Sunday, September 12, 2010

Australia Votes 2010 - Post Mortem (Part 3)

So Gillard had turned around from an abysmal campaign to successfully win the votes of the independents and thereby win government. Now: to the future.

Short of the never-going-to-happen result of a Green government, this is pretty much the best result I could have hoped for - and, to be honest, is probably better than that. Though I’m glad the Greens have a good slice of power, their policies are those of a minor party (and are occasionally slightly worrying - eg the opposition to nuclear power that lingers from their hippy roots) and as such I’m not entirely sure they’re ready to completely run the show. Give them a decade of slowly-increasing power and they will be, though.

The result of this election is one where, as Oakeshott pointed out in his decision speech, the winning party cannot claim to have a ‘mandate’ to do anything. This is awesome, because this has been claimed in the past when it simply was not true - the essence of Representative Democracy is that you can only pick the package that is closest to what you want, not the individual policies, so you will invariably get a lot you don’t want mixed in with the stuff you do. With this government, nobody can just push things through without anyone being able to do anything about it. Every time they want to do something (other than the normal, day-to-day things that get done without any real fuss) they’ll have to convince Bandt, Crook and the independents - or maybe a few Liberals - that it’s a good idea. Toeing the party line when your opinion differs has always been fairly unethical but it will soon become useless as well - conscience votes will become more prevalent.

These two things - the loss of perceived mandate and the lessening of rigid partisanship - will, off the top of my head, have rapid and dramatic effects on the status of gay marriage, the war in Afghanistan, the internet filter, climate change, and maybe even asylum seekers (although I hold out less hope for that one). There’s been so little commentary from the major parties over the last few years that I don’t really know which way the debate on Afghanistan will fall, but the mere fact that there will be a debate is a good sign. Also, Malcolm Turnbull fell one vote short in the Liberal party room of gaining support for the ETS, which indicates that even though Abbott doesn’t really believe in fighting climate change, a significant portion of his party does. A new, improved, probably Green co-authored climate change policy will almost definitely pass, but with the old partisan ways it could have taken over a decade.

Gay marriage, too, is likely to have a decent showing - Penny Wong has been much maligned over her position, but she has played her hand well and will soon get to show it. Of course she is in favour of gay marriage, to suggest otherwise is na├»ve - she just had to toe the party line until the time was right. What she’s been doing is not only biding her time but attacking on other fronts in the meantime - currying support amongst her fellow party-members, and no doubt being a major force behind the many progressive changes Labor made in their last term that removed homosexual discrimination from other areas of law (welfare etc). The fact that these policies got through, in addition to being fantastic in and of themselves, suggests little homophobia amongst the Labor party, with only the fear of the polls preventing them from taking the final step. It’s hard to say what the level of support would be within the Liberal party - although the Mad Monk’s position is pretty clear - but I’d suggest that at least some must be in support of it, given that 60% of the population are. Adam Bandt will certainly back it, as the Greens’ position is quite clear.

The internet filter seems to be the pet project of Stephen Conroy, and I honestly have no clue how much support he has within his party. The huge amount of outcry from the public against it, though, made him shelve it till after the election, and I suspect that with the current situation other party members will be unlikely to want him to bring it back. With everyone being so intently focused on broadband infrastructure I suspect the independents will oppose it - I know Bandt will. As for asylum seekers…the situation at least has a chance of changing now, and I strongly suspect the Greens will try to exert some influence here. I get the impression - and it is only an impression - that Gillard would be open to a more humanitarian solution, if one were presented to her properly. The Liberals, I fear, cannot be reached on this issue, so it would require pretty much unanimous support from the Rainbow Coalition. The facts are there, and the truth tends to come out eventually - let’s just hope it’s soon.

So. We have real parliamentary reform, real measures to be put in place to ensure a more honest and transparent government than ever before. We have a Gillard government instead of an Abbott one, but with enough power in the hands of non-partisans to keep Labor on their toes. We have, for the first time ever, a Green as one of those non-partisan members, as well as a huge Green slice in the senate. One of the best things about this is not so much what has been done in forming this government - although that’s certainly a good thing. The most important thing is that it shows what can be done. Many people have long wanted to move away from the Labor/Liberal dichotomy, but the feeling was that to vote for neither was to throw your vote away - this has shown voters what a difference they can make.

We look like we’ll have some real progress on a number of issues that have been stalling for too long, and this is only the beginning. This has been by far the most interesting few months of politics in decades, and honestly? I couldn’t be happier.

Part 1: here
Part 2: here

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