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Monday 08 November 2010

Analysis: Australia - Land of Confusion?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 30th August 2010

Why does the current Australian political landscape seem to resemble the soundtrack of the eighties Genesis classic, "Land of Confusion?" Well...

It's been almost a week since the Australian federal election led to a hung parliament. Julia Gillard was beset by endemic ALP factional infighting and a lowest common denominator electoral campaign, as well as the probably mortally wounded and unpopular ALP state governments in New South Wales and Queensland. On the other hand, Tony Abbott's social conservative extremism probably also frightened off voters who would have chosen the Liberal/National Coalition if his predecessors Nelson or Turnbull had been in charge.

As a consequence, the first Green MHR has taken a lower house seat, as well as three Independents. The Independents are former National Party of Australia MHRs from anti-ALP rural electorates- however, they cut ties with the NPA over its participation in "anti-rural" policies.

Have the Australian LGBT communities been able to claim any victories as a result of this? Granted, they punished the ALP over its stubborn refusal to get rid of the Howard era federal same-sex marriage ban, but whether an Abbott/Independent-led Australia would be any better for LGBT rights is a moot point. In any case, either an ALP or Liberal/National Coalition government would be highly susceptible to local by-election swings. It would very much be a poisoned chalice situation.

However, one largely unremarked aspect of the Australian situation has been its Alternative Vote electoral system. This is odd, particularly considering New Zealand's looming MMP referendum at its next general election. If I was the Campaign to Save MMP, I'd be pleasantly surprised at this electoral system result- it is the second consecutive one where a barely proportional electoral system has yielded a hung parliament and resultant electoral and economic instability. Given that Canada is probably going to yield something similar, given the Harper Tories plunging electoral support levels, I'd make stability a major campaign theme.

(Under AV, voters are requested to rate constituency MPs and parties in terms of first, second et al preferences. Several knock-out rounds ensue until preferences have been redirected to the "winning" candidate and party. According to our own Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Electoral System, it's barely proportional.)

And then there's the ridiculous, dysfunctional ALP system. Introduced in the seventies and eighties to prevent the sort of animosities and schisms that were bedevilling the British and New Zealand Labour Parties over modernisation and pluralism, the factional system ranges from Left to Labor Unity/Old Guard to Right, roughly demarcated along state ALPs, with New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria as main players. Unfortunately for the ALP, the impending doom of the Bligh and Kenneally ALP Queensland and NSW state governments have led to factional infighting. In the United Kingdom, Blair's modernisers won unequivocally, until the Iraqi War debacle interfered. In New Zealand, MMP meant Labour and National calved off anti-market and pro-market factions into seperate political parties, namely the Alliance, New Zealand First and ACT. However, their own flaws led to the decline and fall of these satellite parties.

Yes, it is ridiculous. However, it may be an incentive for real reform to occur across the Tasman...but don't count on it.


David McFarrell and Paul Farrell: "Australia: The Alternative Vote in a Compliant Political Culture" in Michael Gallagher and Paul Mitchell (ed) The Politics of Electoral Systems: New York: Oxford University Press: 2006.

Andrew Leigh: "Factions and Fractions: A Case Study of Power Politics in the Australian Labor Party" Australian Journal of Political Science: 35:3: November 2000: 427-448

Christian Baines: "Which Way Will the Kingmakers Swing?" Same Same: 23.08.10:

Craig Young - 30th August 2010

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