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The latest on Australia's "Hung Parliament"

Andrew Wilkie & Wars, PM Power, Heffernan the “devil,” 2PP vote and What about the Economy?

By Andrew Middleton (all emphasis mine)
Australia's "Hung Parliament" as explained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on August 23rd
Regular update on "Does Australia have a Government yet?"

Who is Independent MP Andrew Wilkie?

Exerts from the ABC (26 August, 2010):

Independent Andrew Wilkie is looking ever more likely to claim the previously safe Tasmanian Labor seat of Denison and join three other independents holding the key to power in Australia’s new federal parliament. (ABC Election Results for Denison)

A former Duntroon cadet, he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and worked for United States defence giant Raytheon.

He continued his defence career as an intelligence analyst with the Office of National Assessment.

But he caused a huge storm in 2003 when he resigned and spoke out against the Howard government on the Iraq war, saying there was no intelligence to indicate Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Wilkie ran against Mr Howard for the Greens in the seat of Bennelong in 2004. It was a remarkable transformation for a man who was once a young Liberal. He also ran for the Greens on their Tasmanian Senate ticket in 2007. He was unsuccessful and resigned from the party in 2008, criticising them for a lack of professionalism. Privately, some in the Greens are just as critical of Mr Wilkie and say he was too demanding in pushing for campaign resources.

Read full article
Wilkie’s unusual mix of policies keeps voters of all shades on side (good opinion piece)

Wilkie’s list of 20 “priorities” does not include mention of Australia’s foriegn military engagements

List from The Age (30 August, 2010):

National
* Introduction of maximum $1 bet and $120/hour loss limits on all poker machines in Australia.
* Urgent action on climate change, including a price on carbon.
* Honouring the word and spirit of the UN Refugee Convention.
* Federal whistleblower legislation.
* According the same funding priority to mental health care as afforded currently to GP and hospital services.
* Including dental care in Medicare.
* Overturning the recent Federal Government decision to extend to 2014 the review of the Federal funding model for education. Instead complete the review by 2012, and implement the recommendations as soon as practicable. Increased funding for tertiary institutions.
* Increasing all Government pensions, allowances and other payments to levels people can actually live on. Enhance the method of indexation so as to ensure they genuinely keep pace with inflation.
* A conscience vote on same-sex marriage.
* Increased funding of aged care facilities.
* The introduction of a national disability insurance scheme.

Local
* Replacement of the Royal Hobart Hospital. In the interim, leasing of sub-acute beds in private hospitals to help reduce the RHH occupancy rate to the national level.
* Stage 3 of the National Broadband Network complete by end 2012.
* Withdrawal of all Federal Government approvals for Gunns’ Tamar River pulp mill.
* Immediate release of the $20 million relief funding for Tasmanian forestry contractors pledged by the ALP and Coalition.
* Stage 1 of the Southern Councils Transport Plan implemented.
* The northern suburbs light rail funded and developed.
* Re-alignment of the Brighton bypass to protect the Jordan River levee Aboriginal heritage site. Upgrade of the Brooker Highway and Plenty Valley link road.
* Upgrade Hobart inner port infrastructure.
* Realisation of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery master plan.
* Stage 1 of the Glenorchy Sports, Recreation and Community Precinct funded and developed.

Office
* Adequate staffing and office space to deal with the workload of an Independent Member of Parliament

Read full article
Read opinion piece

Just two of these “priorities” will make Wilkie’s decision

Exerts from The Australian (31 August, 2010):

ANDREW Wilkie has declared fixing the Royal Hobart Hospital and pokies reform are the two issues that will decide who he backs to form government.

Reserving the right to not formally support either political party, the independent MP for Denison would offer the party he backed a guarantee not to block supply or support any “reckless” no-confidence motions.

He reserved the right also to vote against a minister if he or she acted grossly irresponsibly and unethically and would fiercely defend his right to vote on each piece of legislation the new government put forward on its merits. His support could not be relied on for its entire program.

He would support only an “ethical” government and was not interested in which side had the most votes or the most seats.

“I’m still to decide whether any one party or parties is going to do that,” he said.

“I reserve the option of backing no party or parties and letting the other 149 members come together and stand up a government and opposition.

“I note that in the last few months the Labor government has been neither stable, competent or ethical and I’m yet to be persuaded that the opposition can do any better.”

Mr Wilkie, who went to dinner last night in Canberra with the three rural independents, criticised their decision to act as a bloc.

The former army officer said of his list of 22 priorities that there were “at least two” that “I have said both to the Prime Minister and to the Opposition Leader there must be reform on”.

