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Australia Has Voted

Australia has now been to the polls. And as predicted we have elected a Coalition Government, ending 6 years of ALP rule starting and ending with Kevin Rudd, albeit with a stint from Julia Gillard for 3 years.

Kevin Rudd has decided, not so gracefully, to exit stage left in terms of the Labor leadership and Tony Abbott is now PM-elect.

Whether Kevin Rudd decides to stick around for another 3 years on the backbench is another story. Going on history you would expect him to quit the parliament at some stage during this term – likely early on. A number of his current and former colleagues have less than subtly suggested he quit the parliament for the good of the party.

WHAT WAS NOT A SURPRISE

It was not a surprise that Labor lost and that the Coalition victory was significant. For most of the last three years the Liberal and National Party opposition have been ahead in the polls – at times way ahead. An Abbott-led opposition victory, apart from at the very start of Rudd redux and the very early stages of the election campaign, was a fait accompli.

It was not a surprise that the Coalition would pick up seats and that these would be mostly in the eastern states, Liberal and National Party seats were gained in all four eastern states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

With the retirement of the two Independent MP’s who delivered Julia Gillard minority government, the Opposition started the campaign assured of picking up two electorates.

It was also probably not so much a surprise that a poor campaign performance from Greenway candidate Jaymes Diaz saw the Liberal Party fail to gain the seat of Greenway. At the same time, it was probably somewhat significant that Michelle Rowland actually had a pretty significant swing in her favour which should help out somewhat in future elections.

WHAT WAS A SURPRISE

First of all, a significant feature of the results was that western Sydney did not bring anywhere near as much pain for the ALP as many of the polls had predicted. Western Sydney was largely expected to turn blue, well before the campaign even commenced. As noted though, it was not a surprise that Jaymes Diaz lost in Greenway.

It was a pretty significant surprise that Tasmania saw the biggest swing against the Australian Labor Party. It was also significant that other southern states saw a bigger swing to the Coalition than the more northern states of New South Wales and Queensland, where both the Liberal and National Party were expected to enjoy significant swings.

In Queensland, the LNP would have hoped, even expected to gain the seat of Lilley from former Treasurer Wayne Swan, but this did not eventuate. For much of the night it looked as if the LNP would not take any Labor seats in Queensland, but now it would appear they have picked up two. It would appear they have not gone too well in Fairfax, with Clive Palmer seemingly headed for a surprise victory.

WHAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE RESULT

It must be said that the result was probably closer than it would have been had Julia Gillard still been Prime Minister, The election results are still a disaster for Labor. But even party faithful would be pretty happy with the fact that they did not lose a number of seats which would have largely been written off by party tacticians.

So the Rudd return to the leadership was probably responsible for a minor improvement in the electoral standing of the ALP. However it was far from the political masterstroke that polls claimed it would be.

At various times throughout the night it was mooted by commentators, Labor, Liberal and those non-aligned, that a significant factor in the result was the instability within the ALP over the last three years. They would not be wrong on that assumption. Disunity is political suicide.

But those commenting, particularly from the Labor side, gave far too much attention to that one single factor. Few were able to acknowledge that the Opposition were a united force and sufficiently strong force. In doing so, the ALP implied that the collective electorate had made a choice to vote for an Abbott Government based on one factor alone.

There were not just chaotic relationships within the ALP. there was also chaotic administration. Too much was rushed and there was not enough caution in the way the ALP governed. Australians appear to love big government in some ways and not others and Australians also love a pretty conservative style of governance. Labor did not deliver on the latter. And unless they realise that they have to be more cautious and circumspect in the future, they will continue to lose public support pretty swiftly.

WHAT LIES AHEAD

The Coalition now has another three years to govern the country. And this new opportunity probably comes a term sooner than expected. The challenge will be to carefully set out and plan the agenda for the next three years and not repeat the same governance mistakes that Labor have. What will likely be the most conservative administration in our history, is unlikely to make the same mistake.

Sorting out the budget as soon as possible is also likely to be a major challenge. The Coalition has come to recognise this in recent weeks, changing its’ stance on the surplus pledge.

There are an interesting three years ahead indeed.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Parliament resumes today for the second parliamentary sitting week of the year and the same areas of debate are set to continue but other policy areas will be added to the the mix. As well as the economy, Craig Thomson and Fair Work Australia (FWA), the carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) you can expect the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing and the introduction of two bills on gay marriage will spark debate.

