, Abbott placed first with 35 votes to Turnbull’s 26 and Hockey’s 23 on the first ballot. He defeated Turnbull by a single vote, 42-41, on the second ballot. Two days later, the Senate rejected Rudd’s CPRS. Rudd chose not to use the trigger to call a double dissolution election and in April 2010 he announced that the CPRS implementation would be delayed.
In the 2010 election, Gillard’s Labor pledged that no carbon tax would be introduced (although she supported carbon pricing). However, as part of the deal with the Greens after the election, she was eventually forced to agree to a carbon tax in February 2011. The carbon tax (Clean Energy Bill) passed in October and November 2011 created a carbon tax, which would be in place for 3-5 years before an ETS is implemented. The carbon tax applies to facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons per year (except for agriculture and transport), with the price for an emission permit set at AU$23 per tonne of emitted CO2 in 2012-2013, set to increase to $25.4 in 2014-2015. To help households offset the impact of the carbon tax, the government increased the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200 and reduced personal income tax for all households earning less than $80,000. As a result of the carbon tax, household energy prices and house construction costs have increased.
The Coalition immediately called the carbon tax a ‘broken promise’ and Tony Abbott made repealing the carbon tax the cornerstone of its platform by 2011. Although the Coalition now opposes a carbon tax and fought against Rudd’s earlier ETS, it was Howard’s government which first came up with the idea of a carbon trading scheme back in 2007.
Labor’s cooperation with the Greens on this and other issues created some unease, even within the Labor caucus. Some Labor backbenchers felt that the government was too close to the Greens or giving in too much to the Greens, a view shared by many Australians – especially those on the right.
Given that the carbon tax increased the cost of living for most Australians, through higher energy and construction costs, the Coalition’s crusade against the carbon tax proved politically beneficial. However, while public support for the carbon tax remains lower than public opposition, the numbers in favour of the tax have been steadily increasing since it was introduced. The carbon tax did not turn out to be the economic disaster the Coalition had predicted it would be; most companies have adapted themselves to the new dispensation. Furthermore, a deal signed with the European Union on emissions trading (the EU already has an ETS) seems to further entrench the carbon tax.
Although the Coalition shares the ALP’s commitment to a 5-25% reduction in GHG emissions on 2000 level by 2020, its alternative plan is so-called ‘Direct Action’ – public subsidies as incentives for energy producers to reduce their emissions. Opponents of Abbott’s alternative plan say it does not provide any disincentive to pollution, and that the public – rather than polluters – would be the ones paying for it. The Coalition also said that it would abolish two new public entities, the Climate Change Authority and the Climate Commission, as well as a new ‘clean energy bank’ which provides investments in clean energy projects. Unsurprisingly, environmental groups have been extremely hostile to the Coalition’s environmental agenda.
Under Rudd, in July 2013, the ALP announced that it would bring forward the implementation of the ETS by a year (the price of carbon will be set by the market), to July 2014, a move which would cost $4 billion but also save families some $380. The Greens opposed bringing forward the ETS, given that Rudd’s decision effectively meant ‘terminating’ the carbon tax a year ahead of schedule. The Greens also support much stricter GHG emission targets, aiming at a 25-40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
Most voters, obviously, cited the economy as their top issue in this election. The economy and Australia’s economic performance has been a matter of hot and acrimonious debate between Labor and the Coalition – the former saying they’ve kept Australia’s economy remarkably strong despite the financial crisis while the Coalition styles the government as one of the worst in years, citing a growing debt and fiscal irresponsibility.
Australia, unlike the United States and most EU countries, has not gone through recession since the global financial crisis began. Even in 2009, the Australian economy grew by 1.4%. It grew by 3.6% in 2012 and is scheduled to keep growing by around 3% through 2018. Many have cited the Hawke-Keating and Howard governments’ economic reforms in the 1990s/2000s as reasons for Australia’s robust economic performance since 1991. In recent years, growth has largely been fueled by a strong mining sector, returning large profits and contributing to economic growth because of high demand for minerals by China and other Asian economies. Australia has only 5% unemployment.
Although the Coalition says that the rise in debt over the ALP’s first four budgets has been bigger as a share of GDP than any other four-year period since 1990, Australia’s debt levels and credit ratings are something which most other western economies would only dream of having at this point. Although the debt has increased from 9.7% in 2007 to 27.6% in 2013, it is set to fall back to 17% of GDP by 2018 and Australia is one of the few remaining countries with an AAA credit rating from the three ratings agencies.
However, Australia has had a budget deficit since 2008-2009, reversing a string of Coalition surplus budgets since 2002-2003. Gillard ‘assured’ voters in 2010 that her government would post a surplus in 2013, and it stuck to that pledge until December 2012 – a long time after nearly everybody had said that it would not be able to meet its promise, or that doing so would entail excessive costs on the economy (austerity). The last budget had a $18 billion deficit. Labor’s campaign promised a return to surplus in 2016-2017.
The Coalition said that Australia was facing a “budget emergency”, but it did not really campaign on a platform of austerity. The Coalition has said that sound economic management is in its DNA and that returning to a surplus was a priority, but Abbott fell short of putting numbers or timelines on that and did not say if it would happen under his first term in office. The Coalition promised to start paying off the debt, lower taxes, reduce spending cut red tape costs and eliminate 12,000 public sector jobs but create one million jobs in five years. Abbott also promised significant investments in infrastructure. The Coalition was criticized for not releasing its detailed platform costings until two days before the election. The main victim of cuts under a Coalition budget would be foreign aid, while the Coalition expects to garner revenue by reducing the number of asylum seekers and by repealing the carbon tax.
Labor ran on its record, but also a ‘scare campaign’ warning of austerity and massive cuts under a Coalition government. Late in the campaign, Rudd, flanked by Treasurer Chris Bowen and Finance Minister Penny Wong, claimed that there was a $10 billion hole in the Coalition’s platform. The announcement backfired quite epically after the heads of Treasury and Finance distanced themselves from Rudd’s remarks, and Liberal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey called Rudd a ‘liar’ afterwards.
In the last months of the first Rudd government, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan proposed a Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT), which would have been a 40% tax levied on all extractive industries. The RSPT was met with an avalanche of opposition from Coalition and, more importantly, the mining companies. Between May and June 2010, the mining companies and the federal government engaged in a costly ‘ad war’ – with the mining giants running ads against the RSPT, and the federal government spending millions on an ad campaign in support of the RSPT. The handling of the RSPT by the Rudd government was one of the reasons Labor’s powerbrokers toppled him in 2010 and replaced him with Gillard. Upon taking office, Gillard buried the hatchet and cancelled the ad campaign (the mining companies followed suit). Her government renegotiated the mining tax with the mining companies and the Greens, passing the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) in 2011. The MRRT is a 22.5% tax on the profits of iron ore and coal projects but only applies to profits over $75 million. The government also expanded the 40% Petroleum Resource Rent Tax to cover all onshore and offshore oil and gas projects.
The intake of the MRRT was rather disappointing for the government, which had projected $2-3 billion revenue from the tax in 2013; it only raised $200 million. The lower than expected revenue forced Labor to shelve part of its “benefits of the boom” plan to use the MRRT’s revenue, which was originally supposed to cover a $1.8 billion boost to family tax benefits (dropped), a 1% reduction in the company tax rate and an increase in compulsory superannuation from 9% to 12%. Despite the relative failure of the MRRT, Labor is committed to keeping the tax as is.
In contrast, the Coalition promised to repeal the MRRT, arguing that the best way to make companies pay is through state royalties. The Coalition also wants to hand over environmental approvals for all resource projects to state governments.
The Greens, who supported the MRRT, want to amend the tax to increase the rate to 40% and expand coverage to all minerals. Unlike Labor and the Coalition, the Greens also oppose most new mining, coal seam gas and shale gas projects.
One of the more ironic parts of the campaign might be that, on childcare and family policies, it was the right-wing Coalition which promised the most generous and expensive childcare/parental leave policy, with the centre-left Labor attacking the Coalition’s plan for being too costly. One of Tony Abbott’s signature policy proposals was a 26-month paid parental leave for mothers, at their actual wage (up to $150,000) or the national minimum wage (whichever is greater). Labor’s current paid parental leave plan covers 18 weeks, paid at the minimum wage and not including superannuation. The Greens’ proposal is somewhere in between both parties’ plans, proposing a 26 month paid leave but full replacement salary only up to $100,000.
One of the reasons why Tony Abbott came out with such an ambitious and generous paid parental leave plan was an effort to fix his image as being sexist or misogynist. Abbott, a socially conservative Catholic who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, made controversial comments about women in the past, which led many of his detractors to call him sexist or misogynist. In a much-heralded and publicized speech in the House in 2012, Gillard called out Abbott for his past statements and branded him as a ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynist’. Obviously, Abbott dismissed such labels, but his landmark parental leave policy was a major effort by the Coalition to give him a more pro-women image.
