The fickle, discerning politics

EMERITUS PROFESSOR JOHN WARHURST analyses the chopping and changing of governments at the federal and state levels.

The political environment does seem to be increasingly fickle, though that is a pejorative term, judged by recent state and federal election results.

We seem to have moved on from debating the merits and demerits of minority governments to facing the likelihood of one-term governments.

These developments are evidence of the move away from the comfort and stability of long-term majority governments in Australia.

There was a long-term trend towards minority governments at the state level well before the election of the Gillard minority government at the federal level in 2010.

After Labor lost in September 2013, however, it seemed like we might return to a long 'Coalition era' at both state and federal level, just as there had been a Hawke-Keating Labor era for 13 years between 1983 and 1996.

During that period Labor survived several close elections at both levels of government.

Then came the defeat of the one-term, four-year Victorian Coalition Government in November 2014 and, much more dramatically, the defeat of the three-year, one-term Queensland LNP Government of Campbell Newman, who lost an enormous majority in a huge swing back to Labor.

It was these results that stimulated the spill motion against first-term Prime Minister Tony Abbott earlier this year and even the idle speculation that the first-term Baird Coalition Government might lose in New South Wales.

As it turned out Baird won comfortably and Abbott appears to have steadied, though it is still possible that his government too might lose after one term.

So what is going on?

There is some truth in the idea that Australian voters are becoming more fickle.

The key factor is that enough voters are swinging from one party to another.

These voters don't have a long-term identification with one of the major parties.

Such identification underpins stable voting patterns.

Associated with this trend has been a growing distaste for the major parties and a lack of conviction among centrist, swinging voters.

This, in turn, has led to the growth of a string of minor political parties since the 1950s, including the Democrats, Greens, Pauline Hanson's One Nation and, most recently, the Palmer United Party.