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The election Rudd could have won


'Election 2010' by Chris JohnstonThere are a number of memorable aspects to this 2010 federal election result, but none more so than its expected result as a hung parliament, one in which neither side, Labor nor the Coalition, has achieved a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. The party leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, now must begin negotiating with the Independents and the Green MP even before the election count is concluded.

This type of outcome, close results and often hung parliaments, is fast becoming the new Australian way. You only have to witness recent state and territory elections in Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (and even Western Australia in part). Just about all of them have ended this way since the defeat of the Howard Government in November 2007. This development has not received enough attention in early post-mortems of the Federal Election.

It reflects an evenly divided electorate unconvinced by the claims of either side; as well as disillusionment with the way the political process is conducted. All of these elements were demonstrated during this campaign.

The memorable aspects include the precipitous decline and possible defeat of a first-term Labor Government, and the best-ever performance of the Greens in both houses; including their first-ever general election win in the House of Representatives in the electorate of Melbourne.

There have also been notable landmark individual performances, including those of the two Wyatts (Ken Wyatt who is likely to become the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives by winning Hasluck in Western Australia for the Liberals; and Wyatt Roy who, at 20 years of age, has become the youngest ever member by winning Longman in Queensland for the Liberals).

Ed Husic, winning Chifley in Sydney for Labor, has become the first Muslim elected to the federal Parliament.

The result also suggests some fascinating questions. Prime among them is whether Labor panicked and threw away this election when it deposed Kevin Rudd and replaced him with Gillard in June.

Would Rudd have done better? The answer is probably yes. He would likely have done better in Queensland, though less well in the rest of the country. But on balance Labor probably would have done better given the enormity of Labor losses in Queensland (ten seats lost). This occurred even though NSW State Labor is more unpopular than Queensland State Labor. Labor did well in patches in NSW and only lost four seats.

The result delivers a remarkable opportunity to the occupants of the cross-benches. Notably they all support a greater role for government regardless of their other differences.

The negotiations, as in the recent past in the Senate, may involve the three Ps: personal preferment, policy changes and the pork barrel. Some electorates, regions and states will receive greater largesse as a matter of course (as with Senator Nick Xenophon and South Australia, for instance).

What it will not necessarily involve is political instability. A hung parliament, though irritating and uncomfortable for the major parties, is nothing to be afraid of. Life will go on and the new government will consolidate. The purists who prefer clear majority government will not like it (just as they do not like a Senate that can check a Lower House government). But that preference is as much ideology as balanced judgement.

A hung parliament can produce a stable government, and even improved government. It may moderate extremism. It shifts the balance away from the major parties a little, but that will be a good thing, acceptable to, even welcomed by, the wider community. It will mean concessions and compromise all round.

After the uncertainty of the next week or two parliament and government will settle down, whoever ultimately wins. There is nothing to suggest that the new government that emerges will not serve a full term. There is no guarantee of that anyway, as history shows us, under the alternative, majority government.

John WarhurstEmeritus Professor John Warhurst of the Australian National University is a Canberra Times columnist and worked for SBS television on election night.


Topic tags: John Warhurst, Labor, Green, Liberal, election 2010, gillard, abbott, prime minister



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Existing comments

Labor certainly would have held on to more Qld seats, if they had kept Rudd on. Perhaps the Abibs and Shortens of the world might be feeling a tad uncomfortable at the moment.

Skye | 23 August 2010  

I will be curious to see how long Julia lasts before she is knifed.

Cath | 23 August 2010  

This maybe actually an evolution towards greater democracy in Australia. With a 2 party system we have actually a dictatorship of one party for 3 years. If no single party controls the Government, then we can see the development of true democracy.

As much I disagree with some of the lunatic policies of the Greens, they are correct in fighting for proportional voting systems. Such a system has existed in Switzerland for over 150 years and created great stability.

Smaller parties representing minor groups can have representation in the Parliament and do not feel powerless or cheated in the democratic process. Our current system is NOT truly democratic and needs to be changed.

Beat Odermatt | 23 August 2010  

Kevin Rudd was my choice for Prime Minister.
I loved his intelligence and ability to articulate policies.

But in the doing, Kevin Rudd had failed to articulate his policies to the voters
I was unable to understand his backing away from the climate change issue.

He was unable to make me understand the issue with resources extraction.
In some way he had lost me in a practical sense.

I was disappointed but felt that there had to be a change.

GAJ | 23 August 2010  

John Warhurst is the only commentator I have heard who has said that the ALP might have stood a better chance with Rudd still as the leader. Interesting to see if more will come out supporting his view.

Patrick James | 23 August 2010  

"Too close to call" was a constant refrain on polling night
"Too soon to analyse" should be the slogan for this week.

And "Far too early to prophesy" should be our guiding axiom for the next month.