The former intelligence analyst, whistleblower and retired lieutenant colonel denied the list represented demands, rather his “priorities” in negotiations.

Read full article

All this despite Wilkie stating the justification for the War in Afghanistan as one of the “great lies of the election campaign”

Exert from ABC News (29 August 2010):

He met Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Melbourne yesterday and presented her with a list of 20 issues that are important to him.

While his stance on the Afghanistan war is not part of that list, Mr Wilkie has made it clear he is against troops staying there.

“The war in Afghanistan and what is being said by the Coalition and the Labor Party is one of the great lies of this election campaign,” he said.

“Both Labor Party members and Coalition members continue to perpetuate this nonsense, that we’re only there to fight terrorists to prevent them coming to Australia, to prevent them committing terrorist attacks here.”

He says politicians need to be honest about the reasons Australia is still in Afghanistan.

“They at the moment are trying to implement a policy put in place by, I think, incompetent politicians and this continuing lie about why we are there,” he said.

Let’s be honest: let’s say we’re there to help the people of Afghanistan and to bolster our bilateral relationship with the US.”

He says he did originally support the invasion in November 2001 and he still backs Australian soldiers “100 per cent”, but there is no need to stay.

“I don’t know the solution from here. If we stay people will die, if we go people will die,” he said.

“But I do know peace will only come to Afghanistan when foreign troops are out and I think they should get out as soon as possible.”

Two more soldiers died last week in Afghanistan, taking the total number of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 21.

Read full article

Bob Katter says the next PM will have “more power”

Exert from The Australian (31 August, 2010):

INDEPENDENT MP Bob Katter says the new PM will have more power than previous prime ministers after being anointed by independents to form the next government.

The north Queensland MP said he and fellow country independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor would be able to invest the new prime minister with greater political muscle than previous prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd. To illustrate his point, he said Mr Howard and Mr Rudd had both agreed with him that competition reform had hurt Australians. But despite leading governments, they lacked the power to act.

“Well, we will deliver to one or the other that sort of power,” Mr Katter said.

Read full article

Why did Liberal Party Senator Bill Heffernan ring Independent MP Robert Oakeshott as “the devil”?

Exerts from the ABC (30 August, 2010):

Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan says he is sorry for identifying himself as “the devil” during a phone conversation with the wife of independent MP Rob Oakeshott. Mr Oakeshott is one of the key independents who are deciding which party to support in a hung parliament.

Mr Oakeshott said the phone call was weird and had chipped away at the confidence he was prepared to show in Mr Abbott. “So that has been unhelpful,” he said. He said Mr Abbott’s capacity to control rogue elements within the Coalition would be a factor in his decision about which party to support in a minority government.

Read full article

The two-party preferred majority is still on a knife-edge

31 August, 12:06AM: “Gillard mandates slips (The Australian)
31 August, 10:27AM
: “Coalition steams ahead” (The Australian)

This led to Liberal MP Julie Bishop leaping on Gillard’s ‘measure’ of a mandate when it came to the two-party preffered majority (exerts from ABC News, 31 August 2010):

Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop says Prime Minister Julia Gillard has lost her mandate to form government after Labor has lost its lead in the two-party preferred vote.
Ms Gillard had been using Labor’s lead in the two-party preferred vote to claim a mandate for Labor forming government. Now Ms Bishop has used the new figures to attack Ms Gillard’s argument.
“Julia Gillard set it as the bar. She said that was the plank for Labor being able to form government. Well that plank is now falling away,” she told Lateline.

Read full article

But then at 12:48PM (exert from The Australian, 31 August 2010)…

“The latest counting showed Labor ahead of the Coalition by 3724 votes – a 50.02-49.98 per cent split – with 80.93 per cent of the vote counted. Labor snatched back the lead from the Coalition in the closely watched vote this morning.”

Read full article

The ABC reported the same around the same time. Yet it’s Anthony Green – election analyst expert from the ABC – who says we won’t know for weeks anyway. Will the two-party preferred vote count matter in terms of the decisions made by the Independents? Should it matter? And if it does matter to the Independents, how long will it take to ascertain a winning majority?

Pre-poll votes in Boothby count discarded

Exert from ABC News (31 August 2010):

The Labor Party is not ruling out a legal challenge to the result in the marginal Federal South Australian seat of Boothby, after another turn in the count.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has accepted legal advice to exclude 2,977 votes from the count.

The decision has reduced the lead of the sitting Liberal Andrew Southcott by 339 votes, but he has claimed victory with a current lead of 1,394 votes more than ALP candidate Annabel Digance.

The excluded votes were cast at an early voting centre at suburban Oaklands Park.

