Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
The election victory was clearly a triumph for both the style and substance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
But the most important post-election issue now is the battle to control the narrative surrounding the causes and meaning of the result.
The advantages the PM enjoyed over his opponent are now obvious. These included his mastery of policy detail, his capacity to speak directly to the aspirations of middle Australia, and his authenticity and ‘ordinary everyman’ persona in expressing everything from footy fanatism to his Christian faith.
Tax policy — given the targeting of Labor’s franking credits, CGT, and negative gearing policies by the Coalition — certainly played a definitive role in the outcome.
However, those who believe the result is proof that the Liberal Party does best when it sticks to so-called ‘sensible centre’, and focuses solely on bread and butter economic issues in isolation from social and cultural issues, can take little comfort or credit for the result.
The key economic issue at the election was Labor’s un-costed climate change policy, to say nothing of the decisive impact of the Adani mine controversy in Queensland.
But it was the so-called ‘Modern Liberals’ who, since the fall of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have pushed — and continue to push — for the Coalition to take greater action on climate.
This message plays well in the Mod Libs’ own leafy affluent inner-city seats — as the defeat of Tony Abbott in Warringah shows. But it does not resonate in the outer suburbs and regions more interested in jobs and power prices than in waging a moral crusade against coal and for renewable energy.
Climate change was therefore not just an economic issue: it was the key cultural issue that illustrated the divide between ‘insider’ elites and ‘outsider’ ordinary Australians that swung the election for the Coalition.
Almost all pundits were convinced that the political centre of the nation had shifted on climate policy and Labor’s 50% renewable energy target and 45% emission reduction policies would be endorsed by the mainstream.
But such punditry was hopelessly wrong: Morrison — the Prime Minister who literally carted coal into the parliamentary chamber — proved where the true centre of mainstream opinion lies on climate policy.
By rejecting the advice to avoid differentiating the Coalition from Labor, the election has proved that the best way to define the centre is to fight and win political arguments and cultural debates on the important issues.
The broader cultural meaning of the election result has also struck many pundits who now rightly recognise the negative role played by Labor’s focus on identity politics and progressive ideology, particularly over the issue of religious freedom, which turned off mainstream voters.
This completely confounds the view that ‘culture war’ issues are the obsession of only the reactionary ‘fringe’ or conservative ‘base’.
A significant proportion of Australians would rather have lower taxes than more spending on public services like education without results, and this was reflected in the federal election result.
The truth is, Australians aren’t just concerned about how much is spent on education but also how it is spent.
School funding is an important issue for many people — especially for parents of the two-thirds of children who go to government schools — but evidently, it wasn’t a decisive election issue. This was probably because while both Labor and the Coalition promised substantial increases in government school spending, they only differed in degree (Labor’s was more significant).
The education union’s campaign against the Morrison government was fundamentally misleading. It alleged $14 billion was being ‘cut’ from government schools, which was factually incorrect. And it conveniently ignored the fact that state governments have barely increased their funding of schools over the past ten years, while federal funding has risen massively.
The class warfare of pitting ‘underfunded’ government schools against ‘overfunded’ non-government schools was rejected by aspirational working parents. It’s often forgotten that many middle-income and low-income families value school choice.
And for religious parents, religious schools are often an integral part of living their faith and building their communities. Potential threats to the religious freedom of their schools could also have been a factor in their vote.
The Coalition’s re-election also provides some certainty for NAPLAN, as the current government is supportive of the transparency and accountability coming from the tests. The challenge for them going forward is to improve NAPLAN.
Finally, it’s very welcome news that the Coalition has promised to introduce a voluntary online phonics screening check and ensure teacher education degrees adequately deliver phonics content.
The focus on phonics is something the CIS has been pushing for years, and it’s great to see this policy win in the crucial area of reading instruction. Many Australian children will benefit.
The impact of social media on politics is a contentious topic. Some argue social media harms political discourse, journalism, and the public. The ACCC even discusses this in their preliminary report into digital platforms.
But, social media popularity did not translate into electoral success in the Australian election.
The ABC’s Hidden Campaign team found, before the election, the candidates with the most social media interactions were Fraser Anning and Pauline Hanson.
But Anning has lost his Senate seat. And, although One Nation has increased its share of the vote, the best they can hope for is one Senate seat. Their popularity on social media has not translated into success at the ballot box. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, those who are interacting with politicians on social media may not even be voters. They could be overseas, non-citizens, or otherwise ineligible to vote.
But most importantly, politicians’ social media accounts provide the public with an insight into who they are and what they believe. And after seeing what Anning was about, the Australian public said … no thank you.
This is free speech and democracy in action. We do not need to censor unpalatable, or even downright disgusting views online. We put all these ideas out in the open so that we can make an informed decision.
Anning’s Facebook posts attracted derision and disgust from the majority of Australians.
There are certainly negative aspects of social media. Misinformation and propaganda can be spread easily — but traditional media has also suffered this problem. And, outrageous and offensive commentary often receives the most shares and comments, thus boosting the popularity of these posts.
Yes, some appalling things are said on social media. But Australians are mostly savvy enough to leave those things festering in the virtual world cyberspace, and not bring them into real life.