Last night’s Newspoll shows that Scott Morrison’s approval rating has deservedly climbed to 68 per cent, but this does not translate into an automatic election win.
Despite voters appreciating the PM’s leadership through this COVID-19 pandemic, in electorates not held by the Coalition, voters are not switching over to Team ScoMo in high enough numbers for those electorates to change hands.
What the Newspoll also tells us is that no matter how high the PM’s popular vote is, if an election were held today, the result would mirror the Coalition’s nail-bitingly narrow victory in 2019 – the two-party preferred vote remains at 51 per cent to the Coalition, 49 per cent to Labor.
The Coalition holds government by 3 seats in their own right. If 2 seats were lost, the Coalition could likely form minority government with Katter’s Australia Party. But if 3 seats go, who forms government would depend on who best woos Centre Alliance and the Independents.
The Coalition could well expect to win back Tony Abbott’s old seat, Warringah, from independent, Zali Steggall, but what seats like Indi and Denison show us is that voters can grow accustomed to having an Independent representative. And while winning Eden-Monaro at Saturday’s by-election from Labor is not beyond the realm of possibility (the Liberal Party’s Fiona Kotvojs hands down deserves to win), we know that by-elections tend to favour incumbent parties.
From now into the future, the major threat for the Coalition is population movement. There will likely be a seat redistribution before another federal election seeing the axing of a Coalition seat in Western Australia and the creation of a new notionally Labor seat in Victoria.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) projections show that Melbourne will be the most densely populated city in Australia overtaking Sydney sometime between 2031 and 2057. At present, New South Wales has 47 federal lower house seats and Victoria has 38 based on population. This will change dramatically as Victoria’s population booms. With just over a third of Victorian seats held by the Coalition, as we see the creation of more seats in Victoria in line with population growth, the current likelihood that the Coalition will gain them diminishes.
However, this is not a story of despair, but rather a wakeup call. Just as the Coalition found cut through in Queensland in 2019, they must focus on picking up more seats in the highest population States of Victoria and New South Wales.
How to do this is not rocket science. The ABS median projections indicate that net overseas migration will increase our population by 11.3 million by 2066 with births only accounting for an additional 6.3 million. Department of Home Affairs data on permanent migrants to Australia for 2016-2017 showed that 74% were from Asia, Africa or the Middle East. With this migration trend likely to continue, it is time that the Coalition focus on firstly connecting with and secondly appealing on a policy front to this largely aspirational, socially conservative group. If this can be achieved, continued electoral success will certainly follow.
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Karina Okotel is a former Vice President of both the Federal and Victorian Divisions of the Liberal Party. She currently lectures post-graduate Law students at The College of Law and previously worked as a Senior Civil Lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid as well as in community law and the international aid sector. Karina has volunteered extensively both locally and overseas on the Thai-Myanmar border and in Uganda where she met her husband.