The Coalition supports the Labor government’s new DisabilityCare (formerly National Disability Insurance Scheme), which passed into law in March 2013. The program, to which the budget committed $14.3 billion, will provide 460,000 Australians with disabilities with funding to cater directly to their needs. Another major Labor policy which the Coalition more or less supports is Labor’s landmark National Broadband Network, a huge project to provide 93% of homes with fibre-to-home broadband internet. The Coalition opposed Labor’s NBN policy in 2010, but given how popular of a policy it has turned out to be, Abbott’s policy involves a cheaper (and slower) network. The Coalition proposes fibre-to-node (existing copper cables would connect nodes to homes) technology, which would cost $17 billion less than Labor’s plan and would be completed sooner (2019 instead of 2021) – but the internet would be slower than with Labor’s NBN. The Greens support Labor’s policy.
One issue which has raised passions and divided Australians for decades now is the question of asylum seekers. In 1992, Paul Keating’s Labor government introduced mandatory detention policies – detention (in immigration detention centres) of all persons entering the country without a valid visa while authorities assess the legitimacy of their reasons for entering the country and carry out security/health checks. After 2001, the Howard government took a tough stance on asylum seekers with the Pacific Solution, an offshore processing system under which asylum seekers were sent to Pacific island nations (Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru). Authorities also tried, when possible, to stop boats – mostly coming from Indonesia – carrying illegal migrants, most migrants being from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar or Vietnam. The Pacific Solution was very successful in nearly stopping illegal boat arrivals: from over 5,500 in 2001 to only one in 2002. Critics argue that a good part of that is due to the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Pacific Solution, however, was very controversial and was heavily criticized by the Greens or human rights groups. NGOs said that Australia was not meeting its international obligations and expressed concerns about the poor condition of the offshore detention facilities.
In 2007, the Rudd government dismantled key aspects of the Pacific Solution and adopted a more ‘compassionate’ approach. However, the number of boat arrivals increased dramatically, from 161 in 2008 to over 2,700 in 2009 – and that number has increased to over 17,200 in 2012. Although a vocal minority mostly on the left are critical of the Pacific Solution and similar hardline policies on asylum seekers, most voters are rather supportive of tough stances like that taken by the Coalition under Howard.
Feeling that the immigration situation was dragging down the government and playing to the Coalition’s advantage, Gillard quickly backtracked on Rudd’s initial asylum seeker policies and began negotiations, first with East Timor and later with Malaysia, for a return to offshore processing. Negotiations to open a detention centre in East Timor failed, but in May 2011 she announced a deal with Malaysia whereby Australia would exchange asylum seekers (to be sent to and detained in Malaysia) with Malaysian refugees. The High Court, however, ruled the agreement invalid in August 2011. With boat arrivals continuing and a number of tragic boat sinkings which claimed the lives of asylum seekers, the issue remained at the fore of debate in 2012. In August 2012, Gillard announced that her government would reopen the offshore detention centres on Manus Island (PNG) and Nauru, marking a return to the Coalition’s Pacific Policy. This new policy, however, didn’t do anything to stem the tide of boats.
Certainly the most important event in Rudd’s short second government between regaining the Labor leadership in late June 2013 was his new policy on asylum seekers – adopting an even tougher stance than Howard had taken with the Pacific Solution. Following a deal with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Rudd announced that all asylum seekers arriving by boat would be sent to PNG for processing and resettlement. Rudd declared no asylum seeker who comes by boat would ever be resettled in Australia. If they are found to be refugees, will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or other countries in the region. Rudd also finalized a similar agreement with Nauru.
In May 2013, Labor – with the Coalition’s support – passed legislation which excised the entire mainland from Australia’s migration zone, meaning that asylum seekers who reach the mainland are no longer able to even apply for a visa to enter Australia.
The Coalition under Tony Abbott has made ‘stop the boats’ one of its main policy planks in 2010. Rudd’s new policy was intended to challenge the Coalition on an issue where voters have traditionally sided with the Coalition rather than Labor. Both parties have fairly similar hardline asylum seeker policies now, both of them supporting offshore processing and mandatory detention. Abbott’s ‘stop the boats’ plan, however, also involves the Australian military. Under the Coalition’s policy, the government would create a military-led and chaired task-force made up of the 12 border security agencies and authorize the Navy to ‘turn back’ the boats ‘where it is safe to do so’ (the Howard government had a similar policy of turning back the boats, if possible, to Indonesia). It would also reintroduce temporary protection visas (allowing refugees to be released into the community for three years, but without work rights) and extend them, meaning no one who came to Australia by boat would ever get permanent resettlement; they would have to reapply for protection periodically and return to their home country once it was safe. It would make its temporary protection visas retrospective, meaning no asylum seeker who has already arrived in Australia would ever have permanent settlement. The Coalition also opposed Labor’s decision to increase the humanitarian refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 and would reverse it.
Rudd’s policy was met by waves of criticism from the left and human rights groups – but also former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who has become quite left-wing in retirement. The Greens strongly opposed Rudd’s new policy as ‘cruel’ and offer a much different platform on immigration: increasing humanitarian intake to 30,000, ending offshore processing and abolishing mandatory detention.
Same-sex marriage was not a top issue in the campaign, but it has become a hot topic in Australian politics, especially as other Western nations such as New Zealand, France and England/Wales all legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. In 2008, Labor passed legislation which recognized same-sex couples in federal law, granting them the same rights as heterosexual unions. However, private members bills introduced by the Greens or a Labor backbencher to legalize same-sex marriage have all failed. Julia Gillard opposed same-sex marriage, as did Kevin Rudd until this year.
However, in May, before reclaiming his old job, Kevin Rudd announced a change of heart and endorsed same-sex marriage, and became the first Australian Prime Minister to support same-sex marriage. When challenged by a Christian pastor on the issue on a Q&A programme near the end of the campaign, Rudd answered with a passionate argument in favour of same-sex marriage which became a small YouTube hit and won international acclaim from supporters of same-sex marriage. Labor’s platform promised to introduce legislation to legalize same-sex marriage if it won reelection, but it would still allow its MPs a free vote (like in 2012). The Greens have long supported same-sex marriage and has even suggested that Labor MPs should be whipped to vote in favour.
The Coalition, although voting in favour of the Rudd government’s 2008 legislation to extend benefits to same-sex couples, opposes same-sex marriage and Tony Abbott has not allowed his MPs a free vote on the issue (but only a tiny minority of Liberal MPs seem to favour same-sex marriage, including former leader Malcolm Turnbull). Tony Abbott was even challenged on the issue by American pop singer Katy Perry on an Australian radio show.
The Labor government since 2010 faced two major scandals. NSW Labor MP Craig Thomson was the subject of an investigation regarding misuse of union funds while he was leader of the Health Services Union. Gillard was hesitant to take a tough stand on the Thomson/HSU affair because a by-election in his electorate could mean that Labor would lose its majority in Parliament. He was suspended from the party in April 2012 and in October 2012, Fair Work Australia, the federal workplace relations tribunal, launched civil proceedings against him. He was arrested in January 2013.
In November 2011, the government installed Queensland LNP MP Peter Slipper as Speaker of the House, a move criticized by the Coalition, of which Slipper was a member (until he resigned from it shortly after becoming Speaker). In April 2012, he faced allegations of accused of sexually harassing a member of his staff. While Slipper temporarily stepped down from his duties, the Labor government continued to support him and argued that Slipper’s staffer did not have a case – even after lewd text messages sent by Slipper were released.
It was in this context that Gillard gave her viral misogyny speech in which she attacked Abbott as a sexist and misogynist. While it was met with widespread acclaim abroad, the domestic reaction was more subdued – she gave the speech in response to Abbott calling on Slipper to resign, and her government continued to support Slipper despite the text messages.
The nature of Australia’s electoral system means that vote counting can take quite a while. Results remain preliminary, especially for the Senate. But as of today, more and more results are being set in stone. Results come from the AEC.