They were later deemed to have been handled in a way which contravened provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act when they were removed from a box and placed into another by an AEC employee.

Read full article

What about the economy?

A 2-to-3 week delay in forming a new Government, as appears likely, will not noticeably effect our economy and arguments are thin on the ground for how it relevantly could. As everyone seemed to acknowledge during the global financial crisis, the overall performance of Australia’s economy in the 21st century is influenced by far more than just actions taken by our Federal Government and was very much at the mercy of external factors. Indeed, a popular cliche in 2008 was “When America sneezes, the rest of the World coughes.”

However, leaving “the devil” Bill Heffernan and his phone calls aside, headlines and claims have come thick & fast in the mainstream media and from business leaders that a hung Parliament is particularly “bad for business” and the “gang of 3” Independent MPs should come to their decision quicker than at their own pace, in their own way. Today we’ve seen Dominic Knight, a contributor to popular ABC comedy The Chasers and writing on a also publicly funded ABC website, attempting to ridicule the “gang of 3” (Windsor, Oakeshott, and Katter) in his article titled, “Australia voted, now the independents should too.” (31 August 2010, ABCs The Drum) This is a curious paradigm to frame his article in, seeing as his first charge of the “gang of 3” is:

“And unless they slept through the Rudd years – for which they could, admittedly, be forgiven – they must have a firm view about whether they’d rather see Gillard or Abbott as PM.”

Unless Knight hasn’t looked at the actual results of the election, or even realise what he was talking about in that instance, the voters didn’t actually have a firm view about whether they’d rather see Gillard or Abbott as PM at the conclusion of a six-week election campaign. So you’d think it’d make complete sense that these Independent MPs would also take their time in coming to a decision that they previously wouldn’t have anticipated having to make in their wildest dreams.

However, funny man Knight is seemingly outraged (and this author acknowledges it’s probably a tongue-in-cheek article) that these 3 Independent MPs dare gather some more in-depth information on the situation and the policies of either Party before making a well-thought out and reasoned decision. A decision which could actually have massive ramifications for the Australian economy and the future of its People and sovereignty, when it comes to the implementation of a carbon tax and a mining tax as currently desired by the Labor and Greens Parties. Knight thinks that decision should’ve been made “about a week ago,” with no actual reason is given for the frustration outside of the ABC’s Election Analyst Anthony Green needing a holiday…

A good example of the “bad for business” argument, which is just as thinly reasoned as the previously discussed article, can be seen in the following Sydney Morning Herald article titled, “Hung parliament ‘bad for business’” (22 August 2010), which begins with:

A hung parliament poses a risk to the economy and will dampen consumer confidence, business groups say. With counting set to continue for days, Labor and the coalition are in a deadlock for lower house seats and the balance of power looks likely to rest with three independents and one Greens member.

“For financial markets, a hung parliament probably is the worst possible outcome,” JP Morgan economist Stephen Walters said on Sunday.

Financial markets are possibly the best example of a market which Australian Government measures scarcely effects and which Australian Government policy or lack there-of barely scares off those looking to invest. This point is seemingly acknowledged by the same JP Morgan economist:

“A layer of persistent political risk … against a backdrop of heightened uncertainty over the state of the global economy, will weigh on investor sentiment.”

Would the same uncertainty over the state of the global economy weigh on investor sentiment more than the formation of any Australian Government? Well, for any savvy investor not taking advice from JP Morgan, it might. The next interest-group spokesperson acknowledges that the Greens Party getting the balance of power in the Senate is bad for business. So you’d expect it to be a good thing that there isn’t be a Government in place which can be lobbied to or even work in coalition with this new force in Australian politics, right? Apparently not:

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the prospect of a hung parliament, plus a Senate where the Greens hold the balance of power, was a worrying outcome for businesses.
“It will potentially lead to instability, uncertainty and short-termism in policy development, all of which poses risks and challenges for the economy,” Ms Ridout said.

Surely Ms. Ridout can acknowledge she can’t have it all and this is better for her than a Labor Party Government already formed, for instance. While we had a JP Morgan economist speaking on behalf of investor sentiment, we had the Australian National Retailers Association speaking on behalf of consumer sentiment:

The Australian National Retailers Association also believes continuing political uncertainty will be bad for its members and the economy.
“Continued political instability will have a negative impact on the sector as consumers stay away from the shops,” chief executive Margo Osmond said.
“Election campaigns traditionally generate a brake on spending and the lack of a clear outcome will extend that effect beyond polling day.

