The well-publicised aspect of the Australian federal election -- the change of government -- was not as emphatic as some had expected, but was certainly emphatic enough. There's another, more practical matter remaining to be determined though. That is the changing mechanics of the house of review, whose imbalance at the last election opened the portal for Work Choices, which like an ill-summoned demon consumed its master.
It seems likely that the Senate dominoes will fall this way: 37 L-NP, 32 ALP, 5 Greens, 1 FF, 1 Independent. It was the wrong half of the cycle for anything much more dramatic to occur. This means a couple of things: the outright Coalition majority is gone, but they retain the ability to block legislation with a single supporting vote from Family First or the independent Nick Xenophon -- both of whom broadly fall in their half of the political continuum.
But they'd want to be very careful. If they overuse this remnant power in the Senate, they risk appearing to reject the ALP's lower house mandate to govern. Barnaby Joyce remarked last week that a double dissolution election would likely be disastrous for the Coalition, and he's right, particularly if it occurred in the next 2 years. The only upside would be that (as we've just seen) outright control of both houses is a double-edged sword for any Government over the course of the subsequent election cycle, just because of the giddyness of total control and the Australian public's habit of saying "Oops". Still, that would be a very strange strategy for the Coalition to pursue.
In any event, Rudd is unlikely to try it. He'll play a bit of realpolitick in the Senate, make much of any obstreperous behaviour from the Opposition, and go to the people in 1100 days asking for just a little bit more.
It does raise the spectre of the ALP coddling right wing indies in the Senate on a few issues, which might be stomach-turning for you. But on the whole, as Australian electors say over and over, this is a pretty good scenario for the house of review. It means that policies must be argued for and explained in the Parliament itself, rather than in the party room as has been the case for the last three years.
It means we have public debates, rather than just imagining political deals behind the scenes. We probably won't like the outcomes all that often, but ultimately this is the real change, and the thing to savour about what happened yesterday: once again we will talk openly and open-mindedly about the problems of the nation. All this zealotry, born of frustration, should begin to diminish.
Joseph | 25 Nov 2007