House of Representatives (primary votes, preliminary)
Coalition 45.66% (+2.04%) winning 90 seats (+17)
–Liberal 31.92% (+1.46%) winning 58 seats (+14)
–Liberal National Party 8.96% (-0.16%) winning 22 seats (+1)
–The Nationals 4.44% (+0.71%) winning 9 seats (+2)
–Country Liberals 0.34% (+0.03%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Labor 33.63% (-4.36%) winning 55 seats (-17)
Greens 8.35% (-3.41%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Palmer United Party 5.52% (+5.52%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Family First 1.37% (-0.88%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 1.4% (-0.81%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Katter’s Australian Party 1.03% (+0.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Others 3.06% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats
House of Representatives (2PP, 140/150 divisions)
Coalition 53.38% (+3.58%) winning 90 seats (+17)
Labor 46.62% (-3.58%) winning 55 seats (-17)
Coalition 37.54% (-1.09%) winning 18 seats (nc) for 34 total seats (nc)
–Liberal/National (NSW, VIC) 21.71% (+0.29%)
–Liberal National Party (QLD) 7.54% (-0.44%)
–Liberal (WA, SA, TAS, ACT) 7.64% (-0.95%)
–The Nationals (WA, SA) 0.40% (+0.07%)
–Country Liberals 0.36% (+0.05%)
Labor 30.34% (-4.79%) winning 12 seats (-6) for 25 total seats (-6)
Greens 8.56% (-4.55%) winning 4 seats (+1) for 10 total seats (+1)
Palmer United Party 4.97% (+4.97%) winning 1 seat (+1) for 1 total seat (+1)
Liberal Democrats (LDP) 3.84% (+2.03%) winning 1 seat (+1) for 1 total seat (+1)
Nick Xenophon Group 2.1% (+2.1%) winning 1 seat (nc) for 1 total seat (nc)
Sex Party 1.35% (-0.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Family First 1.11% (-0.99%) winning 1 seat (+1) for 1 total seat (+1)
Shooters and Fishers 0.93% (-0.75%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Katter’s Australian Party 0.84% (+0.84%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Democratic Labour Party 0.84% (-0.22%) winning 0 seats (nc) for 1 total seat (nc)
Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party 0.49% (+0.49%) winning 1 seat (+1) for 1 total seat (+1)
Australian Sports Party 0.02% winning 1 seat (+1) for 1 total seat (+1)
Others 6.96% (+2.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Note: the map shows the % majority on 2CP – ‘majority’ defined as in Britain (winning candidate’s % – runner-up candidate’s %). Australia calculates ‘margin’ as winning candidate’s % – 50.00%.
As polls had predicted, Tony Abbott’s Coalition won a decisive victory – not quite a landslide (certainly not comparable to the Lib/Nat’s landslides in the QLD or NSW state elections in 2012 and 2011 respectively) but certainly a very comfortable win similar to John Howard’s inaugural 1996 victory or his fourth reelection in 2004.
In the next post covering the Norwegian election on September 9, we’ll see that Norwegian governments have rarely won third terms in office in the post-war era. In contrast, Australian governments often tend to win more than two three-year terms. But after only two terms and six years in office, Labor was thrown out – making it the first government since Gough Whitlam to not win at least a third term.
When one considers the relatively solid state of Australia’s economy – it hasn’t been in recession since 1991, 5% unemployment is no more than a wet dream for many of Australia’s G20 partners, low interest rates and a comparatively healthy debt/deficit – the defeat of a sitting government by such a wide margin may be quite surprising. A good economy does not mean that a government will inevitably win reelection – plenty of governments around the world have lost reelection despite a strong economy. However, many of those governments lost because of voter fatigue after 10+ years in office. Labor has been in office for ‘only’ six years.
Voter fatigue, however, played a key role in Labor’s defeat this year. This voter fatigue was in large part the result of Labor’s crippling internal instability and turbulent governments. Internal instability and civil wars always reflect badly on any party. And this was more than just the usual internal rumblings from malcontents about a mediocre leader: it was a series of constant factional wars, decided by shadowy figures in smoke-filled rooms, with a toppled Prime Minister conspiring from the day he lost his job to reclaim it from his one-time ally, and that sitting Prime Minister eager to hang on to her job and keep her ally-turned-bitter rival out of office. Labor might have done a good job in office, in terms of governance and policy (a subjective view, naturally, but a good case could be made that the government’s record was quite good), but it was often overshadowed by the constant factional warfare, backstabbing and backroom conspiracies. Labor gave the image that it was unable to govern itself.
The Coalition understood that voters were fed up with turbulent politics and instability under Labor and they ran on a platform which basically promised stability. A somewhat hypocritical promise, given that the Liberals are only slightly less prone than Labor to leadership chaos – for example, the CLP Chief Minister of the NT was recently toppled in a leadership spill.
Other factors played in the government’s defeat. Several unpopular policies or government decisions became strong rallying points for the conservative opposition.
There was the carbon tax, whose immediate repeal has been at the heart of the Coalition’s platform ever since it was first approved in 2011. Abbott, back in 2011, said that 2013 would be a ‘referendum on the carbon tax’. It is hard to say to what role the carbon tax played in voters’ minds in 2013 given that public acceptance of the carbon tax has been slowly edging upwards and the initial anger has petered out a bit. The election probably wasn’t a ‘referendum on the carbon tax’ as the Coalition said it would be, especially as Rudd was campaigning on terminating the carbon tax a year ahead of schedule. It may, however, have mobilized conservative opinion against Labor.
The Coalition’s old ‘stop the boats’ pledge was popular with voters, hence why Rudd adopted such a tough stance on asylum seekers with the ‘PNG Solution’. Given Rudd’s new policy and the general proximity of both main parties on the issue, opposition to illegal boat arrivals was probably not a factor in Labor’s defeat, although it certainly dragged down the government between 2008 and 2013 – and some voters might have remembered that when they voted.
As in the 2010 election, Labor was unsuccessful at getting its message across and defending its record. For example, the Coalition was able to steamroll the government on economic issues. Labor’s failure to get its message across brings us to another major factor in this campaign: Kevin Rudd.
Kevin Rudd was ‘brought in’ at the end of June in a calculated attempt by Labor powerbrokers (those who had him kicked out three years prior) to win the election or, at the very least, save the most furniture possible. At the start of the year, with some polls showing Labor clawing upwards and eating into the Coalition’s massive lead on the primary vote and 2PP, some had thought that Julia Gillard – with a reputation as a fighter – would be able to turn things around, get Labor on the offensive and turn the tables on Abbott. However, by the summer, only weeks before the election itself, Labor was still trailing the Coalition by over 10 points on 2PP (up to 57-43) and it was crystal clear that Gillard would not be able to win the election. Rudd, who was much more popular than Gillard at that point, was a last-ditch attempt to win, or, more likely, salvage what could be salvaged.
Despite losing, was Kevin Rudd a net positive for Labor? Labor certainly lost by a substantial margin, but with about 54 seats (at least) it is in a better position to begin rebuilding than, say, the NSW and QLD Labor parties. In short, a major defeat but not a crippling one. Labor should be able to rebuild and fix itself up a bit before the 2016 federal election. Would Julia Gillard have done a better or worse job than Rudd in the election? Narratives have already been built for both views – the former holds that Rudd is too chaotic and egocentric of a politician to run a good campaign, and Gillard as a fighter could have run a better and less disorganized campaign; the latter holds that Gillard was far too unpopular with voters to be able to win, and that Rudd helped the party – notably by managing to hold all but two/three of Labor’s seats in his home state of Queensland (but Labor’s result in Queensland in 2010 was quite bad to begin with).
Rudd’s return to Prime Ministership came with the usual (short-lived) honeymoon: Labor took the lead on 2PP for the first time since 2010/2011 probably; but the poll bounce died off, and Labor fell back behind the Coalition and what had been clear for over a year – that Abbott would win – became clear again after a brief moment of doubt when Rudd returned. What seems to have gone wrong for Labor between the day Rudd returned and September 7 was a poorly run campaign, widely described as being disorganized and chaotic – in good part due to Rudd himself.
This post-election article describes how Rudd’s campaign imploded, going into lengthy details about a disconnect between central headquarters in Melbourne and Rudd’s personal campaign. Rudd has a long-standing reputation as a chaotic, thought-bubble and micro-managing type of guy; it was one of the reasons why the Labor caucus toppled him in 2010. During the campaign, there were several moments where frustrated Labor strategists felt that Rudd was making up policies on his own as he went along. The most infamous, cited in the article, is when Rudd floated the idea of a differential tax rate for Northern Territory businesses in a campaign stop in Darwin.
Rudd and the campaign’s messages weren’t working – nothing was sticking, nothing was breaking through with voters. Labor’s bump on asylum seekers didn’t last long. Rudd’s attacks on the Coalition – saying Abbott would raise the GST and/or “cut, cut, cut” – didn’t work. A successful second debate performance was ruined by a Facebook post from the woman who had put makeup on both leaders, which said that while Abbott was ‘lovely’, Rudd had been mean. An incident which brought back the old stories about Rudd’s unpredictable rudeness and egocentric behaviour. Rudd’s announcement that he would move a main Navy base from Sydney to Brisbane resulted in him being ‘ambushed’ on the stump by the Liberal Premier of NSW. Finally, as aforementioned, was the disastrous Rudd-Bowen-Wong announcement of the ‘black hole’ in the Coalition’s costings and the subsequent reprimand from the mandarins at Treasury and Finance.
