Hung, drawn and quartered?

By Legal Eagle

The outcome of the 2010 Federal Election is fascinating. The Liberal National Party have 71 seats, Labor has 70 seats, the Greens have 1 seat (their first ever won in a General Election), and other independents have 3. It looks like Labor is better placed to form a minority government, but we’ll wait and see. It’s an extraordinary result. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people wished for a plague on both their houses; I know that I did. I’m no political commentator, I’m not a member of any particular political party, and my observations are strictly those of an interested bystander who has a lot of friends with different political views.

I suspect the bloodletting in the Labor camp will begin shortly, with recriminations flying. I was fascinated to watch KRudd last night. He looked like the cat who’d gotten the cream, although his speech concentrated on matters personal to his electorate. Of course I don’t know, but I do wonder if he was delighted that Gillard didn’t romp it in. Maxine McKew lost the seat of Bennelong to Liberal Candidate John Alexander, a seat which she had wrested from John Howard in 2007. She delivered a pithy critique of the Labor party’s campaign and actions over the last 6 months.

If you’d told me a year ago that we’d be facing this prospect, I would have laughed at you. It just shows that a year is a very long time in politics. A year ago, the opinion polls had not yet started to slide against KRudd and none of the various projects of the government had started to founder. Labor looked like it was going to be in for another term without any worries.

The big question on Labor minds will be: would the result have been the same if they had kept KRudd as prime minister? I suspect that it would have been worse in some areas, better in others, but that the net result would have been a Labor loss, and that Tony Abbott would be in the Lodge today. I know that I probably would have voted in anger against KRudd and his spin, as I was very angry and disappointed with the way in which our country was going. It was like a lunatic had the wheel of the car, and just wouldn’t listen to anyone who asked him to give up the direction in which he was driving. Still, after the sudden leadership putsch, KRudd was transformed from villain to victim in many people’s minds. I didn’t like KRudd as PM at all, but I still felt desperately sorry for him as he stood crying outside Parliament.

However, part of Labor’s problem was surely that it took a leaf out of the LNP’s book in various respects (asylum seekers, gay marriage, etc) in an unsuccessful attempt to woo back the “battlers”, but alienated a big chunk of the middle-class left wing as it did so. I can’t count the number of Facebook friends who adopted a profile picture of a green square which stated, “This time, I’m voting Green.” The predominance of these logos signalled to me that Labor had a real problem. I was totally disappointed and turned off by Labor’s approach myself. It’s unsurprising that the Greens won their first House of Reps seat in a General Election and that they will have unprecedented numbers in the Senate.

But if people were dissatisfied with Labor, and didn’t want to turn to the Greens, but were otherwise ‘liberal’ (with a small ‘l’) – I suspect there was nowhere to go but the LNP. With the perceived similarity between Liberal and Labor, such voters could content themselves that there really wasn’t much of a difference anyway. Some who were disappointed with Labor and unwilling to go with the Greens said that they abhorred Labor’s apparent waste and the way it brushed off evidence about rorting of various schemes. The media are saying that Labor didn’t emphasise its success in riding out the GFC; I wonder if these voters considered the price of riding out the GFC too high. Or perhaps they think the stimulus payments could have been better spent elsewhere? I welcome comments.

There is also the regional effect. There is no doubt that the Labor Party suffered in New South Wales and Queensland because of the failure of the Labor State governments in those States. Voters simply didn’t trust the Labor brand any more. Furthermore, in Queensland there was a feeling of anger that “their man” (KRudd) had been deposed by a knife in the back.

I’ve heard a number of people say that people were attracted to the LNP by “racism”. I have no doubt that some people were attracted by racism. However, I think that it’s more complex that that, as I’ve said in my previous post. I suspect there are also fears which stem from basic economics, and they should not just be pooh-poohed as racism. People who are not particularly well off may fear that asylum seekers arriving in boats use up our precious resources, and perhaps take their jobs. It’s pretty certain that my job isn’t going to be threatened by a new arrival, but if I were an unskilled labourer going for the small pool of unskilled labour jobs in this country, the probability is that I’d be much more worried. I read once that some of the worst violence against indigenous people when Australia was settled was by the Irish, who were at the bottom of the British social scale (and were already savages in English eyes). Thus the Irish sought to differentiate themselves from indigenous people. Sometimes, when there are scarce resources, being poor and disadvantaged doesn’t make you kinder to your fellow humans, it makes you more desperate to crawl out of the pit and step over the less advantaged as you do (the ‘crabs in a basket’ effect). I don’t think it sits well in the mouth of someone like me (who has lived a life of middle class privilege) to turn up my nose at such behaviour, but to attempt to understand it, and to think of ways of allaying such fears rather than increasing them.

