Tom Switzer

Gillard’s fractious premiership

Gillard's fractious premiership
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‘The definition of an Independent Member of Parliament, viz., one that could not be depended upon.’ - Former British prime minister, the Earl of Derby to Queen Victoria.

In the August 21 federal election down under, the Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard copped a stunning rebuke from the Australian people. Consider this: Tony Abbott’s centre-right Liberal-National Coalition won nearly half a million more votes than the Australian Labor Party. It secured more seats than the ALP (73 to 72 in the 150-seat House of Representatives). And the Labor administration became the first first-term government since 1931 to lose a parliamentary majority. So how does Labor claim a mandate to govern?

The two rural Independents, on whose support Julia Gillard now depends, represent electorates that are overwhelmingly conservative. All the available evidence -- the senate vote on August 21 and the subsequent opinion polls in the two electorates – indicates that the electors of these Independent seats strongly favour the Coalition over Labor.

And yet, the suddenly famous duo of the 60-year-old Tony Windsor and the 40-year-old Rob Oakeshott sided with this unpopular Labor government whose prime minister, the Lady Macbeth of Australian politics, lacks any real legitimacy.

Why? Simply put, Labor was prepared to bribe the two Independents with an offer of $10 billion of boondoggles and special deals for their electorates and broader regions. Part of that pork includes Labor’s proposed national broadband network. Labor plans to spend $30 billion of tax dollars to deliver 100-odd megabits per second to every household in the next decade. Never mind it requires an unwanted faith in the Nanny State to believe that any government can deliver on time, on budget or at all the promised digital nirvana without the slightest idea of how to pay for it commercially.

If you think all this represents an unfair outcome, you’re right. It hardly represents the will of people, as even Windsor himself conceded at today’s press conference. But as bad as this electoral outcome is, it could even be worse.

Last week Gillard, a former secretary of the Socialist Form (the offspring of the old Australian Communist Party), signed an alliance with the Greens, a far-left so-called environment party. Given that nine Green senators will control the upper house balance of power from next July, this alliance will create the most left-wing government in the Antipodes. That’s quite a mouthful when you ponder the socialist governments that all too often run New Zealand.

And what are the Green policy priorities? Impose a 50 per cent tax on the resources sector, on whose back Australia’s remarkable prosperity rests. Kill the coal industry, on whose back Australia’s energy-intensive based economy rests. And introduce same-sex marriage and adoption as well as death duties. None of which reflects the thoughts and attitudes of Middle Australia where the political gravity remains right of centre in the post-John Howard era.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and this one goes like this: Labor is on the verge of a nasty civil war, waged primarily between the Prime Minister’s office and the very factional war lords who knifed Kevin Rudd three months ago but who now blame Gillard for Labor’s poor election campaign. The spectre of Rudd, meanwhile, still haunts parliament: he’s risen from the political grave and haunting his nemesis like Banquo's ghost. Add in that odd mix of legislators – from Green party activists on the left to rural Independents on the right – and Labor’s hold on power in the new hung parliament is about as tight as the Democrats’ control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Get set for more Labor bloodletting in coming months.

Labor’s grip on power, moreover, lies in the hands of any one Government MP. If he or she resigns or dies in office, and if they represent a marginal seat, the game could very well be up any time before the next election is due in 2013. One can’t help but think that if Kevin Rudd, the King Duncan of Australian politics, is not accommodated in the new government – a very real likelihood given the bitterness surrounding his fatal stabbing which sparked a cycle of revenge knifings -- he may well take his bat and ball, go home, declare his innings, and leave in his wake a tough by-election in what is now a marginal Brisbane seat.

As Macbeth put it, the assassination, far from proving the ‘be-all and end-all’ of the act, can ‘return to plague the inventor.’ If Rudd did indeed leave politics during this term, it would amount to the ultimate act of revenge.

Tom Switzer is editor of the Spectator Australia in Sydney.