Saturday, August 21, 2010

Upside down in Oz politics

Just a quick note about the recent, and still inconclusive general election Down Under -- I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on Aussie politics, but from this distance this appears like one of the strangest and most dramatic political episodes I've seen since maybe the 60's in America. To set the stage, there are two main parties, Labor and a Coalition of Liberals (larger bloc) and Nationals, plus the Greens (plus some independents, and maybe a smattering of odds and ends -- they have a preferential ballot). For a number of years early in the 2000's, the Liberal/National coalition had been in power, led by John Howard, who was as loathed by the Australian left as George Bush was by the American left. Finally, in 2007, the hated Howard was defeated, swept from office by Labor led by one Kevin Rudd -- triumphalist huzzahs on the left, and predictions of a long Labor dominance that would banish the sour memories of Howard's earlier 11 year stretch.

Two years go by, and the Labor Prime Minister, Rudd, proposes a version of cap-and-trade carbon Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This initially has broad support in polling, so much so that the then leader of the Liberals, Malcolm Turnbull, signed on with at least apparent enthusiasm, giving the proposal the much sought "bi-partisan support" at least and seeming to assure its passage. But then reality bit, fairly hard, and the real fun began. I'm not clear on the exact sequence of events, but voices began to raised against the ETS, the Climate-gate uproar got rolling and couldn't be suppressed by the media, and opposition to Turnbull within his own party over the issue mounted. That opposition quickly became so powerful that Turnbull was forced to resign as leader and Tony Abbot, an ETS critic, took over. Then Rudd seemed to vacillate himself over the ETS, perhaps sensing an electoral loser in the making. As a general election loomed, polls indicated a sharp drop in support for Labor, at least some of which was due to the now controversial ETS. Hardly had the Aussie left begun to get comfortable in their anticipated dominance, in other words, when it started to look like it was all coming undone. So, in what appears remarkably like panic, just weeks before the election, Labor dumped Rudd, installing Julia Gillard in his place. And then, just as it seemed that the switch to Gillard might save the day, the people spoke at last in yesterday's general election, and it looks as of now that the Liberals received a plurality of votes (with a preferential ballot I doubt that any party ever gets an outright majority), and may have a plurality of seats in at least the lower House, though that's still unclear. In the land of Oz, they're calling it a "hung parliament" -- though we Canadians can tell them that minority governments are quite able to get along for quite some time. In any case, that's as rapid and confused an end to a heralded political dynasty as I've seen in a while.

So, all in all, a remarkable sequence of political surprises, much of it turning on a fateful piece of ill-advised anti-climate change legislation! There's a lesson there somewhere.

Here's a quick comment by Michael Barone: "Australia votes: rightward trend in Anglosphere democracies". And here's the latest post from a man on the spot, Tim Blair: "Election 2010 IV".

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