One Term Wonder

Monday, 26 May, 2014

Words by Scott Tibballs
Illustration by Jennifer Crow

In November this year Victoria may well elect a Labor government, bringing an end to a rather short period of Coalition rule. If this takes place, the Coalition’s combined premierships of Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine would have only managed to serve a single term. This would be a notable loss for the Coalition considering their current domination of Australian politics.

Winning elections is one thing, but managing to win two in a row is actually quite easy. Australians appear to like the idea of stable, long-term governments that serve at least two healthy terms with a majority in the lower house. Over the past 16 years, every Australian state has voted in at least one party for more than one term.

In any Westminster democracy the idea of a ‘one term wonder’ is a slur. If you win one election you should have it in you to win another. The power of incumbency should allow you that. Traditionally only those who sit on the crossbench sit out single terms—and governments are made of tougher stuff.

The thought that the Coalition will only serve one term in Victoria is not that far-fetched. Baillieu only scraped through in 2010 with a majority of one, and since then whole ages have come and gone in Australian politics. When Baillieu won, Julia Gillard was still (relatively) newly minted as Australia’s first female Prime Minister and the carbon tax was still a policy that was never going to be introduced, let alone resurrected, implemented, lamented, and thrown on the chopping block.

Today, Gillard is gone. We now have a Coalition Prime Minister who has somehow managed to make himself unpopular faster than Gillard did, even before the May budget came out. With the new federal government making unconvincing—if not non-existent—efforts to salvage existing manufacturing in Australia, the South Australians denied the Coalition a clean sweep of the states.

The parties of the Coalition now lead five of the states, but the Victorian Coalition is the first of those that came to power during Labor’s civil war of 2009-2013 to face re-election.

Goodwill in voters towards any one party appears to be chronically in short supply. Victorians punished John Brumby’s Labor in 2010, but rewarded Julia Gillard’s Labor only a few months later by handing her two electorates in their state, effectively barring Abbott from taking office. Then again, Victoria tends to be the most Labor-friendly state in the federation.

In Queensland, the Coalition’s Campbell Newman swept into office in 2012, ending almost 14 years of state Labor rule. He did this while federal Labor continued to bicker, and speculation over who would lead Labor to the next election wouldn’t go away.

In New South Wales in 2011, roughly 16 years of Labor rule ended with a similar result. However, given six of those years were split between three Premiers, New South Wales might not be the best example.

Overall it appears that whichever party controls Canberra is a liability to its state counterparts in the current political environment. Australian voters don’t like the idea of one party controlling too much. Even during John Howard’s Prime Ministership, the states slid towards Labor the longer he held office. What we saw during Kevin Rudd, and then Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministerships, was an acceleration of that trend. And It looks like we’ve already started back the other way.

Considering the state polling figures have so resolutely stayed the same, and the numbers were so much closer last time, I predict the Napthine government will fall come November.  All that Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews can hope for is that Tony Abbott will continue making unpopular decisions in 2014.

The Victorian Coalition looks to suffer from bad timing given the federal Coalition’s rapid descent into unpopularity. Less than a year in, Australian voters are looking to return some balance to Australian political cartography, and Denis Napthine is first in line.

The problems that downed Victorian Labor in 2010 appear to be affecting the Coalition government now in 2014. The scenery has changed but the issues appear to have remained the same. The federal government is unpopular, myki is still a problem, and the Premier isn’t convincing voters that state politics is any different to federal politics.