The driver who took us home from the airport suggested that the election result was a bad thing because the outcome was uncertain. I said the result was the result we had, and that the politicians would simply have to make it work. That was, after all, what their jobs were about. Politics is the art of the compromise. He was unpersuaded. A clear outcome was what he had been seeking, and it seemed to him, I thought, that anything else was bad for the country. We didn’t solve that one before the car arrived at our freezing house, unheated for a month.

But the discussion stayed in my mind, not because I thought he was simply wrong. Many people want clear outcomes, so that they can get on with their lives, or have some sense of what is likely happen in their area. But a muddy outcome is not necessarily a bad thing. Why did half the country not want the Liberal and National Parties in power, and the other half didn’t want the Labor Party there either? The answer has to have something to do with a substantial lack of trust in the capacity of our governments to govern well. How do you govern well? In my opinion, you are governing well when the great majority of the citizens are concentrating on their own lives, and confident enough about the direction in which the country is heading. It helps if the country is reasonably prosperous and likely to stay that way.

Indeed, we are decently prosperous, but still there is that doubt. What can the politicians do about it? One must begin with some assumptions. I am assuming that Mr Turnbull will still be Prime Minister, and probably dependent on support from one or more Independent or minor party MPs. I am assuming also that the new Senate is not much less hostile to the Government than the one that has gone out into the wider world. What will he have to do? Why, negotiate, compromise, deal, bargain — above all, listen. Some of the things he may want to do just won’t be possible. If he feels strongly about them he will need to talk at the same time to the wider electorate, so that those who take any interest in politics have some understanding of what he wants to do, and why he wants to do it.

In fact, he needs to talk to the wider electorate, not simply the press gallery, in an engaging and alert way, putting forward his ‘plan’, whatever it is. In passing, whoever thought a Liberal leader in Australia would be talking about his ‘five-year plan? — shades of Joe Stalin! I have written before (here and here) that the old assumption about our long-lived two-party system — that it sorted out the important issues for the rest of us — is no longer valid. We are  in a new era. The ALP was once the party of and for the working man (and his wife and family). With fewer than 20 per cent of the workforce in unions (the figure was over 60 per cent in the 1960s) it is not at all clear who ‘the working man’, let alone ‘the working woman’, now is. Many workers are self-employed now, where once they would have been employees — or are in jobs that had no counterpart in the past anyway.

The Liberal Party was the party of and for the middle class, the employers, the  self-employed, some farmer and graziers, and professionals of all kinds. Quite a few of those people are now Labor. The old class and status distinctions that were obvious to me as a young man have gone, or shifted their positions, much as the old Protestant/Catholic divide has gone, and what is ‘religious’ now is Islam and Hillsong. The Nationals are much as they were, but they are now weaker and smaller than they were. The old  established parties are attacked from the left by the Greens, is some sense the real inheritors of Marxism, and from the right by One Nation. I said in my last essay that the Greens’ policies have no intellectual rationale that I can discern, and I could say the same about One Nation, which is a party of protest of those who feel left out, and feel also that they ought not to be left out. The Greens think that ‘climate change’ is the defining issue of our time. One Nation wants a Royal Commission into what it sees as corruption and poor behaviour with respect to the issue. The new Government will have to negotiate with both of them.

What is to be done? I said above that in all probability the Coalition Government will have to negotiate in both Houses of Parliament. There is nothing strange about such a situation, if you set Australia in a global context. Countries whose legislatures are elected through some form of proportional representation system are used to this. No party usually has a clear majority, so negotiations have to take place before a government is formed, and virtually all the time afterwards. No one talks about having a mandate, or does so quietly if they must. For a long time we thought parties that won a clear majority of seats had the right to do all the things they said they were going to do during the election campaign. But for a hundred years and more, the voting outcome of Australian federal elections has usually been within the 55:45 range. Why should such a division have provided an open cheque, so to speak, for the governing party?

For some time now all Australian governments have had to negotiate with a Senate in which they did not have a majority. When John Howard finally possessed a majority in the Senate, he blew it on Work Choices, and went to defeat at the next election. So, back to the point at issue: if Malcolm Turnbull cannot bring himself to negotiate he needs to find colleagues who can, and who can deliver afterwards. The Leader of the House and the manager of Opposition business, the two who determine what happens on a day-to-day basis in the House of Representatives, have to make deals and negotiate with one another all the time. There is nothing strange about it, and they often build up a friendship that crosses party lines as a result of the trust they develop in one another. He will need several colleagues with that outlook, experience and patience.

