Monday, August 23, 2010

In the clean-up, a nation stands divided

In 2007, the nation swung almost as one to eject the Howard government. But this time, it divided sharply. By and large, the rugby states swung to Tony Abbott and the Coalition, while the AFL states except Western Australia swung to Julia Gillard and Labor.

Why? Is it because of a growing divide between socially liberal and cosmopolitan Melbourne and Adelaide, on the one hand, and the angry, chip-on-the-shoulder populism of Murdoch tabloids and shock jocks in Sydney and Queensland?

Was it a reaction to unpopular Labor state governments? If not, how do we explain it?

Queensland, not western Sydney, was the central battleground of this campaign. In 2007, Kevin Rudd led Labor to a 7.5 per cent swing in his home state, giving Labor a rare majority of its votes and seats.

But with Rudd gone, on Saturday the Labor tide in Queensland went out as rapidly as it came in. Labor's vote in Queensland plunged 5 per cent, and it looks likely to lose nine of the 17 seats it notionally held on the new boundaries.

The punters were expecting Labor to be almost wiped out along the coast, where it lost four of its five seats. But they were not expecting the rout in Brisbane, where five more electorates appear to have changed sides.

Most were won by 2 per cent or less. Of Labor's marginal seats in the Queensland capital, only Moreton and Petrie appear to have stayed with it, although it has not given up hope on Brisbane.

Every seat in Queensland swung against Labor, even Rudd's, challenging the idea that Queenslanders were rebelling against Labor's treatment of their favourite son.

Yet while the Coalition won many Labor seats narrowly in Queensland, it had far less success in New South Wales, where a 4 per cent swing appears to have won it just four seats.

The Coalition won 50.3 per cent of the two-party vote in NSW, yet is likely to end up with just 20 of the state's 48 seats, whereas Labor won 26 and independents two. The Coalition won a swing of 13 per cent in the safe Labor seat of Fowler, but won no swing at all in four of Labor's eight most marginal seats.

The Coalition gains were mostly in Sydney, where its media allies, shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, and the Daily Telegraph, have most influence, and the state government is most on the nose.

Those two states gave the Coalition 12 of the 17 seats it needed to form government in its own right. It picked up another in the Darwin seat of Solomon, and one or two more in Perth, where Swan and possibly Hasluck have fallen, leaving Labor with as few as three of the state's 15 seats.

But to win government, the Coalition also needed to win seats in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Instead, it went backwards in all three.

In Victoria, on yesterday's figures, Labor would hold 23 of the state's 37 seats and the Coalition just 14. Labor lifted its two-party vote in Victoria to 55 per cent and not only took La Trobe and McEwen, but also went close in Dunkley and Aston.

In South Australia, no Labor seat wavered, with first-term MP Amanda Rishworth winning a 10 per cent swing in Kingston.

In Tasmania, Labor's two-party vote surged over 60 per cent, and its only threat came from independent Andrew Wilkie and the Greens.

So we have a nation divided and a minority government, from whichever side, striving for unity. Good luck.