The Opposition will certainly continue to focus on the FWA investigation into Craig Thomson which has taken too much time to conclude. The Abbott led Coalition will also likely focus questions around the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the latter two in the prism of an economy which could be in strife were Europe to collapse again this year.

The Government will again focus the deployment of the Dorothy Dixer to prosecute what they view as their strong-point, the economy. These questions will undoubtedly focus on policy measures which have provided or will provide in the near future for the electorate rather than on the budgetary situation itself, unless in comparison to the world.

Marriage equality is not likely to result in a question from the Opposition or the Government, with both sides not fully behind the idea, but we may see an Independent MP, likely Andrew Wilkie or the Greens MP Adam Bandt if they are allocated one of the questions for Independent MPs in Question Time today. This comes on the back of two different bills being put to the House today on marriage equality, one from Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie and the other a Private Members Bill from ALP MP Stephen Jones.

The unknown factor is, as always whether there will be any ejections during Question Time, especially since the warning has been removed by the Speaker, Peter Slipper, though if last week is an indication, there will not be a large number warming  the parliamentary cafeteria seats early.

The one thing we do know is, like always Question Time will be loud and even though there isn’t supposed to be, likely also debate. We will look to about 3pm AEDT to see if the Abbott censure motion creeps in just in time for the end of Question Time. That is also a distinct possibility.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

Hello and welcome to the very first Sunday Sandwich at my new blog. We have now endured the first parliamentary sitting week of 2012 with little if any skin taken off. The lines of attack and corresponding defensive moves were played out in the media in the early weeks of 2012, giving us an indication of what the debate will be about for the year ahead. The economy and taxes, Craig Thomson and the events of Australia Day in Canberra dominated the week which saw the new Speaker stamp his own personal mark on the parliament and some policy-specific machinations.

The Gillard Government positioned themselves this week in Question Time in particular to be talking all about the economy in relation to domestic economic policies and with regard to international comparison. The overwhelming number of Dorothy Dixer’s were on the economy for the entire week.

The Opposition also promised to bring on debate and question on the economy and did so. However the Coalition also took to battle in a big way on the FWA/Craig Thomson debate/farce. The economy from the Coalition perspective was approached by questioning the ALP Government on the suitability of introducing new taxes, that is the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) in times of global uncertainty.

Also on the economy, the Abbott-led Opposition came under attack from the Gillard Government over comments this week seemingly showing a back-down from a commitment to a budget surplus in 2012-13. It was probably a good idea for Andrew Robb to come out and be refreshingly honest about budgetary prospects for an incoming government, not least because we do not know where the books will be whenever the Coalition next takes the government benches.

It was also correct for the others in the Shadow Cabinet to be saying that the Coalition would deliver a surplus in their first year in government, at this stage looking like some time in 2013, if the Government were able to deliver their promised surplus.

The disparate responses from senior Coalition frontbenchers did take some of the heat off the Government, and should have been avoided but probably did not have as much of an impact as some commentators are making out.

The new Speaker of the House of Representatives this week brought back some of the traditional style of parliaments gone by whilst at the same time keeping commentators and viewers wondering what the Slipper speakership would bring, particularly for his former side, the Coalition.

Peter Slipper decided to bring back the Speaker’s robe for parliamentary sittings and on the last day a plain white, droopy silk bow-tie. I am quite a fan of following parliamentary tradition so I thought that this was a welcome re-introduction of what has often been missing under recent Labor Speakers.

There is no doubt that there was some consternation, particularly in Coalition circles as to how tough Mr Slipper would be on his former Coalition colleagues prior to this week. A lot of that was borne out wrong with the Speaker only booting a couple of MPs from the Coalition side, when based on events of last year it could easily have been more than a handful or two.

Speaker Slipper brought some welcome changes to the start of the parliamentary year which will apply for the duration of his speakership, or at least until or if they are altered further. This included no warnings before removal under Standing Order 94a for unruly behaviour, 30 second questions and 3 minute answers. All positive developments in a way but areas that can be worked on further.

The other big story of the week was the argument over whether or not the Private Health Insurance Rebate should be means tested for higher income earners. Despite the debate and some of the evidence, it became clear by the end of the week that the Government was able to drum up enough support for the passage of this measure.

So another week in Australian politics flies by at warp speed, with the political noise at times breaking the sound barrier and lucky to not be heard in far off lands away from Canberra. The noise is set to continue with parliament again sitting next week and the same debates likely to be prosecuted by the respective sides of politics, all eyes will be on the tenor of that debate and what other political and policy nuggets that may pop up to be used and abused.

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