Thursday, August 26, 2010

Keeping The Bastards Honest

Day Five of the seemingly never ending election count, and the first signs of unrest are appearing. Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission won’t finish counting every last vote until the end of next week, some are already calling for a fresh election. Today, the Daily Telegraph has suggested that the $170 million required to send us all back to the polls would be a small price to pay in return for certainty and stability. David Penberthy has written that the three independents present an unacceptable risk of the country being hijacked, most particularly by the North Queensland representative Bob Katter. He accuses Mr. Katter of having an unfounded prejudice against city dwellers and suggests that such views should not be allowed to dictate the national agenda. Of course, the idea of reaching resolution by going back to a fresh election makes the assumption that the outcome would be different, and the fact is there is no guarantee of that.

In any event, a fresh election should be an option of last recourse. Every other avenue should be explored before such a course of action is pursued. It is only day five, and we already know that the process will take a couple of weeks, and possibly a little longer. Being impatient is not going to change that. The first step is to complete the count of every last vote to be clear on just how many seats each party has. The next step is for the Prime Minister to advise the Governor General whether or not she has the confidence of the House of Representatives and can form a government. If not, the Leader of the Opposition must advise whether or not he can command the numbers in the House. If not, then it will be necessary for the Governor General to call a fresh election. But by far the most sensible outcome is for one or other of the major parties to attempt to form a minority government.

Of course, the immediate concern would be whether any such minority government could function effectively, or indeed function at all. A secondary concern is whether the independent members, along with the Green member and the non aligned National from Western Australia would be in a position to wield undue influence and effectively hold that minority government hostage by making unreasonable or even irrational demands. But the reality is that it is in their own best interests, as well as the best interests of all concerned, that they don’t. Without the numbers of at least one of the major parties, the cross bench members have no power to do anything, only to prevent things from being done. Neither of the major parties will entertain any demands which are excessive, unreasonable, irrational, or against the national interest. If the independents cannot contain their expectations to a reasonable level, a fresh election would become inevitable, most likely leading to them losing whatever influence they might currently have.

So long as they hold the balance of power they hold the opportunity to (as the Democrats once promised) “keep the bastards honest”, but it would be utterly self defeating for them to become too precious.

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