Federal Election - No Mandate for Coal

Despite what the Government, the Murdoch press and the coal industry have been saying, the federal election was not a mandate for coal and the #StopAdani campaign is not to blame for Labor’s loss. It’s worth looking at what actually happened.

The truth remains that Adani does not have a social license and two-thirds of Australians oppose it.

The election result is being hailed as a massive victory for the Coalition mostly because of widespread expectations that Labor woud win.

In the end, Labor had a primary swing against them of -1.4%, but the Liberals also had a primary swing against them of -0.7%. With a minor party vote of 24.9%, preferences swung the election to the Coalition. Labor needed a swing towards them but in most states had a swing against them.  

In Tasmania, Labor experienced the biggest swing against them (-4.3%) and the loss of two seats (Bass and Braddon). Some booths in the northern Tasmanian seat of Bass saw a primary swing of over –13% against Labor. This vote against Labor does not fit with any narrative that the election was a vote for Adani and coal or against climate action.

In New South Wales, there was a primary swing of -2.4% against Labor. They won one seat (Gilmore), and lost one (Lindsay). The electorates in western Sydney clearly swung against Labor. There is no evidence, however, that this was a vote for coal and against climate action.

In Western Australia, where Labor hoped to gain some ground, the primary swing against them was -2.6% but they narrowly held onto all of their seats. Again, there is no evidence that this result was a vote for Adani or coal, or against climate action. In fact the Coalition registered a bigger swing against them of -3.2%.

In South Australia, the previously high Xenophon vote was distributed back to other parties, but again no seats changed hands.  

In Victoria, the swing away from the Coalition (-2.9%) and to Labor (+1.3%) was substantially less than expected. Labor won the new seat of Fraser, and gained Corangamite and Dunkley, which were both notionally Labor after redistributions following the previous federal election. There is some evidence that Labor’s pro-climate positioning helped them in some seats but the swing to Labor was far lower than they hoped.  

In the Australian Capital Territory there were swings away from both major parties, but Labor won the new seat of Bean.

In the Northern Territory there was a healthy swing to Labor in one seat, a minor swing against it in another, but no change in seats.  

In Queensland, the overall primary swing against Labor was -4.2% (roughly the same as Tasmania at -4.3%) and was spread across a lot of electorates in the South East corner as well as regional Queensland. Statewide the Greens had a larger swing to them (+1.3%) than the Coalition (+0.6%) - so much for Queenslanders’ supposedly pro-coal views. The swings were heavily geographically concentrated. Only two seats actually changed hands.

The much talked about swings in the coal mining regions of Central and Northern Queensland mask a more nuanced story. The Coalition actually saw little to no primary swing towards them, but there were significant primary swings against Labor which reflect a major fault-line in politics which has enabled the story to be told by the coal lobby and the Coalition that Queensland voted for coal.

In Queensland the big new factor was a +3.5% primary swing to the UAP whose preferences delivered for the Coalition even though UAP didn’t manage to win a single seat. Clive Palmer and UAP spent an estimated $60-80 million, mostly on advertising – much of it anti-Labor attack ads. It was the biggest spend in an Australian election ever and was larger than the combined spending of all of the other parties. If Palmer wanted to have just bought a couple of seats in parliament, he likely could have. But he focussed his campaign on keeping Labor out and driving preferences to the Coalition.

Bob Brown’s #StopAdani convoy was effectively weaponised by the Coalition and the coal lobby during the election. While the convoy inspired people all the way from Tasmania to Airlie Beach, when it got to Clermont it created a platform for Canavan, Christensen, Hanson and Palmer to tap a volatile feeling that Southerners shouldn’t tell Queenslanders what to do, and are just coming to take their coal jobs.

So did the #StopAdani campaign create a major problem for Labor in Central Queensland? Yes. But we need to remember that this was amplified massively by the campaign and commentary of the mining division of the Queensland CFMMEU and unprecedented advertising and digital astroturfing by the mining lobby (including Palmer).

Did the #StopAdani campaign cost Labor Queensland? No. Even if the same background swing against Labor that happened in NSW or WA played out in regional Queensland the seat outcome would have been the same. Did Labor lose the seat of Longman in Brisbane because of Adani? There is no evidence to support that. Did they see a -8.1% swing against them in the Brisbane electorate of Forde (which they held) because of Adani and coal? There is no evidence to support that either. The election swung on other issues.