It is also quite a performance from Tony Abbott, who was, not all that long ago, brushed off as an unelectable leader. Labor was certainly overconfident (in 2009) that Abbott’s reputation as a ‘social reactionary’ and his propensity for making controversial or insensitive comments (notably about women, hence the sexist/misogynist accusations) would mean that he would not be a serious threat. Besides, Abbott seems to be fairly gaffe-prone (although he doesn’t have foot-in-mouth disease); during the campaign he commented on a Liberal female candidate having ‘sex appeal’ and said ‘suppository’ instead of ‘repository’.
Abbott’s personal approval numbers (satisfied vs. dissatisfied) were quite low throughout the last Parliament’s term – he had a dissatisfied rating in the 50-60% range for most of 2011 and 2012, and only improved slightly during the campaign (but even the last polls had him with a negative satisfaction rating). It is pretty clear that the Coalition didn’t win because Abbott was a Obama-2008 like “transformational figure” who excited the electorate on his own merits; the Coalition won because Gillard/Rudd’s ratings as Prime Ministers were even lower and voters were fed up with the chaos and instability of Labor governments.
Nevertheless, Abbott cleaned up his image considerably over the course of the campaign. He tempered off his traditional “attack dog” image he had had since the last election as leader of the opposition, and ran a well-organized and disciplined campaign with a clear focus: stop the boats, clean up the debt and repeal the carbon tax. Abbott also softened his personal image, which up to that point had been that of a strict Catholic social conservative lacking a ‘soft touch’. During the campaign, he often appeared alongside his two daughters, aged 20 and 22 respectively. His generous parental leave policy was also an aspect of this calculated strategy to soften his previously ‘harsh’ image. Nevertheless, his seemingly natural propensity for awkward or insensitive comments came back: in a pitch to contestants of the Big Brother TV show, Abbott said he was “the guy with the not bad looking daughters.”
The Greens won 8.3%, a poor showing after their record-high 11% result in the 2010 election. In 2010, the Greens benefited from a high left-leaning protest vote in their favour, which seems to have evaporated somewhat in this election. However, while the Greens have reason to be disappointed at their poor showing and the substantial swings against them in most electorates, they can be pleased with two results: holding, against very tough odds, their only seat in the House of Representatives, and increasing their representation in the Senate by at least one seat to reach a record of 10 senators.
The election was shaken up by millionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, who created his own party – the Palmer United Party (PUP) – earlier this year and managed to run 150 candidates, including Clive Palmer in the LNP-held seat of Fairfax on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast (north of Brisbane). Clive Palmer is a famous Australian millionaire – Forbes estimated his wealth at US$795 million – who owns the mining company Mineralogy. Besides creating his own party, the eccentric and bizarre millionaire made two other announcements this year: that he was building the Titanic II, a replica of the ill-fated RMS Titanic and opening an amusement park with animatronic dinosaurs.
Clive Palmer has been active in politics, as a member of the Queensland National Party (and later LNP) since 1974. He was the Nats’ campaign director in the 1983 QLD state election and was supporter of famous Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s disastrous ‘Joh for Canberra’ bid for the Prime Ministership in the 1987 federal election. Palmer announced in 2012 that he would contest the LNP preselection (nomination) for the seat of Lilley, currently held by Julia Gillard ally and former Treasurer Wayne Swan. Such plans were scrapped in November 2012 when he resigned his life membership in the LNP, a party which he had also been a generous donor to.
The PUP is a classic populist party, feeding on voters’ anti-establishment feelings. His platform seems to have consisted of a mis-mash of policies, such as reducing inequalities between Aboriginals and the rest of the population, major investments in health and education, increasing pensions, creating mineral wealth and repealing the carbon tax. All in all, a classic populist party, with the added flair of typical Queensland populism – not far removed from Sir Joh. The PUP’s Senate candidates included former athletes: a former Australian rules football player, a boxer and former rugby player (Glenn Lazarus, the PUP’s senatorial candidate in QLD).
During the campaign, Clive Palmer again demonstrated his penchant for eccentricity and oddities by channeling Miley Cyrus and twerking on a radio show.
The incumbent MP for Kennedy, Bob Katter (a ex-Nat independent) created his own party, Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) in 2011. The KAP won two seats in the 2012 QLD state election, and a defection from a LNP MP has given it a third seat in the state legislature. Katter, the only of the four independents elected in 2010 who sided with Abbott rather than Gillard, is a fairly typical old-style Nat rural independent: socially conservative, but economically ‘left-leaning’ if only because of his protectionism and interventionist views, quite far removed from the Coalition and Labor’s free-market oriented economic policies.
Detailed results – House
The Coalition won the 2PP in every state and territory except the public servant-heavy ACT, a traditional Labor/Green stronghold which gave nearly 60% of the 2PP vote to Labor (and barely swung from 2010).
|LIB/NAT (FPV)||ALP (FPV)||GRN (FPV)||PUP (FPV)||LIB/NAT 2PP||ALP 2PP|
The heaviest swings against Labor, on 2PP, were in Tasmania (-11.4%), Victoria (-5.5%) and South Australia (-5.5%). In New South Wales, there was a smaller 3.2% swing against Labor. The swings against the governing party were smaller in the other states: -1.1% in Queensland, -1.2% in Western Australia, -1.7% in the ACT and -1% in the NT.
Tasmania was a bloodbath for Labor, which lost three of its four seats and saw its high-profile attempt to unseat maverick independent MP Andrew Wilkie in Denison (Hobart) fall flat on its face, with Wilkie taking 65.6% of the 2CP vote against Labor. Labor had performed extremely well in Tasmania in 2010 (61% 2PP, up from 56% in 2007), despite losing Denison to Wilkie, so in part this result is a slight correction of that result. However, it is more than just that- Tasmania is a strong state for Labor, which won the 2PP in the state in all four of Howard’s victories, including 1996 and 2004. The likely reason for the huge swing against Labor is the very unpopular Labor-Green state government, which will certainly be booted out of office a la QLD/NSW Labor in next year’s election. The Greens seem to have been adversely impacted by their support of that government as well – in one of the Greens’ oldest strongholds, the Green vote fell by 8.7% since 2010!
Only Labor’s Julie Collins was able to retain Franklin, Hobart’s suburban electorate, with a less catastrophic 5.7% swing against Labor (55-45 on 2PP).
The swing against Labor in Victoria is most likely due to the ‘removal’ of Julia Gillard’s favourite daughter effect, which had meant that Victoria recorded a counter-cyclical 1% swing to Labor in the 2010 election, which allowed Labor to gain the seats of La Trobe and McEwen from the Liberals, the only two seats which Labor gained in the last election. The Liberals have regained La Trobe and while McEwen is too close to call. Both are middle-class ‘mortgage belt’ suburban seats; the former in eastern Melbourne, the later in Melbourne’s northern outer suburbs (mixed with rural areas). Despite a very favourable redistribution for Labor since 2010 (a 9% notional margin), McEwen is on a knife’s edge, with Labor holding a 97 vote lead (as of Sept. 15) although the Liberals may still pull ahead. LaTrobe, which had a much smaller 1.7% ALP margin, saw a 5.6% swing to the Liberals giving them a 54-46 2PP win.
The Liberals predictably gained two very marginal Labor-held seats, Corangamite and Deakin, both of which were gained from the Liberals in 2007 and had a 0.3% and 0.6% Labor margin respectively. The Liberals took 54% in Corangamite and 53% in Deakin.
Labor held Chisholm and Bruce, two multiethnic suburban seats in eastern Melbourne, with around 51.5% of the 2PP. Despite a heavy 8% swing to the Liberals, they also held Bendigo, with 51% of the 2PP. Otherwise, Labor held its strongholds in Melbourne’s historically working-class northern and western suburbs, while the Coalition retained its safe seats in Melbourne’s more affluent suburban electorates and in rural areas.
Prime Minister Gillard’s former seat of Lalor saw a large 10% swing against Labor, likely a product of her retirement and the ‘removal’ of any personal votes she had won in 2010.
