Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another hung parliament

Our nation voted on Saturday. As of dinnertime Wednesday we don't know for sure who our government is going to be. It's a hung parliament, with something like 72 seats going to the Labor Party incumbents, 73 to the Liberal/National Party coalition, 1 Green (the first ever) and 3+1 independents. I say 3+1 as three of them are talking about voting as a bloc and the other one wants nothing to do with them. The conventional wisdom is that the three will back Labor, and the Green has already said he will do so, so they will retain power - for now.

Some countries (more flibbety-gibbet than our own, obviously) deal with this sort of thing all the time. We haven't  had a hung parliament since 1940 or something, so its a big deal. Record numbers of newspapers are being flogged to a populace desperate to hear the latest, and news sites are logging record visits.

There are two schools of thought about all this. One is that it is Uncertainty that will be bad for business, scare off investment etc etc. There is a grain of truth in that, but I think it also presents an ideal excuse to anyone looking for a reason to postpone something. "I know I said we would employ 1000 new people on this project but in the current environment of uncertainty we just can't take the risk, so we are only hiring twelve people and a robot".

The other school of thought says "Hooray! The big parties have been given a backhander for their lame policy-free election campaigns. Now some people from outside that shallow pool have the balance of power. They can not only influence decisions but make some fundamental changes to the way decisions are made."

Something that has not really been mentioned in the papers is that the recent Tasmanian election produced a hung parliament. After a cagey 3 or 4 weeks of talks, the Greens and Labor put together a working arrangement that seems to be going along fine.
One irritating aspect of the national campaign was the major parties deciding to blithely ignore the safe seats. We live in Denison, which has been a safe Labor seat for the last 7 or so elections. The long-serving member is retiring, and it was assumed by both sides that his replacement would just slot in - so they didn't waste any energy talking to constituents, or bother trying any pork barreling. Their candidates were no-names.

I decided to vote for the independent candidate Andrew Wilkie -  a guy of great integrity with an interesting background in the military, then civilian intelligence, who resigned in protest when Australia joined the war in Iraq on the basis of some fudged-up fakery. He moved to Hobart, got married and had some kids, and bought an antique rug business. It now looks like he has outpolled the Labor heir apparent. I am thrilled that we will have a voice in Canberra who answers to Denison voters and his own conscience, rather than to a party platform that has been triple-tested and focus-grouped to be popular on talkback radio.

As it happens, he is the one independent who is determined to go it alone. It will be a big challenge for him to have the eyes of the nation on him, without even some fellow travellers to share the burden, but I think he can do it.

On Monday some colleagues and I were walking back to work from the bakery when the local stringer for The Australian stopped us and asked if anyone voted for Wilkie. I said I did, and was interviewed for my trouble. At the end, as a throwaway line, I said if my vote for Wilkie resulted in the Liberal leader Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister, I would feel pretty sick. In the next day's paper it came out as "I would be sick" - ie vomit on the spot. Which is a bit strong, but there you go. Next time I will type up a press release to make sure they get it right.

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