Now, as it happens, I don’t think “stopping the boats” by ramping up patrolling and detaining people in nearby islands is the answer. The long term solution is far more difficult, and involves (a) greater parity between the treatment of overseas applicants for asylum and people who set foot in the country and (b) greater international consensus about how refugees should be treated. It also involves ensuring that refugees and the communities into which they integrated are treated fairly and sensitively. Unfortunately, neither of the major parties took that approach and just went on with nonsense about stopping boats.

I think another thing which made people distrust Labor and doubt its credibility was the ETS debacle. I am a centrist-left climate sceptic (a rare and exotic beast indeed). Nonetheless, I was disgusted with Labor’s attitude on this. You just can’t say that something is the great moral challenge of our times, and then back down from it. If you really think something is vital for our country, you organise a double dissolution and get everyone to vote on it. What was going to happen when the next moral challenge occurs? Another backdown? It showed a distressing lack of principle. Coupled with the various stimulus disasters, I suspect it is what started the Labor downfall. Whether a voter believes that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time is neither here nor there – the important thing is that someone who says it is ought to follow through on action on it.

It will be interesting to see where we go from here. Perhaps it’s like one place where I worked when there was a vacancy in the top office. Everyone was actually pretty relieved – there was no one there to bug us any more – although after a while we wanted proper leadership back. The nice part about a hung Parliament is that it’s going to be really hard for anyone to pass crazy legislation without negotiating hard and fast with a variety of people (independents and Senators) who have a variety of different view points.

Update: an interesting overseas take: a computer animation complete with Julia Gillard cackling as she stabs Rudd in the back, and Tony Abbott kissing his shining crucifix as he shoots at boat people…Not to mention the wrestling and the crocodile pit as drunken yobbos throw beer cans in… (hat tip, Jason Soon)


  1. Posted August 25, 2010 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    Michael B: the notion is not entirely silly. The strongest supporters of apartheid in South Africa were among the white working class and the Irish in the US were notorious for their anti-black sentiments. There is more than one possible strategy to deal with being on the bottom of a society: some may embrace one, others another.

  2. Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    My understanding is that there is considerable empirical evidence globally for the ‘crabs in a bucket’ effect; LE wrote a post on it here:

  3. Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Back to hung parliaments, I’d like to ask regulars (many politically /very/ different from me) about Mr Rabbit’s personal legitimacy, if listing major political and social issues (climate, workplace law, euthanasia, abortion, etc, etc) and putting ticks and crosses against each one regarding the stance of Rabbit compared to their own stance, and the opinion of the majority of Australians.

  4. Michael B
    Posted August 28, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Mr Legal Eagle, I cannot respond adequately to the theories you have referred to unless you can give me the name of the author and the title of the piece you have mentioned . If it has been published, I can see no reason for not divulging the details. If, on the other hand it is in the form of an unpublished article or thesis, it might be more difficult for me to access it. The author seems to have derived some of her ideas from the writings of Henry Reynolds (particularly ‘The Other Side of the Frontier’). These are certainly interesting topics of discussion, but I would rather respond to the original article than a secondhand summary of it.

  5. kvd
    Posted August 29, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    LE – only trying to assist. Was it:

    Rethinking settler colonialism: history and memory in Australia, Canada …
    By Annie E. Coombes

    – by any chance? Anyway, have a lovely day.

  6. Posted August 29, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to ask regulars (many politically /very/ different from me) about Mr Rabbit’s personal legitimacy, if listing major political and social issues (climate, workplace law, euthanasia, abortion, etc, etc) and putting ticks and crosses against each one regarding the stance of Rabbit compared to their own stance, and the opinion of the majority of Australians.

