Mandate, mandate, who’s got the mandate?

August 31, 2010

Mandate.

It’s an impressive word, isn’t it? Positively drips with authority. We’ve heard it bandied about quite a bit in this election by the two major parties. Abbott ‘has a mandate’ because the Coalition has a larger slice of the primary vote. Gillard ‘has a mandate’ because Labor is winning the two-party preferred vote. The Coalition has the mandate because the people rejected the mining tax. Labor has the mandate because the people want better broadband.

So it goes. But what does that actually mean? What the heck is a mandate anyway?

At its most basic, a mandate can be defined as ‘a command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative’. Seems clear enough. In this case, then, the ‘public issue’ is actually forming government. Also pretty straightforward – so figuring out who’s got the mandate should be easy, right?

Not if you read/listen to/watch the media. There are passionate arguments coming from both sides, and from all areas of the media. Most of these arguments sound rational – or at least plausible, which doesn’t help. Surely the party who got the most votes should govern? But wait – we have a preferential voting system, not first-past-the-post, so should all preferences should be factored into the final decision? The commentary goes round and round and it just gets more confusing.

The Coalition are particularly strident in their claims of a mandate. The reasoning behind it seems to be that if they say it long enough and loud enough, people will eventually realise they are ‘right’. Labor’s not getting left behind on the mandate rhetoric, either. That nearly brought them undone last night, when the Australian Electoral Commission suddenly changed the way it calculated the two-party preferred numbers, and the Coalition appeared to surge ahead.

The simple truth is this: there is no clear mandate to govern, and there won’t be – no matter which party eventually gets backed by the Independents, Green and WA National MPs. The reason? The Constitution is silent on the whole question. It doesn’t say which set of numbers indicates a mandate to form government if a majority of 50% +1 isn’t reached. As former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said last night on QandA, convention dictates that all things being equal, the current Prime Minister should make the first attempt, but that’s all it is – convention. State governments have wrestled with the question of minority governments, and the solutions have been as varied as the states themselves.

Bob Brown said it most succinctly – the party who can get the most numbers after negotiating with the minor parties and Independents will form government. That’s it.

So, whichever way this shakes down, neither the Coalition nor Labor will have any basis to claim they have a moral right bestowed upon them by the electorate. Not that this is likely to stop either of them. But it’s worth remembering. As a people, Australia did not deliver a clear mandate to anyone. No amount of number-crunching or finger-pointing is going to change that.

It’s fairly important that the major parties not be allowed to forget that, either. In a perfect world, this might be an opportunity for them to learn some humility. I’m not that optimistic, but I do hope that it will at least be an occasion for some party room soul-searching.


Neither messiahs nor upstarts

August 30, 2010

The seat counting is all but finished, and it looks like shaking down into a dead heat between the major parties. Although the Coalition are still counting Tony Crook in their numbers, the new member for O’Connor has made it clear that he wants to be considered a cross-bench MP; given that, the Coalition can’t realistically claim to be leading the count. Even if Crook does decide, in the end, to side with them, the presence of Adam Bandt – who backs Labor – evens out the number again. That leaves us exactly where we thought we would be; looking to four Independent MPs to decide who forms government, perhaps by the end of this week. And of course, everyone has an opinion about that.

Some are delighted. To these people, this situation is a real opportunity to send a message to the major parties – you don’t get away with not listening to the people. All things are possible now, whether we’re talking about changing the rules for Question Time, more say for backbenchers or reining in election advertising. At the very least, we’ll see a change in the way things are done in Canberra. The Independents have a weighty responsibility, and are going about it in a sensible way. It’s up to the major parties to prove themselves capable of running a stable government.

But there’s also an interesting little vein of poison starting to run through public commentary as the days wear on. Who are these jumped-up backbenchers to decide our government, anyway? Most of us didn’t vote for them, after all. How can we be disenfranchised like that? Are our votes worth nothing? What they should be doing is obeying the will of the people and falling into line behind the Coalition. They’re ex-Nationals, after all, and what has Labor ever done for the bush? Why, even their own electorates want a Coalition rather than a Labor government. They should get off their high horses and stop grand-standing.

Reality check.

Katter, Oakeshott, Windsor and Wilkie are not our saviours. They will not ride into Canberra on white horses (although Katter just might, you never know) and sweep away decades of convention with the righteous light of their convictions. At best they could get a dialogue going on matters of parliamentary reform, and if the major parties decide to band together against them, they’d be reduced to voices crying in the wilderness. After all, look at how effortlessly the Greens have been defeated in the Senate, over and over, on the issue of same-sex marriage.

They’re also not a ‘message’ to anyone. The vagaries of the Australian political system put us in this situation, not some coordinated effort to spank the major parties. None of us went to the polls thinking, ‘Aha, with my vote I will make them have to beg humbly for government’. Some of us may have suspected that a hung Parliament was likely, but none of us were capable of orchestrating it. The result can certainly be read as Australia rejecting both major parties – or at least failing to convince more than half the country that they were worthy of our votes. The Coalition doesn’t believe that; they’re sticking to the line that the result is a resounding mandate for them to form government, and this Independent business is just an annoying hurdle to get over.

As for the discontented grumblings about disenfranchisement? We really should get over this idea that if the result isn’t something we like, we’ve been cheated. There are losers in every election; and yes, it’s painful to watch a government whose ideology is the polar opposite of your own step into power. A good friend once called democracy ‘the tyranny of the majority’, and it’s a brutal – but accurate – description. Everyone has a voice, but it’s the biggest number of people saying the same thing that get the prize.

If we voted formally on August 21, we made our voices heard. That we are now in a situation where there is no clear winner, and that we are now waiting for a handful of MPs to decide who to support, doesn’t change that. In every election, it comes down to that. Usually, it’s a few major party seats that hang in the balance. This time, those parties are sidelined. It’s not a case of too much power being vested in too few hands – it’s just that this time, they’re different hands.

