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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Abbott's victory not unalloyed with impurities

Well, I was wrong but not by much. I'd predicted a five percent swing to the Coalition in yesterday's poll but it turned out to be about three-and-a-half percent nationally. In the end, the Coalition looks set to hold a strong majority in the lower house but I hope Tony Abbott isn't expecting that mandate to convert itself into supine capitulation by Labor and the Greens on the matter of a carbon price. He'll be disappointed. From comments made by various Labor figures during the post-vote programming last night Labor looks set to sit on its heels over this key piece of legislation inherited from the Gillard government. The Greens, of course, are hardly likely to back down on a central plank of their policy platform.

With the lower house wrapped up - bar a few details still to be worked out in a few seats around the country where counting of pre-poll and postal votes continues now - Australians will be turning their eyes to the make-up of the Senate. Here, the final make-up of the chamber will be no precise guide as to how efficiently Abbott can push through his legislative agenda. In any case only half the Senate was chosen this time around, and those members will not be sworn in until the beginning of July next year. Given the Greens' dominance in the Senate at the moment, it looks unlikely that Abbott will be able to reverse the carbon price law this year or early next year unless he follows through with his promise to call for a double dissolution - in which case both houses of Parliament will once again be contested in a federal election. To do that would be to go the Newman route - in the 2012 Queensland state election LNP leader Campbell Newman ran without even holding a seat; his convincing win in March justified his hubris.

As for the rest of Abbott's policy platform, it looks likely that the national unemployment rate will rise as the Coalition cuts public sector jobs; Canberra will likely suffer a lot. On the economic front, we'll see how the markets react to yesterday's result, on Monday, and that is likely to be positive although Abbott has given us few details as to how Australia is now "open for business". The mining tax cannot be easily removed, for a start, but that cannot, surely, represent the full extent of what Abbott has planned to ensure that Australia transitions from an economy that has looked so consistently to the mining sector to provide jobs. I guess that the best we can do is to watch this space and wait.

In Queensland, the Palmer United Party did very well on the Sunshine Coast. There are two seats here: Fairfax to the north and Fisher to the south. The area has suffered economically since the GFC due to its having a very thin economy that is based on the three pillars of retail, construction and tourism. In his pre-election pitch, Clive Palmer promised locals an international airport and better roads, which are things that would translate into more employment for local tradespeople. Beyond that it's hard to look past good-old Queensland parochialism and the ever-present sense of frustration at the dominance of the southern cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Locals will have judged that Palmer would finally give the Sunshine Coast back some of the confidence that the European financial crisis, especially, had sucked out of the region.

What is certain is that yesterday's Liberal-National victory is not unalloyed with impurities. There will be plenty of opportunities for progressives to celebrate over the coming years and months as Tony Abbott struggles to get his way in Parliament. Reputations will be made and possibly lost. And there is also the ongoing drama of Labor as it works to remake itself after this defeat. I think that everybody will be kept busy watching how things unfold. It's early days yet.

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