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Hung parliament really does change the paradigm

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 8 November 2010


Before the last election collective wisdom was that voters wanted one or the other party in power, and consequently that this hung parliament is an aberration. Our latest qualitative poll suggests that view may be wrong and that Labor in particular, and the electorate in general, may need to live with hung parliaments, or the prospect of them, for quite some time.

The last election was the culmination of pressures that have been in the system since around 1994.

When Joe Hockey made his comments about bank interest rates Labor leader Julia Gillard claimed Hockey was “Hansonite” and that Labor was the party of “reform”.

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In truth, the major period of “reform” in the sense that Gillard used the word, occurred between 1983 and 2007. That is when the dollar was floated, banking and finance deregulated, tariffs slashed, social benefits means-tested, the GST introduced and personal tax rates flattened.

These reforms were never popular and invoked two reactions to them – one on the right, and one on the left. The one on the right exploded into Hansonism, attracting blue collar conservatives from both the Labor and Liberal Parties to the stage where in the 1998 Queensland State Election One Nation was the second most popular political party in the state.

The one on the left was contained by the ALP, who when Keating became Prime Minister largely adopted the cultural symbols of the left, while still more or less conforming to the economic reform agenda.

This led to a percentage of middle class moderates deserting the Liberal Party for the ALP, but it kept in check the growth of the Greens, and maintained the Lib/Lab duopoly.

It also gave John Howard his 11 years of ascendancy as he deftly used the “culture wars” to position the ALP as “elistist” at the same time eviscerating One Nation and claiming many of its voters in the guise of “Howard Battlers”.

I’ll call this group on the left the “left-liberals”.

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2007 was their revenge; 2010 their breakout.

I know a lot about these voters because they frequently form the single largest bloc of respondents in our online surveys, and the increase in their level of discontent with both parties has been obvious for quite some time.

I’m calling them “left-liberals” not to indicate that they have come from the Liberal Party – in fact they are mostly from Labor – but to indicate that they more or less sit in the European liberal tradition and so are more social democrats than socialists.

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A version of this article was published in The Weekend Australian on November 6, 2010



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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