Dawn of a new democracy? More like a siege
During election campaigns, Canberra is to national politics what a hole is to a doughnut - defining, but of no interest.
That changed with a rush in the wake of the closest result in a century. With neither side able to claim a majority, both leaders rushed back to the national capital to court a suddenly pivotal troika of independents, Bob Katter, Tony Windsor, and Rob Oakeshott - all former Nationals members.
But rather than filling in the ``hole’‘, the unedifying horse-trading now underway Canberra has done the opposite. Bluntly, the nation is in danger of being dropped right in it.
Some are extolling this apparent repudiation of the major parties in the election as the dawn of a new politics where old barriers are broken down. Unfortunately it will probably remain dark for a while yet.
More accurately this is the dysfunctional outcome of a political process that has become so manipulated that it has been reduced to an exercise in market segmentation. The voters’ refusal to plump one way or the other is actually the result of being given effectively no deep choices - the election reduced to branding and personalities. Voters were asked to choose between `real Julia’ and `safe Tony’. Their repackaging succeeding only in making them even more like each other. Only the true believers within the parties themselves regard this as a genuine choice between real or distinctly different options. To the rest, it is more akin to the difference between a Falcon and Commodore. Some will stay fiercely loyal but let’s face it, most people could go either way. Both family cars do the same thing, are aimed at the same major section of the market, and both use marketing rather than core design to exaggerate their claimed advantages.
It has all begun to ring so hollow.
After 14 million votes, the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, probably millions of human hours, an ocean of words, and hectares of newsprint, the democratic process has gummed up. And with the election falling short of any decision, the only important bit, who is to govern, has been left in the hands of a few unknowns. We now have effectively an electoral college made up of three former Nats from the eastern seaboard.
Forget new politics, the term ``dog’s breakfast’’ seems apt.
And it gets worse. To the three country mavericks, can now be added another independent, Andrew Wilkie in the Hobart anchored seat of Denison. He, like Adam Bandt, the new Greens MP in the seat of Melbourne, replaced a retiring Labor frontbencher in an otherwise safe Labor seat.
If you include Wilkie and Bandt, and throw in a new WA Nationals MP Tony Crook, who knocked off Wilson Tuckey, and who says he intends to sit on the cross benches, there are now six independents in play. This in a Parliament that has broken with 70 years of tradition of having one side or other in control.
While the final position is not known for certain, it seems clear that the final count is 72-all plus the six - or if you prefer, 73-all if you count Mr Crook as inevitably a vote for the Coalition when push comes to shove, and Mr Bandt, similarly, a pretty sure thing for Labor.
That leaves four - Mr Wilkie and the three country independents. They of course occupy seats the Coalition would otherwise hold and thus have a majority of voters within them pushing them to the ``blue’’ corner. The importance of this career-ending threat should not be under-estimated. Perhaps, the only thing that may negate it is the possibility that two of the three, Messrs Katter and Windsor, may not intend to recontest in any event. But who knows?
Trying to read Andrew Wilkie is not straight-forward either. He was a member of the Greens not that long ago, if that is any guide. A habitual malcontent, he obviously fell out with them. He had made a name for himself originally as an anti-Iraq war activist even standing against John Howard in Bennelong in 2004. A former high ranking intelligence analyst, he had blown the whistle about the lack of objective evidence suggesting the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The early signs are he plans on milking his leverage for all its worth.
Just to make things weirder again, the outgoing Family First senator, Steve Fielding has characteristically tried to inject himself into it all declaring he will decide if Labor deserves a second term. On top of the idea of three indies who scored a little over a hundred thousand votes between, deciding the election result, we now have the prospect of a threat to vote against all government bills including supply, from a right-wing Christian who failed to secure re-election last Saturday and who scored 1.88 per cent of the vote in Victoria not at this election, and not even the last, but at the one before that when John Howard secured control of the Senate. Any further levels of abstraction from the voters are hard to imagine.
Dawn of a new democracy? Rubbish. This is much closer to a crisis where majority will and the national interest is being held ransom by a tiny and unrepresentative few.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…