Spare a thought for the editor. The editor of The Times of India clearly had a real dilemna yesterday when confronted with the enormity of the stock exchange chaos and the exploits on the cricket pitch of the national hero Sachin Tendulkar. Here was the chosen compromise with a timeline of the master’s run on top and the stock market index below it.

The Green challenge. There is much debate up here in Canberra as to the extent to which the 15.5% of the vote obtained by the Greens on Saturday was some form of protest vote against the Stanhope Labor Government by what were basically Labor people. Given that at the last Senate election the Greens gained an even higher 21.5% share of the ACT vote, the answer to me is pretty clear: in Canberra the Greens are now a real third force. If there was any tactical voting by Labor people it was not at this Assembly election but in the Senate where there was an outside chance that the Greens could topple the Liberal for one of the two available spots. The growing strength of the Greens Australia wide is shown in this table which gives their share of the vote at all of the last state, territory and federal polls: 

The pimpernel prime minister. I’ve dusted down my original Broadway cast recordings to find a new Kevin Rudd theme song. Just a minor adjustment to the lyrics and there it was in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Liberals seek him everywhere!

Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?

Where is that damn elusive Pimpernel!

He gives the Liberals nothing but frustration

Popping in and out each week!

Spoiling every lovely execution

LA! What cheek!

They just can’t put a glove on our bobbing and weaving Prime Minister. The bigger the crisis the harder he is to catch. A formal televised address to the nation; a slightly less formal speech to the National Press Club; a doorstop or two; a token appearance to avoid questions in the House of Representatives; a walk down the road with a reformed drug taking football hero but there’s no black dog haunting our Pimpernel Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd is heading for the 7 Network television studio for a little direct communication with the people.

Malcolm Turnbull keeps plodding along, cursing the lack of parliamentary battles pondering how to politically kill an opponent who he just can’t catch.

Stay relaxed, calm, confident and wait. There was some solace for the Opposition Leader in this morning’s Nielsen poll. PM Rudd might have shot even further ahead as the preferred Prime Minister but Malcolm Turnbull’s personal approval rating is improving too. The impressive appearance on the ABC’s Insiders yesterday morning saw the Opposition Leader looking relaxed, calm and confident. He forcefully made the point that Kevin Rudd’s Labor Government is treating the Parliament with contempt, not that the voters are likely to care. But it really does tell us something about the role of the Parliament in modern day Australian democracy when a Prime Minister can announce a $10.4 billion spending spree outside the chamber and then basically refuse to answer questions inside it.

A Green solution. The government of the Australian Capital Territory is a unique amalgam for Australia of state-like and municipal functions although the elected members of the Legislative Assembly prefer to see themselves as MPs rather than two councillors. The chosen rules of the game have been those of a Westminster system where one team becomes the Government and the other plays at being the Opposition. Yet there is really no good reason why this should be the model. All it takes is for the chosen Chief Minister to see the role as being that of a slightly glorified Lord Mayor and the ACT could have a quite different system of government where decisions are made on the floor of the Parliament in public rather than in private behind the secret walls of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Given the hung parliament which has resulted from Saturday’s election, a radical reform of this kind has become possible. Labor and Liberal look like ending up with seven seats each with the Greens on three. The Labor Chief Minister John Stanhope, who must take responsibility for his party’s declining vote, does not fancy the idea of sharing power one bit seeing himself a Westminister supporter through and through.

Which leaves the way open for the Liberal Leader Zed Seselja to try and work out a quite different kind of arrangement where the primary role of Ministers is to chair Assembly committees rather than to hide information from them. The only notion of Cabinet responsibility that need be maintained is that agreement be reached in advance on ways of guaranteeing that the Chief Minister come Lord Mayor could ensure that the Assembly would pass the necessary supply bills.

The Greens might well find such an arrangement to their liking as it would give a real relevance to their three members. For the Liberals it would be a case of something being better than nothing. Saturday’s vote showed that the prospect of there ever being a majority Liberal Government in the Territory is virtually zero.

Peter Fray

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