I read somewhere that the new Senate meant that the new Parliament would be a circus. It doesn’t have to be one. The incoming Government must recognise that it is not able to simply say ‘We are the Government’, and have the rest of Parliament nod respectfully and pass its legislation. And out of the supposed turmoil there may come some consciousness of what ought to be a new intellectual approach to Australian politics, one in which costs and benefits are talked about seriously, and slogans and rhetoric diminished in their noise and frequency.

Or we may just go on getting deeper into debt and ignoring the consequences. After all, as more than one politician pointed out, there are other countries worse off than ourselves. Why can’t we be like Greece…?

Join the discussion 32 Comments

  • Ross says:

    One Nation wants A Royal Commission into Climate Change? They say you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. But One Nation?!? At least the big banks will be smiling.

    • spangled drongo says:

      “One Nation wants A Royal Commission into Climate Change?”

      Yes, amazing isn’t it Ross, that anyone should ask for such a strange thing when we are only spending the odd trillion or two [as yet] on what may be not only a non-problem or possibly a bonus but something our best “scientists” have not been able to quantify to any degree.

      That 0.8c of warming that has occurred since the end of the Little Ice Age, Ross? When will they be able to tell us exactly what portion of that is down to the man made GHG theory and what is natural variability?

      How irresponsible is it to want to audit that “science ” prior to spending a few more trillions on it?

      It’s not as if those “scientists” have any possible conflict of interest, is it?

    • JMO says:

      As i understand it, One nation does not want a RC into CC or the science. Anyone with 1/2 a brain knows of long term weather variability and yes, climates do change. What O N wants is a Royal Commission is the corruption of the science (and there is ample evidence of this) and the obscene money making in renewable energy for little environmental gain or indeed little CO2 mitigation. Just ask the poor (and some are now poor) South Australian electricity consumers. Since wind turbines have cluttered and denigrated their scenery the retail electricity price has increased from the cheapest (or near cheapest) in the world to dearest (or near dearest). True, it can be argued wholesale prices have dropped – but, as demonstrated, it is no help for the poor consumers, Between huge subsidies, renewable energy certificates trading and obscene service and usage charges consumers are being screwed, ripped off and hoodwinked that it is all part of saving the planet.

      • spangled drongo says:

        JMO, the “science” of “climate change” and the corruption of the “science” of “climate change” are one and the same thing.

        This is just some of the bilge that passes for “science” of “climate change” from our ABC today:

        Sydney’s sea levels have steadily risen at most 65mm in a century but a chip on Fort Denison now shows the tide gauge is sinking by a similar amount. IOW virtually NO SLR. And of course there is no indication of any accelerating SLR which would be an indication of the more recent ACO2 effect if it was happening.

        Coastal erosion from storm surge has nothing to do with SLR. That’s been happening forever.

        50 years ago the Gold Coast was almost wiped off the map by coastal erosion from cyclonic storm surges and houses that were washed into the ocean along Hedges Avenue have been rebuilt and sold for tens of millions.

        The last 40 years has been virtually cyclone free in SEQ and NSW but those cycles will return and it won’t be due to SLR.

        Why is it that these “scientists” don’t look at the true facts?

      • David says:

        “…ample evidence of this”

        Such as?

        • Ross says:

          Or not a jot.

        • dlb says:

          Off the top of my head:
          There was the 1954 cyclone that crossed the Gold Coast

          Cyclone Dinah in 1967 produced the largest waves on the east coast for 100 years (BoM), a 2m storm surge at Double Island Point and extensive beach erosion on the Gold Coast as mentioned by spangled.

          In 1974 cyclone Wanda crossing the coast just north of Brisbane was the catalyst for the Brisbane floods.

          Probably many more if you look back 100 years before 1976 including the 1893 Brisbane floods. I have heard it said the sand blows (exposed sand areas) on Fraser Island were caused during a period of high cyclone activity a few hundred years ago. At present these blows are returning back to forest as stable weather is causing revegetation of coastal dunes thus starving the blows of sand.

          • David says:

            DLB, none of this is evidence of corruption, all you have done is provided a potted history of the weather.

          • dlb says:

            Apologies David, I thought you were responding to SD’s comment at 8.26pm.

        • spangled drongo says:

          Been waiting for JMO here but he obviously has more self control.

          David says: July 8, 2016 at 8:09 am “’…ample evidence of this [corruption of science]” Such as?’

          Green Davey, just Google Polar Bears, Penguins or pro-AGW websites.

