Okay. Let’s take a big breath and have a look at what went down here over the weekend, and the issue of what may happen next. I’ll have to tread carefully, though, and walk slowly through the bodies, debris and spent rounds, because this has never happened in my lifetime, and like everyone else I am feeling my way through this new post-party world.
A post-party world – of course it’s not that or anything like that, but it is true that neither major party won enough seats on Saturday to form government, and it’s also true that the balance of power in the House of Representatives looks likely to be held by three Independents and a Green, the last of whom made history by winning the seat of Melbourne on Saturday night – the first such win for the Greens at a federal election.
The final counting is unlikely to be completed until next week, with record postal votes still being processed (not to mention huge numbers of informal and donkey votes – the latter being votes that are deliberately invalidated – an ‘Up yours, the lot of you’ gesture – the former accidentally so), and results so close we are still seeing the pendulum swing in excruciatingly small degrees in the undecided seats. Currently I believe Labor has won 72 and the Coalition 70, with 4 undecided, although the article I just read suggested Labor’s expected to win one of those, with the other 3 likely headed to the Coalition. That is, we’re on track for a dead heat (there’s that sporting language again).
(As an aside, I must say I find it extraordinary seeing pre-election polling come to such precise fruition like this – the accuracy of the predictions is proving uncanny. I guess I’ve never paid opinion polls a huge amount of attention before, so I am struck by just how closely this situation mirrors the forecast, especially because voters did such unpredictable and sometimes unprecedented things in such huge numbers – it’s crazy!)
A hung parliament: our last was in 1940, in other words during WWII, which seems to suggest it’s a fairly extreme, very unusual result.
But is it any bad thing? Well, I think it’s potentially a very good thing. It’s a remarkable occasion to witness the privilege of peaceful democracy at work, and what we have here is Australians, right across the country and political spectrum, registering their discontent with the two major parties. That’s a very healthy expression of political dissatisfaction. The message is so deafening: it’s essentially a vote of no confidence in both directions. People are completely disillusioned and more – totally alienated, I think, by both Gillard and Abbott’s reaching for the Marco Polo ‘safe’ territory in the pool: the edgeless, weightless middle ground. Though they’re coming at it from opposite ends, neither one is a moderate. In the event, it looks like this insufferable pretence hasn’t fooled anyone, so one wonders if they might have been better off standing up for what they actually believe.
As expected, the Greens capitalised on this mounting disaffection with the Labor and Liberal parties. They’re currently celebrating a record result, and the very best of luck to them: they’ll hold the balance of power outright in the Senate, and their man Adam Brandt is one of the crucial players in this question of which party will form a minority government in the lower house. It’s hard to imagine the Greens putting their heads together with the Liberal party, but at the moment, all bets are off; they have to talk to both sides, and the Greens will be growing up fast in this arena, earning their negotiation stripes in record time. My fear for the Greens is that they will find their ideology tested and tarnished by the reality of their new power and prominence – it’s inevitable, because they will have to compromise – and that’s going to be difficult for them, because the Greens and their support base have grown precisely because of their committed principles and to date unswerving agenda on a range of issues. Everyone is going to find it hard watching some of these previously core beliefs fall prey to the harsh blow of political reality. I wish I could believe that they’ll avoid the defilement somehow, but I regret to admit I think they’re going to find life pretty tough at the top.
Then there’s the Independent MPs: Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott. They’re all ex-Nationals, I think, but importantly they’re unhappy ex-Nationals, so it’s not clear they’re about to warmly embrace Tony Abbott’s Coalition. Indeed, Darkling Jenny pointed out yesterday just how much regional and country voters – and their Independent MPs – have in common with some of the more left-leaning concerns of Labor and the Greens: the national broadband network, water security, the environment, food miles, renewables… so the swing to the Greens hasn’t, it seems, come simply from a split Left leaving Labor for the Greens, but also from ex-National voters abandoning the Coalition. What will they do? Unfortunately, we don’t know.
I heard Tony Windsor speaking last night, and felt very reassured by him because he seemed like a considered, intelligent man. Oakeshott is known to prefer Labor’s broadband model, but to my knowledge, there’s nothing stopping the Coalition from adopting a very similar broadband policy in order to secure the support of the Independents and form government. If I’ve got this right, Oakeshott also fell out with the Nationals over his support of the Emissions Trading Scheme (which was eventually scrapped by Labor, thus hammering the first nails in Rudd’s coffin), whereas Abbott doesn’t believe in climate change. So… you have to think there’s a chance for Labor to woo these guys. Bob Katter is widely held to be a little bit crazy. I’d rather share the insanity around, because surely Abbott is dangerous enough, but I don’t know which of the two major parties Katter regards as the lesser evil. In fact, the same applies to all three. Tony Windsor last night was absolutely clear about not discounting either one.
So there we have it. No answers, and no idea of what happens next. Waiting, waiting. But Australians have let their ballots do the talking, and it has resulted in a shake-up that will hopefully shock both Labor and Liberal politicians into the realisation that they must change, and they must do better, because there’s no such thing as the ‘party faithful’ anymore.