Despite the above and despite the ambiguous result more people can't help talking about politics and that is a good thing.

Uncle Pat | 23 August 2010  

Then there's the paradoxical perspective of Machiavellian politics where "taking a little from the population engenders a feistiness in the population but taking too much can be the catalyst for revolution and change".

The paradox? Rudd was taking too much from the mining companies and the events which unfolded give us a perfect example of what has become a Banker's Republic.

Greig Williams | 23 August 2010  

In the present debate one cannot overlook the influence of the mining lobby both in the liberal rejection of carbon taxes and taxes on mining that emphasised the importance of taxing the overall value of minerals rather than just the quantity.

John Ozanne | 23 August 2010  

Clearly the Labor machine in NSW has misread Queensland altogether. Howard would not have made that kind of fundamentally idiotic mistake. That's why the Conservatives have governed more times than Labor.

Rudd, however, should also share the blame in that he failed to call a double dissolution on his 07 mandate. And if it's true that Gillard had a role to play in dissuading Rudd, then she too should bear the heavy responsibility for throwing away the one opportunity that would have made this country great in the eyes of the world. Instead,there's a good chance that we will all disappear in the quagmire of a political past that no one should be proud of, the Howard years!

But in all this furore, don't forget the insidious influence of the Murdoch press in this country, the powerful self-serving mining industry and the 'true believers' who abandoned the Labor ranks.

Alex Njoo | 23 August 2010  

As always, a calm, balanced analysis from Professor Warhurst. The New Zealand experience of a lack of a majority by a single party seems to indicate that we can now hope for more meaningful consultations on complex policy and legislative packages before they are finalised. This augers well for areas where more upfront consultation would have been in all of our interests, areas such as refugee policy, income manage in the NT, the ETS, the mining tax, etc.

Denis Fitzgerald | 23 August 2010  

The right wing of the Labor party are desparately trying to blame everyone in the party except themselves. They've blamed Kevin Rudd and now Anna Bligh for the loss. They are the ones who changed the leader and ran the campaign and everyone else can see that. If the party backs them it will be a disaster for the Labor Party.

Gabrielle | 23 August 2010  

Why isn't the question being raised- would the Liberals have won in a Turnbull vs Gillard election?

Vacy | 23 August 2010  

Insightful comments as always, John. Thank you.

But what can we make of the fact that voters in Kevin Rudd's electorate recorded a swing against him of 9.4 per cent, worse than the state average, while Julia Gillard's constituents swung 4.2 per cent towards her, better than the state average?
Hmmmm ...

Alan Austin | 23 August 2010  

I got what I wanted, sort of. Before the election I was saying, 'I'd love to see Julia Gillard get beaten, but I'd hate to see Tony Abbott win.'

Gavan | 23 August 2010  

I have heard a unified cry from Labor since Steven Smith began it on election night - that with Kevin Rudd as leader the loss would have been a landslide. Unfortunately, that means that any chance of analysis by Labor of it's defeat is unlikely. The smear campaign against Rudd began long before his ousting and it certainly became currency. From my perspective, like him or not, I had a sense of a man with ideals and vision.

In Gillard I see nothing but pragmatism and self interest. She needs to be brought to book for the coup, along with Shorten and Arbib and others. The votes for the Greens and independents represents for me, a search for meaning and policy. With Gillard and Abbott, we will continue to go headlong to nowhere. Rudd's thank you speech to his electorate had echoes of statesmanship, Gillard and Abbott are busy doing deals. Yes, I believe Labor would have won with Rudd, and the cacophony against that view is merely more convincing of it's truth.

Vivienne | 23 August 2010  

I think the massive Greens vote was gathering after the debacle of the Oceanic Viking but agree that Rudd would have won the election.

Gillard had no vision, no plan, no nothing and Abbott campaigned on doing nothing.

It was the most worthless election in my memory going back to 1966 and it deserves no winner.

But I do like all the independents who have continually railed against tormenting refugees and the poor.

Marilyn Shepherd | 23 August 2010  

It is a pity we cannot rely on the integrity and expertise of far too many potential “leaders” of the country as economic managers who will also look after “ordinary“ citizens and especially the poor and vulnerable. The election appears to be only about craving personal power and pandering to the demands of the the already-wealthy and the likes of mining companies, who refuse to pay their rightful share of tax, etc.

It is only when the likes of Joseph Stiglitz (NOBEL prize-winning economist and former World Bank chief economist) make a comment that we realise what is required for an truly equitable system from which ALL citizens can benefit (one of the important tenets of Christianity). Stiglitz is not afraid to point out:

That “SPEED WAS OF THE ESSENCE during the World Financial Crisis and Labour - by ACTING SWIFTLY, saved Australia from Recession (“unfortunately absolutely necessary - even if mistakes and cost overruns were made in the process“)“.

