While Anthony Albanese choked back tears last Saturday night as he conceded the crushing defeat of his Voice to Parliament, a very different kind of political address was taking place across the ditch in New Zealand.
There, Christopher Luxon waltzed hand-in-hand with his wife Amanda underneath an archway of blue balloons at the Shed10 convention centre on Auckland’s waterfront as dozens of National Party campaigners hugged, high-fived and cheered their newly elected Prime Minister.
Mr Luxon, 53, a high-flying executive turned politician, took the stage to thank his beaming supporters who were bathed in both the blue light of their centre-right party’s colours and the glow of a thumping election victory which saw the incumbent left-wing Labour Party government haemorrhage votes both left and right.
‘My pledge to you is that our government will deliver for every New Zealander,’ Mr Luxon told the adoring crowd.
Christopher Luxon, 53, a former high-flying executive, is New Zealand’s new Prime Minister
His victory came just hours before Anthony Albanese (pictured) joked back tears as he conceded defeat in the Voice to Parliament referendum
‘We will rebuild the economy and deliver tax relief. We will bring down the cost-of-living.
‘We will restore law and order. We will deliver better healthcare and we will educate our children so that they can grow up to live the lives they dream of.’
His victory speech was interrupted by repeated chants of ‘Back on Track’: the National’s pithy election campaign slogan which clearly resonated with voters.
It took Mr Albanese until Sunday morning to send his congratulations to New Zealand’s new leader – an uncommonly long delay in modern politics.
Mr Luxon, for his part, acknowledged his Australian counterpart had ‘been a bit busy’ over the past 24 hours.
Yet, once Mr Albanese has finished licking his wounds over Saturday’s historic referendum loss, he would be wise to pay attention to the manner of Mr Luxon’s electoral landslide.
Particularly given Monday morning’s Newspoll – which found there has been a significant loss of support for the government among men and younger voters, with drops in South Australia and Queensland in particular.
It took Mr Albanese until Sunday morning to send his congratulations to New Zealand’s new leader – an uncommonly long delay in modern politics (the pair pictured together)
Mr Luxon’s pithy election campaign slogan ‘back on Track’ clearly resonated with voters
The former Air New Zealand and Unilever executive has brought the centre-right National Party back to power after six years in Opposition.
With 50 seats out of 120 in Parliament, National is likely to govern with support from the libertarian ACT Party and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.
Labour’s total number of seats almost halved, plunging from 62 to 34, just three years after becoming the only party to win an outright majority since the mixed-member proportion system debuted in 1996.
National almost picked up the Auckland seat of Mount Albert, held by former Labour prime ministers Helen Clark and Jacinda Ardern.
Many Kiwis had grown weary of Ms Ardern and her successor Chris Hipkins, who Mr Luxon accused of being out of touch with the issues affecting every day New Zealanders.
Mr Hipkins’ last-minute decision to ditch many of his former leader’s unpopular left-wing policies, including climate reforms and hate speech laws, was ‘too little, too late’ for a fed-up public.
There are, perhaps, parallels to be drawn with Mr Albanese’s current political pickle in the wake of the country’s resounding rejection of the Voice – and a warning to the embattled Australian leader not to neglect the more immediate bread and butter issues affecting every Australian.
Nationals pollster David Farrar, who runs Curia Market Research, said New Zealand Labour’s ‘unprecedented’ thrashing could trigger alarm bells for their Australian counterparts.
‘I do follow the polls in Australia and it is very clear that the gap between the Coalition and the Liberals has closed pretty much at a similar speed to support for the Voice referendum decreasing,’ Mr Farrar told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Albanese has gone from around a plus 20 per cent approval rating to slightly negative.’
Mr Farrar said a key polling question is whether people think the government is focussed on the issues that matter most to them.
‘I do think that while people were not necessarily against having the Voice referendum there is a feeling of “why is the government focusing on this while there’s still a cost of living crisis, while there’s still things to work out”,’ he said.