The inner-city bohemian seat of Melbourne, which elected the first Green member in the 2010 election in the person of Adam Bandt (ignoring the Cunningham by-election win for the Greens in NSW in 2002), was a hotly contested fight this year between Labor and the Greens. Many thought that the Greens would lose the seat back to Labor, which had held the seat since 1904 prior to 2010. Bandt’s comfortable victory in 2010, with a 6% margin, owed a lot to Liberal preferences – about 80% of Liberal preferences flowed to the Greens ahead of Labor on the final count. However, unlike in 2010, the Liberals decided to instruct their supporters to preference Labor ahead of the Greens, something which likely cost the Greens a lot in the last state election in Victoria and last year’s state by-election in Melbourne. However, Bandt was able to survive with a solid majority – 54.9% of the 2CP, representing a tiny 1% swing to Labor. More importantly, he increased his primary vote by 6.9% to 42.5%, while Labor’s primary vote fell 11 points. In an otherwise unpleasant night for the Greens, Bandt’s handsome reelection in Melbourne was a huge morale booster for the Greens.
The seat which everybody is watching is Indi, a rural and traditionally solidly Liberal seat held by Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella since 2001. Mirabella, a vocal member of the Liberal Party’s right-wing, seems to be strongly disliked by a lot of people for a variety of reasons which I’m not entirely up-to-date on. Mirabella, who held her seat with a 9% margin over Labor in 2010, faced a strong challenge from Cathy McGowan, a local independent candidate who rallied a broad anti-Liberal/Mirabella coalition. The counting process has been quite crazy, most notably with the discovery of 1,000 votes for McGowan in a precinct. As of now, she leads by 515 votes. Based on votes left to count, the ABC and AEC have both called the race for McGowan.
Mallee, a rural seat which is the most conservative in the country, saw an acrimonious fight between the Coalition’s two partners: the Nationals, who have held the seat since its 1949 creation, and the Liberals, who hadn’t contested the seat since 1993 (when they came within 0.5% of winning the seat). The Nats were clearly displeased at the Liberal Party’s decision to run a candidate, apparently over Abbott’s objections. However, the Nats were able to hold their stronghold with a comfortable majority, taking 39% of the primary vote (against the Liberals’ 27%) and 56% of the 2CP.
In New South Wales, the Coalition parties gained at least eight seats (with a possibility for a ninth) from Labor. In 2010, with a nearly 5% swing to the Coalition, it had managed to net only four seats from Labor – a tactical ‘win’ for Labor. This year, ironically, a smaller swing to the Coalition parties gave them ten extra seats (two gains from independents).
In suburban Sydney, the Liberals gained Lindsay, Banks and Reid – three seats with narrow Labor margins (between 1% and 2.7%). Lindsay has a big place in Australian electoral folklore because it is an outer suburban seat which has come to represent John Howard’s electoral constituency: upwardly-mobile skilled workers on good incomes, in suburban areas with low non-white populations. The Liberals gained previously solidly Labor seat in 1996, and held it until Rudd’s first victory in 2007, when it returned to Labor with a solid majority. But in 2010, it was Labor’s third most marginal seat in NSW, with a 1.1% margin. This year, Liberal candidate Fiona Scott – the candidate which Abbott said had ‘sex appeal’ – won with 53% of 2PP votes, a 4% swing to the Liberals.
The Liberal gains in Banks and Reid, two suburban (southwestern and western suburbs respectively) seats with narrow Labor majorities, mark the first Liberal victories in both those seats in many decades – a mix of a sharp swing across Sydney in the 2010 election and the effects of redistribution in recent years. On swings slightly larger than the state-wide swing, the Liberals gained both seats. These suburban electorates are divided between Labor-leaning lower-income and multiethnic neighborhoods and affluent Liberal-leaning waterfront neighborhoods.
In Sydney’s western suburbs, the division of Parramatta is on a knife’s edge as of writing, with a 482 vote margin for the Labor incumbent in this ethnically diverse middle-class suburban electorate. There was a 4% swing to the Liberals. This is the only seat where the ABC hasn’t made a prediction yet, and it could realistically go both ways.
Unsurprisingly, the second tightest Labor-held seat, Robertson, an outer suburban bellwether seat on the Central Coast north of Sydney, also fell to the Liberals, with a 4% swing giving them a 54% win on 2PP. Again on the Central Coast, the Liberals also gained the division of Dobell, held by Labor-turned-independent embattled MP Craig Thomson. Labor’s nomination was problematic and messy, and settled only at the last minute. Thomson ran for reelection as an independent, but thoroughly discredited as he is, he only won 4% of the vote. The Liberals recorded a 5.9% swing in their favour, allowing them to gain the seat with 50.8% of the 2PP vote (a 1,303 vote margin as of now).
Slightly more surprising, however, is the Liberal gain in Barton, a seat which Labor had held with about 57% of the 2PP in 2010 despite a heavy 8% swing against it. However, the seat’s longtime member, Robert McClelland, a prominent Rudd supporter turfed from Gillard’s cabinet in 2012, retired and the Labor nomination was closely disputed. I would suppose this partly explains the unusually large 7.5% swing to the Liberals, which allowed them to pick up the seat – held by Labor since 1983 – with a 895 vote majority as of now.
However, the most marginal Labor seat in NSW, Greenway (a mortgage belt seat, similar to Lindsay), didn’t move. After a major redistribution which turned a fairly safe Liberal seat into a notionally Labor seat, Labor took the new Greenway in 2010, with a very narrow 0.9% margin. As such, it should have been a top Liberal target, but the Liberals were compelled in the end to select 2010 candidate Jaymes Diaz. Diaz, however, got lots of unwanted media attention when he was unable to list the six points in the Liberals’ ‘six-point plan’ to ‘stop the boats’. His candidacy’s collapse likely explains why Labor managed to hold this seat – and record a net swing in its favour of 2.6%. The Labor MP was reelected with 53.5% of the 2PP vote.
Outside Sydney, the Liberals gained Eden-Monaro, a bellwether seat extending from Canberra’s public servant-laden suburbs to coastal towns. Labor, which had picked up the seat in 2007, put up a good fight but was overwhelmed by the state-wide swing to the Liberals, who had a 4.7% swing in their favour in the seat and hold, as of now, a 862 vote lead over the Labor incumbent who has nevertheless conceded defeat.
The Nationals picked up Page from Labor, in rural northeastern NSW. The seat had a 4% Labor margin, but the Nationals won it comfortably after a fairly hefty 7% swing against Labor. The Nationals also gained two seats, New England and Lyne, which were held by the pro-Gillard independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott respectively. Both of them retired before the election, certainly sensing that they would lose their seats by a wide margin if they ran for reelection – both of their seats, especially New England, are conservative strongholds (the Nats would have won over 60% in Lyne and over 66% in New England in a 2PP contest against Labor in 2010). The Nationals nominated Queensland Senator (and incoming Nat Deputy Leader) Barnaby Joyce in New England, after an earlier bid to select independent state MP Richard Torbay fell through when Torbay was forced to resign his own seat after corruption allegations earlier this year. The Nats won 71% of the 2PP in New England and 65% in Lyne.
The Sydney inner-city seat of Grayndler, an old Labor stronghold similar to Melbourne – where gentrification and demographic changes have altered the electorate’s character and made the Greens a strong threat to Labor – saw the Greens fall back this year. In 2010, the Greens finally overtook the Liberals on first preferences and won 46% of the 2CP vote against Labor MP Anthony Albanese. However, this year, the Greens fell back into third on the primaries, winning 22.9% (about 3 points less than in 2010) to the Liberals’ 24.7% and Albo’s 47.5%. Obviously, in a Labor-Liberal 2PP contest, Grayndler is one of Labor’s safest seats in Australia – Albanese was reelected with 70.5% of the 2PP vote. In next-door Sydney, which has a slightly stronger Liberal base which has thus far kept the Greens at bay, the Green vote fell by 6%, to 17.4%, nearly 13% behind the Liberals. Labor held the seat handily on the back of Green preferences, with 63.7% of the 2PP.
Otherwise, the other seats conformed to their political traditions. The Liberals won by huge margins their Northern Sydney strongholds, including Abbott’s Warringah seat and Malcolm Turnbull’s division of Wentworth; these are the most affluent areas in all of Australia. In contrast, Labor held their working-class/low-income/multiethnic western and southwestern suburban seats. As in 2010, the swings in the Labor stronghold of Fowler proved bizarre – in 2010, Fowler, likely as a result of factional wranglings created by redistribution and MPs playing musical chairs in the area (which meant Fowler’s MP retiring and being replaced by a sitting MP from another seat), had the largest swing against Labor in the country (a 13% swing) which reduced Labor’s margin from 23% to 9% (!). This year, Labor MP Chris Hayes was reelected – but enjoyed a 9% swing to Labor, by far the biggest counter-cyclical swing this year. He won 67.7% of the 2PP and the Liberal primary vote collapsed by 11%.
Labor held their working-class turf in Wollongong and in the coal mining Hunter Valley (including Newcastle), although the division of Hunter – where coal mining remains a significant employer – now has a fairly anemic Labor margin of 3.8% after a big 9% swing to the Nats. The Liberals and the Nats won the other rural or coastal retiree/touristy seats by the usual margins.
