Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three Amigos and the future Australian Government

Quire fascinating watching the election unfold last night. At this stage the ABC's Anthony Greene is projecting 72 Coalition, 70 Labor, 4 independents plus one Green in the House of Representatives, with three seats still in doubt. Of the 3 in doubt, the Coalition appears to be ahead in one, Labor in two. If they split this way, the numbers will be Coalition 73, Labour 72, Greens one, independents four.

Looking at the raw numbers, I think that more than three seats should be put in the uncertain category. We really won't know until all the votes and have been counted and checked. Seats can bounce around.

The swing to Labor indicated by the marginal seat polling in Patterson and Cowper plus the possibility floated by Tony Windsor that an independent might win Parkes, straws that led me to wonder if there might not be a  Coalition wipe-out in the North?, proved far off the mark. None of the eleven seats changed hands.

Further, the anecdotal suggestions plus polling that suggested the Nats were in trouble in three cornered contests, something that made me write  End of the Nats?, proved as accurate as the marginal seat polls for Patterson and Copwer. This has, in fact, not been a bad result for the Nats.

Well, what can we say?

The final result in terms of Government is obviously going to depend on on just where the uncertain seats fall. However, a few points of interest here.

Tony Crook, the National's candidate who defeated Wilson Iron Bar Tuckey in the WA seat of O'Connnor is, on my understanding, a non-coalition National committed to sitting on the cross-benches. If this understanding is correct, Coalition projected numbers drop to 72 seats plus Mr Crook who might be expected to support the Coalition.

It is hard to see Andrew Wilkie, the independent who may have won the Tasmanian seat of Denison, supporting the Coalition. The same applies to Adam Bandt, the new Green member for Melbourne. So most commentators are allocating them to Labour. So this would give us 72 Coalition plus Mr Crook on one side, 72 Labor plus Messrs Wilkie and Band on the other. If the three Amigos - Katter, Windsor, Oakshott - support the Coalition, the Coalition would have just 75 seats after electing the speaker. If the three Amigos support Labor, Labor would have a majority of two.

Now, and assuming that I haven't made an error in my calculations, it is going to be quite hard for Mr Abbott to form Government.

One of the things that has been interesting in the commentary to this point is that the generally metro based commentators do not have a very good grasp on what is happening outside the city, although they are now going up a steep learning curve. It's been quite some time since country seats actually mattered.

Recognising that final counting may change outcomes and dynamics, a few very brief comments based on my own experience.

Note, first, that all of the three Amigos come from areas with a strong sense of regional identity, areas that have felt neglected. All three come from what I would call the Country Party tradition.

In one of his sillier comments this morning, Mr Latham commented that the independents lacked the backing of any machine. Note here that the New England independents in particular are a political movement whose roots can in some ways be traced back to the very early days of the Country Party with its attacks on machine politics and its slogan of no-pre-selection or pledge. They have been consciously trying to grow the number of independents. We saw this at this election in Parkes, we have seen it before.

We saw it in NSW earlier when the independents held the balance of power. We have seen it in the attempts by independent supporters to try to persuade, without much success I hear, Lower Hunter independents to cooperate at the last state election.   

By movement, I am not talking formal structures. Rather, sets of articulated ideas that can be seen strongly in the views of their supporters. These are backed by very strong local "party" organisations. I have put "party" in inverted commas. Regardless of name and formal structures, these party machines are dominant at local level and can match it in terms of resources.

During the election, Bob Katter's TV ad attracted much attention because it was interesting and quirky. No one commented on the fact that it was produced by an independent, or discussed the cost.

The independents have grown at the expense of the established parties and especially the Nationals. To say that the relations between Nationals, national supporters and the independents and their supporters are strained would be an understatement. The independents have articulated a position that actually requires an invalidation of the National Party. How this might play out with a minority Abbott Government is anyone's guess.

There is an assumption that the electorates that the three amigos come from are conservative. This is put in the context of the conventional left/right, Labor/non-Labor divide. The independents deny the very validity of the divides between the parties. This means that, depending on their personal views, they can capture support across the spectrum.

I know Northern Tablelands (Richard Torbay) and New England (Peter Windsor) best. They have attracted a support base that includes not just many people on whom the National Party once relied, but also many traditional Labor supporters. Both Labor and Nationals have been reduced to political rumps.