Then there’s the argument that the Independents are somehow obliged to crown the Coalition. Why? Because three of them are ex-Nationals? The operative word here is ‘ex’ – they’re not Nationals, and should not be expected to feel any residual loyalty. For that matter, no one should expect them to automatically reject the Coalition, either.

What about the idea that the country electorates want them to back the Coalition? Well, let’s have a look at that. This argument hinges on newspaper polls in the local media showing 50-60% support for the Coalition – but these polls were available online. Anyone in Australia could vote in them, and skew the results. There’s literally no way to tell how far the numbers reflect the feelings of the actual constituents. Those polls should rightly be tossed out.

Finally, there’s the question of grand-standing. Are the Independents overreaching themselves in asking to be briefed by Treasury and various government departments? This is perhaps the sneakiest argument of all. Implicit in the accusation is the idea that these Independents have somehow ‘forgotten their place’. They represent three country electorates, and they’re not even members of a political party; why don’t they remember that and stop getting ideas above their station?

As the most vocal advocate of parliamentary reform, Rob Oakeshott has been the biggest target for those who subscribe to this idea. His calls for a unity government and for parliamentary and ministerial reform were soundly rubbished – there’s a note of offence in the voices of the major parties, and of patronising indulgence in the media when they reported on it. Now sure, he might be wildly idealistic, but there was a sense that he had no business talking about such things in the first place.

Why not? At what point did Oakeshott – or any of us – lose the right to criticise our parliamentary system, and suggest ideas for reform?

The accusations of ‘grand-standing’ have a nasty, unspoken corollary – ‘get back in your box’. Get out of the way and let the ‘real’ politicians get on with the business of government. Well, the ‘real’ politicians should probably take a step back and look at how well they’ve been doing so far – and then perhaps start taking their situation seriously, instead of arguing which one of them has more right to rule.

Katter, Oakeshott, Windsor and Wilkie are neither messiahs nor upstarts. They are elected representatives who find themselves in a position of incredible responsibility. And they’re taking it very seriously. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in the last week, they have shown more integrity and commitment to the good of Australia as a whole than either Gillard or Abbott.

For this, they should be absolutely commended.


Spin me right round, baby

August 27, 2010

After all the bluster and extravagant language of yesterday, suddenly the Coalition has changed its mind. It says it will give Treasury access to its costings for the Independents to peruse, after all. On the condition, of course, that the government doesn’t get its grubby little hands on it.

Abbott has spun this as a ‘significant win’ for the Coalition. Without this agreement – which he is claiming is entirely his idea – the Independents would only have received a briefing from Treasury on the government’s costings. They would have had no information about the Coalition’s numbers at all. Now, he claims, the Coalition will brief Treasury, who will in turn brief the Independents. In this way, the briefings can go ahead ‘without risk of political interference’.

It was all about making sure that the public service was able to give ‘frank and fearless’ advice, he says. Before, that simply wasn’t possible. The existence of a shadowy figure in Treasury leaking information showed that the process was hopelessly compromised. But now, with this agreement, the Coalition has ensured that all is well, the briefings can take place and the Independents can have access to all the numbers.

On Wednesday, Abbott said he couldn’t give his numbers to Treasury because they could not understand how the Opposition’s numbers were put together.

Twenty-four hours ago, the story changed.

Andrew Robb proclaimed that there was no chance that Treasury would see their costings until the alleged Treasury leaker was identified and prosecuted. The ‘process’ was corrupt – and by inference, so was Treasury. The mere suggestion that Treasury should see the Coalition’s numbers was outrageous, not to be contemplated. The Independents could see the private audit completed by WHK Horwath, but that was it. (And it’s worth noting that the firm in question is now the subject of a complaint to the Institute of Chartered Accountants). Robb drew a sharp line in the sand, and if the Independents didn’t like it, tough.

In fact, the Coalition claimed, Gillard’s willingness to co-operate with the Independents’ requests showed that she was willing to ‘trash the Westminster system’. They called her ‘weak’, and an ‘appeaser’. By contrast, Abbott was taking a ‘principled stand’.

Now, another day further on, the story has changed again.

Suddenly, the corrupt process no longer exists. Suddenly, Treasury is capable of understanding the Opposition’s costings. With a wave of some political magic wand, Abbott has fixed the problem and Treasury is no longer under a cloud. How confident, how masterful, how – Prime Ministerial.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen spin this blatant. And this stupid.

You only have to read the letters exchanged between Abbott and Gillard to see that the story is very different to what Abbott announced not twenty minutes ago. The Herald-Sun helpfully provided links to them in the article linked above. Media conferences given by the respective leaders can be found via ABC News or Sky News.

The initial overture was made by Gillard on Wednesday. Under the caretaker provisions, Abbott’s agreement was needed to make certain information available.

Abbott attempted to set some conditions, including what amounts to a gag order on the Independents. He wanted assurances from the Prime Minister that they would not disclose any information they received. Gillard, rightly, made it clear that she had no intention of attempting to silence the Independents – it was entirely up to them to make that decision. This was an obvious attempt by Abbott to further the Coalition’s allegation that the government had undue influence over Treasury, and was probably responsible for the leaked document. What it looked like, though, was standover tactics on the Independents.

Abbott also insisted that Treasury look over the costings on the government’s broadband and proposed Mineral Resources Rent Tax. Gillard responded that the numbers had already been scrutinised by Treasury and released before the election – and she also offered a more detailed briefing to the Coalition should they required it. This was nothing more than Abbott attempting to cast doubt on the government’s figures. It’s a pity the Coalition didn’t do its homework and realise the numbers were already out there. They’ve come off looking petty.

The condition that the government not be given any access whatsoever to Coalition costings is, frankly, ridiculous – and Gillard’s agreement can be read as nothing more than acquiescence to a pointless demand that has no effect on the government. Again, it’s just an attempt to perpetuate the idea that the government is untrustworthy. The question needs to be asked, though – if the costings were prepared properly, what possible harm can be done by releasing the figures once they have been scrutinised by Treasury?

