Thursday, September 2, 2010

Christmas Decorations

Like an excitable parent who doesn't take the Christmas decorations down until Australia Day, one of my neighbours just cannot seem to let the election go:

I mean, I know the final result is still unclear, but the campaigning part of the whole thing is over and done with, right? The signs and stuff can't help anymore, right? None of the candidates are still actually trying to get our vote... right?

Well right.

But only in the sense that our primary political leaders are no longer trying to get our vote. As in the humble punters that make up the bulk of the electorate in this country. Nope, we've had our go and the major parties are well and truly done with us. And since these same major parties went out of their way to ensure there were no real differences between them during the election campaign, and so no meaningful choice, we didn't end up choosing either of them outright.

Final power, then, now rests in the hands of a disparate group of independents and minor party parliamentarians, and the wooing of their vote is very much still in full swing. A second election campaign, of sorts.

And both major party's seem much more comfortable with this. This is politickin' as both Labor and Liberal prefer it, in private suites of offices away from the prying eyes of the public and the media. Where deals can be cut and votes bartered over coffee and sandwiches and where the talk is pragmatic and no one has to pretend to be in favour of reducing public debt while simultaneously announcing $42 billion worth of spending, as the Liberal Party did, or to pretend to be strongly in favour of reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously announcing a ludicrously complicated citizens assembly that would have made it impossible to reduce anything except the application of common sense, as Labor had done.

Those kind of nonsensical, doublethink ideas have gone out the window now we're into 'Election Campaign 2: Meet The Independents.' Both Gillard and Abbott are doing their best to stick to facts and reality and keep the bullshit to a minimum at the moment. And both are looking pained doing it, like people who learned how to play the piano when they were kids but haven't played for years and are now trying to recall a phrase or two. But this - hard facts and no hyperbole - is what the independents want and so this is what our leaders are trying to give them, at least in public.

And so this current dance between Labor, Liberal and the Independents is simultaneously like an election campaign as we know them... and yet not like one.

For example, Julia Gillard gave a speech to the 'National Press Club' last week, as she did during the real election campaign, in which she outlined her vision for Australia... a vision which suddenly included things like reform of Parliament and more money for neglected regions of Australia and more money for mental health treatment and disability insurance. Things, policies, with a bit of vision about them and so entirely missing from her actual election campaign, the one that was supposedly run for our benefit. And Tony Abbott this week submitted all of his election policies to Treasury for costing, exactly as the 'Charter of Budgetary Honesty' requires him to do during an election campaign... except he didn't do this during the actual election campaign, the one supposedly run for our benefit, claiming at the time that Treasury was full of liars and communists and should be the subject of a Federal Police investigation.

That Federal Police investigation is now forgotten about, and anyone that asks Mr Abbott about it in public will get a sickly grin before he changes the subject (in private they'd probably get a punch in the face, at least). Likewise anyone that asks Ms Gillard about her sudden conversion to Parliamentary reform, a broken Labor election promise from 2007, will get a short reply about the wonders of democracy and her personal commitment to reform. And then both of them would probably dash, sprint, to the nearest phone to call Rob Oakeshott or Bob Katter and ask them if they'd seen the press conference and what did they think and how was everything going anyway? Bigger office? Maybe you could use a bigger office. We could arrange a bigger office if you feel you need one. Now might be the time. Anything you like, you've got my number.

There can be no doubt that these are unusual times in Australian politics (Don Bradman and Adolf Hitler were both still captaining their respective countries last time we had a hung parliament) and this is causing some unusual side effects. Quite apart from the major party leaders behaving like rational adults with the best interests of the public at heart, some good ideas are being batted around about what to do with this country of ours. Some bad ideas are being batted around too, but the key word in both of those sentences is 'ideas' (and the 'batted around' part is important too):

Bob Katter wants a return to protectionism and the tariff wall, Rob Oakeshott a national unity government, Tony Windsor super fast broadband, Adam Bandt and the Greens a conscience vote on gay marriage, Tony Crook a sackfull of money for his mob in the bush and Andrew Wilkie a new hospital for Hobart (I guess not everyone's caught up in the big picturedness of the moment).

Now you could fairly quickly make a list of pros and cons for all of those proposals and stir up a pretty lively debate about any of them. And if you did that, you'd have the undying gratitude of anyone in Australia with an interest in politics who's just suffered through 5 weeks of 'Moving Forward' and 'Stop the Boats!' (A debate! With ideas and and differing points of view and everything!).

The other thing you can fairly quickly deduce from looking at that grab bag of wish list items is that it's no surprise we don't have a government yet. The fate deciding independents have little in common other than the phrase 'Independant Member for' in front of their parliamentary title. Little wonder then, that Tony and Julia look not only like people who have forgotten how to play the piano, but like medieval princes who have forgotten how to play the piano and who are also watching their castle being sacked by Visigoths. Business as usual has been suspended and change is in the air. Which has got to be good for the rest of us.

The Labor Party, which has already signed agreements with the Greens and Andrew Wilkie for limited support, appear best placed at this time to stagger over the line. The Coalition's mathematical problems with how they've funded their policies, exposed at long last by Treasury scrutiny, has undoubtedly hurt them. Treasury reporting a short fall of $7 - 11 billion dollars in the funding of a candidate that had sloganised constantly about 'ending debt' and 'stopping the waste' in Government spending could only ever be bad. Although Abbott did his best to heroically wave these sums aside as unimportant, and nothing more than 'a difference of opinion.'

Oakeshott, Katter and Windsor have indicated they should make up their mind this week, and maybe as early as tomorrow (Tuesday). The established thinking is that they will find enough common ground with each other and one of the major parties to install a minority government of some sort and end this current limbo period.

If they cannot, and it's probably unlikely but not impossible, we could all be back to the polls to have another go. Perhaps my neighbour, the one with the election signs still in the front yard, knows something the rest of us don't.

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