The landslide election victory of Australia’s conservative Coalition on September 7 is no surprise, but it leaves the deposed Labor Party in chaos. Voting is compulsory in Australia, and the fully-preferential electoral system used for the federal lower chamber, the 150-seat House of Representatives, has delivered no fewer than 88 seats to Coalition leader Tony Abbott’s grouping, with Labor winning 57; final results under the single transferable vote for the 76-place Senate, where half the seats were available, are still awaited. Labor has only itself to blame for this defeat. Despite a strong economy — the country has seen 22 years of uninterrupted aggregate growth and under Labor has ridden the global crash very well — the party’s bitter infighting, which saw Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ousted by his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010 and then reinstated in a June 2013 counter-coup, was predictably punished by voters. Ms Gillard had more parliamentary Labor support than Mr. Rudd, who rated better among the public, but her U-turn introducing mining and carbon taxes (which may have been intended to preserve her Green-supported minority government) was a political disaster; another right-wing policy of hers included a blanket refusal to let refugees arriving by boat set foot on the Australian mainland.
Mr. Abbott made the most of his opportunity, and with strident Murdoch press support led the polls throughout a campaign sullied by crude sexism, particularly towards Ms Gillard. The incoming Prime Minister aims to abolish the carbon tax, despite doubts about the putative benefits, and to impose austerity measures. Furthermore, he may well try to reverse many of Ms Gillard’s policy improvements for women and for people with disabilities. Indigenous Australians, who in 2008 turned their backs on Mr. Abbott when he spoke during Mr. Rudd’s widely acclaimed national day of apology to them, can expect little; Mr. Abbott also opposes same-sex marriage. The new Coalition government will, however, have to make concessions in the Senate, where other parties including the Greens hold the balance of power. In addition, Mr. Abbott may find his austerity economics less popular than he expects; even the Business Council considers unemployment benefits too low. Internationally, however, little is likely to change despite proposed cuts in foreign aid. Canberra will maintain its strategic collaboration with the United States, and will continue recruiting Indian students while it extends its commitment to the Asian Quadrilateral. Australian voters, nevertheless, may well find that voting against a party is not enough, but at present Labor is in no position to exploit that.