Whoever wins this election is likely to lose the next one
Who’s going to win the next federal election?
It is on the face of it a particularly stupid question, given that we don’t yet know who won this federal election.
And given the glacier-like pace of negotiations between the major parties and the independents and Greens, history may eventually describe this poll as the 2010-2011 election, such is the slowness of its resolution.
But it’s a question that is well worth asking as there is every chance that the instability created by last week’s (non) result will see Australia return to the polls within 12 months.
Even if Julia Gillard manages to retain the prime ministership by acquiescing to the independents’ demand for a guaranteed three-year term, there is a likelihood that unforeseen events – for example, just one little by-election in almost any seat in the land – could redraw the political landscape and force a general election.
Absolutely anything could happen. What happened last Saturday is a master recipe for utter chaos.
As such, I’d happily wager that the party which wins the next election will be the party which loses this one.
There is a view among the wiser heads on both sides of politics that forming a minority government off the back of this 2010 result may well be one of the most toxic poison chalices ever offered in Australian politics.
It sounds crazy even to suggest that a major party could or should throw away the chance of forming government, but good arguments can be made that it’s not only in the national interest to do so, but that it may win them the enduring respect and continuing support of the voters at future polls.
Look at things as they stand.
In the course of a few hours on Friday we saw a couple of things which underscored the truly unfathomable weirdness of the new political landscape.
Family First Senator Stephen Fielding, having been elected with just 0.2 per cent of the vote in 2004, and dumped spectacularly by Victoria in his Senate re-election bid last Saturday, audaciously came out and declared that he might not support the Labor Government at all between now and his exit from politics next July. Given that he’s used his background as an engineer and his readings of the Bible to defy overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change, it is at least consistent with his pattern of self-indulgent posturing, despite representing hardly anybody at all.
Later on Friday we saw an unusual joint press conference between Tasmanian Greens MP Andrew Wielke and South Australian No Pokies Independent Senator Nick Xenophon offering their two pennethsworth on what they expected from the major parties.
It capped a chaotic and almost unreadable week where Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor confirmed through their conduct that while they might ostensibly be operating as a unity ticket in their negotiations, they have divergent and often mutually inconsistent demands.
Who would want to govern under these circumstances?
As the incumbent, Labor is desperate to hang onto power. There are signs though that within the Coalition many people are now wondering if it’s worth it.
Tony Abbott’s initial refusal to hand over his costings to Treasury as requested by the Independents might have been tactically iffy, as it created a perception that the Coalition must have something to hide.
But it could also be interpreted as a heartening first sign that if Tony Abbott is going to become prime minister, he’s not going to gleefully tie his hands and legs in knots from the get-go by responding to every request he gets from three blokes in three electorates, who now wield extraordinary influence over a nation comprising 150 electorates.
And should the Coalition form office with these men, it will effectively destroy the National Party. It has been humiliating enough for National Party Leader and would-be Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss to be sidelined from negotiations, in deference to the often irrational hatred the three independents have for the old Country Party.
If an Abbott Government is formed, and power and influence is handed to Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor, as it by definition must be in order to cut a deal, it will operate as a clarion call for rural voters to reject the Nats and endorse more “can-do” rural independents at subsequent polls.
Abbott has won and seems certain to have won the highest number of seats, but not enough to form office in his own right.
If he stands back and says – I have the clearest mandate of all but I’m not going to sully my prime ministership or compromise the national interest by going along with crazy and conflicting demands from minority candidates, who knows what could happen next?
He’ll obviously lose this election, but he’d probably win the next one, as he spends the next few months watching the entire unsustainable show come crashing down around Prime Minister Gillard and her ramshackle and disparate collection of parliamentary supporters.
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