The Australian electorate have chosen wisely by not choosing at all.
The delivery of a hung parliament presents, for the first time in living memory, an opportunity to deal with the substantive policy issues that have been ignored in this campaign. This is something the three conservative independents, Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, appear ready to seize with some relish.
It is, as Katter described it, an opportunity to deliver a “different paradigm” for Australian policy making. Oakeshott described it as a chance to improve the policy process, and he specifically referred to the tax review, energy policy, and climate change.
Whether the two mainstream political parties are able to rise to the occasion remains to be seen. The early signs are not promising. The ALP and the conservative Coalition – having plunged to the lowest common policy denominator in their anxiety to appeal to the swinging voter – have yet to absorb the implications of being denied a mandate to govern in their own right and still refer obstinately to the “two-party” system.
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They speak and act as if the one fifth of the electorate who either voted for someone else, or who didn’t bother voting at all, holds no relevance, or did so because of “cabinet leaks”. The worst outcome is that the two party machines continue in campaign mode until the electorate is forced back to the polls.
They need to note that most of the votes they chased so desperately ended up with the Greens, who picked up a substantial swing of 3.9 per cent. And they need to realise why, which is because both mainstream parties failed to deliver a long term vision or address the difficult long-term policy issues.
Climate change, of course, is one of these. This should not come as a surprise to either party. Howard lost in 2007 because the electorate did not trust him to move on climate change, Rudd triggered his precipitous decline when he backed away from the ETS, and Gillard’s honeymoon came to an abrupt end when she trotted out the idiotic idea of a citizen’s assembly.
The specific results of this election are also instructive. The Greens, with a credible (if difficult to implement) climate change policy, are the only true victors of this campaign. And Labor may well reflect that the one state where it made gains, Victoria, is the one Labor state with a progressive climate policy – one that was quite deliberately released at the height of the federal campaign.
And Labor may also reflect how the high-speed broadband – the one big picture policy it did dare to produce – might have saved its bacon elsewhere in the country and is the most likely issue to deliver the three independents to their side of the house.
Perhaps a link can be drawn here with good corporate governance: those company boards that seek to manage long-term risk issues – such as the oft-derided qualities of corporate and social responsibilities – are the ones that tend to perform better for investors over the long term. It could be that voters are starting to apply the same criteria to their politicians.
So is this election result good for climate change and energy policies? Not if you are anxious for the short-term market signals that could unlock the tens of billions of dollars in energy and other abatements investment. But it is no worse than it otherwise might have been because neither party had a credible climate change policy or seemingly any appetite for developing one – a situation that would remain as long as business remained mute on the issue.
Two of the three conservative independents have thought carefully about climate change (Katter seems to be a bit of a sceptic, but understands enough about the water crisis), and all three are keen supporters of renewable and clean energy. Importantly, though, these three politicians will bring the debate into the public arena, as you can be sure the Greens will also do.
Just a few short observations about the vote itself: The Climate Sceptics Party attracted just over 18,000 votes across the country. If their presence was designed to embarrass the Greens, which by definition must be a climate change acceptor’s party, then they failed. The Greens received 1.26 million votes in the Upper House.
The Greens, as noted before, attracted the biggest swing of 3.9 per cent. This was followed by the Sex Party and the Shooters Party. The electorate has spoken and this might be its plan: tackle climate change, make love and, then shoot the lights out.
This piece was originally published in Climate Spectator.