2022 Post-Election Analysis

A week and a half after the federal election, seat counting appears to have finalised. Labor wins 77, Liberals 58, and the crossbench comes in at a whopping 16!

Although Labor won seat-wise, as 76 seats are needed for a majority in the House of Representatives, overall, the election wasn’t the enormous win for them that was expected. Currently, their primary vote sits at 32.8%, a 0.6% decrease from 2019. Opinion polls indicate that while disdain was strong towards Morrison, support for Albanese on his own merits was tepid.

The Coalitions’ primary vote isn’t much higher, at 36.1% with a 5.3% swing against them. And while Labor may have been a bland alternative for some, the Coalition was toxic enough to send its supporters flocking in both directions, left and right. If Labor’s victory can be seen as a disappointing win, then the Coalition’s loss is disastrous. The party needs to win 18 seats at the next election to retain a majority. Flipping 18 seats is no easy feat, especially with their own marginals to defend, and a lot of the seats lost potentially being gone for good.

While the majors struggled, the crossbench surged, doubling from 8 to 16 in one night. What should have been a gradual shift towards Greens and moderate Independents in inner-city and wealthy electorates happened all at once. Instead of chipping slowly away at the two-party system, a sledgehammer smashed it in one swing. Unless what occurred that night turns out to be a fluke (which I really don’t think it will be) then can we really call it a two-party system? Where Labor has to compete with Greens in inner-city seats, and perhaps the suburbs once their appeal starts to expand. Where Liberals have to fend off socially progressive and climate-ambitious Independents, not only in their blue-ribbon heartland, but the regions where the effects of climate change become impossible to ignore. On the other hand, the results were less desirable for One Nation, and the United Australia Party. But these parties won’t go away. Maybe they don’t hold seats in the House, but they could win a Senate seat or two. Or increase their power at the state level, as South Australia recently saw with the election of its first One Nation MP to the Legislative Council.

Thoughts on the two-party system breaking aside, what can be agreed on is that 2022 reflected the power of the community. It showed that communities have no patience for party politics. Be it MPs refusing to listen to their beliefs on climate change and towing the party line, or be it parties parachuting in someone they don’t want and expecting support because of the party underneath their name.

Australian voters have put Labor and the Coalition on notice — give us shit choices, we’ll make our own.

How it played out, state by state

Photo by Joey Csunyo on Unsplash

Western Australia:

Labor’s best results were saved for last, when after hours of polls closing in the East, results finally came in from the West.

  • Commentators (and myself) expected the ‘Mark McGowan’ factor to evaporate a year out from his landslide state-election win.The opposite turned out to be true.
  • Labor flipped Swan, Pearce, Hasluck, and Tangney, with swings from 10% to 14%. The affluent seat of Moore, thought safe for the Liberals, was nearly gained.
  • The safest seat for the Liberals is currently the seat of Durack, and is now held by a margin of 6.5.
  • The loss of four seats and transformation of all their seats into either safe or marginal Labor seats, or marginal Liberal seats, puts WA Liberals at a severe disadvantage when it comes to clawing back ground in 2025.

South Australia:

The Liberals avoided disaster in South Australia but came close to a wipe-out.

  • The marginal seat of Boothby was finally gained by Labor.
  • Although for a while it looked like it would flip, the seat of Sturt was narrowly retained by the Liberals. Both incumbent senators won and the Liberals are currently set to win the third seat, despite polls previously indicating they could win only one or two. Grey MP Rowan Ramsey easily fended off an Independent challenge.
  • In contrast to WA, the effects of the recent state election were less pronounced, and incumbent Labor MPs only experienced mild swings in their favour.

Victoria:

Conservative commentators had expected a revolt in Melbourne against ‘Dictator Dan’ but nothing of the sort emerged.

  • Labor gained Chisholm and Higgins, while coming within points in three other Melbourne seats (Deakin, Menzies, and Casey).
  • The biggest story out of Melbourne was the defeat of treasurer and future-Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg. I expected it would tilt in Frydenberg’s favour. But no. The Liberal prince was dethroned by a 9.5% swing against him, and he conceded defeat the next day.
  • Moderate Liberal Tim Wilson was also easily defeated.
  • A few swings to the Liberals in Melbourne’s western and northern suburbs. The United Australia Party has a slim chance of gaining a Senate seat. So a rather puny revolt it has turned out to be.

