Australia has reached a watershed in its political history. Events are taking place that are about to change the way that politics is conducted in this country, and they have little to do with the current controversy about the Speaker of the Parliament.
The vast majority of political commentators emphatically predict the death of the ALP. Many are also forecasting the final days of the National Party, and some are anticipating a major change in the political alignment of the Greens. There are those who are of the view that Bob Katter’s party will prosper as a haven for the protest voter and are hopeful that the Independents may have had their day. There are also indications that the Liberals have lost their way and can’t work out whether or not they really are a conservative party.
I reckon that a blunt assessment of the realities will evoke a few pungent comments from true believers everywhere, opening the way for me to pass them on to you in subsequent editions.
In the May 2011 edition of Everald@Large, I predicted the demise of Bob Brown and Christine Milne as leaders of the Greens. I was wrong. Only Brown has gone, but I am relieved that Milne has survived. My prediction at the time was based on a concern that the new Green Senators, who took their seats in the Parliament on June 30 last year, were radicals on the far Left of the political spectrum who would move quickly to take over their party’s agenda.
They have now removed Bob Brown, but misjudged Christine Milne’s political strength and courage, as they did when they tried to remove her as Deputy Leader two years ago. We should be grateful that she now has attained the leadership as, no matter what we may think of her record, she is clearly a moderate in comparison to the rest of the Green Caucus and she is a good negotiator — tough, but fair.
Her political acumen is shown by the way that she has arranged for Adam Bandt, the Greens sole member of the House of Representatives, to be appointed as Deputy Leader. He is relatively moderate in comparison to his Senate colleagues, but he will hold the role for only a short time, as he will lose his seat in the election of 2013 when none of the major parties will preference him.
This means that someone from the hard Left will become Deputy Leader, and then apply a lot of pressure on Milne to retire quickly. I hope that she toughs it out as, even if the Greens lose some Senate seats in this election, they will still hold the balance of power in the Senate, and it is best that she exercises that power.
In my view, the future of the Greens will depend on how successful Milne is with her plan to expand their power base into rural communities. Her emphasis on the country voters is an astute tactic on her part, as there are many angry farmers out there who feel that the major parties are the political prisoners of mining companies whose presence is dominating regional Australia and, in their view, destroying its long term sustainability. If successful, she will take votes away from Bob Katter and the Nationals.
Incidentally, Bob Brown’s departure was handled very well by the Greens — no hint of a Rudd assassination scenario. But, let us be very clear — the hard Left wanted him out and they won the day. Bob Brown responded with genuine grace and, despite the way in which he has been subjected to constant vilification from a majority of Australians throughout his parliamentary career, he is a political moderate and also a gentleman who has a lifelong commitment to the defense of the environment. I got on well with him and admired his fortitude, even though I often disagreed with him. He lived by his convictions, and there are too few parliamentarians who do likewise.
Will the Greens remain a major political force in Australia for years to come? Yes. Will they ever gain power in their own right? No.
Bob Katter did far better than I expected in the Queensland elections because he got votes from disenchanted ALP voters who wanted to change the government — but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the LNP. I think that most of those voters will cast their ballots with Christine Milne in a Federal election, as she is politically aligned more closely with them.
In addition, I don’t think that Bob Katter can get the organisational support on the ground in the other States in anywhere near the same manner as he did in his home state of Queensland. I reckon that Bob will run for a Senate seat in Queensland in 2013, instead of trying to hold his House of Representatives seat of Kennedy. He should get enough votes to win, and this could give him a pivotal role in a balance of power situation in the Senate in competition with the Greens and Nick Xenophon, whom I think will hold his seat in South Australia.
The Katter Australian Party will not have a permanent place in the Australian political scene. When Bob leaves the scene, they will die.
Tony Windsor will be the only Independent to retain his seat at the next election. The Coalition has said that they will pour unlimited funds into a campaign to unseat him in New England, but they will waste their money — even if they run a formidable candidate like Barnaby Joyce.
However, the next parliament is unlikely to be ‘hung’, and so it will be some time before Independents can exercise again the influence that they now have.
Nevertheless, they have generally exercised their power with commendable responsibility on this occasion, and the electorate will have less apprehension about them in the future.
The Nationals will pass into history over the next decade. For the past quarter of a century, they have, in reality, been just a country branch of the Liberals, and this has meant that the Liberals have been able to expand their country base by taking seats that the Nationals should have won. In addition, they are generally vulnerable to good Independents such as Tony Windsor.
The merger of the Libs and Nats in Queensland to form the LNP led to an astonishing victory in the State election, proving conclusively that it no longer makes any sense to have two Conservative parties. If they continue separately, the Greens and the Independents and the Liberals will gradually shrink the Nationals vote to insignificance.
The situation where the leader of the Nationals becomes Deputy Prime Minister when the Coalition wins Government will become a farce which will not be tolerated by a majority of the Liberal caucus.
The Liberals badly need a formal merger with the Nationals to give them a new lease of life. For the last few years, they have given the impression of just going through the motions of politics, mainly because they have not been able to decide whether they are Conservative or Liberal. The fire that they had in their bellies when John Howard beat Paul Keating is not there anymore. They have descended into an unfortunate culture of extreme negativity, and are competitive only because of the turmoil in the ALP caused by Kevin Rudd’s failure as Prime Minister and the Gillard government’s painfully slow recovery from it. They are now in the strange position of being streets ahead of the government in all the polls, yet their leader is only line ball with the Prime Minister in the same polls. They will probably win by default, but their image is not that of a competent alternative government.
This, finally, leaves us with the ALP. Pollsters and pundits universally have written them off, not just for the next election, but forever. Their condition is diagnosed as being terminal and, furthermore, the Prime Minister is regarded as having reached a stage where no-one seems to be listening to her.
Some have said that the ALP brand has been destroyed beyond repair. Those statements are a bit extreme, and I doubt that they represent the actual position. The government is in trouble — of that there can be no doubt — but I reckon that it’s premature to forecast that the Coalition will win the 2013 election in a canter, as they have to overcome some internal weaknesses to get there.
Once the election is over — and irrespective of who wins — the ALP will have to make some monumental changes. Its future lies in removing the word Labor from its title, as there are no labourers left in Australia, nor are there any ‘working families’. They now regard themselves as belonging to the middle class.
Most importantly, the ALP will have to divorce itself from its trade union base, as this alliance loses it a lot of votes. I say this as the son of a life-long member of the Australian Worker’s Union. My father regarded his Union far more highly than he did the ALP, and believed that Unions should have a working relationship with all political parties, not just one.
In the same way, the Liberal Party has to divorce itself from the big end of town and become a party whose power base lies with small business and aspirational Australians.
Most voters now want two new, or reborn, parties — one that is centre Left and the other that is centre Right. Both of those parties will need new names and must reinvent themselves to fit those political positions. Voters will choose a winner at elections, not on support of a philosophy, but on leadership, economic credentials, management skills and a sound record on the enhancement of the environment and the care of all humanity.
Political donations must be banned totally from all sources, with funding to come from the public purse based on votes received at the previous election. Parties will have to budget some of that payment to meet their secretariat costs in between elections. Their only non-public funding would come from membership fees alone — and those members should be individuals only, not organisations.
So, it’s time to face the undeniable fact that neither of the major political parties in Australia is currently equipped to lead Australia into the future. Voters have had a massive gutful of the way that politics is now exercised. Australians don’t want less government — they aspire to good government of enlightened reform.
Unless political parties experience a total reformation, Parliament will become a place of utter disrespect.