Hanging on to Hope for the Hung Parliament

The elections have come and gone, and now we’re launched into the great unknown.

So what have we learned about the politics of Australia in the past few weeks?

1) The Greens have gained the status of a genuine third party and now hold the balance of power in the Senate, and possible in the House of Representatives. But have the seeds of their destruction been sown in their success?

I have argued previously that the Greens are lucky to have Bob Brown and perhaps he will be able to save the Greens from themselves.

Someone mentioned to me that it would seem that the Greens are divided into three factions – not a good situation when their parliamentary party room numbers only 10.

Firstly, there are the disaffected voters looking for a party that is neither Labor nor Liberal. Secondly, there the genuine green warriors who only care about the environment and finally, there are the radicals who are fighting the establishment and Tony Abbott. These are the watermelons – green on the outside, red on the inside.

This dynamic was on display when Bob Brown was standing next to Adam Brandt at a press conference on Sunday. Brown was talking about finding a path to stability and talking to both leaders of the major parties, speaking of a genuine consensus that will be needed if the Greens are to be a real third party.

Bandt, meanwhile, was only willing to consider a Gillard offer.

He will have to be taught the importance of party loyalty as will all the new Senators (such as Lee Rhiannon who has already bucked Browen’s directives regarding her Senate campaign), otherwise the Greens may soon ape the major parties with a leadership spill of their very own.

They will have to be the balance between the two big parties – as opposed to an ideological juggernaut that acts as a spoiler against the major parties – and while Brown has expressed his willingness to fill that space, he will have to bring the rest of his party with him.

2) The new government – whatever its composition – is going to have a hell of a time trying to appease the Greens and Bob Katter.

In Europe there are countries that have parliaments made up of numerous parties and always have minority governments. The difference is that in Europe, there are usually a ‘right block’, a ‘left block’ and then a middle ground of parties that swing both ways. It is usually this middle block that allows stability by supporting the largest party (or block) from either side.

Many times the party with the largest primary vote doesn’t form government if it cannot command the majority of the parliament.

The problem here in Australia is that there is no one sitting in the middle. The Greens are to the left of Labor, while the three independents as a block would probably ideologically fit in with the Liberals. Should one of the blocks not command a majority it would be up to the cross-benchers breaking into two (since I cannot see Bob Katter sitting in a government with the Greens), and making up the numbers for Labor. Uncomfortably.

3) Most people are seeing this election as unprecedented, but it has not emerged from nowhere. This result is the culmination of three years of unprecedented events in the political landscape. Here is an incomplete list of some of the highly unusual goings on:

. Rudd gaining the Labor leadership without being part of a faction.

. Rudd’s incredible rise in popularity.

. The sitting PM (Howard) losing his seat.

. Rudd’s sudden crash in the polls.

. The change of the first term PM due to bad polls (even Gordon Brown was allowed to go to the elections as leader in spite of very obvious public dislike for him).

. The ousted PM remained in parliament and recontested the next election (the last PM to do this was Whitlam in 1972, and he continued as leader of his party).

. The rise of the Greens – eventually gaining a seat in the House of Representatives.

. The hung parliament.

. The high level of informal votes.

The sheer number and importance of these novel events mean that the Australian political landscape no longer resembles any previous maps.

4) Herein lies the main lesson in the election, things will be changing in Australia over the next electoral term (whether it lasts 3 years or not).

Politics in this country lies at the crossroads and the window of opportunity for genuine and meaningful reform lies in this electoral term, where so much can still happen.

The Greens could succeed and become a constructive force in politics, Parliament could be reformed to better suit democracy, and the Greens experiment could even give voters the will to vote for more minor parties with confidence. We could even see the rise of a fourth or fifth party.

This result might even encourage the major parties to reconnect with the people (as opposed to focus groups) via local members looking after their constituents.

There’s legitimate cause for optimism as well as trepidation as we await the results of this unprecedented election.

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8 Responses to “Hanging on to Hope for the Hung Parliament”

  1. Greg Swedosh says:

    Hooray! Maybe now we’ll actually see some principals descend upon Canberra rather than the poll catering politics that we’ve become used to. Both of the major parties seem so conservative trying to pander to what they think is popular opinion, and what seems to me to be the lowest common denominator. Maybe this will wake them up into having some good policy rather than bills that are merely rubber stamped by the party faithful.

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  2. JENNY BATESMAN says:

    The two party systen is too black and white, there needs to be grey…

    Can’t wait for the result but the media have brought this on to themselves as well.

    Out of this madness there will come good things i hope!!

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  3. Mohan says:

    A list of symptoms without a diagnosis. And what exactly is “party loyalty” – ditching principles for expidiency if dictated by a powerful faction ? And there is no great ideological divide between Labour and Liberals – liberals like Petrou Georgiou and malcolm Fraser are to the left of Labour on asylum seekers and Palestine. Apart from symbolic issues like the apology little distinguishes Tony Abbott from Kevin Rudd and even less from Gillard. A fact reflected in the large number of informal votes and the near equal divide in seats.

    Both parties are merely touting their claims to manage the same system of government without any serious political conflict over issues.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Mohan,

      While is some far away lands party loyalty is not the foundation of the political system (such as the USA), under the Westminster system of government it is everything.
      Because the PM derives all his/her authority from being the leader of the largest party, if the party were to consistently vote against the PM there would be a breakdown of the parliament and the structures of democracy as we know it.

      Therefore Georgiou has proven himself to truly understand the system, that he rarely crossed the floor in spite of his convictions that he expressed in the press and no doubt in the party room.

      Adam Bandt by potentially rejecting his party and refusing to sit with the Liberals even if Bob Brown sorts out a deal with them has proven his failure to understand our system of government.

  4. Pamela says:

    I hope that josh frydenberg recognises the large influence that georgiou had and the high regard he was held in across the public spectrum from all people. The kooyonh electorate are smart they forgive but they don,t forget

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  5. georgia rhodes says:

    Mr Petros Georgiou was decent and one of a kind in that context.

    Very well respected by all.

    Great blog this well done!!

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  6. Mohan says:

    Great explanation Mr Gottlieb. Forgive my ignorance – I was labouring under the impression that the Palriamnetary leader is the first among equals elected by members of the house and that members were entitled to debate and examine policy not vote along lines of “party loyalty” and party loyalty as defined, is “everything”! So much for the theory of representative governance!

    If the party constantly votes against the prime minister, it means that the prime minister does not represent the will of the members and should step down so that a new leader can be elected who represents the will of the house
    - so I trusts are the tenets of high school civics.

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  7. pam et al says:

    Great to see a new shift in the jewish voice now for progressive Jews!

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