Australia voted, and now the independents should too

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Let’s get this election over with. It’s already gone on for about a week too long, and instead of being obliged to exhaustively rebut the myth that Labor’s losing the two-party preferred vote, Antony Green needs a holiday. The only counting the ABC’s election analyst should be doing is of the olives in his poolside martini.

I find it hard to believe the independents haven’t made their minds up already. Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott know Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott intimately from Parliament. And unless they slept through the Rudd years – for which they could, admittedly, be forgiven – they must have a firm view about whether they’d rather see Gillard or Abbott as PM.
What we have instead of a decision is a protracted charade of seeming undecided. No doubt they’re enjoying their moment in the national spotlight – and that’s fine. I won’t pretend I haven’t been enjoying Bob Katter’s antics, and will attend his gigs once he makes his inevitable transition to the RSL comedy circuit. But now it’s time for them to make a call. If Matt Preston and his uncravatted colleagues can make far more important decisions in an hour on MasterChef, then surely the three rural indies didn’t need more than a week.
Andrew Wilkie’s conduct, by contrast, has been exemplary. Once he looked like winning, he organized a quick meeting with each leader, released an absurd list of demands, quickly acknowledged they were only really a “wish list”, and promised to announce his decision tomorrow. Which will highly likely be Gillard. As you’d expect of a former Green who narrowly snatched a win from the ALP.
Adam Bandt didn’t even need to take that long. Of course he’s supporting Labor, who will inevitably fall slightly less short of the Greens’ lofty, leftie, uncosted ideals than the Coalition.
Tony Crook, the WA National, was also fairly circumspect. He’d consider supporting Labor if they dumped the mining tax, he announced, surprising those of us who hadn’t realised the WA Nationals were mavericks who don’t play nice with the Liberals or even their Federal equivalents. Julia Gillard refused, and so he acknowledged there was a snowball’s chance in Heffernan’s house of him supporting Labor. Easy.
But the good men of Kennedy, Lyne and New England weren’t going to make things so easy. Oh, no. They insisted on meeting the heads of departments, perusing the budget estimates, and otherwise behaving like ATO auditors on Ritalin.
Rob Oakeshott even suggested everyone get together and sing Advance Australia Kumbaya, which was all very lovely, but showed great ignorance of the value of having an Opposition to scrutinise a Government. It’s left me wondering about his credibility as a political leader – although I’d definitely back him to head up a Scout troop. Best Bob-A-Job day ever, I’d wager.
The Indies should get on with it so we can quickly conclude whether this situation can work at all. I suspect it won’t, because to get anything done, both parties would have to craft bills which appeal to both the Greens and several of the Independents. And other than some sort of massive subsidy for organic farming in North Queensland. I’m not sure the bill exists that would please both Bob Katter and Bob Brown.
Let’s look at this in more detail. The Coalition’s on 72 seats not including Crook, so Tony Abbott would need him and three of the four Indies to pass any legislation. But three of them, Oakeshott, Windsor and Wilkie think there should be a price on carbon, for example, and might well back the mining tax. It would be a struggle for Abbott to negotiate any bill even before facing the Senate.
And then, what will happen after July? The Greens saw what happened to the Democrats when they passed the GST, and surely they won’t destroy their brand by compromising their principles. They refused to pass the ETS last time, let’s not forget, because it didn’t go far enough. So besides paid parental leave, which of Abbott’s policies are they likely to approve, exactly?
Labor’s chances of being an effective government have to be rated slightly higher because they’re more natural allies with the Greens in the Senate. In the Lower House they’d have 74 with Bandt and Wilkie – but then they’d still need at least Oakeshott and Windsor to pass any bill. Again, this will make negotiating almost any legislation tortuous.

Whoever is the next Prime Minister is likely to be almost completely ineffective, and as a result will probably lose the next election in a landslide. After three years of chaos – which both parties will be obliged to guarantee if they win, since the Independents are demanding a full-term commitment – the electorate will be fed up with everyone associated with the Government.

At the National Press Club, the Prime Minister has just said that Australians voted for this result, so it was the politicians’ job to make it work. She’s wrong. No-one in Australia endorsed this outcome. Rather, an almost equal number of us wanted diametrically opposite outcomes, and so what we have is a bad compromise, that will please nobody who isn’t lucky enough to be represented by an Independent. Another election seems like the best chance of a functional government, but the price of becoming Prime Minister is promising not to call one.
So, get used to Bob Katter and his enormous hat on the nightly news, Australia. Right now, the independents have been given far more say than any one Parliamentarian representing a mere 1/150th of Australia’s voters deserves, and the entire nation is waiting on tenterhooks for them to announce their whims. And they intend to keep it that way.