Slippery slope

Although the biggest loser from the recent federal election is the reputation of pollsters, the major parties have little to crow about.


Tim Reardon

The outcome of the 2019 Federal Election was far from predictable – even Prime Minister Scott Morrison saw re-election as an uphill battle, saying of the win he ‘always believed in miracles’. And while the Coalition narrowly came out on top this time, the close call means the major parties have little to boast about, since the number of votes they received continued to fall.

As a general rule, from the 1950s until 2000, a political party required at least a primary vote of 44 per cent to form government. But since the turn of the century, most governments have formed with a much lower percentage. In fact, 44 per cent of the primary vote was achieved only twice in the past seven federal elections. This trend has also been observed in a number of state elections in recent years.

In the 1970s and 80s the two main parties would routinely collect more than 90 per cent of the first preference votes between them. In the 2019 Federal Election, they earned less than 75 per cent of first preference votes. In fact, one in four people voted for a minor party in the House of Representatives; one in three voted for a minor party in the Senate; and one in four seats are now marginal seats (less than five per cent of votes).

While there have been exceptions to this trend, such as the landslide victory in 2007, even landslides are not what they used to be. Increasingly powerful minor parties is a trend that is also occurring in other Western democracies.

The causes of this trend are complex and include the rise of social media activists, and a cultural shift away from party membership.

Perhaps the most significant reason for the shift away from the two major parties in Australia is the commercial incentive to run for Parliament. From the mid 1990s the two major parties agreed to pay themselves based upon the number of votes they receive at each federal election. To gain payment for votes, parties need to gain at least four per cent of the vote in an electorate. The outcome of this policy is that it is increasingly commercially viable for minor parties to run for office.

Perhaps surprising the major parties, it has been the smaller parties that have benefited the most from the payment for votes.

Unless these trends change, Australia is moving away from a two-party system and governments will increasingly need to form coalitions with minor parties to form government. Such was the case for both the Gillard and Turnbull Governments.

This multi-party system is common in other democracies. New Zealand moved to a multi-party system following strong support from a referendum held in 1992. It appears that we will achieve a similar outcome in Australia without the need for constitutional reform.

The implications of this for HIA is that winning a policy argument with a Minister or even a political party will be increasingly irrelevant unless there is wider community engagement and support from the minor parties and independents. This requires increasing local engagement with politicians and wider communication strategies.


Election win for housing

HIA has long called for the appointment of a federal Minister to the housing portfolio to address major issues facing industry. With Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealing Michael Sukkar MP as the new federal Housing Minister in his reshuffled ministry, this election imperative has finally been realised.

HIA has always supported the important role the federal government can play in guiding planning, infrastructure delivery, land and housing supply. A recent commitment to support the delivery of affordable housing on surplus Commonwealth land offers a first insight into the new Minister’s housing supply agenda. A focus on planning reform, and working to improve strategic planning, is also a welcome move on Minister Sukkar’s part. HIA looks forward to working with the Minister to deliver his vision for housing.

Related Articles

Our voice

While 2020 has been a year like no other, HIA did not skip a beat, and continued to provide advice and services to members and the broader industry when needed most.

You can't bank on banks

It’s time we saw regulatory reform so home ownership can still be an attainable aspiration for Australians. To achieve this, banks should be determining the risk of lending money, not regulators.

The winds are changing

How do wind ratings affect residential construction? In this second instalment of our three-part series on building quality, HOUSING looks at their impact on design, determining a rating for your site, as well as understanding product limitations.

Western Australia: lessons in woe to go

In Western Australia, the housing market is experiencing a high after a long-term slump. So, what can the rest of us learn about handling rapid rise from a standing start?

Join more than 120,000 like-minded subscribers