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Dissecting the election result

By Peter Baume - posted Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Liberal Party should do an analysis of the last election. It usually looks at things after elections and works out what it did that worked well and what needs to be rejected. But, going on past performance any review will be incomplete.

Any really honest appreciation of what has occurred should examine both sides of the coin - where the gains were and where Liberals did not do well enough - this is what serious boards would require. It is likely that we will get only a political document and not a serious analysis.

It is true that there were great gains. Tony Abbott did not falter during the election campaign. He showed great energy, came across as a real and serious person and displayed great charm. The Liberal Party did gain votes on the two party preferred totals and also finished first on the raw votes for parties. Seats were gained and government was almost won.


But there were relative failures too. Government was not won, although the Liberal Party went tantalisingly close. If the object of an election was to win, then the party failed to satisfy that objective. There was failure to win either seat in the Central Coast of New South Wales - although many older voters live in each electorate and the situation was ideal for change in Robertson. The Party lost seats in Victoria.

The large increase in the vote for the Greens indicates that the electorate was dissatisfied with both major parties. A "pox on both your houses" was the feeling that came through. Many previous Liberal voters put the Greens first this time - not because they are Greens, but in order to enter a protest vote and because they cared about the environment. They were just desperate for something better.

The increased majorities for three established independents, the election of Andrew Wilkie in Denison, the emergence of the Greens in Melbourne, all testify to widespread unhappiness with major parties.

If an election was held immediately to resolve the present impasse, Labor would win easily. Let me explain why. Many people in Queensland were outraged enough at the way Kevin Rudd was dismissed to vote differently this time. Six seats were lost by Labor and the Coalition won them. Those wins made Abbott look good and Gillard look bad. But those disaffected voters will almost certainly swing back to Labor next time so that the results would be quite different then.

There was an old parody that said: "Of course I am their leader. I must follow them" - and that is what poll driven responses lead to. But how would Australia be a nicer place if one or the other major party formed government? This is what electors were asking and this is what the leaders failed to give them.

We want leaders with a vision of what might be and with the skill to be able to transmit that vision to voters. This is what we did not get in the election just past.


Neither major party showed us a vision of justice for refugees or told us how the poor and disadvantaged would prosper. Xenophobia was deployed; there was little "Asian vision"; there was little educational vision from the Liberal Party, and so on.

For her part, Julia Gillard never explained why it cost more to provide public school halls than to provide Catholic school halls. She never even condemned the difference properly. She never explained either her role in Kevin Rudd’s execution or her apparently compliant role in each of the decisions made previously when she was Deputy Prime Minister.

Those of us who are disaffected Liberals want a reason to be enthusiastic about the party again. We want better. And we will get better - if not from the present lot of political leaders then from someone new - if not now, then in future elections.

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About the Author

Professor Peter Baume is a former Australian politician. Baume was Professor of Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) from 1991 to 2000 and studied euthanasia, drug policy and evaluation. Since 2000, he has been an honorary research associate with the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW. He was Chancellor of the Australian National University from 1994 to 2006. He has also been Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Deputy Chair of the Australian National Council on AIDS and Foundation Chair of the Australian Sports Drug Agency. He was appointed a director of Sydney Water in 1998. Baume was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 1992 in recognition of service to the Australian Parliament and upgraded to Companion in the 2008 Queen's Birthday Honours List. He received an honorary doctorate from the Australian National University in December 2004. He is also patron of The National Forum, publisher of On Line Opinion.

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