After swinging hard against Julia Gillard’s Labor in 2010 – as a result of Kevin Rudd’s favourite son effect being removed and a very unpopular state government – Queensland largely stayed put in 2013, with a few safe Coalition seats and two Labor seats even swinging to Labor. Kevin Rudd likely saved a lot of seats for his party in Queensland, although it held only 8 out of the state’s 30 seats. Nevertheless, Labor lost two seats in Queensland, both by small margins.
The rural mining/working-class division of Capricornia, in central Queensland (covering Rockhampton), currently has a narrow 872 vote LNP lead, which should hold up. Labor was defending a tight 3.7% margin, and the swing to the LNP – 4.2% – was just enough to wipe that out. Similarly, in Petrie, a suburban swing seat north of Brisbane, a 3.2% swing to the LibNats wiped out Labor’s 2.5% margin. The LNP won the seat with 50.7% of the 2PP. Labor, however, prided itself on its ability to hold its other seats – including its most marginal Queensland electorate, Moreton, which had a 1.1% ALP margin in 2010. Moreton is Queensland’s most ethnically diverse seat, something which might be helping Labor in a seat which voted Liberal by tight margins throughout Howard’s four elections. The Labor incumbent bucked the trend, and with a small 0.5% swing in his favour, he increased his margin by a hair (to 51.6% 2PP). In Griffith (a rather gentrified and affluent inner-city professional seat), Kevin Rudd was reelected despite a strong 5.5% swing to the LNP. Rudd took only 53% of the 2PP, which appears to be his weakest result since his first victory in Griffith back in 1998.
Julia Gillard’s Treasurer, Wayne Swan, was also able to survive in his marginal suburban electorate of Lilley, resisting a 1.7% swing to the LNP to win with 51% of the 2PP.
However, Labor was unable to gain any seats in Queensland – despite some thinking that Rudd would allow the party to regain some lost ground from 2010. In the LNP-held mortgage belt seat of Forde, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie was defeated in his high-profile bid to unseat a LNP freshman elected in 2010, taking only 45.6% of the 2PP. Similarly, the downtown seat of Brisbane, a surprise LNP pickup in 2010, remained firmly in LNP hands with an expanded majority.
Clive Palmer appears to have been successful in his attempt win the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax from the LNP. He won 26.8% of the primary vote, against 41.4% for the LNP and 18.1% for Labor. The LNP primary vote fell by 8% and the Labor vote by 9%. It seems as if Labor preferences flowed heavily towards Palmer, who currently holds a 502 vote lead on the 2CP against the LNP incumbent. Just directly south of Fairfax, in Fisher, another PUP candidate managed to overtake Labor on preferences and win 46.1% of the 2CP. Peter Slipper, running for reelection in Fisher as an independent, won only 1.5%.
Bob Katter’s sprawling rural seat of Kennedy saw a surprisingly big swing against Katter, who nevertheless managed reelection – but with the closest margin, by far, since he first won the seat in 2001. There was a huge 17% swing against Katter on primary votes, giving him only 29.4% of primary votes against 41.2% for the LNP and 16.4% for Labor. He won, likely on Labor preferences, with 52.1% of the 2CP, but suffered a 16% swing against him on 2CP as well. It seems as if Katter’s partial preference deal with Labor in some seats might have hurt him, as well as Clive Palmer stealing his thunder and capitalizing on protest votes.
The swing against Labor was much stronger in South Australia, which is both a ‘correction’ from Labor’s excellent SA result in 2010 and an unpopular state Labor government facing an uphill battle for reelection in 2014. However, despite a 5.5% swing to the Coalition, Labor’s seats were all quite entrenched, therefore the Coalition only picked up one seat – Hindmarsh, in Adelaide’s western suburbs. With a large 8.1% swing against the ALP, the Liberals gained the seat with 52% of the 2PP vote. However, all other Labor seats held tight – in Adelaide, the city’s inner-city/downtown electorate which has some Liberal-voting affluent areas, there was only a ‘small’ 3.7% swing to the Coalition, and Labor held the seat with 54% of the 2PP. Makin and Wakefield, two other Labor-held suburban Adelaide seats which had recorded large swings to Labor in 2010, both saw fairly substantial swings back to the Liberals (who won both of them in 2004), but the Labor margin (after 2007 and 2010 swings) has become so large that Labor was reelected in both with handsome numbers: 55.5% in Makin (a mixed outer suburban mortage belt and lower-income inner suburban seat) and 53.6% in Wakefield (a mixed seat including conservative rural areas and a working-class suburban ALP stronghold).
Labor held Kingston and Port Adelaide, two lower-income suburban seats in north and south Adelaide respectively, with over 60% of the 2PP.
However, the sharp swing towards the Coalition allowed them to shore up their two marginal seats in Adelaide – Boothby and Sturt, taking 57.5% and 60% of the 2PP respectively in those seats which they had won by only 0.6% and 3.6% in 2010. Naturally, the Liberals held their two rural/Outback seats by very big margins.
In Western Australia, Australia’s most right-leaning state (along with Queensland), Labor held their three seats in the Perth area and the Coalition held their seats, although the Outback seat of O’Connor switched from the WA Nationals to the Liberals.
There were only small swings to the Coalition in Labor’s three seats, the largest being a 1.1% swing in Perth (a mix of inner-city bohemia and multiethnic areas). Labor’s most vulnerable seat, Brand, which covers the industrial city of Rockingham and southern Perth suburbs, only saw a small 0.8% swing to the Liberals, and Labor retained the seat with 52.5% of the 2PP.
In a better year for Labor, they might have had a shot at retaking a few Liberal marginals such as Swan (a mix of low-income and affluent areas, lost in 2007) or Hasluck (a mix of lower-income suburbs and middle-class mortgage belt, lost in 2010). However, the swings to the Coalition were above the WA state average in both those seats (there were also large swings to the Liberals in the mortgage belt seat of Canning, where Labor did abnormally well in 2010, and the suburban seat of Stirling).
Perhaps more interesting, however, were the results in WA’s two large Outback seats. O’Connor, which covers the south of WA’s Wheatbelt and the southern mining district, was won by the WA Nationals’ Tony Crook in 2010, who defeated controversial hard-right Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey in one of 2010’s more memorable results. Crook sat on the crossbench but backed the Coalition until 2012, when he joined the Coalition. He did not run for reelection. The Liberals were widely expected to regain the seat, and they did, although the Nationals put up a very strong fight despite a less controversial Liberal candidate and Crook’s retirement. In fact, the Nat primary vote only fell by 3.5% (and the Liberal primary vote barely increased) and they won 49.1% on the 2CP against the Liberals. In Durack, a remote seat covering the sparsely populated arid mining regions in the north as well as the north of WA’s Wheatbelt, the Nationals had a strong performance. Their primary vote increased by nearly 6 points to 23.6%, allowing them to overtake Labor (20.2%) and reduce the Liberal primary vote by 6.7%. The Liberals were likely hurt by the retirement of the seat’s MP, who had held the seat (known as Kalgoorlie until 2010) since 1998. On 2CP, the Liberals won with 54.2%.
In the Northern Territory, both seats – one (Solomon, the urban seat covering Darwin) held by the Country Liberals and the other (Lingiari, the Outback seat with a large Aboriginal population) by Labor – were both marginals with a chance of falling, but their respective incumbents were both reelected with limited swings. The CLP held Solomon, which saw a small 0.6% swing to Labor, which was somewhat confident of its chances in a seat which it held for a term in 2007. In Lingiari, heavy swings to the CLP in the 2012 territorial election throughout NT’s remote areas led some to think that longtime Labor MP Warren Snowdon might lose reelection. As of now, he appears to have won – though with a small 705 vote majority over the CLP, which saw a 2.9% swing in its favour in the seat.
In the ACT (Canberra), Labor held both seats by wide margins.
The AEC has some pages detailing the 2PP swings: by seat status here or by demographic classification here. Overall, unlike in, say, 2004, there was no sharp, widespread swing to the Coalition in mortgage belt-type seats. Indeed, according to the AEC’s data, the swing against Labor was stronger in inner metro areas (-4.8%) and in ‘provincial’ (small town) areas (-4.2%) than in outer metro suburban areas (-3.7%). By seat status, the largest swings against Labor were in Labor-held marginals (-5%) and in safe or fairly safe Coalition seats (-5.6%, -6%). Swings in safe Labor seats were rather limited, at -1.8%.
The Guardian‘s excellent Data Blog did an analysis of Palmer’s votes by division, comparing it to census data. Palmer’s vote was clearly strongest, by a long shot, in Queensland, a natural breeding ground for right-populism, such as the one embodied in the past by Sir Joh’s Nats or more recently by Pauline Hanson’s far-right One Nation. This map shows the PUP’s first prefs by division.
