`Hung Parliament a possible outcome in Oz polls`

Updated: Aug 22, 2010, 09:09 AM IST

Australians have cast their ballots. Now it is time to see whether they have chosen to stick to the country’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard or to opt for the Liberal-National Coalition led by Tony Abbott once again.

The two British born leaders of Australia’s major political parties are virtually neck and neck in the lead-up to the Saturday’s elections. The key issues raised by the parties are health, environment, economy, mining tax, immigration, and education.

Gillard’s Labor has 83 seats in the House of Representatives, while Abbott’s Liberal/National coalition has 63. There are four independents. A party needs 76 seats to win. A hung Parliament is not out of the question this time.

In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Dr Ian Ward, Associate Professor, the University of Queensland, discusses the prospects of hung Parliament, campaigns of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, and FISA founder’s decision to fight polls.

Kamna: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has now made a Barack Obama-style "yes we will" promise to make over the country`s healthcare and workforce. Will this change anything for her ahead of tightly-fought general elections?

Dr Ian: In Labor’s campaign launch, the Prime Minister adapted Obama’s election mantra ‘yes we can’. This may have been intended to add some excitement to her campaign pitch to voters. But ‘yes we will’ added little to Gillard’s speech which was more notable for the want of a major new policy initiative and for the near-total disregard of global warming and the ETS (Emissions Trading System).

Kamna: Opinion polls are raising the prospect of the first hung Parliament in Australia in 70 years. What does it signify?

Dr Ian:There have been several ‘hung Parliaments’ at the state level in recent times but at the national level there is no precedent. The polls suggest that a hung Parliament is a possible outcome. Were this to eventuate, and neither the Coalition or the ALP (Australian Labor Party) be able to command a majority in the House of Representatives after Saturday, then the question of who will form government could be decided by independents. There are presently four in Parliament, all of whom are likely to return. In these circumstances, the parties would compete to secure a pledge of support from some or all independents sufficient to convince the Governor-General that they should be given the first opportunity to form government.

Kamna: How do you rate the campaigns of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott?

Dr Ian:Gillard and Abbott have each been central to their party’s campaigns. We have seen very little of their frontbench teams. Each has been extremely circumspect given Australia’s budgetary situation. Both have been steered by opinion polling and focus group research. As a result, their campaigns have had a cheap, populist dimension. Much more attention has been paid to “boat people” and border security than the facts warrant. Crucial issues such as the future of the Murray-Darling river system have been ignored because there are no votes to be won. Difficult issues such as the ETS have been avoided rather than debated. Neither leader has offered visionary leadership. I would give each a failing grade.

Kamna: Australia’s politics is almost exclusively White. Keeping this in mind, how do you see the decision of Gautam Gupta, the founder of Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA), to fight the polls?

Dr Ian:I am not entirely sure about your premise. The leadership teams of the two parties [Malaysian born Penny Wong excepted] are decidedly Anglo. But the “ethnic mix” of candidates is much more diverse than you allow. Labor has at least one Indian-born candidate that I can think of—Joy Banerji - who has a successful political career as a city mayor behind her. It also has Aboriginal and Islamic candidates on offer. Of course, there is still a way to go before Australia’s politics fully reflect its multicultural reality. And I won’t deny that there is a racist dimension to the populist resentment of boat people (although it is noteworthy that this issue is on the national agenda in large part because of resentment felt by a surprisingly heterogeneous mix of voters in Western Sydney marginal seats). In this election, FISA is doing what many other sectional interest groups do—running a candidate in the hope of highlighting the particular policy problems which it wishes to see addressed. This is unlikely to be a successful strategy for FISA or for any of the other lobby groups seeking publicity for their cause.

Kamna: Environment is again a major Australian poll issue. How will Greens party take its advantage to win control of the Senate at elections?

Dr Ian:Neither of the major parties has embraced the environment in this campaign. The failure of the ALP to push for an ETS to deal with global warming will see some of its support base drift to the Greens. There is a real prospect that the Greens will win the House of Representatives seat of Melbourne. It is most likely to emerge with additional Senate seats and the “balance of power” in the Senate. This will give the Greens a much more prominent place upon Australia’s political stage and the opportunity to win additional—or lose—electoral support. A key test is whether they will be able to compromise their own policy position and broker deals with the two major parties. But this will be a difficult course for Greens Senators to steer given the idealism of their supporters and party members. It will also be difficult because Bob Brown is coming to the end of his time as the Greens leader.

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