Wednesday, September 8, 2010
It's Good to be the King!
Tony Abbott is a man of his word.
During negotiations with minor party and independent parliamentarians over the last two weeks on who would form a minority government, the Opposition leader pledged a 'kinder, gentler polity,' if they supported him as Prime Minister.
Then, in the aftermath of yesterdays decision by the final pair of uncommitted country independents - Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor - to back Julia Gillard instead, handing her the top job, Abbott promised to hold the new government 'ferociously' to account and to 'vigorously' scrutinise all Government policy and to 'smash the fuck out of any Government members who step out of line or look at me funny.'
Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.
Abbott, more than a little disappointed he's not going to be PM, has cancelled all bets now that the election has finally limped to an exhaustive conclusion. You'll note that he didn't say he'd be nice if he didn't get to sit in the Prime Minister's office.
Which probably suits the man and his temperament. Nice was never his strong suit and holding his breath these last few months and not trying to yell and bash things has probably worn him out a bit. Now that the election is over and he doesn't have to try and convince any swinging voters in marginal seats to vote for him - at least for a little while - he can exhale and let the mongrel back out again.
And he's not alone. Members of the Liberal Party were flailing around today, desperately trying to get onto some sort of media conveyance - print, radio, television, online, whatever - so they could let fly at our new Government and it's independent backers.
Liberal Senator George 'The Hitman' Brandis: 'This government has as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team.'
Nationals Senator Ron 'Begbie' Boswell: 'This is payback from Tony Windsor on the National Party.'
And Manager of Opposition Business Christopher 'The Hammer' Pyne: 'This government is like putting a mongoose and a cobra together.'
And while I'm not sure exactly what The Hammer is getting at with his comment, you can bet that he doesn't approve of the way things played out.
So what does this mean for our incoming Government? The one that will be mostly made up of shell shocked Labor MPs and backed, sort of, by an excitable Green (Adam Brandt), a taciturn former Army officer (Andrew Wilkie) and the aforementioned country independents? Well, it probably means that it's unlikely that it'll be a Government that'll 'let the sunshine in' (as Gillard said it would be yesterday, trying her best to sound optimistic at a difficult time). Robb Oakeshott's desire for 'consensus politics' is also about as likely as Bob 'The Mad' Katter agreeing to appear on a Mardi Gras parade float.
Far more likely is that this will be a government on the run, trying to appease it's disparate supporters in the House of Representatives - who span the whole political spectrum, from left to right - while trying to come up with something the the balance of power Greens in the Senate will also find acceptable. And all this while the Coalition will fight tooth and nail on all fronts to oppose every bit of legislation the new Government puts forward, knowing that they only need to shake one vote free to stop any policy in its tracks. And also knowing that if this were to happen a few times, the Government would grind to a halt and Coalition calls for a fresh election - which they are confident they would win - may well be overwhelming.
There is a precedent for this type of thing.
In 1975, the Whitlam Labor government held control of the Senate by a single vote. The death of one Labor Senator, and his subsequent replacement by a National Party representative (quite a story in itself), cost Labor control of the Senate and set off a chain reaction of events that lead to the Liberals Malcolm Fraser being installed as Prime Minister. Fresh elections were subsequently called to resolve the situation. Much has been written about this incident, the great 'Constitutional Crisis' of 1975, and much of what has been written about it focuses on the injustices heaped onto Gough Whitlam and Labor. What is usually less focused on is that when fresh, deadlock breaking elections were held, the Liberal Party gave Labor such a trouncing it took them nearly a decade to recover.
The problems for Labor then, are many.
They have to try and look confident and in control at a time when their confidence has been knocked by a poor election result and they have, literally, lost control of Parliament. They have to try and put forward bold, definitive policies on climate change, taxation and asylum seekers at a time when their new, independent, supporters do not agree what, if anything, needs to be done about any of these things. They have to try and prevent all their factional heavyweights and apparatchiks from tearing into each other and blaming one another for their appalling electoral outcome at a time when they show no interest in doing anything else. And, and perhaps most importantly, they have to find a way to get Robb Oakeshott into the ministry that they've promised him while keeping him away from any microphones or press, lest he launch into another endless speech like he did when he announced his vote yesterday.
Really, that last one is important. This bloke'll be assassinated and we'll be back to the polls again if he thinks he can drone away endlessly about the nobility of country children and the wonders of the democratic process whenever he feels like it (I wanted to jam corks in my ears and smash my radio after about five minutes).
Which is to say, he can do exactly that, drone on endlessly or whatever else take his fancy. All the independents can. Whatever may happen in the life of this government, for now Oakeshott et al are king makers, and as Mel Brooks will tell you: