Battles at the ballot box

| April 12, 2022

The last election, held in 2019, produced a remarkable result. Back then, Scott Morrison was seemingly struggling to assert his authority as national leader, having taken over the prime ministership from Malcolm Turnbull just months before.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party, led by Bill Shorten, looked almost certain to win the electoral contest, such was its sustained lead in published opinion polls.

The election result was dubbed “Morrison’s miracle” as the Coalition was able to win a majority of seats in the lower house.

This time around, the Coalition will be aiming to win its fourth consecutive election in what will be the first national poll since the coronavirus pandemic began.

There are also international factors that weren’t apparent in 2019. The consequences of the war in Europe, new national security arrangements in the form of AUKUS, and growing momentum by governments around the world to address climate change have all been prominent in the national political debate.

The current state of the parties

In 2019, the Coalition ended up winning 77 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives, while Labor managed to win 68. Clearly, the Coalition cannot afford to lose seats.

The trend of opinion polls over the past several months, however, is suggesting the government is heading for a major loss. While this data may lift the spirits of the Labor Party, there would presumably be some trepidation within the party’s ranks to forecast the results following what we saw in 2019.

There have also been some major revisions to district boundaries that look likely to have an impact on electoral outcomes.

The 2022 election will be the first where new electoral boundaries will be used in Victoria and Western Australia. The redrawing of boundaries is a routine part of the Australian electoral process, and takes into account population changes to ensure districts have approximately the same number of voters.

The redistribution process abolished Stirling from Western Australia, which is currently held by the Liberal Party, and reduced the state’s total number of seats in the House of Representatives to 15.

In Victoria, a new seat was created to the west of Melbourne, and reflected the population growth in the state. The new district, named Hawke after former PM Bob Hawke, includes suburbs such as Melton, Sunbury and Bacchus Marsh.

Based on the electoral trends, it’s expected this should be a seat Labor wins comfortably.

The net political impact of these redistributions is that the Liberal Party has lost a seat that it’s held in Western Australia since 2004, while a new seat has been created that appears to be very strong for Labor.

A row of voting booths ready for election day

The minor parties

The Greens should be confident of retaining the seat of Melbourne, but have also reportedly been targeting seats around the city, including Kooyong, currently held by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

While the Greens have made some inroads in the Victorian state parliament, it remains to be seen whether the party can win seats that have traditionally been held by the major parties at the national level.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson will be seeking to remain in Parliament as the lead Senate candidate in Queensland, while the Clive Palmer-led United Australia Party will be hoping its substantial media and advertising strategy will attract voters away from the major parties.

The independents

Candidates aligning with the “Voices of” group have mobilised to contest the 2022 election. These candidates are targeting high-profile MPs, including Tim Wilson in Goldstein and Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, while advancing a broadly socially progressive agenda.

While independents have traditionally struggled to win parliamentary representation at the national level, their candidacy may yet have an impact. In particular, the way in which these candidates direct their preferences may ultimately determine who wins the seat in close contests.

The seats to watch

As Antony Green points out, the Coalition currently holds three electorates with a margin of less than 2%, making it highly sensitive to changes in voter sentiment. These are Bass in Tasmania, Chisholm in Victoria (which coincidentally now includes Monash University’s Clayton campus), and Boothby in South Australia. The government also holds another 12 electorates with margins of between 3-5%.

The Labor Party will also have its share of marginal seats to defend, holding five electorates with a margin of 1% or less, and another 10 seats with a margin of less than 5%.

What this means is that the situation is finely poised, and neither party may take the support they received in 2019 for granted, especially in seats affected by the redistribution.

Forecasting a result?

The election will be a test of opinion polls in Australia. Following the unexpected result in 2019, the community (and especially psephologists) will be hoping the polls are more accurate in 2022. If that’s the case, it’s expected there’ll be a change of government.

A hung Parliament (in which neither Coalition nor Labor parties have a majority and must rely on the support of independents or minor parties) is possible but, as Australian history shows, rare.

But as 2019 reminds us, it would be foolhardy to write off the Coalition from causing yet another unexpected result.

This article was published by Lens.