Denial – cross party edition

Friday, 10 September 2010 

As the major parties congratulate themselves in Canberra yesterday for their respective lousy showings in the election, there is a similar sense of unreality going on in the media and some parts of the blogosphere to what has been happening in the past few days. While the right and left in Canberra have been oblivious to what the new power of the independents means, so it seems have many in the media and its self-styled alternative in the blogosphere.

The view from some parts of the media that Gillard’s government is illegitimate because Windsor said he was only supporting Labor because they couldn’t win an election, is being hotly contested and put down to just right-wing media bitterness.

Let’s clear this up first. Of course, Tony Windsor said it at the press conference Q&A (for which unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a clip), at least twice to questioning that this blogger can recall. It was not only the media who believed so. As the media started getting aggressive, Oakeshott, who seemed to be smiling in agreement when Windsor first said it, a few minutes later made a point of noting what Windsor said and explicitly distanced himself from it. By the evening, Windsor was also back-tracking for the same reason; it was giving ammunition to those who wanted an early election.

It is worth emphasising this point because it leads to one major misconception over what the independents are about, what they mean by ‘stability’. ‘Stability’ is not keeping Labor in for three years. Stability is keeping the current Parliament, which gives the independents maximum power, divided for three years. Otherwise, in the interests of ‘stability’ Katter would have joined Labor and boosted its majority, not joined the Coalition and made it thin as possible.

The basis of their flexibility is that the two party system has lost its meaning. This will make Coalition attempts to turn their conservative electorates against them difficult. It will need, for example, for voters in Armidale to reject the high speed broadband because those socialists brought it in, rather than say, that nice responsible Coalition that was prepared to spend $1bn on a single hospital.

Besides, while elections are always welcome by this blog, the right-wing press saying that Windsor’s comments mean the government should go back to the polls are just being hypocrites since by that criteria any government should go to an election when the polls are unfavourable.

But the left are being hypocrites too. They are defending the right of the independents to make the decision they have, while deliberately ignoring what that decision is. Because if Windsor undermined the government’s legitimacy indirectly, Oakeshott was quite explicit that Labor was not being given a mandate, something those in the blogosphere defending the independents have routinely ignored.

Quite what this means is not yet fully appreciated, shown up in the way the media are treating that other phrase the independents like using, the ‘new paradigm’. In seeing it as meaning a consensus between the major parties, journalists have understandably been cynical. However, for the independents, the ‘new paradigm’ is not based on whether the major parties come together. The ‘new paradigm’ is that it is irrelevant whether they do or not. Consensus is not about the major parties coming together, but the independents choosing which policies of either party they want.

They have not taken long to make this clear, with talk that they could support the Coalition’s paid parental leave. Windsor was blunt on the political reality behind adopting Coalition policies:

They can do things with us and the executive won’t have the power to shut them down. The opposition can be part of the government, too.

In other words, only one independent need switch to the Coalition and it can bring in a policy without Labor being able to do anything about it. The implications of this are yet to sink in. For example, Jenny Macklin may very well be reaffirmed as Minister for Families. That’s nice. But what does it mean if she has to implement the Coalition’s PPL scheme? What will Swan’s role mean if he has to finance it?

However, the most exquisite irony is that it is not good news for the Coalition either. After all, the policies it has do not come from any philosophy. As Windsor says, that philosophy (or to be specific, representing business interests) died years ago. Like Labor, Coalition policy comes from either focus groups telling them what is necessary to obtain government or to protect the ‘brand’. Implementing a policy because an independent briefly switches sides does neither for the Coalition. Indeed, by undermining the legitimacy of both parties, it will do the opposite.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 10 September 2010.

Filed under State of the parties

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Comments

19 responses to “Denial – cross party edition”

  1. Robert Merkel on 10th September 2010 8:05 am

    Interesting piece.

    That said, I’m not sure who you’re referring to with respect to the “deluded” left.

    As you say, Oakeshott and Windsor have made abundantly clear what the limits of their agreement with Labor is.

  2. General applause on 10th September 2010 10:13 am

    I am an Armidale voter and I WILL be switching sides.
    In the election I voted for the Greens in both houses. In the next election I will be actively campaigning for Tony Windsor in the lower house. In my opinion both he and Rob Oakshot have delivered Australia a welcome taste of real democracy. The first I have ever seen. Hopefully with it will come media reform and a lessoning of the power of murdoch. Maybe there is a god after all because that man is evil incarnate.

  3. Graeme on 10th September 2010 11:08 am

    I’m yet to read a single commentator define what the (proper) focus of the Independents should have been. It was to choose the best MINISTRY. Not to choose the ideology or legislative agenda they or their constituents favoured. Whichever side was anointed, the independents (indeed Greens and WA Nat) retain the right to veto, log-roll over every piece of legislation.

    Sure to ask what the ‘best’ Ministry might be is difficult: especially as neither Tony nor Julia had committed to their lineups. And is ‘best’ = ‘longevity’, ‘experience’, ‘talent’, ‘consensuality’.

