Don’t trust the prediction of a psychic croc from Darwin… and other lessons from the Australian election

By Paul Gallagher

If last weekend’s Federal Election in Australia taught us anything, it’s that we can no longer trust a crocodile called Burt!

According to the august NT News team, Burt had been working ‘part time’ as the newspaper’s ‘chief electoral analyst’ (NT News, 15 May 2019).

When posed with the question of who would win the recent Federal Election between the conservatives of the Liberal National Party and the Labor ranks, Burt took ‘less than 30 seconds to chow down on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Wednesday afternoon, anointing him as Australia’s next prime minister’.

Since the election result, Burt has no doubt been offered an alternative assignment on the sports desk, or is seeking retraining as a direct marketing call centre operator.

All croc-humour aside, it’s worth agreeing on something coming out of the weekend. The serious analogy behind the ‘croc’ prophecy from the Northern Territory is that we need to change some of the ways we think about politics in Australia.

Don’t rely on old thinking—move beyond landlines and NT crocs

Burt and Bill Shorten weren’t the only losers last weekend. Pollsters, too, were in the glare of election coverage night when the ABC’s Antony Green started noticing their way-off predictions.

One of the reasons their predictions didn’t come true appears to be the difficulty in accessing voters, still somewhat relying on people with landline phones connected. To illustrate the point, the ABC reported former Newspoll boss Martin O’Shannessy pointing to changed phone habits. ‘The reason that it’s hard to do good telephone polling is because the old White Pages — the phone book — doesn’t exist anymore,’ he said. ‘Not everybody has a landline and the numbers that are published are incomplete.’

The answer may be to mine social media sentiments and engagement more closely, as proven by the successful predictions of Griffith University Professor Bela Stantic. Data from some 2 million social media posts helped him predict Labor would not win.

The key lesson is here is to move with the times—and not just when it comes to elections. Leaders, communicators and anyone interested in being contemporary in their work should keep pace with the changing ways of people’s communication habits.

Watch, learn and adapt. It’s harder than coasting along with the same old ways, but certainly a lot more rewarding.

Use your words to unite rather than divide

One of the sadder results of an election that shocked many people was the response of some whose side didn’t win. In fact, within hours of the result becoming clear, tweets were being published that shifted from shock to anger:

‘Australians are dumb, mean-spirited and greedy. Accept it.’ @Meshel_Laurie

‘It is over. My idea of Australia is over’ @MargoKingston1

‘In an act of collective madness Australia has given its malevolent, ignorant and corrupt version of the Trump administration a third term’ @PhillipAdams_1

While respecting the right of anyone to be upset at the outcome of an election, it should never be a reason to disparage those who disagree. Neither is it the time to suggest giving up on one’s ideals, or considering an election outcome as a form of ‘collective madness’.

Australia has always been a nation that champions unity over discord. Our constitution itself stands as a document not forged in civil war but espousing a formula for federation rather than disintegration.

Now is not the time to pull apart, but come together.

Whether in politics or in life, it’s worth taking the time to pause and reflect on ways we can come together, not pull apart in anger.

In the words of famed Labor leader Ben Chifley, ‘It’s no good crying over spilt milk; all we can do is bail up another cow’.

It’s not a time for a victory march

Winners can be grinners, whether in sport or politics. But gloating over the losers won’t do anyone any good given the feelings we’re already seeing online.

What’s needed now is a sense of common purpose more than ever, not division because one side of politics failed to execute victory in at least 76 electorates.

Paul Gallagher is a writer, journalist, political biographer and communications specialist in Melbourne, Australia. He does not employ crocodiles as election analysts, and is obsessed with politics in all its forms. Main photo credit: Image from Australian Electoral Commission, sourced 22 May 2019