POLITICS

Why Malcolm Turnbull Is So Scared Of People Voting Independents

'I counsel Australians against a roll of the dice.'

27/06/2016 10:51 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:56 PM AEST
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Fairfax Media
Malcolm Turnbull and Nick Xenophon, in 2009.

Malcolm Turnbull was meant to spend Sunday's Liberal Party campaign launch talking up his own party, but the Prime Minister spent nearly as much time talking down the minor independent parties who are battling this election with a shoestring budget and a ragtag team of political newcomers.

In his 4000-word speech, Turnbull mentioned his opponent, Bill Shorten, just six times by name. In contrast, he mentioned "independents" seven times, and "minor parties" four times. The PM also specifically name-checked senators Nick Xenophon, Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus, as well as perennial election loser Pauline Hanson. In between, he made the notably fiery claims that minor parties would "wreak havoc" and "chaos" on Australia in "another power-sharing fiasco" with Labor.

"Leave nothing in doubt," Turnbull warned, trying to paint a picture that a vote for minor parties would in fact be a vote for Labor, and linking it back to the infamous 2010 hung parliament where Labor required the support of key independents to form government.

In just the last 24 hours Turnbull, his deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, treasurer Scott Morrison and finance minister Mathias Cormann have all used the notion (or warning) of a "Greens-Labor-independent alliance" with disdain in speeches and interviews.

This one poll might explain why the Prime Minister, the leader of the government, went to such lengths to cast doubt and criticism on parties contesting this election with the equivalent of chump change compared to the bulging coffers of the major parties:

Yes, as the two major parties see their votes drop, the Greens and other parties -- including the eponymous parties of Xenophon, Lambie, Lazarus and Hanson -- are on the rise. The vote for "others", as sampled by this Ipsos poll 10 days ago, is almost half that of Labor, and matches the Greens. The Greens party currently have 10 members in the federal Senate, and no doubt the major parties would loathe to see such a number of independent minor party members in the upper house; one of the PM's main reasons to call a double dissolution election was to dislodge the crossbench senators who made his political life difficult during the last parliament, so to have more independents end up in the upper house would be a disaster.

In individual states around the country, such as Xenophon's native South Australia, the "other" vote is even higher than the national figures, and actually outstrips the major parties:

Xenophon is tipped to take up to four SA Senate seats, and possibly at least one lower house seat, while Lambie may win two Senate spots in Tasmania. The rising fortunes of the minor parties would likely be the reason for Turnbull's extraordinary attacks on the minor parties at Sunday's launch/rally, which included the claims that:

  • "I counsel Australians against a roll of the dice on independents or minor parties."
  • "We can have the sort of chaotic government we see in today's Queensland, with a minority Labor government trapped in policy paralysis."
  • "When it comes to the minor parties, be they Lambie, Xenophon, Lazarus or Hanson -- if you only really know the leader of a minor party, but you don't really know their candidates, and you don't really know their policies...then don't vote for them."
  • "If your local vote is for Labor, Greens or an Independent, and you are in one of the 20 or so key battleground seats across the country, it is a vote for the chaos of a hung Parliament, a budget black hole, big Labor taxes, less jobs and more boats."
  • "At a time of uncertainty, the last thing we need is a Parliament in disarray."

Senior ministers seem to have been given some talking points for the Monday morning media circuit, with Morrison saying on Sunrise that "voters who are voting for independents and Greens and indeed the Labor party are voting for chaos," while Cormann warned of "the chaos and dysfunction that would come with a Bill Shorten led, Labor-Green-Independent alliance" in a radio interview.

In his own way, Xenophon responded to the hoopla created by major parties trying to warn people away from voting for a minor party:

While independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie also fired back, claiming the PM was being "blatantly dishonest by trying to claim that power-sharing Parliaments lead to anarchy and chaos".

"History shows that in fact power-sharing Parliaments are often quite stable and reformist, as was the case during the 43rd Parliament. It's also extremely arrogant for the Prime Minister to try and tell voters that they shouldn't give their vote to an independent or minor party candidate and that the only right way to vote is to vote for him. Essentially, Mr Turnbull is saying that the almost one third of Australians who don't vote for the major parties are wrong," Wilkie said in a statement.

"Comments like this are terribly disrespectful of the democratic process which allows every Australian to vote for whichever candidate best reflects their views."

"The Prime Minister needs to realise that there's a reason that people are moving away from the major parties in droves...The Prime Minister, and the Opposition Leader I would add, should stop blaming everyone else for their troubles. That Liberal and Labor are on the nose is entirely the fault of the Liberal and Labor parties."

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