    Windsor I think was most likely fluffing when he tried to explain that broadband was the clincher. He needed something simple and tangible to justify his decision to regional Australia.

    So I’d only go so far with you on the ‘weakest link’ line. I think they also just found Labor to be more flexible, less ideological. Which is not inconsistent with your claim that Labor is politically weaker or more desperate.

  4. Cavitation on 10th September 2010 11:46 am

    The coalition will also be coming under pressure, especially the National Party, from the rise of the independents. The biggest winner from the election was the Liberal National party of Queensland, that now has 20+ members in the ‘coalition’. The LNQ party was an amalgamation of the old Queensland National and Liberal parties, but more accurately was a takeover of the Brisbane based liberals by the old white-shoe Nationals, and its core support now reflects the Queensland mining and regional business lobbies. It’s members currently get to choose which party to caucus with in the Federal system, but the LNQ bosses may see the benefits of forming a unitary group to wag the coalition dog’s tail, with its 20+ members, and so they will probably abandon the National party, and pragmatically go with the stronger Liberals.

    With the new WA National member being unwilling to join the other Nationals, you have to wonder if the National party will last as a separate entity until the next election. Its existence now is solely dependent on the federal sphere, and its Queensland heartland is now moving towards supporting the Liberals, and most importantly, its philosophical basis will be undermined by the high profile independents for the next three years, and so I think it is unlikely to survive much longer.

    Now that the Liberal brand has abandoned its ‘liberal’ philosophy and fully embraced conservatism, that wing is likely to consolidate its hold, with Tony Abbott more securely in control, then the country electorate will increasingly realise that it is economically more aligned with Labor than with the conservatives. The independents are the first to realise this, but reality will dawn on the rest of the country electors eventually. Watch the National party over the next three years, they will be the bellwether of Australian politics…

  5. Paul of Berwick on 10th September 2010 12:57 pm

    Annabel Crabb has a stab at looking at what political reporting will/should look like.

    Also interesting are the views of MP research staff peppered throughout the comments.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/09/09/3007376.htm?site=news

  6. Lynchpin on 10th September 2010 1:02 pm

    Yes, interesting piece. Though deluded people may still wish it to work. It is hard to blame the independents for where they find themselves. In they end, they have given a qualified assurance not to block supply to one of the major parties. Doesn’t this simply mean that governing will now have to consider other interests, not simply those of the ALP, with the protection of party solidarity. If the independents can be outward looking, not self interested, I think this model can work. What do you think PS? Or am I being too iealistic?

  7. Dr_Tad on 10th September 2010 3:02 pm

    I think it was on Lateline the same night after the presser he did with Oakeshott that Windsor said he may switch to supporting the Libs if that ensured a full three-year term. So much for “stability”.

    But the best thing about the current situation has little to do with the deals stitched up in Canberra since 21 August. It has everything to do with 21 August itself, when the voting public denied either major party the right to claim a mandate for anything at all. *That* was the real victory for democracy, and IMHO everything since then has been about sections of the political class trying to create the illusion that they can create a new paradigm land of milk and honey without changing anything substantive at all.

    I’m with TPS in believing that the new centre cannot hold.

  8. Riccardo on 10th September 2010 4:11 pm

    There’s an element of poisoning the prize too.

    Remember what happened with Stephen Smith and Wayne Swan, Rudd couldn’t avoid giving the Roosters prime portfolios, so he ensured the portfolios were not as attractive as they could be. Rudd took the real foreign affairs job for himself and scattered much of the Treasury portfolio to others including bureaucrats.

    I’m seeing the same here. Gillard has ‘government’ but it doesn’t mean much. No mandate, not much control over the legislative program, either to the Right (until July next year) or the Left (beyond July next year).

    Tony Crook would be a fool to cling to what residual worth the Nats have. He will now have brand name recognition and can do a Katter – be as right wing as he likes but not need party discipline and still get elected.

  9. Riccardo on 10th September 2010 4:18 pm

    The comments under Annabel’s article, namely:

    … I was an MP’s researcher, and every piece of legislation needed changing, tightening up, twigging or bits of it opposing….Now they have to actually take their role seriously – after all, I’m sure most people would expect diligence in laws that will affect themselves, the nation and our relationship to the world. Surely?

    …you missed my point…Labor may have a great policy to put on the table…but it may not suit the greens, Oakshott, Windsor, Wilkie or Bandt….the mining tax comes up for consideration will be a good example!

    My response is simple: this change now simplifies the process. Ken Henry and minions now propose the tax, put some sort of stamp of bureaucratic authority on it, Minister takes it to Parliamentary committees and other expertise including expert witnesses comment on it. Lobbyists lobby and all MPs, not just independents, listen to their electorates. Whips visit MPs and remind them which way to vote. Vote taken, pass or reject in House, begin process again in Senate [repeat].