At the same time Prof Stiglitz CRITISED right-wing politicians for being the very "architects'' of the downturn. He said economic advisers who had been praised by "the other side'' of politics “were the very ones who had designed America's "economic mess” - a deliberate volatile economic situation during which the already-wealthy reap the benefits at the expense of the vulnerable in society (a violently anti-Christian concept and a threat to harmony among people because the “fruits of the earth” are being cruelly seized by those intent on looting and pillaging the earth’s resources for their own self-agrandisement, greed and personal power).

A crucial question so many voters forgot to ask themselves is:
"what kind of nation do we truly wish to be; and what kind of values are we showing the next generation?"

MCS | 23 August 2010  

I couldn't agree more with the last part of John Warhurst’s article where he refers to a hung parliament being something we will get used to, and something we might ultimately decide is a good thing.

For some time, I have felt the government works better when the governing party does not have a majority in the Senate, because the government is then forced to review extreme legislation.

An example that comes to mind, most recently, is the ETS, which did not get through. Another example is the GST, where Meg Lees and the Democrats managed to exempt food. And what a pity it was that the Coalition had a majority, and were able to put through Work Choices . . . with the all the extreme things it contained.

It doesn't matter which party is in office . . . a hostile Senate should always prevent extreme legislation. Although, the current situation is a little concerning . . . as the Greens seem to be more extreme than either of the two main parties?

Robert | 23 August 2010  

Forgot to mention that I consider Julia Gillard to be far more Christian in attitude than Abbott is ever likely to be.

MCS | 23 August 2010  

Had Rudd remained leader the election probably would not have been held until October, which would have given him some time to do something about his falling popularity. We will never know if he could have done that, but he lost a lot of credibility from the decision to shelve the ETS, even if he was pushed into it by others. The way the Mining Super Profits Tax was managed and the overall Government response to the Henry Review raised more questions, including from people like me who supported the super profits tax.

I don't know if the result would have been different under Rudd. I thought at the time of the leadership change that Gillard could have called an election immediately. It would have silenced the "I didn't vote for Gillard" voices and the result might have been different. Who knows?

Brett Gray | 23 August 2010  

I agree with Robert's point about the value of a hostile Senate in avoiding extreme policies.

It is interesting to note that the newly elected Senators will not take up their seats until 30 June 2011. If Abbott forms a minority Government he will also have control of the Senate until then. So hopefully the Independents in the House of Reps will be the barrier to extremism, especially if Tony should change his mind on IR laws.

Brett Gray | 23 August 2010  

Rudd would not have done better, he would have done worse.

He bailed out on the ETS issue which was a real issue when he was elected.

He sat too long on the mining issue and he became like most senior public servants who feel that they are the issue and not the people they are representing, self serving and isolative.
We will wait and see if he is loyal to the people who voted him back.

rhonda | 23 August 2010  

Kevin Rudd may have won the election if he had remained Prime Minister. However we will never know that. What appears certain to me is that he lost the support of many because although he may have articulated policies very clearly in the beginning he lacked the will to persevere with the major ones when he faced opposition. I refer to his backdown on the Emissions Trading legislation and the target on carbon pollution reduction, weak as his policy was, postponing its reintroduction for several years after declaring it the moral issue of our time. Also his intervention policy on the indigenous issue and failure to make inroads on indigenous health problems, his policy to pursue detention of asylum seekers in isolated places and delay dealing with applications for refugee status, and his failure to have a meaningful policy on mental health problems.

Tony santospirito | 23 August 2010  

Thank you, John, I always find your articles helpful.

Throughout the election, I was very aware of the way that language is taken and its meaning re-configured and then put into common usage with fear as its main driver- "refugees" becoming synonymous with " border protection " and "population explosion " - to name one example.

The new word to be used like this is " instability " with its incumbent inference of something of which we need to be fearful. I don't dispute that we need to guard ourselves against some kinds of instability, and, in such cases, the perceived danger is quite evident.
Not so here!! The alleged danger of instability, here, is being argued by the vested interests.

I see instability to mean " lack of certainty " -- isn't this something that we live with successfully throughout our lives?
As The Road Less Travelled states in its opening sentence "Life is difficult " and I would assert that the meaning of "fear" is "false expectations appearing real".
Bring on life and don't be conned !!

