There is something to be said for a hung parliament, albeit not much. At least the onset of minority government seems to be leading to a turnover in the cliche of choice for journalists. The concept of an elephant in the room is still in situ. However, there are clear signs that talk about a new paradigm is now all the rage. On Monday’s Q&A program, presenter Tony Jones told us about this new paradigm phenomenon on no fewer than four occasions.
In fact, the new model of politics is not significantly different from what preceded it. The new paradigm is but the old model tarted up. It is understandable why political activists engage in mythology. But for the rest of us, it is useful to puncture myths before they become lore. Here is a contribution to myth-busting:
Myth 1. Kevin Rudd’s replacement by Julia Gillard in June was a coup enacted by faceless men. In fact, coups do not happen in Western-style democracies. They either initiate or reflect an autocratic form of government. In Australia, incumbent prime ministers – on both sides of politics – have been replaced in the past. A similar fate was suffered by Billy Hughes in 1923, Robert Menzies in 1941, John Gorton in 1971 and Bob Hawke in 1991.
What’s more, none of those who moved against Rudd were faceless. This is a term which comes from a time when virtually unknown delegates to the ALP’s national conference determined Labor’s policy. Most of those who decided that Rudd had to go were elected politicians – Bill Shorten, Gary Gray, Don Farrell and David Feeney. The best known of the trade union officials who moved against Rudd was the high-profile Paul Howes.
Myth 2. The Gillard government is illegitimate. Not so. Labor has a working majority of two in the House of Representatives, even if only 72 out of 76 MPs are ALP members. The United Australia Party government led by Robert Menzies after the 1940 election was legitimate, even though it had to rely on the support of two conservative independents.
Myth 3. Julia Gillard does not have a mandate. She does – if she can get the one Greens MP and the three independents to support her. What’s different about this election is that the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, can properly claim some kind of mandate for the opposition. After all, the Coalition won many more primary votes than Labor and the two-party preferred vote is still about line-ball.
Menzies was dependent on two conservative independents, and Gillard is dependent on the support of two rural independents whose electorates, judged on the Senate vote, clearly prefer the Coalition to the ALP.
Myth 4. Labor’s defeat was due to the fact that, in the words of Rod Cameron on Lateline last week, it ran the “worst federal campaign” he has ever seen. This self-serving mythology overlooks the fact Abbott ran a very effective campaign from the time he became Liberal leader in December.
A number of ALP operatives – including Rodney Cavalier and Graham Richardson – warned their colleagues Abbott posed a serious threat to Labor’s apparent ascendancy. The advice was dismissed. Who were the complacent lot? Step forward Cameron, who told a sympathetic Laura Tingle in December that Abbott was “unelectable”.
Myth 5. The News Limited publications played a key role in Labor’s near defeat. In fact, the key journalists in the campaign were Laurie Oakes, Peter Hartcher and Kerry O’Brien. Oakes and Hartcher were recipients of the leaks highly damaging to Gillard and neither works for News Limited.
The Australian was critical of Labor but does not have a big distribution on weekdays. In Sydney, The Daily Telegraph was critical of Labor but the ALP saved government by holding Lindsay and Greenway in western Sydney.
Myth 6. The independent and Greens parliamentarians represent a brand new kind of politics. Not so. Rob Oakeshott is garrulous, indecisive and cannot remember inconvenient facts. Tony Windsor is so insensitive as to compare membership of the National Party with malignant cancer. And Adam Bandt and Senator Lee Rhiannon either do not want to discuss, or are in denial about, their one-time infantile communism.
Myth 7. The Greens will control the Senate after July 1, 2011. They won’t. From the middle of next year there will be nine Greens among a total of 64 senators. If the opposition chooses to support the Gillard government on, say, uranium exports – then any such Labor legislation will pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Myth 8. The Gillard government will be short-lived. It ain’t necessarily so. Bandt and Denison independent Andrew Wilkie are leftists who are most unlikely to bring down Gillard in favour of Abbott. Bob Katter is a genuine independent, who almost certainly would retain Kennedy in another election.
But Oakeshott and Windsor have a vested interest in making this parliament run as long as possible to rationalise their decision to support Gillard and as a means of implementing their dislike of the National Party to which they once belonged.
The most likely scenario for the next three years is that not a lot happens. Such a status quo outcome would be a long way from the widely anticipated new paradigm.