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Left (Scott Morrison) and right (Anthony Albanese)

It’s a big year for elections – here are six things to watch for as we get closer to a Federal poll

Democracy requires constant attention, and our system is no exception — even when the antics of sports stars, the wave of Omicron and a summer of bushfires and soaring temperatures are dominating headlines.

In our third year of the pandemic, Australia will head to the polls to elect a Federal Government and in contrast to the 2019 election, a focus on jobs and growth may not be enough to win voters over.

It will be a test for Scott Morrison, the first Prime Minister to run a full term in nearly a decade — no small achievement considering Australia has had seven Prime Ministers in ten years — and he seems set on holding the position until the last possible minute.

While the timing of the election is essentially his prerogative, it must occur no later than Saturday May 21, and be called a minimum of 33 days before that (April 18).

So, what should we watch for as Australia’s first (and hopefully only) pandemic election unfolds?

Watch the women

The past year has seen women in politics find their voice — from Brittney Higgins to Grace Tame to Julia Banks and Bridget Archer.

Parties are anticipating female voters will be similarly engaged, and we can expect that to be reflected in the style of campaign.

There is no space for this is to be a ‘khaki’ or ‘high-vis’ campaign; female voters will be crucial, and policies aimed at women and families will prove pivotal.

Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, losing more jobs and hours than men, particularly during lockdowns over the two-year period.

Many have also shouldered a load of increases unpaid work and home schooling. Of the women who were able to continue working, an overwhelming number of them were in the care sector, where they were more exposed to Covid-19, although Australian men contracted the virus more frequently overall.

Childcare, mental health, family violence, the gender pay gap and mistreatment of women in the workplace will be big topics to engage women, however at this stage both parties are treading carefully.

Knowing this, the Coalition will want to push the introduction of the Jenkins Report, the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, to assure voters that change is being implemented that will reduce the risk to women in political spaces.

Labor, on the other hand, will want to highlight the Government’s response to former Attorney General Christian Porter and inaction over sexual assault allegations within parliamentary offices, to support its claim that the Morrison Government did too little to ensure safety of women or act on credible accusations. 

Keep an eye on the promises

The release of the 2022 Federal Budget will be a key indicator to the time of the election. If history serves as any indicator, the Budget will be released prior to the election.

In what appears to be a similar roadmap to the 2019 general election, the parliamentary sitting calendar for 2022 indicates an intention to release the Budget on 29 March. This date may change, however, and there are no guarantees it will be released on that day. If it goes ahead, however, Australia is left with only three possible election days in May (7, 14 and 21).

There has been a lot of talk about a $16 billion election war chest, which suggests the Budget might be peppered with promises for key seats, but as COVID-19 continues to rampage across the country, there may also be some big-ticket recovery projects on the cards. The low- and middle-income tax offset could well be rolled over again, and stage-three tax cuts are still on the cards, with support from both sides.

The Opposition’s response, which is usually delivered two days following its release, will be closely monitored to indicate campaign positioning.

How the recent Omicron variant has impacted the country will be reflected in the Budget projections, and there is likely to be big spending in the health sector to ensure hospitals can sustain the duration of the pandemic.

Keep an eye on independents

A record number of independent candidates and minor parties are vying for seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as they aim to tap into the voter disquiet with the nine-year-old government.

The increase in independents come as a surge of manoeuvring is visible in pre-election for the seats held by the Coalition.

What worries major parties, in particular the LNP, is that the independent movement is getting more organised.

Groups such as Independent Voices 4 Senate and Climate200 — backed by Simon Holmes a Court — are working to challenge so-called small l Liberals in seats where the community has shifted beyond the government in areas like climate change and integrity in politics.

To add to the situation, many of the independents are women, following in the footsteps of Zali Steggall, who beat Tony Abbott in 2019, Helen Haines in Indi, Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo, and Kerryn Phelps, who won Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth at a byelection and narrowly lost in 2019 as the Liberals reclaimed the seat.

This strong and vocal female force is a sore point for the Liberal Party which will not meet its goal of equal representation of women sitting by 2025.

While some perceive the rise of independents as an ‘anti-government’ movement with a no chance of wielding legislative power, this misses the point and purpose.

The targeted seats belong to seats in inner-east Melbourne and the Sydney harbourside normally too secure to command much real love or attention from government. Voters in these areas are very aware the power their seat would command in a hung parliament.

It also signals a change in the attitude of some of the wealthiest supporters. By mid-November, Climate200 was reporting it had raised $3.6 million to support its stable of independents, no small beer. The high-profile names emerging as candidates as part of the Voices Of movement could also divert traditional donors from party coffers.

Expect some COVID coordination issues

The pandemic obviously looms large over the election and creates a fine line the parties must tread. Many Australians would love to move on from the bad news, but the looming economic issues and fragile recovery will be a major topic for the election.

Labor will target the slow vaccine roll-out and push for a reconstruction following the pandemic, while the Coalition will focus on its record in providing economic support programs and its role managing the early stages of the virus.