Then there’s Abbott’s claim that he prevented Gillard from ‘trashing the Westminster system’ by releasing the briefings normally given to an incoming government. Gillard’s first letter shows that she never had any intention of doing so. Abbott has tried to take credit for something he hasn’t done.

Finally, the notion that this is something entirely brokered by Abbott and reluctantly agreed to by Gillard is completely demolished. As noted above, Gillard made the overture on August 25, and it was not until August 28 that Abbott agreed to provide the Coalition’s costings to Treasury.

All of it adds up to a very unpleasant picture. We have a story that changed three times, each time presented as though the previous version did not exist. We have a Coalition claiming that the current state of co-operation is entirely their doing, and that it demonstrates how capable they are of forming stable, responsible government.

But we also have the evidence of how their story has changed – and the conviction with which they told it each time. We have the evidence to show that Abbott is not a deal-maker par excellence, but rather a reluctant partner.

Why change their ‘principled stand’ now? Is it because they realised how thoroughly they alienated the Independents by refusing to allow access to Coalition costings? Because they have already prepared a response if Treasury find that their numbers are dodgy that points the finger squarely at Labor?

It certainly looks that way. But it appears Abbott cannot simply front up and say that the Coalition has had a change of heart. Instead, he has to pretend the last two days simply did not happen. More, he has to take credit for something he quite simply did not do. Humility, and the ability to admit mistakes, do not seem to be qualities the Opposition leader possesses in any great quantity.

This is just another posture in what has been an increasingly arrogant series from the Coalition. How the Independents respond to it will be telling. It’s to be hoped that they will call Abbott on the ridiculous runaround he’s given them, and on his current ‘magnanimous ruler’ pose. It’s also to be hoped that they will tell him that he has no control over who they speak to, or what they say.

Abbott and Robb continue to play a dangerous game – but they’re getting the headlines. Gillard’s co-operative stance has almost been eclipsed by the Coalition’s spin, and they’re continuing with their attempts to paint Labor as weak, incompetent and corrupt.

It’s important that each be seen for what it is. One side is co-operating freely. The other side is the Coalition, which has slunk back to the table after it failed to bully the Independents into falling into line.

On post-election tactics alone, this is a dismal situation. Should the Independents choose to back the Coalition, we will have a government that was willing to bully, lie and blacken the good name of Treasury just to sit on the right side of the Speaker.

That’s something I don’t care to contemplate.


Two households, not alike in dignity

August 26, 2010

Last Saturday Australia was unable to decide whether to vote in the ALP or the Liberal/National Coalition. As a result, we have a hung Parliament, with the balance of power resting in the hands of five, possibly six men – four Independents, a Green, and a maverick National.

Right now, it seems Australia is unable to decide whether that’s good or bad.

Some are rejoicing at what they see as a real opportunity for Parliamentary reform. This might be a chance for the backbenchers – the ‘little Aussie battlers’ of politics – to get a real say in what goes on. Maybe we can have fixed terms. What about putting a cap on donations, clamping down on election and government advertising, or even forcing disclosure on fundraisers? Way out at the extreme end is even the idea of a unity government, with ministers from both Houses or even outside politics altogether. The wish list goes on. With the balance of power being held by traditionally disenfranchised MPs, this might finally be a way to change what many see is a corrupt and outdated system.

But hang on a moment, say others. The majority of us didn’t vote for these people. Some of them only got elected on the back of preferences from the major parties. Why should they have the balance of power? Who are they to hold our entire system of government to ransom? Most damning of all, what if this were to happen with someone like Pauline Hanson or a Family First member in that position? What kind of terrible damage can be wrought here?

There’s merit in both arguments. It’s both startling and somewhat unrepresentative that our government for the next three years may well be decided by a handful of MPs whose policies – and names – most of us didn’t even know a week ago. To place that much power in their hands effectively makes both major parties hostages to their agendas.

As we saw yesterday, those agendas can differ wildly. Bob Katter really doesn’t want either a price on carbon or a mining super profits tax. He’s incredibly vocal on the subject. Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, however, support both principles. We can take it as read that Adam Bandt wants to see both ideas come to fruition in much tougher forms than have been previously proposed. Wilkie’s a little more cautious – he likes the idea of a mining tax, but not its current form, and wants a price on carbon. As for Tony Crook – well, that’s anyone’s guess. He’s still nominally a National, and therefore might be expected to follow the party line of no mining tax, no carbon price. His insistence on being considered a cross-bencher, however, could well signal a break with their policies.

How is any prospective government supposed to sort all that lot out?

Back up a second, though. We’re not talking about setting up a formal coalition to be in lockstep with either major party on all legislative decisions. At its base, this is just about getting enough numbers to defeat a no confidence motion, and to make sure the Budget passes through the House. Obviously the various stances on policy will be a factor in the decision-making process – five of the six have said their priority is stable, workable government – but it’s not necessary to meet every policy demand in order to form government. So we’re not really talking about ‘ransom’ here.

The six will have their own wish lists, of course. Oakeshott would dearly love to see more consensus politics in Parliament, for example, and Katter wants attention paid to areas of crisis in bush electorates. There’s no sense that they’re going to the leaders with a shopping list, though. On the contrary, what they’ve said so far indicates that they are focused on making the best possible choice for the country.

The three country Independents – Oakeshott, Windsor and Katter – presented seven requests to both Gillard and Abbott yesterday. Much of these requests are for access to information from various government departments, as well as a commitment to work for the national, rather than party, interest. They are after electoral reform – truth in election advertising, political donations and electoral funding – and are looking for a timetable to accomplish this.

One item is proving something of a sticking point with the Coalition, however – a request for access to Treasury’s costings for both the Opposition and government. If you remember, the Coalition flatly refused to submit their costings to Treasury under the Charter of Budget Honesty during the election campaign, claiming that Treasury was – at the very least – hopelessly corrupted. Instead, they submitted their numbers to an outside firm, resulting in a series of highly optimistic – and, apparently, highly inaccurate – figures.