The Guardian‘s analysis found that Palmer’s support was concentrated in lower-income, rural and suburban seats; sometimes working-class but almost always with low levels of professionals. The above map certainly confirms that, both at much higher levels in QLD but also at lower levels in other states such as NSW or Victoria. All in all, Palmer attracted protest votes from disenchanted voters in economically deprived or declining areas, with lower levels of education and more blue-collar jobs – which is roughly the complete opposite of the Greens’ electorate.
Detailed results – the Senate
Ah, the Senate. What a mess. The quirks of STV and the workings of preference deals between parties (which are very important given how people vote above the line most of the time) have always meant that small parties are able to elect a senator or two out of nowhere. In 2004, Family First elected a senator from Victoria. In 2010, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) elected a senator from Victoria. This year saw a total mess.
In New South Wales, the main highlight (or oddity) of the election was the Liberal Democrats (LDP), a libertarian pro-gun and anti-tax party, which seems to have won a seat by taking nearly 9%. The LDP took about 1.8% in NSW in the last election, so unless there was a huge swing to the small and relatively anonymous party since 2010 (and only at the Senate level in a single state), the most likely explanation for the LDP’s huge showing is that it was an accident and a fluke. The LDP was placed first on the huge ballot paper, and the name “Liberal” likely confused some voters who thought they were going to vote for the Liberal/National ticket. The Liberal/National ticket won only 34.8% of the vote, down over 4% on their 2010 showing, and much lower than the 47% won by both parties in first prefs for the House. The ABC’s results page details the various counts, showing the redistribution of surplus from the two main parties, and the later transfers from excluded parties which benefit the LDP. Notably, the LDP received preferences in the final counts from the DLP, which itself won an unusually strong 1.5% (again, they were placed high on the ballot and the name might have confused voters). Overall, a bunch of minor parties fed the LDP’s victory: things called ‘Smokers Rights’, ‘Stop the Greens’, the Sex Party, Wikileaks, KAP and random other parties. As of now, the results seem pretty set in stone. The Greens, who had not won a Senate seat from NSW in 2007 but did so in 2010, will be disappointed to have been shut out. They won 7.6% of the vote.
Victoria usually elects, unlike NSW, some micro-parties – Family First’s Steve Fielding in 2004, elected with Labor and Democrats preferences, and the DLP’s John Madigan in 2010, on the back of transfers from other micro-parties which allowed him to overtake Fielding and, with Family First preferences, deny the Coalition a second seat. Both Family First and the DLP had a small but substantial enough base originally for their victories to not be all that egregious. However, this year, it appears as if the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, with 0.5% of the vote, is on track to win a seat. The new ‘motoring enthusiast’ senator from Victoria, Ricky Muir, seems to be quite the colourful character: a YouTube video showed him in a backyard ‘kangaroo poo fight’ with his brother, his Facebook and Twitter pages apparently included some weird jokes (about George W. Bush being responsible for 9/11, or prostitutes being like buying a car) or questionable tastes in music (a song which apparently starts with lyrics saying ‘I don’t respect women, I just want to have sex with them’). His election is due to preference deals and coming out lucky on transfers. With 0.5%, he was nearing elimination, but transfers first from the Fishing and Lifestyle Party and later from various other parties (a marijuana legalization party, Shooters and Fishers, far-right Rise Up Australia Party, Sex Party; but also, later down, from Family First, the PUP, KAP and the DLP) all give him a narrow victory over the Coalition’s third candidate in the 37th count. The Coalition took 40.4% of the vote, 2.83 quotas, which, combined with poor transfers from minor parties (who, out of shared hostility to large parties, often direct preferences to other minor parties before the major parties) mean that incumbent senator Helen Kroger. Muir’s election seems to be holding up, on Count 22 he would need to fall behind two parties to be eliminated. It appears that his elimination would elect a third Liberal senator.
The Greens won 10.8%, or 0.75 quotas, which turns out to be enough for them to elect a second senator from Victoria – they had missed out on a seat in 2007. On a side note, Julian Assange’s high-profile Senate candidacy for the ‘Wikileaks Party’ went nowhere, winning only 1.15% of the vote. Assange’s candidacy took a blow as a result of publicity surrounding controversial preference deals with far-right parties in other states (although the party said it was an error), which led Assange’s running mate resigning.
Queensland‘s results were quite straight-forward. The LNP won 40.9%, or 2.9 quotas, and won three seats. Labor’s vote ended up half a percent behind its 2010 result, at 28.9%, while the Green vote – abnormally high in 2010 because of ‘Kevin 07’ Labor voters voting Green in 2010 – fell 6.7 points to 6.1%. Palmer’s party, led by former rugby player Glenn Lazarus, took 10.2%. Katter’s party, which nominated well-known country singer James Blundell, won only 2.8% – likely an extremely disappointing showing for them, who had been hoping to pick up a seat with Labor’s help (Labor distributed their second preferences to the KAP rather than the Greens in QLD). The seat distribution of 3 LNP, 2 Labor and one for Glenn Lazarus (PUP) seems final. Some LibNats might have fancied a repeat of 2004’s spectacular election of 4 Coalition senators, but Palmer’s strong showing likely made a repeat of that once-in-a-lifetime event impossible this year.
Western Australia likely takes the prize for freak result this year. In the past, it was fairly conventional in its Senate voting patterns, electing 3 from the Liberals and 2 from Labor, with the last seat going to the Greens or the Democrats. This year, Labor seems to have fallen to only one out of six seats, with the Greens taking the second ‘left seat’, the Liberals holding their three seats and the last one going, it appears, to the Australian Sports Party, which won only 0.22% of the vote on first count.
The Liberals took 39.6%, down about 3% on 2010, while the Nationals won 4.2%, which, because of lack of transfers from minor parties, is not enough to give the WA Nationals a seat. Labor’s vote fell by 2.5%, winning 27.3%, which is 1.9 quotas, barely missing out on a second seat. The Greens, who were defending a seat here with Senator Scott Ludlam, known for his vocal advocacy of Julian Assange (but Wikileaks preferenced the Democrats and Nats ahead of the Greens…), won 9.7%, down about 4.3% since 2010.
Wayne Dropulich from the Australian Sports Party narrowly misses out on exclusion on the ninth count, where he is in penultimate position right ahead of ‘No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics’, and on the eleventh count where he is third from last. However, on the current numbers, which have been held up since election night, Wayne Dropulich is able to win by harvesting most of the minor party vote (notably Rise Up Australia, Motoring Enthusiast Party, Family First, Wikileaks, Shooters and Fishers, Australian Christians, Sex Party, Fishing and Lifestyle Party, LDP) and the Liberal Party’s surplus. If he drops out, apparently the next in line for a seat would be the Palmer party’s candidate (the PUP won 5.2%), whose preferences currently transfer to the Greens and elect Scott Ludlam ahead of Labor in the final count. If the PUP candidate were to win, the race between the Greens and Labor for the second ‘left seat’ would be very hot. At present, Labor’s poor showing means that incumbent ALP Left Senator Louise Pratt, a vocal supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage, loses out and Labor’s only seat goes to Right heavyweight Joe Bullock.
In South Australia, the main surprise was the excellent showing by incumbent independent Senator Nick Xenophon, first elected to the Senate in 2007 as an anti-pokies (slot machines) independent. The Xenophon ticket won 25.6% of the vote, placing second ahead of Labor (22.6%), whose vote fell 15.7% from 2010. The Liberals, with 27.4%, also suffered from Xenophon’s success, their vote fell by nearly 10%. The Greens, who were defending a seat with incumbent Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, won 7%, their vote down 6.3% from 2010.
Nick Xenophon is a noted anti-pokies/anti-gambling who was elected to the SA Legislative Council (upper house) in 1997 and handsomely reelected in 2006 with 20.5%, enough to elect a second No Pokies candidate. He ran for the federal Senate in 2007, winning fairly easily with 14.8% of first prefs. Xenophon’s work has focused on gambling reform (along with independent MP Andrew Wilkie since 2010), consumer protection/anti-monopoly measures and vocal and vociferous opposition to Scientology; all in all, a fairly left-of-centre record, although he voted against the carbon tax in 2011. Xenophon’s popularity (and high profile) stems in part from his deft hand at media stunts of all kinds. His popularity is also due to his record as an independent ‘voice’ for his state and a general anti-establishment and anti-politician image.
Xenophon’s vote gives him a 1.79 quota, but it is not enough to bring his running mate over the top. Xenophon has blamed “bizarre and some would say spiteful” preference deals; he also criticized Labor and the Liberals for preferencing Family First ahead of his tickets. Few of the minor parties preferred his running mate over incumbent Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, who wins the last seat with 15.9% against 12.6% for Xenophon’s second candidate.
