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King’s Votes: Australian Politics Turned Upside Down

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Roar writer Daisy Eastlake discusses the Australian election and the causes and impacts of the Liberal-National coalition’s defeat in the latest elections.

Poll results of Australia’s 2022 election have cemented the end of an almost ten year Liberal-National Coalition government, as Liberal Party leader Scott Morrison concedes to Labor’s Anthony Albanese. Morrison himself has announced that “it is important for our nation to heal” from the disruption of the damaging last few years of Australian politics, from bushfires to Covid-19 to scandals. As a country experiencing the first shift to a left-wing government in almost a decade, have the calls of the Australian people been answered?

Scott Morrison has been the Liberal-National (LNP) Prime Minister of Australia since he took over from Malcolm Turnbull in 2018. A ‘religious right’ politician, Morrison came to power despite several divisive policies. Known as tough on refugees and exhibiting apparent anti-Islamic sentiments, it was clear that Morrison was a continuation of the conservative government which had been leading Australia since 2013.

Yet the election of May 23 symbolises a shift in Australian politics. Anthony Albanese, leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), has long been in opposition to Scott Morrison, particularly over issues such as the protection of LGBTQ+ students from discriminatory bullying in religious schools. This may signify the end of Australian tolerance with religious right policies.

A significant nail in the Morrison government’s coffin was the array of scandals that characterised his leadership. “Our view of the government has indeed shifted. It would not be a stretch to say that after multiple leadership spills and political scandals we were disillusioned at the last election,” said Caitlin Doogan PhD, who specialises in predictive analysis around public perspectives in Australian politics. “There are many other factors but to summarise, climate change, cost of living and the promise to form an independent corruption commission are three reasons the ALP have won.”

Morrison’s scandals began following his holidays in Hawaii during the horrendous Australian Bushfires, which killed 28 people between September 2019 and January 2020. Morrison’s lacklustre climate policies came as another smack in the face to those whose homes and possessions had been decimated by bushfires. His reputation was somewhat redeemed following Australia’s harsh Covid-19 policies which prevented a lengthy quarantine period and high death rates for the Australian public.

However, as the crisis began to subside it became apparent that the Morrison government had been less astute than it first appeared, with missteps around vaccine rollout speed. The cost of living crisis in recent months has unsettled the Australian public further, with low interest rates becoming a thing of the past and wages struggling to keep up with inflation. This provided a key strength for the ALP, who have depicted a strong response to this crisis.

The most integral of Morrison’s scandals is the parliamentary sexual assault cases. Most significant is the case of Brittany Higgins, who said she was raped in Parliament House after an inquiry found that one in three Australian parliamentarians have been victims of sexual harassment. The review, conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, concluded that there was an “alcohol-driven culture of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault” in Australian Parliament.

Morrison faced backlash for saying that he had spoken to his wife to clarify how he felt about the event, and that his wife had compared Brittany to his own daughters in order to help him see the atrocity of the case. This was met with criticism from the wider public as well as sexual abuse survivors and activists such as Grace Tame, who demanded “proactive, preventative measures” instead of “performative, last-minute bandaid electioneering stunts”. Morrison’s leadership, already rife with criticism, was only further disgraced by the inadequacy of his response to this scandal, denting trust in the LNP government.

The ALP began to promise exactly what Miss Tame had asked for. One of their most popular policies prior to the Australian election was the creation of an independent National Anti-Corruption Commission, designed to investigate systemic corruption by ministers, public servants, ministerial advisors, government agencies and MPs. The corruption which had become apparent during the recent Morrison years of the LNP government severely damaged trust between the Australian electorate and Parliament; the ALP’s robust plan to mend this wound is unsurprisingly appealing. After years of discontent and abuse, the anti-Corruption narrative of the ALP comes as a breath of fresh air.

After a decade of right-wing leadership, the election of a progressive, anti-corruption candidate may feel to some Australians as if the world has been turned upside down. Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party reflect a progressive turn for Australia, with his post-election speech symbolising hope and opportunity, particularly to act swiftly on climate change.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side; no politician is ever perfect, but in comparison to the years of sleaze surrounding the Morrison government, Anthony Albanese may feel like an ever-brightening light at the end of the disheartening political tunnel. Albanese’s optimistic progressive agenda may actually symbolise that the Australian political world has not been turned upside down – but instead that it has been stood the right way up.

Part of the ‘King’s Votes’ Series.

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