And thus, from the most tedious, uninspiring and insulting election campaign in Australian political history, emerges the most fascinating of results.
A hung parliament and a new Senate in which the Greens will have the balance of power and, most likely, a presence of which few of their number would have dared dream.
The mainstream media have been curiously reticent to say it, but the electorate lurched sharply to the Left yesterday. Labor bled just more than 5% of its vote, but most of it -- 3.6% -- went to the Greens. The Coalition picked up the scraps.
That’s why Labor is still jockeying for government today and hasn’t been obliterated, and why the Greens will have nine senators next year.
Moreover, three traditional Country Party-style figures will be kingmakers, with an agenda for bigger government and more state intervention. There will also be a WA National arriving in Parliament to replace Wilson Tuckey, and he has indicated his willingness to ignore traditional party constraints. Keep an eye on Tony Crook. His relations with the eastern Nationals may not all be smooth sailing.
There was also a big rise in informal votes, with more than 5.6% of voters unable -- or unwilling -- to fill out their ballots correctly, up from 3.9%.
For all that the major parties have structured the electoral system to perpetuate their grip on power, voters have found ways to resist them, in a result that should rattle the major parties, but most particularly Labor, which faces what may be a long-term erosion of its base support to the Left.
The horse trading will now begin, with Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott, to decide who will form the next government. Tony Crook’s views must also not be irrelevant, given how long the WA Nats took to agree to support Colin Barnett in WA. Bandt has already indicated he will not support an Abbott Government; Andrew Wilkie is presumably not likely to support the Coalition either, although it is not yet clear whether Wilkie or the Greens (or Labor) have secured Denison.
But on current numbers that still leaves Labor with only 72 votes in the House of Representatives, with three seats undecided.
Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott will extract a price for their support. It may be disguised as “regional infrastructure” or dressed up nation-building, but all three have been effective at State and Federal level at securing funding for their electorates. Now they are in a stronger position than ever. As former Nationals, you’d have to expect they would reflexively support Tony Abbott before Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. Expect a Liberal Government before the week is out. But stranger things have happened.
A final note: the AEC has yet again demonstrated why it is the best electoral outfit in the world, running a very close election with expedition, efficiency and integrity. There are always hiccups, but when you see how it’s done in comparable countries, you can only be amazed at how well the AEC does it.
It is one of our finest public institutions.