Originally published in FUSE, October 2010
The 2010 federal election campaign could be summarised by one key criticism; it was boring.
The stage managed campaigns focusing on style over substance (or at least that’s how the media reported it) drew criticism from all quarters. Politics was seen to have hit its shallowest point. At one point former Liberal leader John Hewson stated that the contest was like the South Park episode, where there was a choice of ‘picking between a douche and a turd’.
It is no wonder then that the result ending up being one of the closest in Australian history. For the first time since the Second World War, Australia ended up with a hung parliament.
With the ALP on 72 seats, the Coalition on 73 (including a WA National) and 5 cross benchers (1 Green and 4 independents); the post election period saw not only intense negotiations to see who would form the next Australian government, but also intense about the nature of Australian politics. After 17 days the ALP was able to form Government with the support of four of the five cross benchers. For this support the ALP committed to a range of new policy measures, including the establishment of a climate change committee (with the Greens), the move for a national denticare scheme (with the Greens), changes to pokies regulations (with Andrew Wilkie), a regional Australia package (from Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor) and a parliamentary reform agenda aimed at giving power back to individual members of parliament.
Yet in the midst of all of these changes, criticisms of this new situation flew fast from all corners. Apparently the time it took for decisions to be made was creating political and economic instability. The new situation was also extremely undemocratic as the views of five electorates were now going dominate over the views of the rest of the country.
Many seemed unable to make up their minds. Whilst they wanted more substance in our political debate during the campaign, when it arrived, complaints arose that those who were bringing the substance should not be in the power to do so (as the country didn’t elect these cross-benchers). Apparently the independents should have just fallen in line with what their electorates and/or the country (based on 2 party preferred or primary vote depending on who you listened to) wanted. Now, instead of substance we wanted ‘stability’ instead.
What many have forgotten is how exciting this new situation is. Within one election cycle we have moved from two party system where similarities in policy are more common that differences to one where any Government will be required to genuinely negotiate with the Parliament and the people of Australia to have their policy platform implemented. In the time that we needed to wait for stability, we saw more substantive debate about Australian democracy and public policy than did throughout the entire election campaign. Finally, the substance has been brought back.
This has already resulted in fantastic outcomes. In the negotiation period following the election more significant policy changes had occurred in some areas than over the last number of years. The changes to parliamentary procedures would have been good enough, but the implementation of the new policy agenda from the cross benches will bring significant positive changes.
Hung parliaments bring great outcomes to parliaments around the world and will do so in Australia as well. After complaining about the lack of it for so long, policy substance has finally been brought back into our political system. Instead of finding the negative therefore, we should be looking at the positive outcomes this situation is going to bring. It is what we asked for and it will deliver.