Reality can be stranger than fiction. As the final votes from the federal election are counted the Australian Broadcasting Corporation predicts the governing Labor Party and the conservative Liberal-National Coalition will both have won 73 seats in the House of Representatives. On Saturday some 11 million citizens cast their votes, but in a twist of fate the decision on who forms the next government rests with a handful of independent MPs.
General elections don’t end in draws. It is an outcome so implausible as to make even works of fiction absurd. In the 2008 film Swing Vote a bizarre set of circumstances see red-neck Bud Johnson entitled to recast a spoilt ballot in the full knowledge that his choice will swing his state, and determine the next President of the United States. The seemingly ridiculous premise is not so distant from the reality now facing Australia.
Julia Gillard, the prime minister, and opposition leader Tony Abbott are scrambling to secure the support of independent MPs, for which each will certainly demand a price. So do these newfound kingmakers represent Australia?
Adam Bandt is a Green Party MP who just defeated Labor in one of its safest seats; yet he has worked extensively with trade unions and has already stated his support for a Labor Government.
Tony Crook is actually a member of the Coalition’s National Party, but in his state the Nationals have opted out of the Coalition, and it won’t get his support without making concessions to rural interests.
Both Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are also conservatives, and each used to be in the Coalition’s National Party. However Windsor has made a 20 year career beating Coalition candidates, and his support depends on improving broadband networks and renewable energy. Oakeshott demands reform of the Senate and improved funding for rural Australia.
Andrew Wilkie campaigns on issues spanning the political spectrum. A former intelligence officer who resigned over Australia’s participation in the Iraq War, he has previously been a member of both the Coalition (Liberal Party) and the Greens.
If all this wasn’t odd enough, finally there’s the walking contradiction that is Bob Katter. A self-proclaimed “wild boy from wild country”, Katter campaigned in a Stetson hat with adverts where the line “Yeeehaaa” would not have been out of context. Unfathomably, he’s a conservative but wants state subsidies and opposes privatisation and economic deregulation. He rejects computers, but wants improved broadband. He is a climate change sceptic opposed to carbon trading, but has said he’d follow the Greens in a hung parliament.
The next Australian Government will be decided according to the wishes of this handful of eccentric men. 11 million people voted, but a hung parliament means their wishes are yesterday’s news. Whether the government is from the left or right will now be determined by whichever side can best cave to the demands of a small number of unorthodox representatives. Some may say that’s democratic. I think it is a great argument to take the choice away from parliamentarians, and hand to the people the right to directly elect their government.
By Mark McGeever