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Pocock in quacking form but things not so ducky for the Teals

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

Canberra’s anti-Coalition left-wing bias has now been demonstrated by the release of final results from May’s federal election. There is nothing unusual about the Liberals faring far worse in the artificially created ACT home of government than in the real Australia. So Canberra’s three House of Representatives seats inevitably provided Labor with two-thirds majorities – along with a Green primary vote 50 per cent higher at almost 19 per cent than the Australian average. But May also brought a seismic change when former rugby international David Pocock, a de facto male Teal environmental campaigner, won Canberra’s second Senate seat as three-quarters of Canberrans voted against the sitting Liberal. Canberra’s 454,499 residents no longer have a Coalition voice in the national parliament for the first time since the Senate seat was created 47 years ago. Being one of the only 70,739 Senate Liberal voters (with 220,000 voting against you) must be not only a lonely but also an unrepresented feeling.

May’s Senate vote had another even more significant impact; it ensured that the Albanese government, after a modest 1.3 per cent national swing lifted its share of first preferences up to an unimpressive 30 per cent (well below the Coalition’s nevertheless dismal 34.2 per cent), now has 26 of the 39 Senate seats needed for a majority. It must secure Pocock’s vote, along with the Greens’ 12 (two from each state), to get its legislation through the Senate. Given  the danger of a Green-Pocock alliance imposing untenable policies on the government as the price of support, Labor nevertheless has little alternative; the rag-tag and bobtail gaggle of minor parties that proved such a problem for the Morrison government’s legislative program, has now been reduced to only five, with two Pauline Hanson One Nation, two Lambie Network and one UAP.

The 3.8 per cent swing against the Coalition in the half-Senate election meant it retained only 15 of the 19 seats it had held (the result of losing the ACT Senate seat, along with one in Victoria and one in Queensland to the Greens, in Western Australia to Labor and in Tasmania to the Lambie Network, offset by gaining one in South Australia from the Centre Alliance). This has cut its numbers down from 36 to only 32 out of 76. Not only does this severely limit the Coalition’s ability to hold the government to account in the Senate, but compounding its woes, the Coalition faces the likelihood, in the absence of a massive reversal of fortunes, of an even worse result in 2025 when 17 of its senators face re-election while only 11 Labor senators are at similar electoral risk. So it will be the Senate, rather than the House of Representatives where the Albanese government’s real battles will take place, making Pocock, the male Teal, the only one with real political power – the exercise of which will determine his political future at the 2025 election.

But cheer up. The Liberals are not the only ones upset by the Teals’ success. The far-left World Socialist Web has dismissed them as ‘a reactionary fraud, with the closest connections with the corporate and political establishment’. It criticised the all-women team replacing six men for having ‘promoted feminist identity politics. Shifting the gender balance in parliament will do nothing to alter the right-wing, pro-business consensus within the political establishment.’ It rejected their climate change pitch as ‘bogus’, asserting that the climate change catastrophe is the product of contradictions within the capitalist system and that the Teals, with their $10 million campaign fund from the ultra-wealthy reflected ‘rival sectional interests within Australia’s corporate elite’, with Holmes à Court personally embodying the Australian capitalist class in his hopes of ‘a once-in-a-century opportunity’ from a potential boom in renewable energy.

The leftist Guardian newspaper has also turned against them. Under the heading, ‘Where is the Racial Diversity’, it laments that, by all being white, the Teals lack racial and ethnic diversity and so replicate parliament’s current problem on this score – and reinforce last year’s study that found parliament to be ‘unrepresentative, elite and homogenous: it is stacked with private school graduates and MPs are twice as likely to be university educated.’

The study revealed a preponderance of arts and law degrees and a shortage of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees (although the 13 per cent of female members with these degrees is double the proportion of males). ‘Generally high-income fields such as law and business were overrepresented’.

The six female Teals all fit this elitist pattern. But don’t underestimate them (along with their Canberra male accomplice); they have the capacity to bring skills to the parliamentary process that may broaden the quality of debate.

But are these Teals in for the long haul? Their continued existence as MPs beyond the next election depends not only on what they may achieve in influencing the Albanese government but also on yet untested political skills in delivering for the enthusiastic community groups that saw their election campaign as a moral mission. Or, like their ornithological namesakes, will they just dabble in politics before flying off? There may be omens in the textbook on ducks, which notes about Teals: ‘This dabbling duck is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and will form large flocks’. There were large flocks at polling booths in May 2022; will they survive to 2025? And the same goes for Senator Pocock, who will at least have numerical leverage in the Senate (denied to the six Teals by Albanese’s working majority in the Reps following Labor’s narrow win in Gilmore). And, if the book on ducks is any guide, Pocock may have much more chance of success. It says the males, which have the best colour are ‘a noisy species; the male whistles not loud but very clear and far-carrying while the female has a feeble quack’. This reflects the six’s relative political impotence in the Reps and Pocock’s cock-of-the-walk in the Senate. Maybe a name change into a formal political party would improve these negative omens; it would also acknowledge that this collection of alleged independents really is one flock, rather than just a gaggle of middle-aged ducks.

The final blow to the Teals’ claims to diversity purity, now that the parliament has the highest representation of women on record in both chambers (with women making up 38 per cent of the House of Representatives and 57 per cent of the Senate), is that these white middle-class women have significantly reduced the broader (non-gender) diversity that had existed by ending the political careers (at least for the time being) of a Jew whose family escaped from the Holocaust, another with Jewish heritage whose family escaped from an antisemitic post-war Soviet Union, along with two professed homosexuals and an Indian-Jamaican-Canadian-Australian immigrant. Real diversity goes well beyond gender.

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