Wednesday, July 17, 2013

1970s Eden Monaro & the lessons for current politics

I continue to be fascinated by the gyrations of Australian politics just at present and, beyond the theatre, the way that this is affecting public policy.

Over on Poll Bludger, William Bowie has a very useful analysis (BludgerTrack: 50.1-49.9 to Coalition) on the meaning of current poll patterns. I was especially interested in his views on minority party votes, including especially the Greens. I have felt for a while that the Green vote had peaked, and I also felt that in polarised electoral climate minority parties nearly always struggle.

In looking at the votes of minority parties and especially the Greens, I am strongly influenced by my knowledge of the history of the Country/National Party.

Like the Greens, it had a varying but strong regional base. The Country Party's was stronger in the lower house, for it established itself as the natural majority party in certain limited geographic areas in a way that that the Greens have yet to achieve. Outside those base areas, the Party had a chance across other parts of country Australia, but its electoral hold was unstable. Like the Greens recently, the Party has had to struggle with questions of cooperation with a larger party to achieve its objectives while yet retaining independence.

Starting almost from scratch in Eden Monaro in 1972, the Party almost won the seat, achieving a two party preferred swing against Labor - this was the It's Time election - of 2.7%. It had a well known and popular local candidate in Roy Howard, the Party's national leadership was well known and popular, while the Liberal Party under William McMahon was a little on the nose, but not enough to really polarise. So the Country Party attracted its small base vote plus a little of the Labor vote and a bit more of the Liberal vote.

In 1974, the Party ran another very well known candidate in Ron Brewer who had been the popular Country Party member for Goulburn. Again the Party came within an inch of winning. It attracted more Liberal votes, the Liberal vote fell to 19.9%, but Labor had a very good candidate in Bob Whan who was able to regain Labor votes.

The following year, the Country Party again ran a very well known candidate in weather broadcaster John Moore. But this time, the Country Party vote fell from 30.1% to 19.6%, the Labor vote fell by 5.3%, while the Liberal vote surged by 15.4% collecting both Labor and Country Party voters, This collapse mirrored a polarised electorate in which the dominant question had become whether or not you were in favour of Labor and Gough Whitlam. If you were against, most went Liberal. There was little room for alternative voices. Liberal Murray Sainsbury was elected.

In a way, 2013 is a mirror image of 1975. We have a polarised electorate centered on personalities. There is little room here for alternative views. The problem is compounded by the Green's own tactical errors.

It will be reasonably clear from my writings that I am not a Green supporter. But I think it a pity from a national perspective that Greens and others are being crowded out of the debate. Still, for an analyst like me it remains fascinating, nevertheless.  


Winton Bates said...

A related issue is how the independents will fare.

I would have thought they were likely to be adversely affected like the minor parties, but your link suggests otherwise.

Jim Belshaw said...

Wintron, sorry for the delay. With independents, it all comes back to the local base. With the two New England independents down, it really comes back to Andrew Wilkie. Can we still classify Bob Katter as an independent?

Focusing just on your point, independents are probably less likely to get in a very polarised electorate.

Rachel said...