‘I wouldn’t overstate it because they’re (the Labor Party) still six per cent ahead in the polls and to be blunt: how electable is Dutton? Luxon taking over was definitely important there. The referendum is also now over – it was a one-off.’
‘That said, losing any referendum can hurt you if for no other reason that they cost a lot of money and they are a distraction from what people see as more immediate, more important issues,’ Mr Farrar added.
But he said he thought Labor could regain lost ground with the electorate if they refocused on a national agenda.
‘If Albanese and Labor turn around and say, “people have spoken, let’s focus again on education, health, the cost-of-living” then the closing of the polls, the country’s direction and Albanese’s approval may recover,’ Mr Farrar said.
Chris Hipkins (right) replaced Jacinda Ardern when she quit in January. He made a last-minute decision to ditch many of her unpopular left-wing policies, including climate reforms and hate-speech laws, was ‘too little, too late’ for a fed-up public
For Martyn Bradbury, a Kiwi media commentator who runs The Daily Blog, it is wrong to draw parallels between Labour’s implosion in New Zealand and Mr Albanese’s current situation.
‘Wanting to compare Albanese’s failure with the Voice to the late stage cynicism towards Jacinda before she stood down and National won is attractive but I think the insinuation Albanese shouldn’t “go left” misunderstands the reason why National ultimately won,’ he said.
‘The Right won because they successfully framed Labour as wasting money on woke nonsense alongside a manufactured soft on crime narrative.’
‘The Right were able to paint Labour out as incompetent and because of Labour’s cautious domestic policy, working class voters were turned off by the Government’s incrementalism when the cost of living crisis was bleeding them each week.’
Australia’s Labor party is certainly in a better position than their Kiwi counterparts.
Saturday night’s defeat was the biggest drop in support for an incumbent government in New Zealand’s history – they lost votes not just to National but to the Greens, the left-leaning Te Pāti Māori and other smaller parties.
Mr Albanese consoles Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney after conceding defeat in the Voice referendum. He has been warned to focus on the cost-of-living crisis and other issues affecting Australians in everyday life
A Yes supporter reacts at the Inner West For Yes2023 Official Referendum Function at Wests Ashfield Leagues Club on October 14
‘Normally governments drop five or six per cent if they have a bad election: to drop 23 per cent is is unprecedented,’ Mr Farrar said.
The pollster said there were five factors which each played a part in their failure.
‘One is simply non delivery by the government. They made some massive promises when they came in: 100,000 Kiwi-built houses,’ Mr Farrar explained.
‘[They promised] Auckland light rail would be done within four years. They still haven’t even got a plan to start it.’
Covid and the government’s response to it – once Ms Ardern’s global success story – became a vote-loser following subsequent lockdowns in Auckland and controversial vaccine mandates.
‘The third factor is the cost of living crisis,’ said Mr Farrar.
‘Most governments around the world have have been losing elections because you know, people can’t fill up their car with petrol, can’t afford groceries. You can’t understate that.’
Another factor was Mr Luxon, the National’s new leader, who united the party and offered voters something fresh.
The fifth reason for their loss was what Mr Farrar described a a ‘strong second tier’ issue centred on the government’s drive to improve Maori representation across government services through a co-governance structure.
NZ’s new prime minister is Christopher Luxon. Pictured: Luxon and his wife Amanda Luxon (second and third from left)
‘Certainly a quite large minority of people felt that New Zealand was changing in ways where it was becoming quite hostile to them,’ he said.
‘Where if you expressed a concrete view on how the Treaty of Waitangi should be interpreted, you could lose your job.’
The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document, an agreement signed between the British Crown and around 540 Maori chiefs on 6 February 1840.
Mr Luxon may be under pressure to hold a referendum of his own: the ACT party, which he is set to form a coalition with, wants to hold a plebiscite on redefining the principles of the Treaty.
The new prime minister said he was opposed to a ‘divisive’ referendum during his campaign but did not rule it out in coalition negotiations.
After witnessing Mr Albanese’s humiliation at the weekend, he may wish to think again, otherwise he may be knocked off track.