So we have a hung parliament, now what?

Posted on August 28, 2010 by

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So what about this whole hung parliament thing. Good? Bad? A much needed shakeup of our democracy? A tedious and drawn out finale to what was already a tiresome campaign? Is it right that the shape and makeup of the next government should fall into the hands of so few men?

These questions and more circulate the airwaves, water coolers and cafes at present, with each day delivering a new twist to the saga. This morning it was Steve Fielding weighing into the fray, declaring his intention to block supply in the Senate for the duration of his term if Labor is granted the right to govern. The Liberals have finally, it seems, taken the all-important seat of Hasluck, and days before that Independent Rob Oakeshott floated the idea of creating a government combined of members from both major parties. Add to that a regular dose of Bob Katter, and there can be no doubting that we live in very peculiar times.

There is some speculation that Tony Abbott’s refusal to subject his figures to Treasury reveals a desire within the Coalition to return to the polls sooner rather than later. According to Associate Professor Anne Twomey, there exists a convention that the parliament should attempt to sit ‘as elected’ before another election can be called – that is assuming, of course, that a majority can be forged. If not, the Governor-General would seemingly have no other choice than to return Australia to the ballot box – an improbability, but one we would surely be foolish to rule out.

There are a number of things here to consider. Firstly, the three ex-Nationals Independents are far from unanimous in their beliefs. While all share a general concern for rural areas, and seem to be equally committed to shake up the way parliament is run, they each have different priorities in policy terms. Rob Oakeshott, for example, has voiced strong support for a price on carbon and onshore processing of asylum seekers – a sentiment that hasn’t been as strongly put by his fellow deal-makers. Let’s say for argument’s sake he breaks with the other two to preference Labor, with the others moving to the Coalition. On current counting, that would deliver the Liberals 75 seats and Labor 73. Add to Labor’s tally the Greens’ Adam Bandt, and that rises to 74. The burden then falls on ex-Green, ex-Intelligence Officer Andrew Wilkie to decide the next government. If he errs to the left, as is perhaps probable, but far from certain, we are again deadlocked on 75 apiece.

This is all highly speculative, I know, but let’s run with it for a moment. If for this or any other reason a viable government is not formed, and an election is called sometime in the not-too-distant future, to what extent would the result change? One possibility is that we would see some decline in the Greens’ vote. As I have written, the feeling was positively electric at the Greens election event in Melbourne on Saturday night after Adam Bandt and Richard Di Natale were elevated to parliament, but there was a serious deadening of mood as it began to look likely that Tony Abbott could become the next Prime Minister. However faithful the Greens’ supporters are, there is degree of caution out there about straying from the two major parties, out of a fear of inadvertently propelling Abbott to the highest office – however unfounded this fear may be. With a second election, and mood growing for stable government to be formed, there is an argument that the Greens could be brought back to earth after what was for them a history-making result.

Words – Dylan Bird

Image – Labourlist.org

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Posted in: Comment, Dylan Bird