If the polls are right then the coalition will be re-elected. But will it be able to govern? Based on past history it will not. I base that observation on the recent history of the Liberal Party.
Few made much of the party room election which saw Tony Abbott elected as leader. We did not pay much heed to the fact that he was elected on the narrowest of margins – his own vote saw him secure the leadership. We did not pay much notice because our political tradition held that once the question of leadership has been settled the party unites behind the new leader and get on with business.
For a time that seemed to be the case. Tony Abbot certainly seemed to know how to run an effective election campaign in 2010 the Liberals came close to being able to form government. The reason they didn’t tends to be dismissed on the grounds that the Independents were traitors to their conservative electorates – these were notionally Liberal seats and the expectation was that they would simply fall into line and ensure a Liberal Government.
Why did the independent not fall into line? Were they closet Labor supporters? The accounts given by the Independents show that it was Tony Abbott’s poor negotiating skills that cost the Liberals government. Again at the time we may not have picked up on that but recent experience suggests that it may well have been an accurate representation of events.
Despite its many difficulties the Gillard Government was surprisingly effective steering an ambitious legislative programme through both the reps and the senate. Abbott’s guerrilla warfare ultimately succeeded not only forcing a return of Kevin 07 but ultimately in sweeping the Coalition to power in 2013.
From the outset Abbott’s government remained confrontational. Whilst it had served it well in opposition it was clear that there was no reset button on the rhetoric. The first months were marred by promises broken and a pre-occupation on what may be described as negative policies – no carbon tax, stopping the boats became the mantra but there was no vision of what the government was planning. A disastrous first budget had Abbott’s fingerprints all over it and was to be the harbinger of his doom.
Spooked by the polls the Party Room finally had enough and replaced Abbott with Turnbull. Judging by the polls it was a smart decision but that sizeable rump of Abbott’s supporters remained unconvinced. Turnbull has been ineffective, the Liberal right has behaves like the American Tea Party – absolutely convinced that they are right they will not brook any compromise.
So we are now facing an election – assuming that the polls are right, we will see a Turnbull government elected. The problem is that we will have elected a house divided. This is already becoming evident – Tony Abbott has come out strongly to claim that the Turnbull government deserves to be re elected because of Abbott’s legacy. He has a point, Turnbull has not been able to divest himself of Abbott’s legacy, but it is precisely that legacy which crippled his government. Traditionally our political system acknowledges that there are many diverse opinions and that the role of government is to develop policies that ensure that we can all agree that the legislative programme has been developed so that it is in the interest of all Australians. Yet we will be electing a government in which close to half of its members does not see it like that.
A Turnbull government will be a lame duck government because Turnbull does not have the authority within his party to govern. A significant rump will continue to regard him as an imposter and will do everything they can to undermine him and re-instate Abbott.
And what of the Senate? Will the changes result in a Senate that is less fractious? Somehow I doubt it – if anything the new voting system will encourage people like me to vote for anyone who is not affiliated with any of the major parties, who does not have the smell of a professional politician.
As the old curse aptly puts it we are living in interesting times…
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