CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
One outside shock could topple Gillard Government
, September 18, 2010
The stated self-justification for the two NSW independents opting for a Gillard Labor Government was stability; but the reverse of that political nirvana is likely to be the new order from now onwards.
The second Gillard Government is instead likely to be characterised by ultra-cautiousness and gridlock as a result of the tortuous negotiations and deal-making required to keep its ragtag of allies in the House of Representatives happy and united.
Any serious scandal will create havoc, and the prospect of a defection or a by-election caused by the death or illness of a sitting ALP member will be a constant sword hanging over the Government.
Ms Gillard's reputation has also diminished over the past two months.
From being touted as the saviour of the party, she has been a major disappointment, performing badly in the campaign and responsible for the loss of 16 MPs from Parliament.
And there are a lot of Labor MPs who are none to happy about the alliance with the Greens who are being given priority access to the PM in the new Parliament.
The behaviour of the Opposition is also as yet an unknown factor in the coming term.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has declared he will co-operate with the workings of the new Parliament, but also warned he would hold the government "ferociously to account".
"We will be an even more effective Opposition in the coming Parliament than we were in the last one," Mr Abbott declared after it became clear Ms Gillard would be able to form government.
"When it delivers we will give credit where it's due. ... To the extent that it doesn't, we will hold them ferociously to account."
Mr Abbott performed beyond most peoples' expectations during the campaign, and his natural competitive spirit is unlikely to simply evaporate now the election has been officially lost.
This is particularly the case given that the Coalition won the most votes (almost 700,000 more than Labor), the most seats, and in all likelihood the greater of the two-party preferred votes.
And with Family First's Senator Steve Fielding still in the Senate until July next year, and not particularly happy about Labor's decision to preference him out of the Parliament, the Opposition still has the power to cause a lot of grief for the Government over the next 10 months.
Whether Mr Abbott can last the distance till the next election is another question. The Opposition will need to remain united and redouble its efforts on the policy front to remain a credible alternative.
It still seems inconceivable that the two allegedly conservative NSW independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, sided with Labor and the Greens against the Coalition.
In hindsight it appears to be a combined case of naivety, bedazzlement by extraordinary media attention, and the job offer of a ministry, which helped to encourage them to join hands with a left-wing prime minister and a hard-left environmental party.
Only Queensland independent MP Bob Katter, a man of considerable courage and principle, held firm, refusing to buckle under the enormous pressure to go with the ragtag of two independents, a Green (Adam Bandt), a former Green (Andrew Wilkie) and a dumped Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd), who now make up the support act for Julia Gillard's Government.
One of the few good things to emerge from the election is that Mr Katter's stature as a politician has been lifted beyond the media's caricature of him as a cowboy from far north Queensland.
Mr Katter put up a serious proposal to the two parties vying for government in the form of a 20-point policy plan.
While some of the objectives were specific to his north Queensland territory, overall the plan amounted to the first serious attempt of any politician at arresting the policies which have driven rural and regional Australia backwards for the past 30-odd years.
Economic commentators chose to look away from Mr Katter's proposals rather than argue against them, perhaps an acknowledgement that there were a lot of unpalatable truths contained in the document.
By contrast, the two NSW independents who sided with Ms Gillard extracted $10 billion in regional assistance programs and some minor parliamentary reforms.
The quality of this package is not yet clear, but it looks suspiciously like every other attempt by Coalition and Labor Governments to buy bush votes with money while driving rural industries into the ground in the cause of free trade dogma.
The political skills of Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott are going to be tested to the limit over the coming three years, and one outside shock has the potential to bring the flimsy edifice crashing to the ground.