Abbott has refused once again to give Treasury his costings so that the Independents can take economic advice about them. There’s a different reason this time, though. Now it’s because Treasury can’t understand Opposition policies. They are public servants, and it’s simply ‘not appropriate’. Instead, he says the Independents can have access to the firm that did their costings during the campaign, and the numbers themselves – the ones that received little scrutiny, and are still in question.

This is an extraordinary claim. Remember, Abbott was part of the government that instituted the Charter of Budget Honesty, designed to evaluate both policies from both major parties. There was no talk then that Treasury would only be able to understand those that came from the government of the day – nor did this turn up as a ‘reason’ to refuse submitting the Coalition’s costings during the campaign. It has materialised out of nowhere.

And to claim that Treasury – the body responsible for evaluating all economic policy, that routinely looks at costings from both sides when providing advice to a new government – is unable to understand the figures that the Coalition have come up with this time around? That’s so far beyond ludicrous there aren’t words to describe it.

The immediate question is, what have they got to hide? If they are confident in their numbers, surely they can only win by providing them to Treasury? They want to form government, and to do so they will have to negotiate with those who will hold the balance of power. Refusing a key request does nothing to improve their chances.

Perhaps the Coalition are gambling that the three country Independents, ex-Nationals, will run back to the fold. Perhaps they looked at Galaxy poll numbers today that suggest constituents of those electorates would prefer a Coalition government. Perhaps it’s simple arrogance, as we’ve seen displayed throughout this extended caretaker period.

What it looks like, though, is fear.

Gillard’s response to the requests was completely co-operative. She sounded only one note of caution, in that there may need to be changes to caretaker conventions in order for Treasury to release its documents, and that she would also need to talk to Abbott. She made it clear, though, that she was willing to comply with every one of the seven requests, including giving a commitment to a full term of government – even going so far as to promise to consult with them when the time came to set a date for the next election.

The two approaches could not be more different. One is co-operating, the other is drawing a wholly unnecessary line in the sand. Gillard is offering more than was asked (for example, a briefing with the head of NBNCo to explain the broadband roll-out), while Abbott is dictating terms. Abbott is giving every indication that he believes it is his moral right to rule, and that he should be accountable to no one – least of all three Independent MPs who he expects to fall into line and help him into government.

It’s not hard to draw the parallel between the country Independents and the Australian people. Towards both, the Coalition has acted in a high-handed, arrogant manner, giving the strong impression that they have the right to tell us what we need to know, when they feel like it. These latest actions only confirm what they’ve been signalling all along – some rules don’t apply to them, because they are above scrutiny or reproach.

As Bob Katter said today, ‘If you think the Australian people are going to put up with this sort of tomfoolery, you’ve got another thing coming’.

UPDATE:

Andrew Robb, appearing on Sky’s PM Agenda program this afternoon, dragged out the ‘we don’t trust Treasury because of the leaks’ argument. (Apparently, the Coalition realised that Abbott’s ‘Treasury doesn’t understand’ line was attracting nothing but scorn and disbelief.) He went further, though. If Treasury were to get their hands on the Coalition’s costings, he asserted, he believes that they would ‘fiddle’ with the numbers to give Labor the advantage.

This is completely outrageous. It goes well beyond the idea that there might be someone in Treasury who favours Labor, and leaked a document to ‘help’ them during the election campaign (not that there is any proof that such a person even exists). After all, it’s not inconceivable – remember Godwin Grech? What Robb is saying now, though, goes to the heart of Treasury’s integrity as the economic managers of the country.

The Coalition says it wants to form government. It says it wants to ‘pay down Labor’s massive debt’. To do that, it would have to work with Treasury – an organisation that it now alleges is so corrupt that it would falsify its figures in order to deny them the chance. At least, at this point, Andrew Robb isn’t suggesting that WHK Horwath take over the job.

Any way you look at it, this accusation doesn’t wash. If Treasury is corrupt, everything they’ve done for at least the last three years must be called into question. If Treasury isn’t corrupt, this is yet another transparent attempt to avoid public scrutiny – and Robb’s tactic is shameful. It attacks the central pillar of Australia’s economic credibility.

It appears Robb doesn’t actually care whether this affects the markets. or our standing with the rest of the world. It’s as though he’s focused on one aim – government by any means necessary.

I leave as an exercise for the reader this thought: if a party is prepared to risk destabilising Australia’s economic standing purely in order to gain political power, what would they be like if they actually held it?


None of the above

August 23, 2010

Just when we thought it was all over …

Australia stepped up and did its democratic duty on Saturday. Amid accusations of dirty tricks, last-minute frantic electioneering and the heady smell of the sausage sizzle, we shuffled up to the ballot box and cast our votes.

The result? As my Magic 8-Ball said around 10.30pm Saturday night, ‘Ask again later’.

That’s right. We don’t have a government. With five seats still in doubt, the ALP holds 70 seats, the Coalition 72, Independents 2 and Greens 1. (And then there’s Tony Crook, the National MP who looks as though he will take Wilson Tuckey’s seat of O’Connor – and won’t necessarily support the Coalition). Neither of the major parties were able to make it over the 76-seat line to form government in their own right.

So what do we do now? We wait. And speculate. And horse-trade. Because it’s looking increasingly likely that we will have a hung Parliament. If that’s the case, then the business of politics may well start to resemble some kind of Japanese game show. Abbott and Gillard will race to collect enough MPs to survive a no-confidence motion, then see who makes it to the Governor-General first. We’ll have to supply our own frenetic commentary and chase music, of course. And sadly, no sumo suits.

Sound ridiculous? That’s because there are, quite simply, no rules to dictate how this is supposed to work. Who gets first bite of the Parliamentary cherry, as it were.

Abbott claims he has a mandate to form government, because the total number of Coalition votes is higher than for Labor. Gillard points out Labor won the two-party preferred vote. Abbott says it’s ‘clear’ everyone wants a change. Gillard says the Australian people have not made a clear choice. Meanwhile the rhetoric and the spin and the attacks continue.

