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The narrowest of wins for Labor

After an arduous 17 days of political uncertainty in Australia, we finally have an election result.

After an arduous 17 days of political uncertainty, where the spectre of a hung parliament has dominated our collective conscience, we finally have an election result.

The Australian Labor Party will form a minority government with the support of the Australian Greens, Tony Windsor (Member for New England) and Rob Oakshott (Member for Lyne). The other key independent Bob Katter (the Member for Kennedy) decided to support the Liberal/National coalition.

This is the first minority government to govern Australia since 1939.

It was clear before the election that Labor had lost its way.

The rot started when Kevin Rudd’s abandoned the Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) proposal, a key Labor policy that had been a vote-winner for Labor in 2007 . Things only got worse following Julia Gillard’s middle-of-the-night party room coup against standing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a move that shocked a large percentage of the population.

Of course things weren’t much better on the Liberal side. Arch-conservative Catholic MP Tony Abbott had become leader of the Liberal Party by mounting a coup of his own against his leader Malcolm Turnbull, after Turnbull had agreed to support Labor’s ETS. Such moves are not so uncommon within Opposition, and compared to Gillard’s ‘knifing’ of Rudd, Abbott’s ‘knifing’ of Turnbull paled into insignificance. From there, Mr. Abbott worked tirelessly to promote his party as an alternative government with promises to ‘stop the boats’, cut the debt and abandon Labor’s ‘socialist‘ National Broadband Network.

What the voters were treated to was the dullest and least inspiring election in living memory, a sharp contrast to 2007. With that in mind, the electorate decided to give both Labor and the Liberals a swift kick up the posterior.

A clear message was sent to both major parties.

Following the election, the ‘three independents’  found themselves in a great position of power. And suddenly, everyone wanted to win their favour, as they collectively had the crucial votes on the floor of Parliament to decide whether Labor or the Liberals would be able to form government.

To their credit, the three independents handled their power responsibly. Windsor, Katter and Oakshott sought briefings from the Labor and Liberal parties as well as department heads, enabling them to make a clear and informed decision about which party to support. Individually, each member presented a ‘political wish list’ to Gillard and Abbott, and provided each leader with an opportunity to explain how their respective parties would respond to the matters raised.

Bob Katter, an agrarian socialist, was concerned about the future of agriculture and demanded better support for rural industries, including protectionist tariffs. Many commentators scoffed at his Protectionism, but one cannot deny Katter’s genuine concern for his northern Queensland constituents.

For Tony Windsor, another rural member concerned about agriculture, it was the National Broadband Network and equity for rural communities in the digital age that mattered most to him. Rob Oakshott was more concerned about parliamentary procedures and reform, and it is perhaps he who has been most successful in swiftly getting his demands met.

So what does this episode teach us?

1. There is a country-city divide in Australia: Perhaps I have been naïve, but the divide between rural and urban Australians in both a cultural and political sense has never seemed so stark. To me this is a great tragedy, but possibly stems from years of political neglect and a long drought. Perhaps in a similar manner to former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, who described country Victoria as the state’s “toenails” and suffered a subsequent election loss, the federal politicians need to learn not to take rural constituents for granted. Tony Windsor made this apparent in his speech today.

2. The arrogance of political parties has to cease: Clearly the electorate is tired of the spin, the lies and the cynicism that seems to form some sort of modus operandi for Labor and the Liberals. The massive lift in the Greens’ and National Party’s primary votes is surely an indicator of this sentiment.

3. We live in a robust democracy: The Australian system of Westminster parliamentary democracy and responsible government is our greatest asset, and has served us all very well. For whilst many nations would descend into chaos with such an uncertain outcome, our democratic institutions have ensured that we’re able to work through these political difficulties in a calm, civilised and productive manner. To this end, I think we can all be very grateful to live in such a lucky country and have parliamentarians of all persuasions who respect democracy above all other values.

What happens from here is anyone’s guess.

Whether Labor can progress their legislative agendum within the Commonwealth Parliament will depend largely on what they have learnt from this election, and how they deal with the minor parties and independents. This narrow victory will either mould a strong, productive and enlightened Labor party or condemn them to the political abyss in 2013.

The people of Australia have performed their duty, now it’s time for their government to perform its.



2 responses to “The narrowest of wins for Labor”

On 7 September 2010, Andrew wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Nice summary, but you did leave out the batts, which did Labor untold damage in so many people’s minds. Less so the school building program.

On 8 September 2010, isobel wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

A well composed and thoroughly researched article outlining our present situation. For most of us it is a new experience, and I guess there will be more interest, at least for a time, in following the progress of the government as they deal with new experiences. At least it seems a hard lesson has been learned. Hopefully this gov. will be able to weather the next three years

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