Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Although the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) doesn't tell you this, there are 146 seats that are now clearly assignable to one party or the other. The Coalition and the Labor Party are trending close to two-party-preferred parity.

Labor nominally has 72 seats and the Coalition nominally has 70. We already know that there are three independent MPs and there is one Greens MP.

Of the four remaining electorates - one in Western Australia, one in New South Wales, one in Victoria and one in Tasmania - the Coalition seems to be ahead on the count in three. Labor is leading on the count in the Tasmanian seat of Denison against a successful-looking independent, Andrew Wilkie.

But since postal votes can legally be accepted up to two weeks after polling day, indecision looks set to continue into the near future. In the meantime, the three independents have travelled to Canberra - or are now on the way there - to start discussions with the major parties about setting up a Parliament.

Stability is key. Tony Windsor from the seat of New England said so many times last night on the ABC's Q & A program and Rob Oakeshott from the neighbouring seat of Lyne echoed the notion. There's no point in establishing a government that will collapse in three weeks' time, to paraphrase Windsor.

Windsor also said that broadband would not be the main thing to sway him either to support the conservatives or to support Labor. But Oakeshott said that, given a choice between the Coalition's policy and Labor's he would of course choose Labor's more expensive one as being best for the bush. Bob Katter hasn't appeared as much as the others, but there's little doubt that he would follow suit with similar remarks, given the chance.

All three of the independents used to be National Party MPs before jumping ship. But those who desire to see a Coalition minority government get up should keep in mind that, as Annabel Crabb wrote in her The Drum piece, 'The String Bag and the Octopus', there are never such bitter rivals as erstwhile confederates.

The 'real' situation is actually even less stable, with the AEC saying that there are five undecided seats.

There are, as Windsor said last night, so many permutations and possibilities that those who remain unaligned - the Greens' Adam Bandt has called for the Labor Party already - would be unwise to declare their intentions in terms of aligning themselves with one party or the other at this stage in the negotiations.

Elsewhere, the tally counters on The Australian and the Fairfax masthead websites have finally come into synch, removing a source of confusion for the average punter. That person might have drawn some solace from the sight of a crocodile snatching a piece of meat hung under a picture of Julia Gillard on the weekend - a wink at Paul the Octopus and his tentacled prognostications for the World Cup in South Africa.

Whichever way this turns out it's pretty clear that the electorate has cursed both major parties. The Greens increased their share of the vote in both houses and will have massive power after 1 July 2011 when the current batch of newbies enters the Senate. There's a lot of agreement over the reasons for Labor's defeat and the most-remarked of these - the back-down on the carbon tax and the political assassination of Kevin Rudd - are signs of a lack of courage, as Luke Wallage has shown on The Drum.

Anna Bligh has spoken of the "NSW disease" in reference to poll-driven, focus-group policy-on-the-run as practiced by the faceless men of Sussex Street. It's time to see how conviction politicians of the likes of Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and Adam Bandt function in a Parliament that would be - as Oakeshott said last night on the ABC's Lateline - "one by-election away from disaster".

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