Abbott talks like he already is the Prime Minister, and is just waiting for those who hold the balance of power to come to him asking to be let into the Big Kids’ Club. Gillard’s using the ‘consensus’ word a lot and focusing on negotiation, but making sure she slips in how much good work Labor did in power.

You know what, though? None of that matters.

Here’s what matters: the people who may determine how we are governed for the next three years. Bob Katter (Kennedy), Rob Oakeshott (Lyne), Tony Windsor (New England), Adam Bandt (Melbourne), Tony Crook (O’Connor) and Andrew Wilkie (Denison).

Who the hell are they, we might ask (with some justification)? We never see these guys on the news. How can they hold our future in their hands?

This is the nature of a two-party dominated political system. Media focus falls on the big parties, because after all, they’re going to be the ones who matter, right? Sure, a few Independents may get in here and there, but overall, could they really make any difference?

The answer to that is a resounding, ‘YES‘. This time around, it could be consensus politics, not party lines, that shapes the Parliament. Given that, it’s worth getting to know who they are.

Katter, Oakeshott, and Windsor are former National Party members. Each left the party because they were dissatisfied. Katter is vocal on the subject – he feels the Nationals no longer represent the interests of the bush, particularly farmers. Windsor’s biography is pretty coy, but there’s no love lost between him and his former party. Oakeshott parted ways with the Nationals over issues of property development and an Australian republic.

All three of these MPs are passionately committed to representing their local interests. They’ve said that they’ll work with either party, since stable government is more important than personal feelings. Interviewed on The 7.30 Report last night, they all said that they supported a national broadband network, and that Labor’s proposal was better. They’re not uniform in all their concerns, however.

Katter is concerned about issues of deregulation and protection for farmers, and opposes an Emissions Trading Scheme.

Windsor supports action on climate change, and has been involved in a number of projects, including soil carbon.

Oakeshott definitely wants an Emissions Trading Scheme.

Bandt is the first Greens member to win a seat in the federal Lower House. He claimed the seat of Melbourne from Labor after Lindsay Tanner, the Finance Minister, announced his retirement from politics earlier this year. In keeping with his party’s policies, Bandt has said he is committed to action on climate change, including a price on carbon. He is also concerned with dental care, same-sex marriage and high-speed rail links.

Bandt has already stated that he will support a Labor government.

Wilkie is former intelligence officer with the Office of National Assessments, who came to media attention in 2003 when he revealed that he believed the Australian public was being misled as to the real situation in Iraq. He ran unsuccessfully against John Howard as a Greens candidate in Bennellong. He is likely to become the Independent member for Denison.

Wilkie’s a bit of an enigma – a former Young Liberal, turned Green, and now Independent. There’s certainly no love lost between him and the Coalition (being the target of particularly vicious rhetoric for his stand over the Iraq war), but he’s signalled that he won’t necessarily side with the Greens. His concerns centre on public education, Medicare and dental health, and ethical government.

Then there’s Tony Crook. Although a member of the National Party, he has not committed to supporting the Coalition. Rather, he wants to be part of minority government negotiations. This makes him something of a maverick – it’s likely that if he does not eventually side with the Coalition, the Nationals would dis-endorse him as a candidate.

These are the men who may hold the keys to government. You’d think the major parties would be mindful of that, and respect them.

Gillard’s speech on Saturday night acknowledged Abbott as a ‘formidable opponent, and recognised that Labor had lessons to learn. She congratulated the four Independents and Bandt on their wins. She said she looked forward to negotiations, and that she realised Australia expected consensus.

Gillard phoned all five on Saturday night to congratulate them, met with Bandt and Greens leader Senator Bob Brown on Sunday, and has more meetings scheduled today.

Abbott, by contrast, came out swinging. Labor had lost the election; the Coalition had won half a million more votes; the government had therefore lost its ‘legitimacy’. His acknowledgment of Gillard sounded grudging at best; she had ‘worked hard’, ‘it couldn’t have been easy for her’. He didn’t mention the cross-bench MPs until close to the end of his speech, and when he did, it was only to say that he’d talk to them about forming government.

He made one phone call after 1:00am on election night, and has since contacted everyone except Wilkie. In a remarkable display of rudeness, his media conference yesterday lasted all of three minutes, after which he left hurriedly as a reporter was in the middle of asking a question. He made it clear that he believed the Independents owed it to the country to form government with him, repeating his ‘lost legitimacy’ rhetoric. His strategist, Michael Kroger, is out this morning warning the Independents that their electorates will turn against them if they support Labor.

If respect counts for anything, Abbott may be in trouble.

There’s another thing that Abbott should try to get his head around. Yes, there was a swing away from Labor, but it mostly went towards the Greens, not the Coalition. Voter dissatisfaction with one party does not necesssarily translate into support for its major opponent. The claims that Labor has ‘lost legitimacy’, that the Coalition ‘has a mandate’ and that ‘Australian has spoken’ are nothing more than empty rhetoric designed to panic us all into thinking that the only possible outcome here is a Coalition government.

It isn’t, and people should keep that in mind. The government will end up going to the party who can gain the most seats, not who is the biggest bully.

It could take a week for this to shake down. The count is now underway, and it looks as though Wilkie may not take Denison, after all. That would make it a little easier for Labor, but a hung parliament is still likely.

In the meantime, we’ll have to endure more of the same. More slogans, more spin, more attacks and more hysteria. We can be grateful, I suppose, that at least there’ll be no more of those dreadful ads.

In all this, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the crucial fact in this election. Australia has spoken, all right. We sent a clear message to both major parties – we’re not confident in either of them. They haven’t been able to convince us that they are capable of representing our interests, or of acting on issues that we believe are important.

Australia has spoken, and it said ‘None of the above’.

We must not let either Labor or the Coalition forget that.

UPDATE:

The prime time news is reporting that Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General is ‘seeking advice’ about a possible conflict of interest, because her daughter is married to Labor MP Bill Shorten. Apparently this is in response to questions raised in the media as to whether she could truly be impartial in resolving the hung Parliament.

