Four key lessons from election 2016, and how we move forward

By Campaigns and Community Engagement Manager, Conor Costello

What does our recent federal election mean for ending poverty around the world? With caveats of course, I’m pretty optimistic it shows we’re turning a corner.

Although we won’t know the final election outcome in the senate for a little while yet, we wanted to share our collective thoughts on what the election says about Australia and what it means for the key issues which Oxfam, with your support, continues to work on.

Because there is some good news — and it’s important that we not only remember it, but share it.

A call for justice and community

First up, the election saw a very clear shift in sentiment with more people calling for an increasingly just and community-minded Australia. The electorate is clearly placing more value on fairness and equality – both in relation to policies that impact at home, as well as on the world around us.

This is an incredibly positive endorsement of our work here in Australia with our nation’s First Peoples, but also our work with some of the poorest countries around the world. I hope you take some heart from this. We certainly do.

2. An opportunity to build trust and understanding

On the other hand, the election has shown there is a mood of fear, which seems to have turned some in our community towards protectionism.

We think the best response to this is not to lock people out, (further excluding them) but to find common ground so we can build the trust and understanding that will ultimately deliver a more just society — both in Australia, and for our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region.

3. We’re inching towards diversity in our parliamentary representation

It’s amazing and long overdue that in our 45th Parliament of Australia we now have our first Indigenous female lower house MP (congratulations to Linda Burney) and our first female Muslim MP (congratulations Anne Aly).

With 42 confirmed, and possibly a 43rd if Cathy O’Toole wins Herbert, this Federal Parliament will have the greatest female representation of any to date (mind you, Australia still performs very poorly in the international ranking of female representation in politics: but progress is welcome).

4. Increased opportunity to influence

As you’ll be aware, the government’s majority has been significantly reduced. This increase in support for minor parties and independents means that the Turnbull government will need to work harder to pass its legislation. We think this means that there will be increased opportunities to influence on the issues that we care about.

What could this mean for our work to end poverty?

More multinational companies paying their fair share of tax

Cracking down on tax dodging by big companies was a significant issue for electors and politicians alike in the lead up to and throughout the election campaign. We think there’s a good chance of progress on this issue with this new parliament.

Why? Because a number of crossbenchers in both houses now support greater action in this area. But also because the Turnbull government will need to find new ways of raising revenue if it wishes to balance the budget.

Despite this, we’ll need to keep a close watch on developments to ensure more tax is being paid by multinational corporations.

Action on climate change, here and in our region

Climate change was another big public concern raised throughout the election campaign. Unfortunately, a number of ‘blockers’ to strong action on climate change have been returned to parliament.

But good news does come in the form of a new review of Australia’s climate policies expected next year; the Prime Minister also indicating that this could be an opportunity for us to increase our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Public concern and demand for climate action will continue as we witness escalating climate impacts here and overseas. And we know that leaders among our Pacific neighbours are calling for stronger action from Australia.

So stronger action on climate change is inevitable. The question is whether the government will act quickly enough to help avert the worst of its impacts, and to take advantage of the new renewable energy markets that stronger action will open to us.

Equality for Australia’s First Peoples

There was disappointingly little attention on this issue during the election campaign, particularly from the government. What we did see however, was a very strong and cohesive statement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in the form of the Redfern Statement. It is now up to the government to recognise and respond to this challenge.

We look forward to supporting Indigenous leaders and communities as they continue to drive home this message and demand action from this parliament.

The fact that there are now more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders voices in both houses is also positive. We know that Indigenous voices are the most effective when it comes to shifting the debate and driving action, so the fact that Linda Burney, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy now hold office — along with Ken Wyatt and Joanna Lindgren who have been returned — is very encouraging.

UPDATE: Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement this week of a Royal Commission into juvenile detention in NT — where young Aboriginal people make up 96% of the population in juvenile detention — is welcome, but a commitment to engage and respond more fully to the calls of indigenous leaders is needed.

A stronger case for Australian Aid

During the election campaign we saw broader support from Labor, with a commitment to raising our aid contribution to at least 0.5% of our Gross National Income (GNI) over the coming years. The Greens have gone further and committed to raise the aid budget to 0.7% of GNI over time.

However, the make-up of the new parliament does leave us with concerns about the risks of further cuts to aid. There are some strong ‘anti-aid’ voices on the crossbench and a resulting risk that aid could become a bargaining chip as the government seeks to move on other policy areas.

Given this, it’s critical that we continue to work with others — particularly through the Campaign for Australian Aid — to continue making a strong case for doing our fair share to reduce poverty through Australia’s aid budget, and to encourage those politicians who do support aid to become stronger voices on it within their parties and among the cross bench.

Where to from here?

Yes, it was a marathon election campaign, and it’s taken a while for the dust to settle before we could get a clear understanding of its implications for our work.

But we are very hopeful.

Particularly given the clear message Australians delivered to our leaders and policy makers during this election about the need for them to work towards a more just society, both here and abroad.

For us, the important thing is that each of us continues to share this message beyond the election.