There are lately some Labor supporters who are expressing a somewhat fervent hope that Australians will face, at some point in 2014, a Double Dissolution election, brought on by whatever trouble Labor and Green Senators can cause the Coalition Government.
I can only guess that this hope is driven by the understandably desperate desire to be rid of the Abbott Government, given what it represents and what we are likely to face as its legacy. I say that because I can see no political reason to wish for such a thing. In my estimation the most likely outcome of a Double Dissolution election would be a disaster for the Labor Party (and potentially the Greens and smaller groups in the Senate). The Coalition in all likelihood would gain control of both houses. I don’t know how you feel about the pox, but I’d prefer to avoid it.
My case for holding that view is this: there is no reason that I can discern or fathom for any person who voted for the Coalition at the last election to, at this juncture, change their vote. There has been nothing in the actions of the Government sufficient to cause this to happen. Yes, from a Labor supporter’s perspective the Government has thus far been atrocious, but aside from some international diplomatic missteps – which will be forgotten about in a month’s time – the Government has done nothing that isn’t consistent with its stated intentions and/or its approach to matters socio-economic. There is therefore no reason for those few tens of thousands, who gave the Coalition Government, to reverse that choice. The handful that may have cause to second-guess themselves will not be sufficient to cause change.
The other reason that a Double Dissolution would be disastrous for Labor is simply that they will not be ready to govern. They cannot go to such an election with their old Government agenda because that is being unraveled as we speak. By the time a DD comes around there’d be little or nothing from it to rescue. The NBN will be more or less trashed and probably unsalvageable. Disability Care has been largely settled (although important questions remain as to its administration). Asylum Seekers is an issue about which Labor has little to say that will differentiate it from the Government. They gleefully joined in the race to the bottom for cheap electoral advantage. Now much of the nation is simply fatigued by the whole thing. There is no electoral leverage for Labor in that matter – and they arguably don’t deserve to have any. Labor is going to need the three years of an Abbott Government to get its policy base in order.
Some might argue that the Coalition went to the last election with a policy platform so weak and unstable that no sane person would set foot on it. That may be true, but the political circumstances surrounding that were perfect for the Coalition. That won’t be replicated for Labor. They will not, for example, get the easy ride into another election that the Coalition received from the media in the last one. The Coalition will not be suffering under the weight of enormous internal instability. Bill Shorten will not have sufficient time to stamp his authority on the Parliament and look Prime Ministerial. That dynamic takes time. In a nutshell, the Coalition will not have had time to significantly self-destruct, especially if it hasn’t really done anything. Labor will not have a basis to make an argument of substance for its return to Government, at least to the particular voters it has to convince.
In the context of a Double Dissolution, electors will be inclined to instinctively vote for stability, not change. The representative mish-mash that was delivered by the Senate result will almost certainly not be repeated. People will see it for what it is and vote for stability and certainty. That will benefit the major parties. If stability is what people find themselves voting for, then it will benefit the Coalition far more than Labor by virtue of incumbency.
It won’t be especially difficult for the Coalition Government to prosecute the case for surety and stability of Government. Labor and the Greens, rightly or wrongly, will be gifting that argument to the Coalition through an obstructionist Senate (and the prospect of a dysfunctional and chaotic one into the future).
We should surely recognize by now that the Coalition has become extremely adept at pushing the right emotional buttons with the electorate. The last election was about psychology, not policy; it was about pushing the psychological buttons of trust, loyalty and betrayal, security, faith in authority etc. Once those deep-seated psychological triggers are activated in certain people, no amount of facts is sufficient to quell the emotional disturbance. Trigger it enough times and the psychological force is tsunami-like. It is quite simply unstoppable.
Even though in practical terms I think the chances of a Double Dissolution are almost zero – the risks to either side are too great for anyone to seriously contemplate it – the risk to Labor is far, far greater. If the Coalition has any faith in its ability to manipulate and exploit the make-up of the new Senate, it will have little reason to be interested in a DD. They can pretty much afford to wait.
Also, from a Labor supporter’s point of view, what looks like an arrogant lack of concern for things like science, and, oh, you know – taking advice from anyone, appears as strong, assured and decisive Government through a more conservative lens. It’s important to remember that Paternalistic Government is a very attractive thing to a lot of people, primarily those that can’t be bothered being informed and meaningfully politically engaged. What are Governments for, if not to govern? Given the complexity and pace of modern life, that disposition is a strong cultural force and one we underestimate at our peril.
I mean, do we really expect people to research and think about something like the Asylum Seeker tragedy when they have dinner to microwave, children to rebuke, IKEA catalogues to peruse, twenty five Facebook and eighteen Twitter thingees to respond to, the latest Home and Away episode to PVR, an electricity company hawker to shoo away, elderly parents to ignore, newly laid turf to fertilise and manicure and Lotto numbers to select? How dismissive we are of stuff that matters!
If you should be a believer in some sort of force that drives the fate of the Universe, I exhort you to pray to it, in wherever way is applicable, for the Abbott Government to see out its term (extraordinary and fortunate circumstances excepted) because a Double Dissolution would almost certainly end in a crisis of faith.
There may, of course, be arguments and nuances that I’m missing. If so, I welcome learning of them.
Contact: Dan Rowden