This is a beat-up of the first order, and here’s why.

The Governor-General does not decide who can try to form government. Her job is to wait until either major leader fronts up on her doorstep with a list of MPs that have agreed to form a coalition. If the requisite number if reached, she then swears in that leader as Prime Minister. This is immediately tested on the floor of Parliament, via a no-confidence motion brought by the Opposition. Should the putative government survive that motion, hey presto, we have a government.

To suggest that Quentin Bryce might pull some kind of sneaky trick is absurd. The only way she could interfere with this process is if Abbott fronted up with the numbers and she refused to accept them. Given the amount of scrutiny this whole election is under, the idea that she could do that and get away with that is ridiculous. Abbott would run straight to the media, and we would have a scandal of the first order on our hands.

The only power the Governor-General has here is to swear in the PM. If Gillard has the numbers, she gets in. If Abbott does, it’s his job. If neither can do it, Gillard has to seek writs for a new election.

And take a look at who was claiming this ‘conflict of interest’. Unsurprisingly, it’s been the Murdoch papers – the most partisan media group in Australia. The anti-Labor, anti-Green bias of Murdoch’s empire is well-known; you only have to look at a handful of editorials to see that. So why are they bringing this up now?

Maybe it’s because Labor is firming in the polls. It’s looking increasingly as though they will end up with 74 seats, counting Adam Bandt in coalition with them. This strengthens their argument that they will be more able to form a stable government (which is the one factor Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor have all said is most important in their decision-making process) – more seats, and a co-operative Senate to get legislation passed. Seen in that light, there’s more than a whiff of desperation about the whole notion that Bryce is hopelessly compromised by her relationship to Shorten.

In seeking legal advice, Bryce is not admitting anything. She is sensibly refuting the accusation that anything improper is going on. Already, constitutional lawyers have firmly declared that there is no conflict of interest.

This is just more noise and bluster. It’s completely in step with Kroger attempting to scare the Independents towards the Liberal-National Coalition, and Abbott’s claim that he has a moral right to form government.

It means nothing.


Election Day – Semi-live blog

August 21, 2010

Well, good morning, all.

Remember how you woke up this morning, rolled over, and got up with a nagging feeling that you were supposed to be doing something today?

Put down that coffee.

You need to VOTE!!!

Yes, the polls are open, and it’s time to go exercise those flabby democratic rights we all carry around with us. (Okay, maybe not so flabby, but hey – it’s early and I could never resist a bad metaphor in the morning.)

So let’s kick off this semi-live blog-scapade. I’ll be popping in and updating periodically throughout the day and into the night until we have a result (or the world ends, whichever comes first).

Links will be (as usual) via Twitter and Facebook – and as I said, feel free to follow me on Twitter, @crazyjane13.

____________________

12:54pm

Definitely no result tonight. Many of us are afraid to sleep, in case we wake up to dinosaur-riding Nazis marauding through the streets …

But for now, it’s time to close off this semi-live blog. Thanks for sticking with us, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Sleep well …

11:51pm

Abbott’s speech is a huge contrast to Gillard’s. She was careful not to claim victory, or even appear to be exhibiting any form of hubris. He’s talked up the responsibility of belonging to a party, and gleefully announced that Labor has lost its majority – and therefore its legitimacy. He’s claiming that there is no way Labor could form a minority government and function effectively. Not content with that, he’s brought up the ‘execution of a Prime Minister’ by ‘the faceless men of the Labor factions’.

The arrogance is unbelievable. Without a majority, without being able to claim a mandate of any kind, without being anywhere near a result, he’s acting as though the result is foregone. The tone of this speech could not be more different to Gillard’s. She was gracious, acknowledged Abbott as a formidable opponent, congratulated the Independents and Bandt.

All Abbott has done is congratulate himself, and sneer at those who ‘don’t feel so victorious’ tonight. And he’s getting wild applause for it – especially when he says ‘stop the boats’.

Oh wait, he’s just said he’ll be ‘talking to the Independents’ in the next few days. That’s the first time he’s acknowledged them. How very – patronising of him.

11:16pm

Gillard has stepped up to the podium to acknoweldge that the vote will not be decided tonight, along with a great walloping spoonful of flattery for the Independents and Adam Bandt. After all, they’ll be the ones who are most likely to decide which major party gets to call itself the government.

These are the people who will probably decide how our country is governed for the next three years:

Bob Katt
Tony Windsor
Andrew Wilkie
Rob Oakeshott
Adam Bandt.

Go, look them up.

10:51pm

Still no result. We’re running out of cupcakes, and may be forced to resort to the cooking sherry before long.

The good news: Steven Fielding looks to be gone. Dead. Cremated. Buried.

The bad news: some people with utterly appalling political judgment appear to have elected Wendy Francis to the Senate in his stead. Yeah, you know who you are.

Meet the new wingnut, same as the old wingnut.

In completely bizarre out-of-left-field news, it looks like Uncle Wilson may have lost his seat. o_O We are in shock.

9.34pm

According to the ABC, the Coalition has edged ahead with 70 seats.

The AEC is still saying Labor 51%, Coalition 49%.

Just in case, we have switched to bourbon.

8.30pm

The Australian Electoral Commission is calling Melbourne for Greens candidate Adam Bandt.

It also looks likely that the seat of Denison in Tasmania will go to Independent Andrew Wilkie, formerly of the Greens. You might remember him from his ASIO days, when he acted as a whistleblower over ‘ethical conflicts’ related to Australia’s participation in the Iraq war.

With four Independents and a Green in the Lower House, a hung Parliament is looking increasingly likely. We may wake up to a minority Labor government formed by Coalition with the Greens.

Meanwhile, the party is in full swing. The sacrifical Sex Party cupcakes have been regretfully consumed, and we are starting on the Liberal ones – except no one wants to eat those.