    We have a process for that, it’s called “voting”. (Remembering that people weight different issues different.) On that basis, using two-Party-preferred, Julia is ahead, but not by much.

  7. Posted August 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    that should say “different issues differently”.

  8. Posted August 29, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: I asked for the opinion of regulars here, many of those to the right of my stance, because the righty regulars are a thoughtful bunch, more so than on pure-righty blogs to my mind.

    I was particular on issues, because again, I think righties here are more likely to think about things rather than have their typing controlled by knee jerks. Issues and voting decisions are not tightly correlated unfortunately in the wider community I suspect.

    Take my question as a compliment folks.

  9. Posted August 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    DB: You are asking quite a lot, given it is not a specific list and people would have to check what the opinion polls say on various issues (which is often not quite what people expect).

    For example, climate. You get majority support for “doing something” on climate change that evaporates pretty quickly if it becomes “doing something that will cost me”. I am about as sceptical on the issue as TA with the added point that, even if you accept the whole catastrophic anthropogenic warming claim, what Oz does is irrelevant. I am not impressed by putting La Trobe and Hunter Valley workers out of jobs (just to start) to “make a statement”.

    Euthanasia: strongly against active Euthanasia (like most medical staff) because it puts them in an impossible position. Passive Euthanasia (i.e. suspension of extraordinary efforts) yes: which is what happens anyway. Suspect that is the majority view.

    Abortion: always been pro-choice in the first trimester, really uncomfortable when it gets to the third. Suspect that is also the majority view.

    Workplace law: WorkChoices was an abortion which got the long-term advocates of labour market reform quite angry, since it so massively missed the point in its anti-union complexity. Like much regulation, labour market regulation is mostly about protecting incumbents. I am for a lightly regulated labour market in order to give marginal workers more of a go. Unfair dismissal laws are particularly noxious, since they raise the risk of employing people, so discourage doing so (particularly for the marginal). France’s protecting-incumbents-and-the-credentialled labour laws have a great deal to do with its banlieue problems. I suspect my motivation is similar to majority opinion but, because I have a different take on the relevant social mechanisms, end up with a minority view. I am probably closish to TA on that one, though he has more of the “active government” view than me.

    I am for same-sex marriage (recent polling suggests that is becoming the majority view) and legalising narcotics (not sure of the polling on that).

    I would love it if we had the German “right to build” constitutional provision (German housing prices move at the rate of inflation because housing supply can respond to housing demand without official discretions operating to — surprise, surprise — protect incumbents). People like high housing prices if they have a house, so not a majority view. After housing prices crash, may be different.

    We could do with a bit more public debt, if it went into building infrastructure: particularly transport (freeways around the edges and tollways towards the centre please) and communications infrastructure. Charging developers up front for infrastructure in new developments is daft (but protects housing incumbents by driving up house values). We should “buy out” taxi license owners with bonds of equivalent value (since the current structure protects incumbents: hence a taxi license in Melbourne costs about a median house price since the supply of both is set by official discretions that protect incumbents). Not sure where TA is on those, or current polling.

    I am more federalist than TA, which I suspect is also a majority view.

    Being tough on asylum seekers discourages people from paying to undertake long ocean voyages in leaky boats and buttresses polling support for migration, so I am with TA and the majority on that too.

  10. Tatyana
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    @ 56 : That would be unlikely, as the book was published in 2006, and LE mentioned she was recalling a source she’d read some 10 years ago … Coombes is interesting reading, by the way.


  11. Patrick
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I am probably not one the more ‘thinky’ righties that Dave was talking about! But fwiw I agree with Lorenzo generally, except for:

    Abortion. I am against it unless it is in the first trimester and someone’s health is at risk. I would accept, however, dodgy ‘mental health’ risk assessments as a pressure valve mechanism.

    Labour market: Lorenzo could have added Spain here. Nonetheless, in any kind of welfare state I am for a minimum wage as a means of managing the state’s welfare commitments and because I don’t think it costs a lot in a rich country like ours. However it should be linked to a combination of inflation (increasing with) and the unemployment rate (decreasing with).