    Wasn’t this the way Westminster was supposed to work? At the moment, we have ‘escalating commitment’ where the Treasurer uses his parliamentary numbers to back Henry’s proposal, only to back himself into a political corner. How is that system superior?

  10. The Piping Shrike on 10th September 2010 5:01 pm

    On a couple of comments:

    Personally I would be equally as careful ascribing anything new to the independents as I would as an endorsement of Labor. The reason why Windsor’s comments about the Coalition’s chances of winning an election stuck in the mind was the sly horse trading smile he gave when he said it, reminding me of the Country Party of old, when they were experts at taking advantage of any Lib weakness, before they became cartoon characters.

    What is new is the hollowing out and weakness of the parties. The hollowing out gives them confidence to take their conservative electorates with them, the weakness means they can maximise advantage when they do.

    I agree that Labor was more flexible that the coalition during the deals. Largely for internal reasons. Billion dollar hospitals aside, the Libs were more sensitive of brand. Labor was desperate for a vindication of the power brokers’ Gillard coup.

  11. The Piping Shrike on 10th September 2010 7:07 pm

    Just as well for his sake, Oakeshott rejected the Ministry offer. He would have been a fool to take it. Presumably he didn’t treat it seriously.

  12. john Willoughby on 11th September 2010 11:27 am

    Labour had the carcass of Rudd flapping in the breeze
    like a bad dashboard dice but still managed some policy
    offerings.
    The coalition ran the most negative campaign seen in Australia in my lifetime , no new ideas just a condensed version of the worst of Howardism, no tax , no carbon,no boats,no broadband,no honesty.
    The labour party had its Captain Queeg moment the coalition with captain Tony seem to have thrown the whole party overboard.

  13. Terben on 11th September 2010 12:25 pm

    Just because the Legislature passes legislation in both houses doesn’t mean that it becomes Law. Legislation has to be signed into Law by the Executive ie the Governor-General. She will only sign on the advice of her Ministers who are all members of the Labour party. It will be intersting to see how such a scenario would play out.

  14. Senexx on 11th September 2010 12:40 pm

    Shrike gets it. A few of the commenters seem to be missing the point, I’ve been travelling around the web and quoting the great late Peter Andren

    “So often, the government with little or cursory debate rams through legislation, knowing it has the numbers. Government and Opposition backbenchers, and independents, are treated with disdain.”

    “a cross-bench of independents … holding the balance of power, seems to me the most satisfactory solution to what is currently a representative vacuum.”

    This is what we now have – Democracy as the democratic process always intended.

    And can I say that Tony Windsor’s comment of the NBN is justifiable. We the people of Regional and Rural Australia have been informing the politicians for years that the sale of Telstra in all forms is a mistake. The NBN fixes all that.

  15. Thomas Paine on 11th September 2010 4:47 pm

    Gillard still lacks the stamp of legitimacy and it could all go very ugly for her quickly because of it.

    She back-stabbed the Australian people in grabbing power over the ‘elected PM’ and quickly took Labor backwards in the polls and policy, jumping a long way to the right in policy and rhetoric. Seemingly trying to be Liberal Lite. I would listen to Tanner’s assessment that Gillard is a conservative.

    The polls were sinking daily for Gillard and one suspects if the election was a week later Labor would have lost. Gillard not having the support of the Australian people to form government instead has to rely on a handful of fringe MPs.

    There is then a significant portion of the population who have serious doubts about Gillard’s legitimacy. The first sign of troubles, suitably enhanced by the right wing media, will quickly turn Gillard’s image into that of a ‘usurper and pretender’.

    Lets face it there is precious little difference between Labor and Liberals in the public’s eye. Just the colour of the guernseys. And Gillard with the NSW Right now owning the party will make it seem there is little policy difference between the two.

    The Liberals will outlast Labor because they know what they are ideologically about. Labor has fallen to a small cabal of its right wing, who we know are incompetent and have no belief except for power and chronyism.

    If Labor starts to ‘stink’ watch the independents suddenly get nervous and look to change sides lest they poison their own wells.

  16. The Piping Shrike on 13th September 2010 2:04 am

    Maybe, but I would have thought Gillard will have a bit of a honeymoon, especially after the sour grapes from the Coalition.

    The Crabb article was interesting. What is it with all the self-flagellation from the journos?

  17. James on 13th September 2010 10:56 am

    Shrike, I heard Windsor at that media conference and he said he thought the Coalition would go to the polls early because they thought they would win. He didn’t say they would win.

  18. The Piping Shrike on 13th September 2010 5:39 pm

    I put on my previous post a transcript of what I thought was said. Wish we had a clip we could settle it once and for all! Anyway, I think regardless, we agree that the Coalition’s greater willingness to go to the polls and win was a key factor.

    Whether Windsor thought the Coalition was wrong or not is probably neither here nor there at the end of the day, it certainly wouldn’t have worried him if they were right and he was going with the least popular side. The point is that they want to be with the one that doesn’t want another election soon. Maybe Labor doesn’t because it’s nice and likes hung Parliaments!

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