I’d say I’m not surprised that we ended up with a hung parliament given the disgraceful campaign we just had, but I’d be lying; the truth was I was expecting more would be swayed by Abbott’s message and we would end up with a coalition of dithering in power, but instead we’ve been given a result that could be the start of a shift in Australian politics.
That of course is the emergence of the Greens as a solid force. With 11% of the primary vote, most of it stolen from Labor no doubt, the Greens have shown themselves to be adept at getting a clear message out: this is our policy, and this is why you should vote for us. Sticking to principles is something that the electorate has clearly endorsed here.
Third parties in the Senate have come and gone before – the Democrats after all had 9 senators just a decade ago, and three elections later disappeared off the map. What gives some hope here however is that the Greens have managed to take a seat in the House of Reps, something the Dems never managed to do.
You could argue that the Greens are but a fifth column for Labor, but clearly what happened in this election was that Labor thought they could get away with shifting rightwards to the centre and could rely on Greens preferences from the left they’ve abandoned to get them over the line. In a few key electorates, this hasn’t happened.
Melbourne, obviously, was the big one, and without a conclusive primary vote Labor was screwed. Two of the seats still potentially up in the air, Denison in Tasmania and Lindsay in Western Sydney, don’t have Greens preferences flowing to Labor and the net result may be a loss of these seats, or a severe cutback of the margin. Labor have been dumped by part of their ideological core because of their lack of principles in attempting to retain power.
The point to be made here is that the previous status quo in Australian politics was unusual by global standards – two major parties (never mind the Nats, who haven’t had an independent voice in years) alone dominating the executive branch of government is rare, with fluid coalitions far more the order of the day and perhaps even could be considered more democratic.
However, that is not to say government determined by a small number of independents is automatically a good thing. The temptation for pork barrelling is great, both for the parties to buy them off and for the independents to demonstrate a return for the electorate, but I think in this case we’re lucky in that the key people are men of principle and intelligence.
Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott appeared simultaneously on the 7.30 Report last night, and performed admirably. Windsor showed gravitas and experience, Katter passion for the people he represents and an independent mind, and Oakeshott an idealism for improved parliamentary process combined with a pragmatism for getting the job done. All three emphasised stable government and the need to avoid a quick re-run of the election (some suggest because there’s only so much campaign funds available to these independents).
Labor’s situation is such that it can afford to breathe a little easier in all this. The Greens MP has indicated that he would prefer to work with them, which gives them one more seat by proxy. If the result in Hasluck falls Labour’s way, that leaves Labor as the only credible side able to form government. Denison may yet fall to Wilkie, and his politics are unknowable – a former Liberal party member, a whistleblower on the Iraq war against Howard, a former Greens member and now standing as an independent. You’d suggest he’s shifted left-wards, but it’s by no means guaranteed.
The independents in the country have made a point about the NBN being favoured, which has me hopeful, as much of Abbott’s economic case is dependent on dropping that to pay for other policies. I personally hope Labor gets over the line on the back of this alone, but the compromises that occur on the way will be fascinating to watch for.