Welfare State Restructuring – The Island
By Dr Laksiri Fernando
Although the federal election was held on Saturday, May 21, Saturday. people had the ability to vote by mail before. Even on Election Day, the Election Commission allowed people to vote by telephone. In Australia, as in 20 other countries, voting is compulsory. In addition to the “right to vote”, these countries recognize that voting is a “civic duty”. In New Zealand, registration is compulsory, but not necessarily voting.
Australia is also a federal country. Therefore, regular elections are held, both for the states and for the federal government. What happened in May was for the federal government. With six states and two self-governing territories, most day-to-day public affairs are conducted by these states, with regular elections and stable constitutions. The separation of powers and functions is clear. However, when it comes to economic affairs, international relations, and general policies of the country, the federal government has the final say, mostly in conjunction with the states and territories.
The Australian Parliament is bicameral, with the House of Representatives and the Senate unlike Sri Lanka. The Senate of Sri Lanka was arbitrarily abolished in 1971. The Australian House of Representatives is smaller than the Parliament of Sri Lanka, with only 151 members. But the size of the country and the population are larger than Sri Lanka. Australia is a working democracy where elections are conducted peacefully and calmly unlike Sri Lanka. No incidents of electoral violence were recorded during the campaign period or thereafter.
The number of active political parties in Australia is only a handful. In the case of Sri Lanka, the active number is three times greater. These facts and figures perhaps show that Australia is a stable democratic country while Sri Lanka is experiencing considerable instability. The elections take place not in five years but in three years. Voters have a reasonable regular say.
There has been a continuing trend in Australian elections of voter preferences moving away from traditional political parties towards third parties or independents. This was already visible in the last elections of 2019. Nevertheless, as a leading political party, Labor was able to muster a clear majority of 76 seats. It may be in the Senate that Labor may have to depend on the ‘cross bench’. Given the political culture in Australia, this might not be a major obstacle for the new government.
Since 1987, the Australian National University has been carrying out electoral surveys (Australian Election Study – AES) and here is what it mentioned in the last report of 2019. “Many indicators point to a detachment of citizens from the main political parties, including record political partisanship, growing voter instability and voter distrust of government.”
The election came after two years of the devastating Covid pandemic affecting economic activities, cost of living, industries and especially small and medium enterprises. There have been nearly 9 million Covid cases and a thousand deaths. Health care or Medicare was naturally a key issue in the election. Australia has been dealing with devastating floods and bushfires, one after another, especially in remote farming areas. This is one of the reasons why global warming and climate change have become a central concern for many voters. Renewable energies are seen as the promising solution.
Labor won the election after almost 10 years. Between 2007 and 2013, there were two Labor governments, first majority and then minority. Since 2013, the National Liberal Alliance has led the federal government. In the last election, in 2019, although forecasts pointed to a Labor victory, the Liberals with Nationals secured 77 seats to lead a majority government, under Prime Minister Scott Morison.
Labor Party 68 76
Liberal Party 61 41
National Party 16 16
Greens 01 04
Independents 03 10
Other parties/undecided 0 2 04
Comparing the results above shows the Liberal defeat, for several reasons, while the Nationals retain their 16 seats. Labor went from 68 seats to at least 76 seats under the leadership of Anthony Albanese, who came from an ordinary family to lead the Labor Party. He was raised by a single mother who lived in a low-rent housing and received a disability pension.
The Labor Party is Australia’s oldest political party, founded in 1901. Its roots date back to 1891 when the labor movement founded branches in different colonies, now states. It is considered the oldest labor or social democratic party in the world that is a member of the Socialist International. From the start, the party preferred to spell the name without “u” in the name. It is considered a centre-left party.
At the election, there is a clear tendency for voters to move away from the two main parties, Labor and the Liberals. In the 1950s, it was estimated that 90% of voters revolved around the two main parties. However, in this election, the number fell to 60%. Primary votes for the Liberals (National included) fell from 35.3% to 29.1%. Votes in the Labor primaries fell from 31.9% to 30.5%.
Where did they go? The Greens were the main beneficiaries of the move away from voters of the two main parties with a primary vote of nearly 15%. In some electorates, there had been a preference for female candidates, whether independent or party. From three seats in the last election, the Independents won 10 seats this time.
During the last elections, one of the main concerns of voters was global warming and climate change. This could be a reason for voters to choose Labor over the Liberals, although in some cases even Labor has fallen behind their expectations. The new House of Representatives has several other novelties. Among elected officials, women have a prominent place. Indigenous communities also gained prominence, with other minorities also being elected. Multiculturalism is reflected in the new House of Representatives.
The Australian electoral system is a preferential vote for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Two ballot papers are given to voters for this purpose. If there are five candidates for a particular constituency/seat, voters are expected to score 1-5 preferentially. When the top candidates get no more than 50%, the preferences are counted to determine the winner. It is more or less the same for the Senate where the Greens and the Independents are better represented. The final count for the Senate could take another two weeks.
The new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has already integrated his new administration well. After being sworn in as Prime Minister and forming a temporary cabinet, he left for the QUAD leadership meeting in Tokyo on May 24 where he met Joe Biden (US), Narendra Modi (India) and Fumio Kishida (Japan) for discussions. One of Australia’s obligations was to deal with the Pacific. Immediately after meeting the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong traveled to Fiji. This is just before the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister to the region which, in fact, failed to implement a common agreement with the Pacific nations.
Another instant promise was to release the Nadesalingam family, or commonly referred to as the “Biloela family”. Under the previous government, they were kept in community detention, first on Christmas Island and then in Perth. The husband (Nades) and wife (Priya) had come to Australia from Sri Lanka as asylum seekers. They met here and got married. They have two daughters. As they were very close and hard working in Biloela, a remote community in Queensland, the people there were unequivocally fighting for their cause. Now they are back in Biloela on bridging visas until their cases are settled in court.
There are other promises made by Labor which may take time to materialise. A full Cabinet will soon be formed. One area worth highlighting is the Labor Party’s commitment to the Uluru Declaration. Based on the principles of subsidiarity, it states, among other things: “Ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including survivors of the Stolen Generations and their descendants, lead the development and implementation of policies that affect their lives by providing flexible and appropriate Indigenous decision-making resources. – make structures.