          For a genuine sci-sceptic like you it’s low hanging fruit, there for the taking.

          Or if you can’t manage that, just reflect on this:

          From Phil Jones To: Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University). July 8, 2004
          “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

          I could go on for a week but you possibly get the point already.

          • David says:

            Spang unfortunately my ability to respond to you in real time has been severely curtailed. But no I don’t get your point. One, two-line quote from an 7 year old email taken out of context, hardly constitutes “corruption of the science”.


          • spangled drongo says:

            That’s OK, Davey. My “sci-sceptic” remark was a little tongue-in-cheek.

            I wouldn’t really expect you to get that the true believers’ endless defence of Climategate is ever so slightly indicative that they are quite aware of how corrupt they were and still are. [Methinks they have always protested too much].

            I mean, when Mikey Mann not only removes the MWP but inverts it and continues to avoid facing the music on his many court cases, ya get the feeling he might have something to hide. For years this Hokey Stick was the symbol used by warmist govt depts and various green orgs but even they now get the picture.

            But whole books have been written on the subject which I’m sure you know about and can find if you want to.

      • Ross says:

        ‘A Royal Commission into the Curruption of Science.’
        My mistake. Look forward to it.
        You know this country is heading in the right direction, when Ms Hansen is calling the shots.

  • Patrick says:

    A very balanced & sensible post Don. Hopefully the Coalition will undertake some serious introspection (or is that retrospection?). Throughout the 8 weeks I kept hoping for some effective campaigning from MT but it never came. There are several major issues on which Labor is extremely vulnerable yet none of them were addressed by MT (or any other coalition candidates for that matter).
    While I really hate & despise the tactics employed by Labor, one must admit that the Labor campaign was far better organised re funding, communication, advertising, volunteer support etc.
    Re One Nation: I certainly don’t agree with much of their policies but Hanson has teamed up with Malcolm Roberts who is the founder of the Galileo Movement. Their policy on climate change is spot on. Hopefully, Malcolm Roberts might actually get a seat in the Senate and if so, for the first time ever, we will have someone who is well informed on climate matters in a position to give voice to all the issues which have been ignored/suppressed by politicians & the media previously. However, there is a real risk that some of One Nation’s other policies will be used to dismiss them as ‘nutters’.
    Cory Bernardi’s recent call for a new conservative movement is interesting in that he is apparently attempting to muster people with conservative values to give them a voice to counter the propaganda & political correctness coming from the left.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Don, I agree with all of the above but the biggest problem with these indecisive govts, not just here but world wide, is their inability to deny the “entitled” their ever increasing demands.

    The then consequential necessity of extreme Keynesian economics leads us into scary territory.

    Who’d’a’ thought a few years back that all the leading economies of the world would be competing to have the lowest credit rating to survive.

    Is the end of democracy just around the corner?

  • Aert Driessen says:

    Don, thank you for an eminently sensible piece. I hope that it gets read by everyone in the new Parliament but I doubt it — too many egos and hidden agendas. Just a few disparate comments that all stem from the scourge of political correctness, that culture so cherished and nourished by the ABC, and which is like a millstone around our collective necks. As for Pauline Hanson, her call for a Royal Commission on climate science is eminently sensible. As I see it, science as I was taught it (EVIDENCE TRUMPS ALL ELSE) is now beyond redemption in the scientific community — it is too politicised. The climate itself could also sort it out but that will take too long and swallow too much money. This corruption of the Scientific Method is also evident in other branches of science like in health-related topics. As I see it, a RC is the way to go. Pauline expresses herself on other issue like Islam and I sympathise with much of what she says but concede that she needs to express herself with more appropriate language; hopefully Malcolm Roberts will win a seat in the Senate and help her with this. But Islam is a topic that we as a country need to talk about without being howled down as Islamophobic or racist etc. Keep up the good work.

  • dlb says:

    Don, I sincerely agree with the hopes you expressed in your second last paragraph. I was heartened by Maxine McKew on the ABC TV Drum yesterday saying that Turnbull and Shorten are both centralists and she hoped they could work together. She was adamant that Shorten should not adopt the extreme adversarial style of Abbott, when he was in opposition to the Labor minority government.

    • Aert Driessen says:

      That’s the first time I’ve heard MT described as a ‘centralist’. Such a view could only come from an ex-ABC hack.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Which ones do you have in mind? As an essay it seems all over the place to me. But she is right that moaning about the result as though the best result was a clear win for one side or the other is pointless. As I wrote, that is the result we have. What does it tell us? What should the politicians do about it?

