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Australian PM Scott Morrison. (Getty Images)
Australian PM Scott Morrison. (Getty Images)

The BulletinMay 20, 2019

The Bulletin: Australia votes for more of the same

Australian PM Scott Morrison. (Getty Images)
Australian PM Scott Morrison. (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Scott Morrison wins re-election in Australia, major boost in funding for sexual violence services, and stories around Alfred Ngaro party continue to swirl.

Few saw it coming, but Australian PM Scott Morrison is set to win re-election against the odds. With some votes still to count, the centre-right to right wing Liberal/National coalition has far more seats than the opposition Labor party. In the lead-up to the election, polls were almost universally suggesting a narrow Labor win. But as the ABC reports, the Coalition has done enough to secure either a majority or minority government depending on how the final seats shake down, with the latter depending on support of independents. On The Spinoff, Michelle Grattan from the University of Canberra has analysed where the key seats were that decided the contest, and the issues on which the campaign turned.

One major and contested theme that has immediately emerged in the aftermath is that Labor presented a plan to the electorate that was too big and bold. Chief Political Correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald David Crowe went through this theme, noting that Labor were quite open about wanting higher taxes to pay for it all – “one of the most expansive policy agendas any leader had taken to an election in decades.” There was some pushback against this idea on The Monthly (soft paywall) – in the final days before the election columnist Richard Cooke said in fact Labor were taking quite a mild policy platform to the electorate, but it was being treated with hysteria by Australia’s media, much of which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Either way, a majority of Australian voters rejected it.

By contrast, Crowe says the Liberal party made it all about the contest between their leader Scott Morrison, and Labor leader Bill Shorten. Mr Morrison promoted very few plans of his own, outside of tax cuts. Despite all the polls showing a two-party lead for Labor, they pretty much all also showed Mr Morrison was the preferred PM for voters. Mr Shorten stood down in the immediate aftermath of the vote, and so the rare half-decade of party unity enjoyed by Labor could be about to crack. As the Canberra Times reports, different factions are now gearing up candidates and campaigns.

Shouldn’t disunity have damned the Liberal party though? After all, Scott Morrison only became PM because other MPs decided to destroy the reign of Malcolm Turnbull (and before him, Tony Abbott.) Arguably, destabilising disunity was punished by the voters – it’s just the person who wore the blame wasn’t Scott Morrison. Tony Abbott himself was widely regarded as one of the chief instigators of that messiness, and the voters hammered him. In what was previously regarded as a Liberal party safe seat, Mr Abbott got absolutely destroyed by independent Zali Steggall, by a double digit margin.

The centrepiece of Zali Steggall’s campaign was climate change and the environment, but the issue appears to have had much less traction nationwide. It was widely considered during the campaign to be a decisive issue – see for example this write up in The Economist (soft paywall) The current Coalition government has an absolutely horrendous record on the issue, ranging from deflection to straight up denial. But while a significant minority of voters listed it as a core issue they’d be voting on, it appears that segment of the electorate were people who were unlikely to vote for Coalition parties anyway.

Overall though, a major theme of the election result is that things will largely continue on as they have been in Australia. For New Zealanders, that’s not particularly promising. Radio NZ reports comments from advocates for NZers living in Australia, who say it means any changes to visa and welfare conditions will now be unlikely. New Zealanders are relatively disenfranchised in Australia, and an estimated 1/5th of all Māori people live there. It also likely dooms those refugees stuck in camps on Nauru and Manus Island to more misery. One bright spot for New Zealanders is that Fraser Anning, the senator who said such dreadful things about the Christchurch attacks and many other subjects as well, has lost his seat.

For a final word on it all, this from New Zealander Paul Davies on The Spinoff is a must read. It was actually written before the election, but captures a real mood of how the campaign took place, and what it was like to watch as someone who couldn’t participate. The Australian people have made their choice, and now people like Paul Davies will have to live with it if they want to stick around.

Green Party MP Jan Logie has secured a massive funding boost for prevention and support services against sexual and family violence. The $320 million package will include a significant amount of funding for frontline service providers. Alison Mau at Stuff has written an analysis piece on it all which is really useful for assessing how and where the money will be spent, and what effect it could have. One News reports the money is an example of ‘wellbeing budget’ bids coming to fruition, as it was a joint budget bid from eight government departments.

Meanwhile, the front page of the NZ Herald this morning carries details of a new initiative that could save lives. A pet refuge will be set up, which will give those escaping violence somewhere safe for their animal to go. Cruelty towards animals is often a factor in why women don’t leave abusive households, because they are concerned about not being able to protect the pet.

