Well, 5 days later and Australia still doesn't have a government. I feel a little bit like I'm living in a little Central American country like Coregos, except of course that I have fresh water to put in my tea, a public health system and electricity except during thunderstorms. The national stock exchange continues to plummet with uncertainty - you'd think that economists would be used to not knowing what was coming next - and in Canberra the major parties continue to wine and dine the newly elected Independents and Green MP in the hope of convincing them that they're the lesser of two evils.
Apologies, gentle reader, for involving you in the mess that is the Australian federal election, but this could be a real watershed moment in Australian politics, sparking parlimentary reform and a mix-up of the Australian party system thats been is virtual stasis since the formation of the Coalition in 1920's. Or it could be the pre-season before more of the same, but we can always hope. Thus, it's time for a refresher course in the Westminster Parlimentary system as practiced in Australia at a national level.
First, the situation. To form government, a prospective prime-minister must be able to count 76 of the 150 Members of the House of Representatives - MP's (I am aware that many consider the apostrophe there incorrect, but I think it looks nicer, so it's staying) - as support, or we go back to polls and try again. At the moment, the conservative Coalition of the Liberal, National, Liberal-National and Country Liberal parties - original names, huh? - led by Tony Abbott looks like it will end up with 73 seats and the current small-l-liberal Labor government led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard looks like getting 72, with 3 of those seats still in doubt, and the remainder of the parliament filled out by 3 conservative Independents from Queensland and New South Wales, one liberal Independent from Tasmania, and one Green from Victoria. With all the elected MPs trying to avoid another election immediately - they want to keep their jobs, after all - it would seem to be up to these 5 players as to who gets the top job in the country and who has to settle for leadership of the opposition - and probably try to fend off a leadership challenge, for good measure - .
However, all is not well in the Coalition camp, with the new National party member from Western Australia entering the fray and annoucing that he would not automatically vote with the Coalition, but would sit on the cross-benches and support whichever party would give WA a better deal. He can do this because the WA Nationals are actually a seperate party to the national Nationals, but also because the Coalition has a long-standing tradition - admittedly little seen in recent years - of allowing its members to cross the floor and vote against them if they desire. The Labor party is more likely to throw you out if you try it on them.
So at the end of an election thats been more of a media circus than a referedum about the issues, it fits that we have 6 relative unknowns who will vie against each other for power to determine who runs the country for the next up-to-3 years. I'm your host for this evening, and it's time to Make a Deal. First, let's meet our contestants.
Bob Katter - Independent for Kennedy (QLD)
The man who famously once said he would "walk backwards from Bourke" if there were any homosexuals in Charters Towers, Mr. Katter is a former Nationals MP - when asked why he left the Nats he recently replied "You got about two hours?" - who likes
ethanol fuel, Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the Australian way of life and dislikes privitisation, foreign imports, computers, and all the major parties. He's been in state and then federal seats since the mid-70's, so he knows how it's done. He wants broadband internet in the bush but doesn't want it privatised - which supports Labor policy -, and can be expected to oppose any Emissions trading scheme - Colation policy -.
Tony Windsor - Independent for New England (NSW)
Dumped from the National Party for a driving offence just before pre-selection for the state election in 1991 - he referred to that and his concurrent giving up of smoking as "rid[ding himself] of two cancers" - , Tony has been a state and then Federal member ever since, and was part of the balance of power in the hung NSW parliaments in the 90's, so he's no stranger to this sort of situation. Dedicated to climate change and improving internet speeds in the bush, he could swing either way, and some commentators have suggested that he will... in exchange for the coveted position as Speaker of the House.
Rob Oakeshott - Independent for Lyne (NSW)
Yet another former Nationals state MP, Mr. Oakeshott has held Lyne as an independent since 2008, when he won in each and every voting booth in the electorate. He says establishing an emissions trading scheme is his big issue, and has made waves with his suggestions that, instead of -or as well as - focusing on the independent MP's, Coalition or Labor MP's like former leaders Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull should cross the floor and support the other side to form government instead of leaving a government with only a thin majority of 76 seats. This sort of thing has happened in state parliaments before, but if such a situation could occur nationally, it could change the political landscape in Australia for the short-term, if not for longer, causing party loyalties to be challenged and encouraging more members to cross the floor and vote against their own party, an extremely rare occurence in modern federal parliaments. He's not the only person suggesting some unusual stuff, but he may have started a trend.
Andrew Wilkie - Independent for Denison (TAS) Coming from the Labor stronghold of Denison - held by Labor since 1987 - Mr. Wilkie is an ex-intelligence operative who first shot to fame as a whistleblower speaking out against the Iraq war. He ran for the Greens in the home Electorate of then-PM John Howard in 2004, but was once a young Liberal, and says he has no strong ties to either party but is rather "a new breed of political activist". That said, his policies would seem much more at home in a Labor government.
Adam Bandt - Green for Melbourne (VIC)
Representing the other of the two safe, safe Labor seats - Melbourne has been held by Labor since 1904 - that have been poached by the left in this election, Mr. Bandt likes the Green party and presumably all their policies and can be expected to side with a Labor government - or at least be sure of not siding with the Coalition - but his support in every vote is by no means a sure thing.
So, these six contestants hold the fate of the nation in their hands, the greatest power any individual MPs have held in parliament in half a century, let's show them what they've won...