      • Don Aitkin says:

        And I assume that it was the sub-editor who wrote the headline. Ms Farrelly is not saying that the result was woeful.

      • margaret says:

        “… ambiguity. Somehow, despite the left-right straitjacket of our binary system, despite all the gerrymanders and pork barrels, we’d lucked into the kind of ambiguity …”

        We’ll never have certainty but the two party system requires us to believe in it. We benefit from developing tolerance for ambiguity, ever since pluralism became part of the fabric of Australian society in the seventies.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Still not sure what you mean.

          First, we don’t have gerrymanders in the Federal electoral system; the boundaries are determined by the AEC and follow the publication of ABS population statistics.

          Second, left-right’ is not the straitjacket, since all decisions finally come down to ‘yes/no’. ‘win/lose’. It is quite hard to say what is ‘left’ and ‘right’ today. She mentions bicycle lanes — where does that issue sit? Where does refugees/illegal immigrants sit? Where does responsibility for hospitals sit? And so on.

          The two-party system works as a simplifier, but is much less effective than it used to be, because so many issues don’t sit on a neat workers/capitalist dimension.

          As I wrote, an ambiguous result is not a disaster. It is telling us something…

          • margaret says:

            That was a quote from Farrelly’s piece. I don’t know nearly as much as I should about the workings of parliament. I just think there are a lot of rusted on people of the old left/right dichotomy who find the level of ambiguity in today’s political scenario hard to embrace but that is what they need to do.
            I’m a Labor voter and believe that historically if unions hadn’t been organised the working person would never have had a fair go. I don’t want a tea party nor do I want or expect everybody to be exactly equal and pragmatically I can’t vote Green. Although if I were still in Batman I would have as a protest against Feeney.
            This may make me all over the shop but … there you go … me and thousands of others are all over the shop.

          • gnome says:

            We do have one remaining gerrymander built into the constitution, apart from the one we all accept, which gives a Tasmanian a vote about fifteen times the value of a NSW vote for the senate (or about three times the value of a SA vote).

            Tasmania gets a minimum five representatives in the HoR when its fair representation would be three, or a little fewer. Since the usual Tasmanian representation is five Labor, nil others, this means the others need to get at least two extra seats outside Tasmania to form government to balance the overrepresentation of the mendicant state.

            Farrelly won’t tell you that!

            (I stopped reading Farrelly’s piece when I came to the ignorant smart-arse comment about superphosphate. If she doesn’t even know about the value to Australian agriculture of high-phosphate fertiliser she probably doesn’t know anything else either. Luckily for everyone, she doesn’t seem to mind demonstrating her stupidity.)

          • Ross says:

            Nicely argued Margaret.

        • Brian Austen says:

          Frankly, I don’t really know what the two party system is or even if it really exists. It is true that analysis and commentary is couched in terms of two parties. But this is misleading, untue, and dangerous. The so called two party preferred vote serves to obscure information. For a long time the non-liberal-labour- national share of the vote has been increasing, and translating into seats. Wilkie has increased his vote share which seems to have escaped notice.

          It is as if there is a desire to air brush out the role of the House of Representatives as an electoral college in favour of the voters choosing government as in a Presidential system.

          It seems to me that we are collectively increasingly presidential but functioning on the skeleton of a parliamentary system. It seems to me that at some point this clash will become serious and we will have to decide which model we want.
          Perhaps that will come with a new republican push. Someone will have to convince people like me that an appointed Head of State selecting who will be Prime Minister in a hung parliament will work.

  • margaret says:

    So, I’m not disagreeing. It isn’t a disaster. Except – the Hanson factor doesn’t please me.

    • margaret says:

      Here’s another reason that voters want to shake things up.

      “Outside of voting, and maybe the odd protest, citizens feel that they can have very little effect on the political process, and they therefore expect the media?—?who they are see as powerful compared to themselves?—?to fulfill that role and exercise that power on their behalf. This is a view that is encouraged by journalists themselves when they describe their work as a profession, or boast about their “insider” connections, or when they describe themselves in terms of being a watchdog on power, a fourth estate in the national polity. It is doubly reinforced when voters see journalists and politicians on a first-name basis with each other (as happened in much of the television coverage of election night) or when they see them all attending the same parties.”

  • […] seem likely to lose seats, at the expense of Nick Xenophon, the Greens and One Nation. As I said in my last essay, the Prime Minister will need to develop some pleasant and effective negotiating skills, or find a […]

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