The people spoke unambiguously when they cast their ballots in the Australian federal election on May 21. They let their legislators know their duty is to represent them and if they fail to do so, they'll get kicked out of office. With such a drastic reduction in the Liberal and Labor parties' primary vote, some have wondered if this may signal the end of the two-party system in Australia.
Perhaps never before in the history of Australian democracy have we seen such a resurgence of 'people power'. The conservative government, backed vigorously backed by a predominately even more conservative mass media, threw everything at their political opponents to keep them out of power.
For example, in a botched-up campaign the ex-government, in alliance with the ultra-right section of the media, attempted to label Labor's leadership team stooges of the Chinese Communist Party. The ex-Prime Minister warned vehemently warned the voters against electing independents and he did not stop his scare campaign against Labor even in the last hours of the polling day.
In a desperate attempt to cling to power Mr Morrison broke his own undertaking, and in the face of Labor's protest, released information on the day of the election about a Sri Lankan refugee boat that was turned back on that very day. He warned the electorate to vote for the Coalition, because Labor would not turn these boats back. In doing so, he played political football using refugees to wedge the opposition, trying to invent division. This was in spite of an unambiguous Labor commitment to continuing the Coalition policy of turning the boats back, a bipartisan policy.
Clive Palmer spent more than hundred million dollars on political advertising at this election. Yet, as the Daily Mail, Australia, put in its headlines: 'Billionaire Clive Palmer somehow wins NO lower house seats despite a six-month election campaign and renting out what felt like EVERY billboard in Australia… and Craig Kelly lost.' Pauline Hanson managed to retain her Senate seat only by the skin of her teeth. The Liberals suffered a crushing defeat. Labor managed to win the election with a primary vote of a mere 32% but the Greens did better than ever before. The unprecedented number of nine 'teal' independents – tellingly, all women –unseated Liberals, including Josh Frydenberg in his previously safe and never before lost seat for Liberals. Hence some dubbed the election day 'Independents' Day'.
The Australian electorate has had enough of the status quo. They demand decisive action against global warming, political corruption, the increase in the cost of living and the reduction in living wages. They insist on justice for women and for the First Nations at last. The majority seems to have shifted to the Left beyond Labor's modest agenda.
There were numerous ominous warnings to both major parties prior to the election, but especially the conservatives, about just how much they were out of touch with the needs of young people, too. More than one million, six hundred thousand young people were enrolled to vote at the 2022 federal election. Results from triple j's What's Up in Your World survey, which was conducted in April 2022 and surveyed more than 1,600 18-29 year olds, showed that young Australians are highly politically engaged but extremely disappointed with the leadership of the major parties. The survey found the top five issues for young voters are the environment, climate change, general health, mental health and housing. On all these issues they demanded more radical policies than either of the major parties offered.
The majority of voters not only decisively rejected the Liberal Party, but also the others on the conservative side, as represented by Pauline Hanson's and the United Australia party's candidates. The exception was the National Party, which suffered some swings against it, but retained all its seats and remained entrenched in some of regional Australia.
Australians could have protested against the Coalition and registered their disapproval by voting for more non-government conservative politicians. But in general, they did not. As it turned out, the electorate at large shifted more to the left than the Labor Party dared to.Though Labor read the electorate better than the Coalition, many electors expressed their frustration with the old government, not by voting for Labor, but for the more radical Greens and the teal independents.
This time Labor put forward a modest agenda for reform, having burnt its fingers at the 2019 elections when it lost the election with a more radical platform. By going more conservative this time, Labor failed to embrace the extent to which the electorate is now ready for a more ambitiously radical government. In formulating only modestly reformist policies for this election, the Labor party seems to have succumbed more to the predominantly conservative media's scare campaign than the general electorate did.
In spite of the fact that the conservative media's campaign against Labor was even more ferocious now than it was at the last election, this time the general electorate, by and large, refused to be swayed by misinformation. A reason for this may be that most people now gain their information from the more diverse electronic media as distinct from the more conservative print media. But it is imperative, for the health of Australian democracy, that the new government takes up the 2021 recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on the concentration of media ownership in Australia. By following these recommendations, it can penalise the spreading of mass media misinformation, establish a level playing field in media ownership, establish access to a variety of political opinions across the mass media, and give national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS adequate funding, independent from government control.