7:20pm

Guests are arriving with baked goods. We have party-themed cupcakes (including a handful of blue-iced cakes with icing spelling out ‘NO!‘), and a huuuuuuge number of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

This is going some way to assuage our anxieties regarding the current count prediction, which is swinging between the major parties.

We are all consoled by the idea that Adam Bandt looks set to take Melbourne, though.

6:51pm

People beginning to arrive. Thrashing out rules for the election drinking game: 1 drink for every seat gained by Labor, 1 drink for every seat gained by Liberal, scull every time someone says ‘bellwether’.

Someone’s suggested sculling every time someone says ‘too close to call’, but we all agreed that was a short slide to crashing, drunken disaster.

Meanwhile ABCNews24 are calling Bennelong for the Coalition and Eden-Monaro to remain with the ALP.

5:15pm

Channel Nine’s exit poll says Labor 52, Coalition 48. Reports that Bruce Hawker (Labor strategist and sometime pundit) is currently wearing a sharklike grin. Opinions are divided as to what that portends.

4:30pm

First exit polls are in from Sky’s poll of 30 electorates.

2PP: Labor 51, Coalition 49.

The pollster says this does not include safer Labor seats, and so the national result will be more likely:

2PP: Labor 52, Coalition 48.

Primary vote breakdown:
ALP 42
Coalition 45
Greens 9
Other 4

With a margin of error, of course.

3:10pm

As both major leaders have now voted, the news networks have nothing to talk about until exit polls start trickling in. Consequently, they are concentrating on minutiae: ABCNews24 is doing a series of live crosses to marginal seats where they have reporters on the ground, while Sky’s talking heads are desperately trying to find something that say that hasn’t been said a hundred times already today.

In other news, a sewage truck has crashed in Cattai in Sydney’s northwest, and former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has called Mark Latham a ‘turkey’. Somehow, these two items go together rather well.

2:14pm – UNSUBSTANTIATED REPORT, confirmation pending

Overheard in Sydney Airport earlier this morning, a senior Liberal party figure on the phone:

‘Joe Hockey?! … Yeah, look he’s fine, sure … but as leader? … Yeah … nah … Look, let’s just wait till six o’clock before we make any decisions.’

2:00pm

My democratic duty is done. Unsurprisingly, there was a conspicuous absence of Liberal volunteers at my Batman polling booth. I can report, however, that the sausages are satisfyingly crisp and the volunteers are generous with the onions.

Meanwhile, ABC Online has picked up the story about Libs dressing as Greens. The Queensland branch of the Labor Party has made a formal complaint.

1:06pm

Thanks to @dfhannah and @Cap_Slog, we now have a picture of those Liberal volunteers posing as Greens.

Apparently some volunteers also can’t respect the ‘no electioneering inside the polling place’ rules, as we can see in this picture from @infectedarea.

12:09pm

Reports coming in from Stirling, Canning and Ryan saying Liberal volunteers are posing as Greens and handing out Liberal-first, Labor-last how to vote cards.

And @annabelcrabb has unconfirmed reports that David Bradbury, Labor candidate for Lindsay, has dressed his volunteers in plain blue shirts with no logos. Voters could be forgiven for mistaking them for Liberal volunteers.

11:45am

The spirit of Australian entrepreneurism (or maybe just opportunism) is alive and well in the electorate. The sausage sizzle monopoly is being challenged by a number of new competitors. Baked goods are featuring heavily, although at least one polling booth is offering wine and cheese for those of us who need to start drinking really early. Sources do not say whether the wine in question was Chardonnay.

11:20am

First reports of dirty tricks are surfacing. In the seat of Ryan, people dressed in shirts with the message ‘Voting Greens?’ are apparently handing out how-to-vote cards for the Liberal Party, advising voters to preference Labor last (via @girlgerms).

10:30am

There’s not a lot of news right now – although Sky is, hilariously, already showing (unsurprisingly) a seat count of Libs = 0, Labor = 0. Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have plenty of scheduled media events throughout the day.

Rumour has it that sausage sizzle quality may be down this year; Abbott has already promised a Royal Commission into this scandal.

On a more serious note, the Defence Department has just announced that two Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan were killed while on patrol looking for improvised explosive devices. Gillard will be speaking to the media, but not taking questions about it.

The war in Afghanistan hasn’t figured heavily in the campaign so far (with the exception of the Greens, who have been calling for an exit strategy). This news, coming on Election Day, could have an unforeseen effect on voters’ last-minute decisions.


It’s all up to us now

August 20, 2010

With less than 24 hours until the polls open, and figures now divided over who will win, the campaign has taken an ugly turn.

Tony Abbott is in the middle of an announced 36 hour campaign bender. Dragging his media pack with him, he is on something of a whirlwind tour of fish markets, media and mining towns, stopping only for the occasional light shandy. Apparently, sleep is for the weak – although it’s an open question as to how many people will turn up for a 3am stump speech. His media pack are leaving a trail of coffee cups and empty V cans behind them, and last night discussed the possibility of pooling their resources and sleeping in shifts.

Julia Gillard, meanwhile, is actually taking time to catch the odd snooze, although she’s kicking off every day by blitzing breakfast radio and TV (including ABC’s Triple J radio – Abbott, following the example of his former leader John Howard, is missing in action with that demographic) before heading off on her own version of a royal progress at warp speed. Factories, shopping centres and schools figure highly on her itinerary.

The Greens are likewise heading out, along with the minor parties and Independents. It’s all systems go for these last precious hours.

Meanwhile the fingers are flying thick and fast to bang out editorial after editorial endorsing the candidates. Unsurprisingly, all News Limited papers (with the notable exception of the Adelaide Advertiser) have backed the Coalition to win, while Fairfax papers are lending qualified support to Labor. The language is strong: ‘negligence’, ‘debacle’, ‘We deserve much better’, and the wonderfully hyperbolic ‘shambolic and tragic’. And that’s without even looking at what Andrew Bolt or Piers Akerman have to say.

Cue Benny Hill chase music and sped-up montage. It’s all very silly, right?

