By now, I pictured myself furiously planning a holiday after a long and gruelling campaign. The Australian people had other thoughts. In the past few days, we have witnessed one of the most dramatic elections in our country's history with a result still some time away. All eyes will remain on the three ex-National independents until they decide who they'll support to form a minority government.
Such an outcome was unthinkable nine months ago. Back then the Coalition had reached perhaps its lowest low, facing the real possibility of a decade in the political wilderness as it tore itself apart over the issue of climate change. Enter Tony Abbott, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Whatever is decided in coming days, the Labor Party is certain to go through a significant and destructive period of introspection. We saw the recriminations beginning on election night. Maxine McKew's stinging criticism of her party's decision to knife Kevin Rudd was the first of many.
Other ousted members of the 'Class of 2007' are not likely to fade quietly into irrelevance. The pressure is increasing on the so-called "Faceless Men" (i.e. Mark Arbib, Bill Shorten, David Feeney, Karl Bitar, Paul Howes and Bill Ludwig) behind the leadership coup to justify what many believe was a panicked and desperate move. They say the result would've been even worse if they hadn't acted. Of course, we will never know.
Gillard will stay on. But don't fall for the argument about no viable alternative. The Liberals said that about Malcolm Turnbull. First, she will be given a chance to reverse her party's fortunes, starting with forming a minority government. As the vote count currently stands, the Coalition will finish with 73 seats, Labor will have 72, plus four independents and a green.
On seat numbers alone, the Coalition will publicly claim it should have the right to try to form government first. Tony Abbott also believes winning the national primary vote gives him added authority. Conversely, Julia Gillard's case for legitimacy rests on the fact Labor won the two-party preferred vote. In truth, neither leader has a legitimate mandate.
And so, it is over to "The Three Stooges" to decide our nation's fate - Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor (I am discounting the role of the other independent Andrew Wilkie and the Greens' Adam Bandt because I cannot envisage any circumstances under which they would not back Labor). The prevailing wisdom is that they all represent traditionally conservative electorates and will accordingly support a Coalition government for fear of upsetting their constituents.
Certainly, that is what the early polling suggests. But I have another theory. I don't think Tony Abbott wants their support.
During the early stages of negotiations, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have taken completely different approaches. For Gillard, there is no other option other than to do everything she can to retain the Prime Ministership. As a result, she has indicated a willingness to consider all of the independents' demands. If she fails to woo them, any semblance of unity within Labor will evaporate and her leadership would struggle to survive.
The party's short-term future would not be pretty.
But neither would the Coalition's. History suggests minority governments don't last. At the next opportunity, voters punish the incumbent in order to restore stability. Abbott might well be regarded as a Coalition hero, but his Prime Ministership would be fraught with peril, especially given he would have to deal with a Senate in which the Greens hold the balance of power.
I think he is playing a long game; allow Labor to form minority government, then attack and undermine it (as only he can) to the point where nothing is achieved, and Australians demand to go back to the polls within a year.
Abbott would campaign on the platform of stability versus dysfunction, and hope he is elected with a convincing majority. Thereby condemning Labor to longer stint in the political wilderness. It's only a theory, but it might why he is playing hardball with the independents at the moment.
Whatever the outcome, a riveting drama will unfold over the coming weeks and months. It might not be good for the country, but it sure is good for journalism.Stay Tuned.
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