Hewson's View | Politicians are hard of hearing, but protest votes send a message

When things don’t go the way politicians expect, usually at elections, you soon hear them say “We got the message”, “We are listening”, and so on.

But their subsequent actions rarely demonstrate that, indeed, they have really understood. Most go on arguing, arrogantly, that “We know our voters”, “We know what they want”, soon reverting to type and focusing on their daily political games, just attempting to score points on their opponents, attempting to shift blame, anything but starting to deliver what their voters really want and expect.

There were clear messages in two recent votes, the same sex marriage (SSM) postal survey, and the Queensland State election. I doubt they have sunk in.

For example, in the SSM survey two sets of politicians were essentially caught short – all those nine ALP members in western and south-western Sydney whose electorates recorded a strong “No” vote, and 15 of the 16 National Party members whose electorates voted “Yes”.

In the case of these ALP seats, the old stereotype blue-collar worker is no longer relevant. Indeed, many are now small business people of conservative ethnic origin and values.

For the Nationals, this was further evidence that they had really lost contact with regional Australians, a view also confirmed in the recent Queensland election.

The key overall message of the Queensland election was, again, a significant protest vote against the two major parties, which saw a fall in support for them, together, of nearly 10 percentage points, with nearly three times the fall in support for the LNP than for Labor, but both suffered.

The major protest swing was towards One Nation that scored nearly 14 percent overall, and well over 20 percent in some seats. Although they seem to have only won just one seat, their preferences were fundamentally important, although not consistent, in the sense that sometimes they worked to support the LNP, from which most votes had been stolen, but ironically, also to support the ALP.  For example, much to the embarrassment of the Nationals, the three key seats around Townsville may end up with Labor, essentially due to One Nation preferences. This may have been enough to return Palaszczuk to government.

SMALLER PARTIES: Senator Pauline Hanson embraces a woman during the Queensland state election, but are voters just trying to send a message? Photo: Alex Ellinghausen.

SMALLER PARTIES: Senator Pauline Hanson embraces a woman during the Queensland state election, but are voters just trying to send a message? Photo: Alex Ellinghausen.

Clearly, most of the support for One Nation and other minor parties and independents is simply a protest. It doesn’t necessarily reflect a belief that they will ever govern, nor does it reflect genuine support for some of their policy positions. It is simply a way to make a point to the major parties – to hopefully shake things up, to get them to lift their game. 

Voters are increasingly feeling neglected, ignored, or taken for granted. Voters are increasingly losing belief and trust in our politicians, and faith in the political process, and in some institutions.

One of the greatest frustrations of voters is how easily our politicians get distracted, meaning that they don’t deal with key issues and challenges, mostly just kicking them down the road, leaving them to drift in severity and intensity.

When most are worried about their job security, and struggling with the rising costs of key elements of their living, while their wages are essentially flat, our politicians have ignored them, preferring to focus on internal party machinations and leadership tensions, and issues such as SSM and dual citizenship.

Voters essentially elect their politicians to take the big decisions, to provide national leadership and protection. When our politicians just don’t get this, and fail to deliver acceptable policy outcomes, electoral protests will continue, and the hope of “good government” will fade further.

 – John Hewson