Politics, like nature only more so, abhors a vacuum. Liberal Party created vacuum, One Nation is now filling it.
With a caveat that one should not get overexcited by one opinion poll â€“ or two or three or five â€“ particularly years away from the next election (week is a long timeâ€¦, etc.):
Newspoll surveys since the July 2 federal election reveal support for One Nation in lower house seats has climbed to six per cent, up from 1.3 per cent on polling day.
In Queensland the minor party is attracting 10 per cent of voters, up from 5.5 per cent in July. In NSW and Western Australia, One Nation’s support is six per cent.
Over the same period support for the coalition has dropped 3.1 per cent to 39 per cent, while Labor’s vote has increased 1.3 per cent to 37 per cent.
As Iâ€™ve blogged numerous times before, this is what happens when you vacate the field and start ignoring sections of your voting base. Some of their concerns might be misguided and some of their remedies foolish, but itâ€™s your job in politics â€“ even if only out of pure concern for political survival if no higher motives â€“ to listen and to engage.
Malcolm Turnbull might be charming and suave but heâ€™s not the man of the people if by people we mean large swathes of outer suburbanites and small town dwellers â€“ Australiaâ€™s â€œdeplorablesâ€. As a friend always used to say, Wentworth is not a microcosm of Australia. If that it were, we would all be nimble and agile, and sophisticated and rainbow-tinged. But for better or worse weâ€™re not. Without getting too classist about it, it takes an extra effort for a $100-million Point Piper plutocrat to understand the fears and concerns of a Caboolture small business owner who is constantly struggling to keep their head above water or a pensioner scared of cultural change because it hasnâ€™t in the past enriched their lives. I wish Malcolm would try to make that extra effort.
This is also what happens when a party fails to play to its natural strengths. In this case itâ€™s national security, immigration and multiculturalism, and a range of other social and cultural hot button areas. One gets the feeling that Malcolm finds it all vaguely distasteful, going through the barest minimum of motions while repeating quietly to himself â€œlay back and think of innovationâ€. He would rather be talking about the New Economy and other issues that might be very worthy but politically resonate only in the wealthy and sophisticated inner cities, while leaving the rest of the country at best cold and at worst in cold sweat. Economic talk needs to be translated from Davos-speak and made relevant for an average person and their daily bread-and-butter struggles. And an average personâ€™s concerns about the direction of their society and their country have to be treated as more than borderline xenophobia and unfortunate ignorance. John Howard knew how to do it, but Malcolm is not John and neither he wants to be. Maybe his is a way of the future, but if thatâ€™s so, heâ€™s a decade or two ahead of his country and instead of leading it to that future he risks leading it straight into the nightmare of another Labor government.
Because under the Turnbull leadership, the Liberal/National coalition has not done enough to engage and address in reasonable ways peopleâ€™s concerns â€“ or at least convince people that theyâ€™re listening and arenâ€™t being dismissive â€“ we now have to deal with the resurgent One Nation (and a whole host of smaller fringe parties) and silly proposals like the Royal Commission to establish whether Islam is a religion or an ideology, or Pauline Hansonâ€™s latest idea to reinstitute collective responsibility and strip of their citizenship the immediate families of convicted terrorists.
I will just repeat here what I wrote a day after the federal election: â€œPopulism in Australia only declines as a political force when the mainstream parties engage with voters and address their concerns in measured and reasonable ways.â€
The election cycle is still young â€“ itâ€™s not too late to start.