New South Wales:

Australia’s biggest state, New South Wales, was where most of the action happened.

  • Anti-China rhetoric from the Liberals and quality Labor candidates helped flip the seats of Reid and Bennelong to Labour. Both seats are home to significant Chinese Australian populations.
  • Seat of Robertson on the central coast flipped to Labor, continuing its streak as the longest-running bellwether seat.
  • The Teal wave swept over Northern Sydney. Warringah MP Zali Steggall easily retained her seat against a terribly flawed candidate.
  • Independents Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink and Sophie Scamps easily flipped the seats of Wentworth, North Sydney, and Mackellar. The very safe seat of Bradfield, despite receiving no media attention, came relatively close to being won by an Independent. Here’s a tip — watch this seat next election.
  • Kristina Keneally’s attempt to transfer to the southwestern Sydney seat of Fowler failed. As a white woman from the affluent northern beaches, her candidacy in a less-affluent and heavily Vietnamese electorate was controversial from the beginning, but many had expected that partisan loyalty would prevail.
  • Liberals had hoped to flip the seats of Gilmore, Parramatta, Macquarie, Hunter, and Dobell. None of these seats flipped.

Queensland:

If a wave of teal swept over Sydney and Melbourne, then inner-city Brisbane was bathed by a sea of green. Ironically, the seat that killed progressive hopes in 2019 was the source of their greatest gains.

  • The Greens gained the seats of Brisbane and Ryan off the Liberals, and Griffith off Labor, and a Senate seat. These flips have been credited to an extraordinarily strong ground game.
  • Labor meanwhile failed to break through and although they experienced swings towards them, they gained no marginal seats. Similarly, the Liberals failed to pick up any of Labor’s marginals in Brisbane’s northeast and southwest.
  • A conservative exodus to One Nation did not materialise, and despite a 1.5% swing to them nationwide, they actually lost votes in Queensland compared to 2019. Hanson herself only reached half of a Senate quota, and for a short while, looked as if she would lose to either Clive Palmer or the Legalise Cannabis Party.

Tasmania:

Tasmania was a rare state where the trend was bucked.

  • The ultra-marginal seat of Bass was won by the Liberals on an increased margin, as was the seat of Braddon.
  • Labor came close to losing the rural seat of Lyons and to only holding one seat in a state it won the two-party preferred vote in.
  • This was likely due to a) the popularity of Bass MP Bridget Archer due to independence on issues of integrity and trans-youth, b) the popularity of former Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein, and c) a natural political realignment where regional electorates like Braddon and Lyons naturally trend towards conservative parties.

The aftermath

After losing a swath of moderate Liberals in inner-city seats in a rejection of climate denialism and anti-transgender rhetoric, Liberals proved they’d learnt nothing and selected hardliner Peter Dutton as their leader. At least the Nationals realised the unpopularity of Barnaby Joyce and ditched him in favour of the more moderate-appearing David Littleproud. Regardless, it once again demonstrates that the Liberals either have their heads in the sand, or that factional politics has once again won over the desires of the electorate. Either that, or it’s a strategy on Dutton’s part to ditch the metros and focus on regional seats like McEwen, Lyons, and Hunter. Which itself is a very risky gamble.

Meanwhile, Albanese is free from the constraints of minority government and able to govern in his own right without having to consult a progressive crossbench. However, Labor still must contend with the fact that only a third of Australians chose Labor as their first choice, and that his election was less an endorsement of their leader than a strong rebuke of his opponent.

As for the crossbench, as long as they keep their electorates satisfied, they’ll have overcome the hardest challenge. Community independents are notoriously hard to defeat once they’ve been elected. Keep their community happy, they can be in parliament for as long as they desire. Although they may have lost their chance to force concessions from a minority Labor government, they still need to carry the passion and ambition of their electorates and demand the Labor government to do better and to be bolder in its reforms. A warning for them is that should they disappoint the electorate, there’s plenty more Independents where they came from.

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