The socially conservative Family First party, which won 3.7% of the vote, is currently winning a seat with Bob Day, a housing tycoon and former Liberal candidate. He risks exclusion on the 29th count, where he is second to last ahead of the LDP, but after that point he roars ahead to win a seat with LDP, minor right-wing parties and Labor preferences. Most of his votes then transfer to elect Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham on the last count. If Bob Day came to be excluded, the last seat would likely go to the LDP.
Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young manages to win reelection, which was seen as an uphill battle for her, with the help of PUP, Sex Party and Labor preferences (among others). The Xenophon vote means that Labor has won only one seat, like in WA, a catastrophic result because, again like in WA, Labor had always managed to win at least two out of six seats in the six half-senate elections held since 1990. This result means that Labor Senator Don Farrell, a ALP Right union state leader, loses reelection – he will likely regret conceding the top spot on the Labor ticket to outgoing Finance Minister and incumbent Senator Penny Wong.
Tasmania‘s sharp swing against Labor and the Greens in this election meant that the state’s unique ‘four left, two right’ configuration in 2007 and 2010 will not survive. The Labor vote fell by 8.3% to 33.1% and the Green vote, off a high of nearly 20% in 2010, fell by 8.9% to only 11.4%. The Liberal vote increased by a more modest 4.8%, to 37.7%. The Greens were defending a seat, with a new senator, Peter Whish-Wilson, who replaced former Green leader (and a major icon in the Australian Green movement) Bob Brown in 2012.
The PUP won 6.6% of the vote and were originally predicted to win a seat, but the PUP’s candidate is now eliminated on count 24, when she finishes behind the LDP when the Green surplus is redistributed (the Greens won their seat on Labor preferences). In turn, the PUP’s vote transfers heavily to the Liberals, who win the last seat easily ahead of the LDP. Therefore, the Liberals win a third Senate seat, something which last happened in 2004 when Howard’s Liberals did well in Tasmania, riding a backlash against Labor leader Mark Latham’s unpopular forestry policy. However, while that third seat should hold up now, it is a closely disputed one – on the 24th count, the Liberals, LDP and PUP are all basically tied up at 9-10% apiece. The LDP, which won 2.3%, once again manage to do so well because they rake in preferences from a lot of minor right-wing parties, some of which polled fairly well too.
Senate races in the territories, which have only two seats each, are less favourable to minor parties, because the quota is much higher. Therefore, the ACT and the NT have always elected one Labor, one Liberal/CLP senator. The Greens, very strong in the ACT (23% in 2010), sought to disturb that order this year by picking off the ACT’s second seat from the Liberals. In the NT, some had said that the First Nations Political Party could pick up a seat given that all parties ranked them ahead of Labor.
In the ACT, Labor won 34.8% (down 6%), the Liberals 33.6% and the Greens won 18.8%, down 4.4%. Hence, Labor and the Liberals both polled just above the quota for a seat, and the Greens are shut out. They would have had a tough time winning the seat at any rate, even if they had overtaken the Liberals, because the Liberals were now placing the Greens in last position on preferences.
In the NT, the CLP won 41.4% and Labor 33.2% (just below the quota). The First Nations party won only 1.5%, and they’re excluded on the seventh count. Labor wins the second seat on the tenth count, without any suspense. The Labor preselection was quite contentious here: Julia Gillard handpicked Nova Peris, an Aboriginal woman Olympic athlete, and pushed out incumbent (pro-Rudd) senator Trish Crossin. Rudd didn’t overturn his predecessor’s controversial selection, though.
The Senate’s unusually bizarre results has put Senate electoral reform on the table, and the incoming government has said it will address the issue. Proposals include allowing voters to preference tickets when voting above the line (so parties don’t decide how your vote is used) or setting a threshold to qualify for seats (and exclude tiny parties).
Tony Abbott is the new Prime Minister of Australia, until 2016. What can be expected from the new Coalition government? On economic policy, it doesn’t seem as if any major changes are to be expected, with the exception of public sector job cuts, a pretty big reduction in foreign aid and probably a testy relationship with public broadcasting. However, massive austerity cuts do not seem to be on the agenda, given that Abbott’s debt/deficit reduction plan doesn’t appear all that radical or ambitious (or extremely different, on the whole, from Labor’s fiscal policy since 2007).
On immigration, a tough stance in continuation of Howard’s Pacific Solution and Rudd’s new PNG/Nauru Solution is on the agenda. The Coalition broadly supported the main outlines of Rudd’s PNG/Nauru Solution. However, Indonesia has already indicated its opposition to Abbott’s military-led ‘turn the boats back’ plan, but especially a Liberal plan to buy potential asylum seekers boats from Indonesian fishermen. As a result, Australian-Indonesian relations might sour a bit. Incoming Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Liberal Deputy Leader, has her work cut out for her in negotiations with Indonesia.
What most people will be watching is whether or not Abbott will be able to repeal the carbon tax. He has a majority in the House, meaning that upcoming legislation to scrap Gillard’s carbon tax will easily pass the House. However, in Australia’s near-perfect bicameral system, such legislation will also need to pass the Senate. The Coalition, unlike in 2004, does not have a Senate majority. On top of that, the senators elected on September 7 will only take office on July 1, 2014. Labor and the Greens have reiterated their opposition to a repeal of the carbon tax – in the new Senate, they will have 35 seats (39 required for a majority), in the Senate which serves until 2014 they have a majority (40 seats). Tony Abbott has threatened to call a double dissolution election if the Senate rejects his repeal of the carbon tax, and both Labor and the Greens still appear ready to go into a double dissolution election on that issue.
Assuming the Senate votes on the carbon tax repeal after July 2014, the Labor-Green opposition would need four extra votes against repeal. Nick Xenophon, although he voted against the tax in 2011, is critical of the Coalition’s Direct Action plan and is currently on record as being against a repeal of the carbon tax although he wants to sit down with talks with new Environment Minister Greg Hunt. The LDP, Family First and likely PUP and DLP as well would vote in favour of repealing the carbon tax. Therefore, if the post-2014 Senate voted on the carbon tax, the repeal would likely depend on what the two novice and surprise Senators from the ‘motoring enthusiasts’ and the ‘Sports Party’ decide to do, although I have a hard time seeing ‘motoring enthusiasts’ falling in love with the carbon tax.
The Coalition will also need to find a Senate majority in favour of the mining tax repeal, which again appears unlikely until July 2014 with Labor and the Greens still holding a majority until then.
Abbott is socially conservative, seemingly more so than John Howard and certainly much more so than Malcolm Fraser. However, he will not make abortion an issue during his government. That being said, it seems pretty clear that Australia won’t legalize same-sex marriage between now and 2016.
The next question is what happens with Labor. Kevin Rudd stood down as Labor leader on election night, but new Labor leadership rules introduced earlier this year means that, for the first time, Labor’s national membership will join the caucus in selecting the party’s leader (both would have an equal weight in the process); and removing a leader before the next election would require a petition signed by three-fifths of the caucus. These new rules have been criticized by Julia Gillard as well as factional warlords, who are obviously not to keen on handing half of the leadership selection process to the wider membership (whose views might very well be out of sync with Labor parliamentarians – just look at how Kevin Rudd was much more popular with the electorate than with the ALP caucus). Besides, Labor – unlike other parties in Canada or the UK – is not used to ‘interim leaders’ and therefore seems to be quite in a hurry to get a permanent leader.
The next leadership battle seems set to be a battle between Victoria Right MP Bill Shorten and NSW Left MP Anthony Albanese (the outgoing Deputy PM and Deputy Leader). All odds seem to be in Shorten’s favour.
Bill Shorten, a former union (AWU, associated to the Right) leader was first elected to Parliament in 2007 and emerged as a leading factional powerbroker, whose influence was decisive in toppling Rudd in 2010 and later toppling Gillard in June 2013. He entered cabinet in 2010 as Minister of Financial Services and Superannuation, received the portfolio of Workplace Relations in 2011 and was further promoted to Minister of Education in Rudd’s second cabinet. Albanese, however, has no union background having served in Parliament as MP for Grayndler since 1996. A key leader of the ALP’s Left faction and supportive of progressive causes such as same-sex marriage, Albanese served as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport throughout Labor’s two terms in office, also serving as Leader of the Government in the House. Albanese backed Rudd in his unsuccessful 2012 leadership bid, and became Deputy Leader of the party in June 2013 alongside Kevin Rudd. He also served as Deputy Prime Minister under Rudd since June.
Next posts: Norway (Sept. 9), Bavaria (Sept. 15), Germany (Sept. 22), Austria (Sept. 29)