Are you shopping less due to it being a “hung Parliament”? Has anybody thought of it when going to spend a dollar since August 21st? After the doom & gloom introduction, however, the August 22 article concludes far more positively with two very credible and objective voices when it comes to the matter of how the hung Parliament situation will affect Australia’s economy on the whole:

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson called on businesses and consumers to carry on as normal despite the uncertain political landscape.

“A caretaker period in national politics does not put the economy on hold,” he said.

Australians need not see the tightness of political combat as anything but an expression of a working democracy. Neither the business community nor the public should put economic or investment decisions on hold during this period.”

Commonwealth Securities senior analyst Craig James said Australia’s economic strength would not be jeopardised by the election outcome, with many key factors remaining stable no matter which party won government.

“We still will have, in our view, a credible economic manager, whether its Labor or Liberal,” he said.

If only those views made the introduction of the article, maybe the headline would’ve read: “No concerns for economy during Hung Parliament.” Yet surely the most reflective headline for the content would have been “Mixed thoughts on economic impact of Hung Parliament.” Not nearly as sensational, however.

Read full article

Also see

23 August, “10 uncertainties for business from a Hung Parliament” (SmartCompany)
24 August, “Business hopes for quick end to political uncertainty” (ABC News)

Recent economic figures and commentary highlight the above points:

1. Australia’s economy is far more dependent on economic, environmental, and political situations around it, than it does on Government action or inaction:

This week’s post-election financial market action – shares down, the dollar off by a couple of cents and easing long-term bond yields – has been driven by fears that the US economic recovery is stalling.

From: August 28, “The economic costs of a fractured parliament could break us” (The Australian)

Also see
August 30, “Local market enjoys 5-week high” (ABC News)
August 31, “No silver bullet to fix US economy, warns Obama.” (The Australian)
August 31, “[Global] Double-dip recession possible: RBA” (ABC News’ The World Today)

2. The likely alternative (and still possible conclusion) to the current hung Parliament situation from the August 21st election, would be the incumbent Labor Party holding office with the Greens Party holding a “balance of power” in the Senate from the 1st of July, 2011. This would more than likely lead to new taxes – possibly at a higher rate than what the Labor Party campaigned for at the election – which would majorly effect the main industry which can quickly bring us out of deficit, the mining industry. The possibility of this tax is now delayed as we have the proverbial “draw” with the same big tax concerns that existed pre-election, but without a Government who can act upon or be lobbied on such proposals:

August 23, “Australian election limbo continues” CBC News:

Stocks in Australia’s biggest mining companies rose Monday as the government’s plans for a new tax on their profits were thrown into doubt after the nation’s closest election in almost 50 years delivered no clear mandate.

Also see
August 28, “Gillard walks fine line on Greens” (The Australian)
August 31, “Mining exports boost GDP, slashes $10bn off current account deficit.” (PerthNow)

3. This author is just an average Australian, and for the average Australian, having no Government in power to implement/increase taxes or remove civil liberties has to be a most desirable outcome out of possible outcomes that can be thought. The Australian public also get to hear from a wider array of voices and opinions than it otherwise would have without the Hung Parliament scenario.

How long in limbo?

Who knows when Australia will have a Government exactly! Check this website for a recent update on whether or not it does. But the limbo does eventually have to come to an end:

Legal experts from the Australian National University said election rules allowed Gillard to carry on in her caretaker role for up to three months while she struggled to enlist a majority.

From: August 23, “Australian election limbo continues” (CBC News)

Also keep in mind that another election – at least for the House of Representatives – is still a possible outcome from the current negotiations. Indeed, it’s a possibility the major parties are currently preparing for:

August 31st, “Second election costly for major parties” (ABC News’ The World Today)

Conclusion

Ah, Australia, the lucky country. It seems like her people won’t even have to put up with a Government for the start of the traditional September footy finals. The only people disappointed are those believing we need urgent action to reduce human carbon emissions, those people will just have to hold their breath for the time being. But surely the most important thing to come up from this scenario is the chance for change and the chance to question, where there previously was not. From going to sleep on August 21st to waking up August 22nd, the major party politicians who so obviously uninspired the nation during the election campaign, saw the focus move away from them and onto otherwise unheard voices with some previously unheard and certainly not listened to views.

This could well be a trend in the political atmosphere in Australia, or certainly could be if people want it to be. As not just in this Hung Parliament scenario, but in the short-term future, battle lines will be re-drawn in what’s a dramatically altered Parliament already with the Greens having the “balance of power” in the Senate for the first time. So if you demand change on an issue of importance, or in the Australian political system in general, get informed, get active, and get your voice heard.

Clarke & Dawe have done comedy skits on the hung Parliament situation, as seen on The 7:30 Report 26th of August and 1st of September, 2010:

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  1. September 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

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