The Australian election is over. The ALP now lead a minority government, with the support of the Green Party and three independents. Are there any lessons that we can draw? Is this it for the next three years, or just an interlude in an ongoing electorial saga?
What is the difference between this new minority government and the previous ALP led government?
The essential difference with this new government and the previous one is that with such a narrow majority independents, or even individual members of the government's party are in a position to use threats of opting out of the governing coalition to get what they want. Every member of the governing coalition becomes a spoiler or kingmaker, depending upon your view. Discipline and diplomacy will be at a premium.
Equally, it will take only one death or retirement to call a by-election. I guess about now ALP whips are checking members’ cholesterol levels and ensuring nobody has too big a night. It only will take one extra ham sandwich to put the government at risk!
Will this government last a full three years?
If I were to guess I'd say that there will be an election sooner rather than later. Labor is in no hurry to have an election, they need time to sway the electorate to their way of seeing things. They may also be hoping that with time the Liberal party's leadership will be at each other’s throats again. For the time being it appears that the Coalition has good party discipline. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts. Right now the independents have made promises of supporting the government in confidence and supply (finance) votes. Those agreements can always be broken down the track. Given, however, the tenuousness of the situation I think it unlikely that everybody will see eye to eye for the next three years.
Was there something seedy about the negotiation process that formed the minority government?
I don't think there was anything wrong with Gillard making promises to the independents and I don't think many other Australians really have issues with such deals. It is, after all, politics. It's the nature of the business. I would have been surprised if the independents tried to package their agreements in high minded rhetoric. Nobody would have believed it. Of course, the independents did what they could for their constituents.
It might have been nice to have had the independents play a more statesman-like game. They could have held their collective tongues until the GG asked one party or the other to form a government and then announce whether they would support it or not. Such proper play would not, however, fit well with the demands of the press. Nor would it have helped the independents in their negotiations. There’s nothing like public pressure when negotiating for power!
What is the outlook for the ETS? Will this government be able to pass an emissions trading scheme?
The Greens don't hold the balance of power until the new Senate is sworn in come the end of June, 2011. So, for the time being I wouldn't expect anything to happen. Come the end of June, however, there may well be movement on the ETS. This period, though, is a long time. A new lower house and a more than half year wait for a new Senate is a long time.
What happened to the Gillard lead? Early on she looked like a shoe-in.
I think there was a confluence of factors. The Rudd government's low numbers were only temporarily boosted by Gillard's ascendancy. The public didn't have anything to base their view on other than Gillard's novelty and the fact of her gender. Once the novelty wore off other factors came into play. While the Aussie economy is comparatively good, some worry about its longer term stability. Transport is a worry in the capital cities. Race and immigration have been played in the election and this upsets some people. Labor's failure on the environment and the opposition's seeming intransigence on the issue get tossed into the mix. Many have complained that the parties ran very cynical campaigns and failed to really engage with the public. The opposition won the two party vote, but on favored PM, the ALP and Gillard still came out on top. It is a complex picture and it is hard to deduce anything from it, other than neither party really managed to capture the imagination of the public. If there is an essential message, however, it is that the ALP was not able to translate Gillard’s popularity and perceived competence into votes for the ALP. This means that either the campaign or the candidates themselves were not up to the challenge. I wouldn't necessarily rest this at Gillard's feet. After all, she adopted Rudd's ALP, which on balance seems to have been pretty weak and poorly organized.
What about the Liberal Party? Will Abbott remain opposition leader?
In the short term I'd expect Abbott to stick around. As time goes on, and if it becomes clear there isn’t another election before June, then watch out for knives to come out. The Liberal party is deeply divided, as illustrated by the last leadership contest where Abbott won by only one vote. Those divisions still exist. If no election seems imminent then it is reasonable to expect that other ambitious people will seek to topple him for an election in 2013. For right now, however, Liberal party members will sing Abbott's praises, but behind the scenes things may be a bit different as people maneuver for opportunities.
Generally speaking I think most Australians are really tired of the whole election saga. The average Aussie-battler, the everyday person in the street, is more concerned that houses can be afforded, that they can get to work without sitting in traffic for hours and that when the drought comes back that somebody has addressed the lack of water. Did the election address any of those concerns -- not really.