Stories around National MP Alfred Ngaro potentially setting up a new socially conservative Christian party have continued to swirl. The NZ Herald reports Mr Ngaro isn’t commenting on the speculation, but National leader Simon Bridges confirmed discussions about it have taken place. But other aspects of the stories have been much more heavily contested. There have been conflicting reports as to whether an electorate deal for such a party could be done in Botany, currently held by Jami-Lee Ross. And as Newstalk ZB reports, the New Conservatives have no intention of meeting with Ngaro, but that contradicts an earlier report on Newshub that said they would be.

Banks are warning this morning that the Reserve Bank is putting a handbrake on them with new capital holding requirements, reports Stuff. They need to build up enough capital reserves to withstand a once in 200 year financial crisis, which is more than they were expecting to be required to do, and the banks say the costs will outweigh the benefits. If it’s followed through as the RBNZ demands, it would make the NZ arms of the Australian owned banks some of the best capitalised in the world.

A range of environmental groups and recreational fishers have launched a campaign to get bottom trawling on seamounts banned. The group, calling themselves the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, put out a release on Scoop near the end of last week. It comes in the wake of the dramatic report which showed a million species were at risk of extinction. Many of those are Oceanic, and the group says bottom trawling irreversibly damages ecosystems.

Politicians have rejected a call to change the Official Information Act system, because they want to continue meddling with responses, reports Stuff. The ombudsman proposed in 2017 a model agreement by which ministers “will not provide inappropriate input”, but to date no agencies have signed up to it. It’s another example of how the OIA system has strayed from the purpose it was originally set up with.

An update on Friday’s Bulletin about Wellington’s new transport plan: Newshub reports Lower Hutt residents are feeling left out of it all, but say their problems are just as pressing. There are some pretty heavy areas of clogging, and given how the Wellington region’s road network is laid out, there’s an argument to say what happens in Lower Hutt affects the whole region.

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A dolphin swimming under the sea near Maui. Photo: Getty Images.

Right now on The Spinoff: Livia Esterhazy warns that we’re about to sleepwalk to the extinction of Māui Dolphins. Graham Adams writes about the high stakes ahead for euthanasia law reform. Melanie Vautier meditates on what she learned about a low carbon lifestyle, by walking the length of the South Island. And relationship expert Holly Dixon says actually, certain characters on Game of Thrones are modelling really good behaviour in this area.

Finally, we bid a temporary farewell to one of the modern greats today. Madeleine Chapman is off on a sabbatical, and her last piece is this gem about hosting a Writers Festival event that nobody turns up to.

We at The Spinoff had a pretty good night on Friday. Aside from having a fun time with mates from across the industry, we also won a Voyager Media Award for website of the year. It’s probably the biggest award we as a team could possibly win, and I’ll leave it to our founder and boss Duncan Greive to sum up how thrilled we are about it.

It was one of a few pretty big wins we had at the Voyagers. Rather than picking out those individual winners (there’s a list in Duncan’s piece) I’ll share this collection of everything we did that got nominated. One thing that jumps out to me about it – some of the pieces are from our core team of staff, but a lot of them come from the many freelancers and contributors who make it so cool to be a part of this website.

I’d also like to share this list of all the winnersbecause from my point of view, it was a night of success for a whole lot of publications and journalists I’m a huge fan of. Again, I’m loathe to start picking them out, because if I do it’s possible I’ll never stop. If I had to highlight three that I reckon are highly deserved, they’d be Farmers Weekly winning the best trade/specialist publication award, Teuila Fuatai winning for crime/social issues feature writing, and New Zealand Made/ Nā Niu Tireni by Stuff winning the award for best editorial project.

But really, I’d be equally comfortable saying three completely different categories had highly deserving winners. The reporting awards alone have some utterly magnificent names among them. Somehow the judges had to decide, for example, whether Kirsty Johnston or Jared Savage should be named the best crime/social issues reporter. They picked Johnston, and that’s a fully deserved choice, but equally Savage would have been too.

And it all highlights that at the moment, journalism in New Zealand has a really weird problem to have. There’s way too much talent for too few platforms. To underline that, one of the feature writing categories was deservingly won by James Borrowdale, just a month after he and all the other Vice NZ journalists got made redundant.

Everyone knows that the media industry is in a difficult position right now. But the problem is not, and never has been, a lack of quality work being produced. It’s the economic forces smashing media companies right now. I desperately hope the Voyagers act as a reminder for those companies that keeping hold of those journalists during this time of transition is an urgent imperative. Because looking through the list of work that won, again and again it was clear – the people of New Zealand are better informed about what matters as a result of this work being produced. Long may it continue.

NZ Super Rugby coaches have responded to a string of losses over the weekend by questioning the refereeing, reports the NZ Herald. The totally chill response comes after a weekend for NZ teams in which only the Blues won – tipping over the Chiefs. The Crusaders drew with the Stormers over in South Africa, and the Highlanders lost to the Lions. And in Wellington, the Hurricanes got beaten by the surging Jaguares, to leave the standings looking much more balanced across the three conferences.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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