Perhaps the least reported fact of the election is that the Greens candidate Adam Bandt won the seat of Melbourne on Liberal Party preferences. Bandt finished second on the primary vote, well behind Labor’s Cath Bowtell.
It seems neither the Greens nor the Liberals want to talk about what happened in Melbourne. Senator Bob Brown and his colleagues do not want to acknowledge their triumph was made possible by voters whose initial preference was for the Liberal Party. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party does not want to dwell on it because this was one of the series of errors which could cost it government.
Abbott may, or may not, emerge as prime minister after negotiations with independent MPs. Prevail or fail, his achievement is substantial, bringing about a situation whereby the first government since 1931 was not returned with a majority of seats at the end of its inaugural term. Nevertheless, the Coalition would have done better but for a number of self-inflicted errors.
The Liberal Party preferenced the Greens ahead of Labor in Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler, without any attempt at a quid pro quo. At least, the Liberals should have requested a preference swap with the Greens in such seats as La Trobe and Corangamite in Victoria and Lindsay, Greenway, Banks, Eden-Monaro and Robertson in NSW. Jason Wood, the sitting Liberal who lost La Trobe after leading on the primary vote, is an environmentalist and was a Greenpeace member. Yet the Greens preferenced Labor’s Laura Smyth. Wood described the Liberal decision to give preferences to the Greens, without doing a deal in seats like La Trobe as “the dumbest political strategy ever”. Correct.
The NSW division focused on the state election in March at the expense of the federal poll. The Liberals preselected a candidate for Lindsay the day before the Prime Minister announced the election date. The candidate for Greenway was decided soon after. The late nominations gave no time to organise a proper postal vote campaign. There is no excuse for such incompetent behaviour. Those employed on good salaries as political party professionals should be expected to act professionally.
The Liberal Party spent quite a lot trying to win Riverina, which was held by the retiring National Party MP Kay Hull. This was a waste of time and money since the main game for the Liberals was to win seats from Labor. Such funds could have been spent in such Sydney seats as Lindsay, Greenway and Banks, Eden-Monaro on the south coast and Robertson on the central coast. The campaign in Banks was under-resourced and in Robertson all but non-existent. And the National Party’s Michael McCormack easily prevailed in Riverina.
And then there were the errors on the National Party side of the Coalition. As this column argued in September 2008, the former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile owed it to his colleagues to hang on in Lyne until the election. Instead he created a vacancy which Rob Oakeshott filled in a byelection. Oakeshott is now one of the rural independents who may choose between Abbott and Gillard, from a seat which strongly supported the Coalition over Labor in the Senate election.
It is not certain an independent would have won Lyne at a general election. Interviewed on Lateline on Wednesday before the poll, the independent MPs Tony Windsor and Bob Katter predicted the independent John Clements would win Parkes in north-west NSW. In fact, Clements attained just 10 per cent of the primary vote and the seat was retained comfortably by the sitting National Party MP Mark Coulton. It’s easier for independents to win in byelections.
Whether or not Abbott is commissioned as prime minister, both the Liberals and Nationals should examine their acts of folly and self-indulgence which in all probability denied the Coalition a clear, albeit narrow, victory.
Both parties might look to Queensland. James McGrath left the Liberal Party federal secretariat a few months before the election and ran the Liberal-National Party campaign in Queensland. This was a difficult task but the LNP’s success in winning seats from Labor exceeded all expectations.
Had the Coalition performed as well in NSW and Victoria, Abbott might be prime minister already.