About that Australian Election…

Say, whatever happened to that election you were having in Australia?

It happened and people did eat sausages as promised.

OK, but what about the result? Who won?

The Labor leader looks very happy and the Liberal leader is looking very sad.

So Australia has a Labor government now?

No…well first of all, there are some seats which were very close and counting is still going on.

OK, so you mean that Labor is likely to win the most seats?

No, probably the Liberal-National coalition will win the most seats.

But you said Labor won!

Oh, Labor is delighted. Bill Shorten, the Labor leader, his ecstatic and he has been celebrating for days.

But he isn’t Prime-minister?

No, and he isn’t likely to be either.

And the other guy?

Malcolm Turnbull is probably going to be Prime Minister but he is looking very miserable and his party are trying to work out what went so horribly wrong.

Perhaps I missed a memo. Is the idea of the election to NOT get elected Prime Minister?

Well, this is where a very dull election becomes interesting. Australia has two chambers to its parliament. The lower-house is just like the House of Commons in the UK – locally elected MPs. The upper house (the Senate) serves the same role as the House of Lords in the UK – ratifying legislation and holding the government to account – but is elected by proportional representation.

Still sounding somewhat dull…

The key issue is the Senate. The Senate is a bit like the House of Lords but also a bit like the US Senate. Senators are elected from states and at each general election 50% of the senators are up for election to 6-year terms (MPs in the lower house have 3-year terms). With me so far?

Go on but it still is sounding dull…

The Senate has the power to block legislation but to stop it becoming a complete obstacle there is a procedure to resolve a deadlock.
If the government cannot get its legislation through the Senate despite several attempts the government can call a DOUBLE DISSOLUTION election. That means there is a general election for both houses including ALL of the Senate.

And that’s what happened this time?

Yes. The Liberals had (with the Nationals) a nice majority in the lower house but not in the Senate. The Senate had a small number of more, unconventional? members who held the balance of power. The previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was not famed for his diplomacy and alienated many of these senators despite the fact that several of them were quite rightwing.

Oooh, how rightwing?

Quite rightwing. A quasi-libertarian, a gaggle of people attached to a mining billionaire’s vanity party and somebody from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party.

Be fair – don’t make up joke names for parties you don’t like.

That is their actual name – and despite a rocky start, their senator Ricky Muir made a decent job of being a senator.

So the senate is full of wacky parties?

Not full of them but enough that life can be hard for the government of the day.

Hence the double dissolution?

Yes. The PM took a gamble. Dissolve the senate and effectively put them all up for re-election!

Thus breaking the deadlock!



Except maths. Each state is one big constituency and seats are divided up proportional to votes. In a double dissolution there are more senate seats available and so the proportion of votes you need to win a seat is much lower.


So the Senate is probably even wackier than it was before hand. Also nastier, the far-right One Nation Party led by notorious xenophobe Pauline Hanson has probably won some Senate seats.

OK, I can see why Malcolm Turnbull would be unhappy. He gambled and lost and is now back to square one?

Back to square minus-one. Not only did his Senate gambit fail but he also lost seats in the lower house. The remaining undecided seats that are still being counted will make all the difference but he might be a few seats short of having a majority in parliament.

So what then?

There are a few independent MP he will need to convince to help him run a government.

So he is doubly up shit-creek without a paddle?

Yes. It is possible to run an effective minority government. Julia Gillard managed to enact a wide range of important legislation but it is hard work and requires a lot of diplomacy. It also requires very strong party unity, which Gillard didn’t have.

And does Turnbull have party unity?

No. The man he ousted, Tony Abbott, is still an MP and the rightwing blames Turnbull for not doing better in the election.

OK, I can see why Turnbull looks unhappy but Labor still lost. Why are they acting like they won?

In the previous election, Labor lost quite badly for a whole variety of reasons. Labor had to regain lots of seats. They didn’t quite manage to get enough to form government but they improved their position considerably and in places where it matters. In particular, areas such as Tasmania and Western Sydney were areas that Labor have won back and they are very happy about that. In addition, if the Liberals end up in government by dysfunctional then Labor will be optimistic of doing even better at the next election.

Next election? But that will be years away.

Not necessarily. A minority government can collapse if it can’t maintain an ad-hoc majority of MPs. In that case, another election might be called.

OK but what I need now is some sense of the zeitgeist of popular revolt against mainstream politics.

Certainly some of that in play. Neither of the two major parties won a clear majority. The Green Party did OK and minor parties did well overall.

So when will all this be sorted?

Oh hard to put a figure on it but definitely by 2019.