    I don’t think I agree at all with that bit in the middle about Germany. It is weird, to me, when you consider the very low levels of home ownership in Germany that are presumably in part a result of such rules. I am not a fan of German constitutional law at all.

    Public debt: yes but only if it comes with universal trasnponder-based road usage charges, à la Euro trucks. I am a fan of Germany in this area (although not the restrictions that they use the system as a means of imposing).

    Most contentiously, I am not really ‘for’ same-sex marriage. I think my preference would be for state-sanctioned civil unions only, but that Catholic priests et al were automatically authorised celebrants thereof. I just can’t help thinking of marriage as a sacrament and a covenant before God, even though I am agnostic!!! Not an important issue to me though., and it would be highly unusual for me to vote on this.

    Finally, I think the narcotics point is the clincher – if you are for legalisation, as I am, then you are fundamentally a libertarian of some sort, whereas if you are against liberalisation, then you are either a Conservative of some kind or the other or a typically shallow groupthinking progressive.

  12. Peter Patton
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    What this “Rabbit” thing? Are we in for another three years of the Not Happy John! set and their schoolyard “Rodent” shtick? Aaaaarrggghhhh!!

  13. Tatyana
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    @66 PP: What this “Rabbit” thing?

    It’s a reference to Gillard’s pronunciation of ‘Mr Abbott’.

    PP: ‘Are we in for another three years of the Not Happy John! set and their schoolyard “Rodent” shtick?’

    I estimate that’ll be the case if ‘Mr Rabbitt’ becomes PM.

    PP: ‘Aaaaarrggghhhh!!’

    I recommend camomile tea, it’s supposed to be soothing and calming. Alternatively, a regular glass of red has a proven numbing effect…

  14. Posted August 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Patrick @65, my point about home ownership is explained further here.

    We make a fetish about home ownership partly due to its capital gain element. Take that away and you get the German situation of long term rental contracts and folk only buy if they have particular reason to.

    LE @62 The High Court’s take is seems reasonable: apart from the fact it is mere regulatory approval that is being purchased. But that is not the High Court’s fault.

  15. Posted August 30, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] on “Mr Rabbit”

    Don’t blame – my grandson infected me well before the election season, and at 3, he’s not old enough for schoolyard taunts.

    And it’s a perfect match for the inevitable results of his ideas on contraception.

    Besides, it opens up too many opportunities for puns and cartoonists, no different from those with Julia as Alice taking tea with Bob Katter and the millinery manufacturer and host.

  16. Posted August 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Broadly the same as Lorenzo (including the information about German housing rules; zoning only benefits landlords and a particular type of greenie, as Tim Harford points out in The Undercover Economist). The only deviations are that my abortion views are more liberal (although they used to be the same; it was the experience of policy wonkery for the Tory Party over here and seeing the unpleasant way anti-abortionists made their case that made me more liberal on this point). My view is the same as Patrick’s on narcotics, and I think that marriage should be privatized (that is, we all get civil unions with the same basket of rights, but churches control who they get to call ‘married’ by their lights).

    The civil union would be a contract, with a system of clear, well-drafted defaults to govern the agreement if the parties do not turn their minds to the terms. In my view this should also govern custody and divorce, so that the state is only involved where there is criminality.

    I suppose this makes me a fairly typical libertarian (always remember, as Patrick alludes to, there are two kinds of righty, conservative and libertarian. Most of the righties on this blog are libertarian). Many people find my views very amenable until they also learn that the Australian Libs lost my vote after their knee-jerk response to Port Arthur: I have voted for minor parties ever since, because those gun laws criminalised every country person with a gun, and I grew up partly in the country, where guns are simply tools.

  17. Posted August 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Given that apparently the Coalition has just edged ahead of Labor on Two Party Preferred, makes him a bit of a killer Rabbit I guess 🙂

    Anyway, voting results are apparently showing that there were a significant number of “cucumbers” in key seats (i.e. Green voters who preferrenced Liberal).

  18. Patrick
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I hadn’t understood the point. I certainly agree with strong private property rights and very limited zoning!

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