Abbott’s mandate for change

| September 8, 2013

On Saturday 7 September the Coalition Government led by Tony Abbott was victorious in the 2013 Federal Election. Charles Sturt University’s Dominic O’Sullivan looks at the outcome and what it means for Australia.

The Coalition’s election victory was convincing. However, as many of its outgoing ministers noted Labor’s loss was more the result of the party’s self-obsession, and desperate associations with Craig Thompson and Peter Slipper as metaphors for sustained failures of political management, than it was the result of demonstrable policy failings. The government’s economic management was, after all, endorsed by commentators as authoritative and informed as the Economist magazine.

Nevertheless, the incoming Government has a mandate for change: to repeal the carbon and mining taxes, cut foreign aid to build better roads, change the approach to asylum seekers, but ensure that simple human compassion is given no policy consideration. It has a mandate to recast the ‘class warfare’ debate by cutting the School Kids’ Bonus and super co-contributions from low income earners, while increasing private health insurance rebates for those that a fiscally prudent government might reasonably expect to look after themselves.

Importantly, the Prime Minster-elect, Tony Abbott, also proposes ‘grown-up government’ of the sort Australia has not seen over the past three years. The new Government’s significant majority in the House of Representatives will be helpful in this respect. The test will come as the Coalition negotiates with a bizarrely balanced Senate to legislate its policy agenda. While Labor and the Greens will lose their combined majority in the 76 seat Upper House, the balance of power will shift to a likely cross bench of eight, including two members of the Palmer United Party, one from the little-known Liberal Democrats, and one each from parties who campaigned on no policies. The Australian Sports Party, which on the latest count secured .22% of first preference votes will take a seat in Western Australia, while in Victoria it appears that the sitting Liberal Senator, Helen Kroger, will lose, on preferences, to the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, whose candidate polled .53% of first preference votes to Kroger’s 10.52%.

Once again, the Senate electoral system has shown its capacity to elect senators who demonstrably do not enjoy the support of a significant body of voters. This outcome, especially if the result is obstruction of the Coalition’s mandate, should lead to a comprehensive review of the Senate’s purpose so that an electoral system better equipped to reflect voters’ preferences can be designed. The strength and legitimacy of any political system is its capacity to reflect the will of the people and, while some voters certainly cast protest votes in favour of the Sports and Motoring and Enthusiasts’ parties, they were surely not of sufficient number to satisfy those who voted for other parties that their representation is legitimate.

‘Grown-up Government’ depends on a ‘grown-up’ electoral system and it may be that the constitution of the new Senate challenges voters’ confidence in the system, just as voters’ lack of confidence in the ALP has stemmed from the party’s not particularly ‘grown-up’ ways: entrenched factional politics, desperate allegiances to hold on to power, and inability to manage corruption in its New South Wales branch.

The ALP enters the new Parliament with sufficient numbers to provide an effective Opposition, but these systemic weaknesses have distinguished Australia’s oldest political party for some time and they are barriers to the development of the moral authority that needs to accompany Parliamentary numbers if the party is to prepare itself to return to government any time soon. The immediate concern for the ALP is not so much who takes its leadership from Kevin Rudd, but that the ‘faceless men’ whom the public so detest, have no role in the selection. This is an important first step towards the unrepresentative factionalism that stands between the party and the people who have so comprehensively rejected the Labor style of politics.

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Dominic O’Sullivan is Associate Professor of political science at Charles Sturt University. He is author of 5 books including Indigenous health: power, politics and citizenship (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015).

0 Comments

  1. tigerpom

    December 21, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Social worker perspectives on AS and offshore detention policy

    In the context of recent Australian policy, debate on asylum seekers has been highly political. However, Australia has a long history of accepting refugees since 1945. The number of people arriving unauthorized by boat in Australia is small in comparison to numbers worldwide. The intake of refugees has significantly impacted on the costs of processing and supporting arrivals. In terms of continued pressures, it can be expected that there may be continued pressure placed upon the system, with many claiming current policy settings are not a long term solution given global events. It can be seen that current government policy settings are opposed to contemporary social work practices, with large gaps between the two parties in terms of effectively meeting the social needs of asylum seekers. The peak body representing social workers has expressed concern in re-traumatising and unnecessarily creating social adjustment issues in regards to asylum seekers. It can be argued that as a relatively affluent country, Australia should be expected to demonstrate moral leadership on this issue. Human rights should be applied to all no matter what or who they are, including with seekers of political asylum.