The Null Device

2022/5/20

Once again, just as in 2019, Australia is going to the polls. And just as 2019, the opposition Labor Party looks poised to win by a landslide. Of course, in 2019, as we know, the conservatives managed to score a victory so surprising that bookmakers, having jumped the gun at calling it for Labor, paid out twice.

This time, of course, it's different. The people have seen Straya's Favourite Daggy Dad Scott “ScoMo” Morrison for what he is: a bully, a sociopath, a liar, a fraud, a glib marketing character who does not hold a hose, or care about anything but his immediate self-interest, and so on. The scales must have fallen from their eyes, with the bushfires, the pandemic, and the numerous minor betrayals, to the point where they won't get fooled again. In other words, surely, this! As such, a Labor landslide of historic proportions cannot be anything but inevitable, right?

One problem with such arguments is that they fail the Nixon Test, as in “how the hell did Nixon win? I don't know one person who voted for him”. If you're reading this and are in Australia, you are almost certainly within the Lefty Filter Bubble; the people you know are mostly progressive-minded, university-educated and culturally engaged; they understand that global warming is real and poses a threat, and that COVID-19 is real and not cured by taking horse dewormer. They may be LGBT+, and if they aren't, they know people who are, and don't regard their existence to be some sort of sinister ideology. They probably live in the inner city, read The Guardian, The Saturday Paper and/or Crikey, watch the ABC and SBS and are more likely than not to have a secular outlook. In other words, they are not representative of the bulk of voters, and even less so when counted by electorate.

From within the Lefty Filter Bubble, it is hard to see into the sprawling suburbs which will elect most of Australia's parliamentarians, and the subjective informational environment of their inhabitants, though what can be ascertained does not bode well for Labor. The commercial media is almost entirely conservative-leaning. The Murdoch press's egregious bias is well-known, though now they are joined by the Fairfax press, owned by the Nine TV network, as the LNP's good cop. The Murdoch-owned cable channel Sky News provides the TV news to a large number of Australian households, and when the sun goes down, it undergoes a lycanthropic transformation into a far-right disinformation channel along the lines of FOX News or Russia Today.

And then there is the Palmer factor. Coal-mining oligarch Clive Palmer who is running his own third party, the necrophilically titled United Australia Party, which presumably makes him to Robert Menzies what Boris Johnson is to Winston Churchill, and spamming mobile phones with COVID-denialist conspiracy theories. His goal appears to be to scoop up the low-information protest vote, from voters who want to give the government a kicking for its failures. If those voters vote above the line, as most do, their preferences will be channelled back to the government they were attempting to administer the kicking to, which is what happened in the last election. Were it not for Palmer, it is quite likely that Labor would have won in 2019; it is also not unlikely that this will repeat itself. So, yeah nah, I'm not calling this one for Labor until the dust has well and truly settled.

I will call a few likely results, though. The conservatives are likely to lose a few of their affluent inner-city seats to the wave of “teal” independents (centre-to-centre-right independents in favour of action on climate change and more, well, liberal social policies, though possibly not as many as commentators are saying; they may make up for this somewhat by picking up outer-suburban marginals, on the strength of culture-war red meat and Palmer preferences. Labor's swing will probably be smaller than predicted. The Greens could do well, and are likely to increase their representation in the Senate, and possibly pick up one or two lower-house seats. A hung parliament is a very real possibility, with the Greens and/or teal independents holding the balance of power and deciding whom to support. In either case, this would arguably be a better outcome than a majority government.

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