Hung Parliament = More Government, Not Less

Though there’s plenty of healthy cynicism over the notion of a “new paradigm” in Australian politics, there also seems to be an idea doing the rounds that since a hung parliament makes it difficult for legislation to be passed too easily, that it’s good for libertarian principles. Perhaps in some instances this is the case, but if history of the senate has taught us anything, it’s that those who hold the balance simply trade off: “You give me legislation in this area, and I’ll support you on this one.” I find it hard to recall of a time where an independent or minor party candidate ever successfully negotiated less government interference in our daily lives (though I’m happy if someone can point to an example.)

It now seems Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie has decided that his main policy is poker machine reform (remember how in the 80’s, “reform” was all about removing market impediments? God, I miss the 80’s!,) and I’m guessing he’ll get some action in that area. Of course, poker machines would generally be a state issue, which is why Wilkie ever so helpfully suggested use of the Corporations Act – the Fed’s favourite tool for trouncing state’s rights. What this effectively means, is that an independent from Tasmania is laying down the law for NSW clubs and their patrons (all for the greater good, of course).

Just in case you were thinking this is a small enough price to pay, rest assured it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The new minority government (whichever side that might be) hasn’t even started legislating anything yet – all of the current “negotiations” are just for starters. I found the following to be a particularly ominous sign:

The trio (Gillard, Wilkie and Wilkie’s wife and media adviser, Kate Burton) then began talks over a jug of water and a thin black binder placed on a coffee table.

The binder looked identical to packages Ms Gillard handed recently to three other independent MPs which touted Labor’s record and election promises bearing on their electorates.

Welcome to the new paradigm.

UPDATE: Wilkie has now released his 20-point list of priorities. Delivering on these would cost billions – and that’s just for the dental plan. But most amusing was number 20, which basically asks for a bigger office:

Adequate staffing and office space to deal with the workload of an Independent Member of Parliament.

Ransom Demands

With final election results still in limbo, three of the independents likely to hold power have released a list of demands. They are actually calling them, “Requests for Information,” but much of the information they are requesting are written undertakings for specific deliverables. The most dangerous of these is the second part of point 6:

In this same letter of comfort, we seek a written commitment that whoever forms majority Government will commit to a full three year term, and for an explanation in writing in this same letter as to how this commitment to a full term will be fulfilled, either by enabling legislation or other means.

They’re trying to make themselves sounds so noble here – they’re just interested in stability. It’s pretty clear that the stability they’re after is their own position of power. Windsor did this at a state level as well, so he has form.

The full-term thing wouldn’t be so bad if Greens weren’t set to get balance in senate – there is no way the Coalition can risk agreeing to that. Even if the Coalition wanted a three-year term, that’s not something they can afford to show their hand on. They need to be free to at least give the threat of a double dissolution so that a hostile senate doesn’t lord it over them. This clause will make for a reckless senate.

The clauses for a DD exist in the constitution for a good reason, and the Coalition (and ALP too, for that matter) should tell them where to go. But they have to do it carefully, or they’ll be painted as uncompromising and power-hungry. So the way they need to sell it is to say publicly, “I’m sorry, but we can’t agree with this because [xxx]. We fully realise that this might cost their support, but as much as we’d like to form government, we have to put the country first.”

Then, the Coalition needs to whip up voters in the ex-National electorates to get their act together – and make it clear they want them to support coalition. This worked in toppling ETS, and I suspect it can work in knocking sense into these independents.

Of course, voters in these electorates don’t mind (and probably expect) a good deal of horse trading to get their electorate a “good deal,” but the list of demands don’t seem to help much in that area – and at least two of the three amigos sound partial to a great big new tax.

Meanwhile, Gillard has reportedly indicated her support for all seven demands.

Interesting times…

UPDATE: Abbott has given verbal agreement to 3-year term, but nothing in writing yet (hopefully he’ll allow himself some wiggle room if/when he does). He has, however, said no to Treasury doing the costings.

UPDATE 2: Check out this photo – the kingmakers treated like royalty. Is Swan bowing?

Broadband, Innovation and the NBN

When Libs came to power in 1996, less than half Australians were online, and then only on dialup (how did we cope?!). By the time they left, in 2007, most Australians had broadband. This was achieved not by Liberals themselves, but by private industry (though helped along by continued government de-regulation)

The repeated assertions – particularly by those too young to know what the hell they’re talking about – that market forces have failed; that private industry can’t deliver; that “things will go backward under the Liberals” is not only demonstrably false, but astoundingly ignorant.

Labor’s proposed NBN, at $43b, works out at around $5,000 per household. And that’s assuming it, unlike other ALP programmes, comes in on budget (and actually works). Furthermore, the centralisation of this network in government hands undermines the de-regulation – begun under Keating – which helped services advance to their present level (do you think we’d have what we have now if Telstra hadn’t been privatised, and still had a complete monopoly?!)

The Liberal plan still spends too much – but at least it attempts to encourage investment, competition and innovation in the private sector. I expect tech to be far superior in 10 years than to what it is today, regardless of who gets power… but if there is any policy that is “backward looking” – and going back to the bad old days of one (government-run) supplier with no competition – then it is that of the ALP.


Libs (Finally) Oppose Internet Filter

About time

The federal coalition has announced it will scrap controversial plans for an internet filter if it wins the August 21 election.

I’m glad they finally made their position clear. Abbott had previously indicated a lack of faith in the technical implementation, but – worryingly – not much opposition to the concept (ie, you got the impression that if he thought it would “work” at blocking content, he might support it.) Hockey’s opposition has been more consistent, and more in line with libertarians:

“I have personal responsibility as a parent,” he said in March.

“If I want to stop my children from viewing material that I feel is inappropriate then that is my responsibility to do something about it – not that of the government.”

UPDATE: The Australian Christian Lobby has come out strongly against the Coalition’s rejection of the Internet filter.