The pandemic will also impact the logistics of voting, while continued restrictions could pose a logistical challenge to democracy if they limit the participative aspects of an election.

Possible implications include restrictions on campaign movement, uneven playing fields for candidates, a reduction in the limited officials and volunteers, and international outbreaks affecting out-of-country voting.

Several of the states have held elections throughout the duration of the pandemic, WA included (how could we forget the McGowan landslide), and at least 113 countries and territories have held national or subnational elections during COVID-19, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Regardless, some of our rules for an election have been deemed inadequate in dealing with emergency situations.

The Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has made several suggestions on how to hold an election during an emergency including:

  • Expanding polling hours
  • Making it easier to vote early or by post
  • Extending pre-polling times
  • Adjusting rules around scrutineering as well as social distancing.
Be aware of moving boundaries

A redistribution in any state creates opportunity for seats to have large swings and cause upsets and this election there will be several seats to watch as both WA and Victoria had redistributions in 2021.

WA lost the Liberal seat of Stirling due to a decrease in population and the electorate was absorbed by the four surrounding seats (Cowan, Curtin, Moore and Perth).

Labor holds both Cowan and Perth, both of which are marginal, and Liberals hold Curtin and Moore, which are considered safe seats.

How the seat of Cowan unfolds will be fascinating as current member Dr Anne Aly is anticipated to hold the seat and increase the margin.

Her challenger is the current member for Stirling, Vince Connelly, who appears a strong candidate, although he might have lost a degree of support following his failed pre-selection challenge for the seat of Moore, which led to some fiery recriminations about party infighting.

Victoria introduced the notionally Labor held seat of Hawke due to an increase in population and adjusted the electoral boundaries within 29 divisions while retaining the boundaries of nine divisions. The major adjustment comes as only 19 of the existing 38 seats had acceptable numerical ranges for electors permitted.

The two redistributions mean, based on the 2019 election results, the Coalition goes from 77 to 76 seats and Labor goes from 68 to 69. It should be noted that 76 seats in the House of Representatives is needed for a majority government.

The Morrison government currently holds 10 of WA’s 15 seats, however being one of two big resource states, any slippage from the Coalition’s current holding could cost the government the majority, especially considering we have a Labor State Government which holds an unprecedented and overwhelming majority.

Expect TikTok to be a talking point

It’s the moment to shine for TikTok, the social media platform that has made and ruined viral songs while creating ‘celebrities’ from ordinary people dancing in front of their cameras. The app has tripled its user numbers since the last election and has the potential to influence both young and not-so-young voters.

While influencers are often more associated with Instagram, fashion and lifestyle, a new cohort of politically engaged younger users have begun producing a range of Auspol content on TikTok, often with great success. In fact, content tagged with #Auspol now has more than 350 million views. Interestingly, many political content creators are not yet old enough to vote but have turned the platform into a discussion of global and election topics including climate change, anti-vaxxers and — the theme of many political discussions — sexism and women in politics.

Accounts have been created specifically dedicated to posting anti-Liberal or anti-Labor Party content with posts where commentators mock the parties or pollies, and there are plenty of videos of politicians stumbling during press conferences or awkwardly putting on masks. Many of these accounts have upwards of 45,000 followers with millions of monthly views, and political figures are now venturing on the platform such as senior Labor politician Kristina Keneally (5,500 followers), Prime Minister Scott Morrison (49,500 followers) and with a strong lead on engagement is Labor backbencher, Julian Hill with over two million video likes and 142K followers.

Where Scomo’s tiktok theme has steered clear of anything too controversial, mainly featuring koalas, puppies and smiling celebrity guests, the trending Labor politicians like Hill and Keneally have done anything but – utilising the platform and their impressive follower base to call out the Prime Minister and humanise the opposition.

 

@kristinakeneally #ScottMorrison stating the obvious and threatening us with a good time. #election #australianlaborparty #Auspol #FYP #ALP #liberalparty #Australia ♬ original sound – KristinaKeneally

 

@julianhillmp How YOU can be part of change for the better 🇦🇺 #auspol #fyp ♬ original sound – JulianHillMP

It is widely known the app has the reputation of allowing misinformation and conspiracy theories to go viral and therefore puts potential voters at risk of picking up false information regarding candidates or policies. But it also offers a different avenue for communication compared to traditional canned press conference lines.

The platform will be a major player in how the younger generation perceives political parties in the 2022 Federal election, and a single video might not directly influence a voter the volume of content created and absorbed has the potential to shape perceptions.

Get ready for an election like no other

With few journalists game enough to call the election, no confirmed date, a raging pandemic, and some wild cards such as Clive Palmer remaining in the deck, there is a lot still unknown about the 2022 Federal Election.

It will be an interesting one to watch unfold.

About the author

Bree Liddell is Cannings Purple’s Government Relations Associate Consultant. 

With a broad range of working knowledge and experience writing for local members and government, Bree is perfectly placed to assist clients in navigating government processes, policy and approvals. Contact Bree.

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