Some thoughts on the Australian election

May 21, 2019 by Professor Bill Rubinstein
Read on for article

Before turning to consider how the “Jewish vote” performed at the 18 May 2019 election, I would like to make some broader points.

Professor Bill Rubinstein

There has been a good deal of speculation as to why the polls were so wrong. In my opinion, there is a good explanation for this. One fact about federal elections in Australia not generally understood is that the Coalition normally receives many more primary votes than does the ALP. At the 2016 federal election, the Coalition received 42.0 per cent of the primary vote, the ALP 34.7 per cent, and the Greens 10.2 per cent. If Australia had a “first past the post” voting system as in Britain or America, on these numbers the Coalition would win every federal election in a landslide. But in our preferential voting system, to the ALP’s primary vote one can add probably around 85 per cent of the Green party’s preferences, bringing the two parties up to near equality in the two parties preferred vote figure.

Normally the Coalition has no way of matching its vote with the second preferences of smaller right-wing parties, to balance the Green’s second preferences. But in this election it had three minor right-wing parties from whose second preferences the Coalition benefitted: Clive Palmer’s UAP (3.4 per cent of the total vote), One Nation (3.0 per cent), and the Conservative Party (0.5 per cent), in all around 7 per cent of the total vote, of which probably 85 per cent of their second preferences went to the Coalition.

In my opinion, the pollsters greatly and consistently underestimated the size of these preference flows from these minor right-wing parties to the Coalition. In fact, it is quite possible that the Coalition was always leading the ALP in the two-party preferred vote, and never trailed the ALP, especially after a preference deal was secured with Clive Palmer. The private polling of both parties apparently indicated something of the kind.

Is there a way to measure the Jewish vote? Clearly, not in a direct way. But although the Jewish vote in Australia is small, about 0.5 per cent of the total vote, it is concentrated in a handful of seats. It also has the distinct characteristic that a disproportionate percentage of Jewish voters will not go to the polls on a Saturday, and will instead cast postal votes or pre-poll votes. We already have the postal vote totals for the NSW seat of Wentworth (Sydney’s eastern suburbs, including Bondi and Woollahra), where a significant proportion of the population is Jewish, probably a higher percentage than in all but one or two seats in Melbourne.

In Wentworth, Dave Sharma, the Liberal candidate, narrowly defeated Dr. Kerryn Phelps, the Independent who was elected when Malcolm Turnbull retired. These postal votes are probably heavily Jewish, and they are quite striking: Sharma 3651 votes; Phelps 1409 votes. (The ALP candidate received 445 postal votes and the Green candidate 225.) We do not as yet have similar postal vote counts from heavily Jewish seats in Melbourne like Goldstein.  (Detailed vote counts for every seat can be seen online on the Australian Electoral Commission’s Tally Room site (; scroll down after bringing a specific constituency onscreen.) I hope to report on these when these counts become available. From the Wentworth figures, it seems a reasonable inference that the Jewish vote went strongly for the Coalition.

A number of points might also be made about the ALP’s campaign. While Bill Shorten and his party have been depicted as moderates, many of the policies it officially adopted  ̶  and which received almost no publicity  ̶ clearly were those preferred by the party’s left wing. Last December, the 2018 annual Conference of the ALP passed a resolution which “calls on the next Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state”.  This motion was seconded by Tony Burke, who stated that “today we say the Palestinians also deserve a land of their own”.  This resolution did not, however, say whether the government of the Palestinians to be recognised by Australia would be that of Hamas in Gaza, a terrorist organisation, or that of Abba’s Fatah on the West Bank, where no election has been held by local Palestinians in eleven years or so.

Also given virtually no publicity was the promise made by Bill Shorten last November that, if elected, he would hold another national plebiscite on Australia with the aim of ditching the monarchy and becoming a republic. He pledged that a Labor government would spend $160 million to hold this plebiscite. Shorten’s motives here are totally opaque, and it is difficult to see what possessed him to raise this issue. There is precisely zero popular demand today for reopening the republican issue (whose main champion for the republic in the 1990s was Malcolm Turnbull!), which would be expensive, time wasting, and bitterly divisive, just as it was twenty years ago when the two republican factions were at each other’s throats. The present system works well, and, in contrast to the situation in the 1990s, the younger royals are enormously popular. In my view, Shorten’s inexplicable stance on this issue only shows his ineptness as a politician.

While this election was supposed to turn on climate change as its central issue, thus giving the election to the ALP on a platter, on the contrary, as has already been noted by commentators,  it probably cost the ALP the election, with its heavy losses in Queensland. While no doubt climate change is a serious issue, it must be pointed out that Australia is responsible for just 1.28 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, methane, etc.), compared with 27.5 per cent from China,  14.8 per cent from the US, and 9.3 per cent from the EU. Even if Australia’s emissions were cut in half, this would have only the most minor effect on the world’s total emissions, while costing hundreds of thousands of jobs here. Evidently, this fact was not lost on some voters.

Professor Bill Rubinstein taught at Deakin University and at the University of Wales.


2 Responses to “Some thoughts on the Australian election”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    In discussing primary votes, let us not forget that the Coalition is exactly that: a coalition, comprising two parties, pitted against Labor as one party, so it’s not surprising that their primary votes will usually be higher. Also in this election, they were assisted considerably by the deal done with Palmer for preferences.
    In regard to Wentworth, only about 12% of the electorate is Jewish and it has a diverse demographic.

    There were many elements contributing to Labor’s defeat, including those mentioned by Bill Rubenstein. Bill Shorten, as leader, was never going to get Labor across the line and the Coalition ran a scare campaign that was unrelenting in its impact, with Morrison wreaking destructive havoc effortlessly – unfortunately, the Coalition has been elected without giving the slightest idea of policy or platform, which makes for a parlous situation, given their lack of interest in poorer Australians. On the other hand, Labor’s stance on Israel and the Palestinians creates great difficulty for Jewish voters who might want to vote for the only party who have actually enacted legislation to improve the societal issues in Australia, viz. a national health scheme and affordable university education.

  2. Michael burd says:

    Glad to see that charlatan Phelps gone let her go back to her day job even more happy to see our next AG that moron Dreyfus

    As the left kept telling The election was always about climate change it’s good to see the punters didn’t think so and are not all that stupid as many in our own community

    Good to see common sense prevail and labor -Greens -Get Up – antifa Coalition sent home with their tails between their leftist legs .

    Good article Bill , thanks

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.