Stop and listen to what’s being said, though. There’s no doubt this campaign has been really negative, but the rhetoric has ramped up to a degree where it borders on hysteria. Now, instead of being used as an unfavourable contrast, the dire warnings are forming the bulk of the speeches. Abbott’s a ‘risk’, says Gillard (over 10 times in her last 15 minute media conference). Gillard is ‘incompetent’, retorts Abbott (and his language is more varied, but boils down to about the same level of saturation). WorkChoices will be back. Our borders won’t be ‘safe’. We’ll be plunged into the digital Dark Ages. We’ll become a third world nation in terms of debt. The sky will fall. The world will end.

Et cetera, ad nauseam.

What’s going on? Take a long, deep breath in. Smell that? It’s desperation.

The candidates are running on empty. After a campaign that leapfrogged the country, debates, pressers, forums, photo opportunities, meet-and-greets (also known as grip-n-grins), they’ve got very little left in the tank. It’s hard to sell yourself when you’re exhausted – but it takes far less energy to condemn your opponent. The leaders also know that there will be saturation media coverage in this last day, and this is their last chance to scare us. The more they repeat ‘risk’, ‘incompetent’, ‘unsafe’, etc., the more chance there is of that sinking into our malleable minds and making us vote based on fear rather than give due consideration to policy. We get rapid-fire summaries of announced policy almost eclipsed by pronouncements of doom, and we start to forget what’s actually on offer.

So I propose we completely undermine that idea with a quick side-by-side recap of the bigger policies from the major parties.

National Broadband Network

Labor’s offering a fibre-to-the-home network with an optimum speed of 1 Gigabit per second to 93% of the country. The remaining 7% will receive wireless and satellite.

The Coalition has proposed a mainly wireless network, offering a peak speed of 12 Megabits per second, supplemented by satellite and fibre-to-the-backbone.

Paid Parental Leave

The Coalition is offering six month’s leave to new mothers, to be paid at their wage (or minimum wage, whichever is greater). A father choosing to stay at home will be paid at the mother’s wage. This will be paid for with a levy on businesses earning over $5 million per year, and will not start until 2013. Until then, they will offer the same scheme as Labor.

Labor’s proposal is for 18 weeks’ leave for primary carers, paid at the minimum wage. In addition, 2 weeks’ leave will be available for secondary carers. This leave is extended to cover fathers as primary carers, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents. This will be funded from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

Climate Change

Labor has promised a citizens’ assembly to investigate a price on carbon, but has confirmed that a price on carbon does form part of their policy.

The Coalition has ruled out any form of carbon price.

Same-sex marriage

Both major parties have ruled out amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Budgetary surplus

Both parties are promising the Budget will return to surplus by the end of the 2012-13 financial year. The Coalition is promising to deliver almost double the amount promised by Labor. Coalition costings are found here, while Labor’s can be found on their website.

Cuts to Services

The Coalition have announced they will cut services including: the computers in schools program, the Renewable Energy Future Fund, Trade Training Centres, a suite of climate change-related programs, the Australian Human Rights Framework and the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy, as well as reduce funding for Solar Homes and Communities, Green Car Innovation Fund and Green Building Fund, among others.

Labor has announced cuts to public service funding for the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Public Service Commission. It has also redirected funds from some renewable energy programs (including large solar power station projects) to fund the green farming and car trade-in policies.

Asylum Seekers

The Coalition will reopen the Nauru detention centre and install a boatphone to make decisions on turning back asylum seeker boats. They will also reintroduce mandatory Temporary Protection Visas and automatic rejection for anyone suspected of deliberately discarding identity papers.

Labor wants to build a regional processing centre in East Timor to be administered by the United Nations.




There’s more, of course, but these are the policies most likely to be subjected to scare-mongering in these last 24 hours.

You can check the respective parties’ websites: Labor, Liberal – which contains the Coalition policy and Greens. For a bit of contrast, try the minor parties as well: The Australian Sex Party, Australian Democrats (rumours of their death were greatly exaggerated – or at least delayed), Liberal Democratic Party and Family First.

To find Independent candidates in your local seat, check the Australian Electoral Commission for names.

Read the policies (you can find analyses of many of them in the archive here), check the costings, and try to keep those in mind when you hear – yet again – the slogans, the spin and the scare-mongering.

And then have a think about what the last three years have been like for you. And the three before that (since the Coalition team is largely unchanged from the Howard years, leaders notwithstanding). There are a number of posts in the archive here that go back to last election campaign. It can be enlightening to see just how much changed – and depressing to see just how much hasn’t.

That’s what matters in this campaign – not the spectre of WorkChoices, the Great Big New Tax boogeymen, changes of leadership on either side or questions of religion, gender or marital status.

Policy and history.

And when you go to the polls tomorrow, don’t – don’t, I beg you – cast an informal vote. If you can’t stand either of the major parties, put your vote where your heart is – and don’t let anyone tell you that it won’t count. Because you can bet that when the figures finally come in from the Electoral Commission, strategists and analysts from both sides will be going over the fine detail. Every vote that bleeds to the Greens or a minor party is a signal of discontent with the status quo.

And you’re not ‘sending a message’, regardless of what Mark Latham tells you. You’re just lumped in with every ballot paper that was incorrectly filled in, illegible or just plain doodled on. If you want to send a message, do it with a valid vote.

Every single vote matters.

I’ve called this blog ‘The Conscience Vote’ because I think that’s the most valuable thing any of us can do with our democratic rights. Vote our consciences – not by party loyalty, not by personality, not informally, and most of all, not mindlessly.

So go to it!

I’ll be tweeting and blogging throughout the day tomorrow. You can follow me here for exit polls, news reports, counting and the all-important announcements. And this blog will continue – getting elected doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off politicians, after all.

Right now, though, I’m going to make myself a cup of tea, toast some crumpets and take some time out to sit in the sun (what little there is of it in Melbourne right now).

I’ve got some thinking to do.


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