Country voters are seizing control of Canberra’s agenda

Country voters are seizing control of Canberra’s agenda


Politics
Photo Alex Ellinghausen.

Photo Alex Ellinghausen.

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Regional electorates are leading the charge away from major political parties.

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There’s never been a better opportunity for the eight million Australians who live outside a capital city to reshape politics.

Major parties – Labor, Liberal and Nationals – are on the nose and they’re bleeding votes to a mishmash of minor parties and independent candidates.

Polling suggests Labor is most likely form government at the coming federal election, which can be called from now until May 18. 

If voters turf out the Coalition they’re primed to give all the major parties a big whack on the way through in some of the conservative strongholds in the bush.

A prescient report from the Grattan Institute, released in May, crunched the numbers.

Between 2004 and the 2016 federal election the minor party vote doubled in inner-city areas, rising from under 10 per cent to 20pc, and up to around 30pc in outer metropolitan areas.

In regional regional areas the minor party vote rose from around 20pc to more than 30pc, with some seats far higher. In Kennedy, North Queensland, 45pc voted for Katter’s Australian Party.

Grattan tapped surveys, research and focus groups to get at the motivation of regional voters. It found three quarters regional people feel ignored, compared to half of people in major cities.

Regional people want to “take back control”, according to lead author and Grattan program director Danielle Wood, who said ‘protest’ was the most appropriate term to describe the voting trend.

“The minors and independents have a wide range of priorities and ideologies - and unless we can say voters are totally different in each electorate, the common factor is people lodging their vote as a protest,” Ms Wood said.

However, social services and infrastructure rank higher on the list of priorities than the economy for most regional people, she said.

“Our studies show people in regional areas want to take control of the national dialogue, and that ties in with the fact they fell less a part of the political conversation than in the past,” Ms Wood said.

She said the are risks to the political protest in the “cycnicism” voters are expressing in their protest votes.

“The concern is that erosion of trust continues, people aren’t engaging with the process of government,” Ms Wood said.

“And it makes governing really hard, especially tough things like economic reforms, if you don’t have the trust of the population.”

Recent byelections display the trend toward minors and independents. In 2017 the Nationals held on to Cootamundra and Murray, but suffered a primary swing of 20pc and 15pc, respectively, with the minor Shooters Fishers and Farmers party gaining significant ground.

In 2016 SFF picked up a 35pc swing to nab Orange from the NSW Nationals, which had held the seat since 1947. Last week the Wagga byelection delivered around a 30pc swing against the Liberals, which had held the seat for 60 years.

Counting continues but independent candidate Joe McGirr looks set for victory, off the back of a three week campaign.

Ms Wood said there would “always be exceptions” to these trends, but the shift to minors in the bush is “pushing in one direction”.

Last year, in the metropolitan Brisbane seat of Longman, 26pc of votes went to minor parties and independents. However, strong local conservative candidates have prevailed. Nationals Barnaby Joyce won a resounding victory and kept the minor party vote to just under 20pc.

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