  The independents stand or fall on the service they provide their electorates. Their raison d' être lies in their role as local members. This makes them pretty pragmatic, but not unprincipled. 

  One of the difficulties independents  face is that their very nature can make cooperation among them a bit like herding cats. Generally, this does not matter. However, in a case like the present one, this is clearly not the case. So what might happen?

Well, based on experience, my guess is that there will be an MOU between the independents and Government that will cover at least the three amigos and maybe Mr Wilkie with the following features:

  1. The independents will undertake to support the Government on matters of confidence.
  2. The Government will undertake to do certain things that all the independents agree upon. This is likely to include specific broadband action.
  3. On matters other than confidence issues or agreed actions, the independents will be free to vote as they individually see fit.

In all this, there is (I think) still a question mark over the capacity of the three Amigos to cooperate despite their existing links. I suppose that it is Mr Rob Oakeshott that I have especially in mind here. Scuttlebutt suggests that he is less pragmatic, less focused.

This brings me to my final point. Depending on the way the final seat count falls, either Coalition or Labor  may be able to rule by attracting just one or perhaps two of the three Amigos. In that case, the three of them may lose a collective opportunity.


The performance tonight of the three independents on the 7.30 Report was pretty impressive, also drawing out the differences between the three. Bob K was certainly Bob K! My wife's family especially liked Rob Oakeshott.

I have also been monitoring the blog commentary, much of which has a Labor bias. Again. you can see the growing positive reaction.

The independents have indicated they intend to stick together. Tony W held out a hand to the Greens and to the WA cross-bench Nat. It's going to be fascinating to watch.  


Anonymous said...

Well Jim, whichever major party rules, it will not govern.

I think this makeshift parliament will implode within twelve to eighteen months, whichever of your scenarios comes about, so - how about a run-off next weekend?

Have a debate next Wednesday between the Three Amigos; and Labor campaining on “Moving Backwards To Where We Were Just Before We Started Moving Forward”; and the Libs running with “Let Us Waste Your Money On Some Great Big New Boats”.

Subtle changes in emphasis like this might clear up the confusion in the electorate.


Jim Belshaw said...

While I did laugh, KVD, I am not sure about the instability point. What I am sure of is that the three Amigos have sufficient policy differences from Lib-Lab to force changes on either that to my mind are likely to improve the mix.

As an aside, I have been quite enjoying the commentary around as people try to come to grip with the various policy positions exoressed by the three. As you might expect, they are all a little out of the frame set by the two major sides. Might get some of the best policy debate we have seen yet!

Rummuser said...

Anonymous and Jim, I hope that you remember my comments on how the rest of the world reacts to what happens in Australia. It is again strange that the mother country of our commonwealth, India and now you have all had to deal with hung parliaments. Unless your politicians are as venal as ours are, I agree that the government will implode soon, but you never know. The most disparate characters now run a coalition government in India and the less said the better about the circus that is going on in the UK! It would be interesting to see how Cameron survives the whole term.

Good luck my friends. Nice to know that we are in good company.

Anonymous said...

Yes you are right Jim. Please forgive my making light of the dark art of politics.

While I can see some sort of closer ‘fit’ of Amigos and conservatives, there is the thought that they seem quite keen on the NBN, and carry some resentment towards certain members of the Nats. So, how does that make for stability, I wonder.

Also, whatever deal is done between the Amigos and either side, are they not then ‘stuck’ with that deal, trusting whichever major party it is to actually come good with whatever promises are made? It might be that as the governing party became stronger, it would decide their threat to withdraw support was strategically less of a concern – and might in fact be a ‘plus’ for a claim to govern in their own right through an early election.

I don’t doubt they are honourable men, and very good local members, but do those attributes alone translate to good governance at the national level where wider interests must be necessarily catered for. Whatever is the bargain, I suggest for their own protection they publicly nail it to every tree in every electorate.


Anonymous said...

Rummuser please forgive my rudeness. I did not see your comment before replying to Jim. But if you are suggesting all members of parliament be ceremonially hung, then I agree, and will provide tea and sandwiches at the event.

Let's make it an annual event - like our cricket series.


Jim Belshaw said...

KDV, Ramana, what I am so much enjoying is not just the theatre (the main parties are really struggling to come to grips with all this), but also because some of the things that I have been talking about are coming to centre stage.