"You do it once, you do it right and you do it with fibre."
- The Member for New England, Tony Windsor, on the National Broadband Network as one of his reasons for supporting the Labor government, Canberra, 7.9.10
A dull and painful election campaign gave way on August 21 to a fascinating struggle with the prospect of a hung parliament. Today, seventeen days after the polls closed, brought the denouement as all but one of the independent MPs offered their confidence and the passage of supply to a government led by the Australian Labor Party.
Labor continues in government, supported by the Greens and three independents. Julia Gillard continues as Prime Minister having (narrowly) received electoral endorsement two and a half months after replacing Kevin Rudd.
Tony Abbott remains leader of the opposition, and seems unlikely, for now, to be challenged for the role. Bob Katter, the one independent who sided with the Tory alliance (the Liberal-National coalition to you) sees the expiration of his fifteen minutes of fame, neither side willing to support his call for a return to 20th century protectionism. Rob Oakeshott used all fifteen minutes of his fame in an exceedingly thorough speech this afternoon explaining, for the benefit of his conservative constituents, how he decided to support the Labor Party.
Wilson Ironbar Tuckey was bundled out of parliament in one of the highlights of the election. His replacement, Tony Crook, is a member of the WA Nationals, the coalition partner you have when you don't have a coalition partner.
And on the subject of the Nationals, Warren Truss is still an important element in the construction of many bridges.
On a more positive note, Ken Wyatt became the first indigenous person to be elected to the House of Representatives in its 109 year history when he won the Western Australian seat of Hasluck for the Liberal Party. With approximately two per cent of the Australian population identifying themselves as indigenous, the current 150-person lower house should have about three indigenous members. Wyatt gives us one for the whole 109 years of the lower house - including 66 years when they neither had the right to vote nor were counted in the census. Australia, we're still growing up.
The independents obtained from the major parties a commitment to improve parliamentary procedures. These are good, but the floor of parliament is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the functioning of government. Rather than revolutionising politics in this country, the alliances that Gillard has had to assemble are more likely to compromise government for the next three years. That is not entirely a bad thing, with some of Labor's dafter campaign pledges (notably the Citizen's Assembly on climate change) heading for the shredder.
The Labor Party had a hideous election campaign, and I fully expect to see its federal secretary Karl Bitar handed the party's equivalent of the shovel and broom within days. Strategy after strategy was either hideously conceived or hideously executed.
Just two things prevented them from losing an election that, earlier this year, seemed like a doddle:
1. Complacency by the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party that saw them fail to win seats that observers felt were winnable (notably Robertson, Lindsay, Greenway).
2. The one policy that proved to be the game-breaker, the National Broadband Network. Labor's expensive and visionary program that is already under way versus the Liberals' cheaper hybrid network that would replace the work already done.
If Kevin Rudd's victory in 2007 was the "climate change election", then Julia Gillard's ultimate victory in 2010 could be described as the "broadband election". To quote Tony Windsor more fully from this afternoon's announcement of his support for the Gillard government:
"The issues that I thought were critical to this and possibly the most critical, was broadband. There's an enormous opportunity for regional Australia to engage with the infrastructure of this century. And to pass up that opportunity and miss the opportunity for millions of country Australians, I thought was too good an opportunity to miss.
My advisors in relation to the broadband technology - and there are a number of them - suggest that you do it once, you do it right and you do it with fibre."