Noel Will | 24 August 2010  

What choice did Federal Labor really have if the Rudd style of leadership was really as chaotic and singular as David Marr tells us it was? That Ministers could not get access to him and that he listened to almost no-one. Labor handed unprecedented power to Kevin Rudd and in my opinion, he misused it. He was content to remain Howard-Lite. He made no attempt to shift public opinion on key issues like asylum seekers, where his response always was about border protection and people smugglers being 'scum'. No attempt to explain the complexities, no nuance or perspective on the comparative scale of this issue. On climate change, he watered down Garnaut (or largely ignored him) and proceeded to try to wedge Malcolm Turnbull, losing sight of the need to fully engage with the electorate at large, leaving unanswered the sceptics increasingly shrill claims. The 5% target always left him without support amongst Green-leaning people and the climate change groups. The defence on the stimulus was simply not mounted. Where was the anger that might have been justifiably directed at those who ripped off taxpayers and exposed their workers to risk in the insulation program? Kevin Rudd is a man of immense ability but as David Marr pointed out at the Sydney Institute on 10 August, a man of major character flaws. That does not discount the meglamania of previous PMs but when the very business of government is unravelling, surely the leadership change, dramatic and fraught with risk, is more than something conjured out of opinion polls and backroom deals.

Kate | 24 August 2010  

I know many here lean left (sometimes far left), so I do not mean to offend. However, every poll showed that Rudd was leading the ALP to oblivion. While the manner of his disposal was brutal NSW Labor, it was necessary for the ALP. Gillard was the best the ALP had. Rudd even lost votes in his own seat.

There is no parallel political universe where Rudd (and his mismanagement, tantrums and neuroses) was ever going to win again. That the ALP has almost survived is solely due to Gillard. Rudd would have led to devastation as would have Turnbull for the LNP. Rudd was by all accounts an awful administrator, a leaker and a betrayer. His treatment of Morris Iemma here in NSW was a disgraceful but all too typical example. Even Commonwealth public servants, all ALP supporters, said good things about John Howard's stewardship after the Rudd experience.

It would be good to seem some "fair and balanced" commentary here that acknowledged Tony Abbott's heroic effort. Tony Abbott is an authentic and decent man. I was proud to have voted for him on Saturday. I only hope he can form government.

Godfrey Saint | 25 August 2010  

There is an aspect of the election results that intrigues me but does not seem to have been noticed by the commentariat. The result is being pedalled as a swing from Labor to the Coalition, but in fact the swing has been from both Labor and the Coalition to the left and to the right.

Looking at Senate first preferences, we can see that both major parties had large swings against them, and the swings went to both the left and the right. The largest component of the swing to the left was of course to the Greens, but there was also a significant shift to parties even further to the left. The swing to the right was not only to what one might call the moderate right, but also to the far right.

If this is evidence of a diverging society, then it may be a seen as a consequence of decades of antagonistic, pugilist, brutalist, rough-house politics from both major parties. If a hung parliament goes someway to ending that, I'll be satisfied.

Trevor | 25 August 2010  

I agree with Noel Will's comments. Yes, "stable government" is being frequently uttered by the major parties and the media as if it were some holy grail or synonymous with "major party entrenched in office"! The only stable element desirable is the commitment by both not to stymie money bills for administrative purposes. I prefer and draw readers' attention to the comments by the independents that it not so much stable but "open and accountable" government, where the Parliament is not relegated to a rubber stamp for the executive, that is desirable. As Tony Windsor characterised it, we have the worst version of the Westminster model, at least in the way it has been practised for most of the last 100 years. I think it is long overdue for both major parties to have to sweat a little and work much harder at negotiating more considered and representative legislation in the broad nation's interest rather than one or other party's.

Stephen Kellett | 26 August 2010  

I reckon the Murdoch Press are responsible for the drop in Labor support this year. As a daily recipient of the Brisbane Courier Mail, I know there was never any editorial criticism of the Rudd / Gillard government - until the Friday next to election day, the editorial supported the Coalition. There was no substantial reason. THey were obviously directed to do that.

Lynne Redknap | 27 August 2010  

Real winners: the Murdoch Press - and look what they are doing right now, hinting at the need for a new election, which is Abbott's fall back position if he can't intimidate the independents enough to make them back him - and the mining companies and other vested interests who Rudd was foolish enough to take on. Abbott plus these allies (Faceless if ever anyone was!) are still electioneering, ie, undermining Gillard at every turn, denigrating the Greens and blustering away about Treasury 'leaks'- hallo! Anyone remember Godwin Grech? Oh but that was then, this is now! Any minute now I'm waiting for one of our church leaders to wade into the fray, on the side of Abbott, of course,and then claim not to be making a political statement. Sad, sickening and all too predictable.

Ann | 27 August 2010  

I agree that a Hung Parliament can be a possibility and big chance, not only a threat.
A threat to who, anyway???

Allex Wilma | 27 August 2010  

In reply to Robert: "It doesn't matter which party is in office...a hostile Senate should always prevent extreme legislation. Although, the current situation is a little concerning...as the Greens seem to be more extreme than either of the two main parties?"

The two main parties themselves could block 'extreme' legislation. Greens only have power if they side with one of the main parties.

Moiby | 28 August 2010  

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