So, it’s been over a year now since the country voted for none of the above, and thanks to a greeny, an ex-spy and a couple of bushwhacking independents, we got a Labor minority government. If you were to believe Tony Abbott, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and just about every opinion poll published in the last six months, it’s been an utterly disastrous failure that has resulted in the death of democracy. However, delving a little deeper might make you wonder whether a rather unbelievable outcome has come from what was supposed to have resulted in absolute political deadlock. Today, I review some of the policy achievements of the Gillard government and likely upcoming legislation, and evaluate the success of having the fate of this nation’s future in the hands of a few fortunately placed men.

Everybody recalls the 2010 federal election campaign, and always for similar reasons. It has been widely regarded as one of, if not the most boring election campaign in Australia’s 110 years of federal democracy. Both major parties produced dull and uninspiring campaigns devoid of any sensible and/or credible policy direction. Despite Labor leader Julia Gillard being a fiery left-wing feminist and Liberal leader Tony Abbott being a devout Catholic conservative, the two leaders for the most part spent the entire campaign pretending to be anything but in a desperate and somewhat unconvincing attempt to attract the political centre – that ground vital for securing electoral success. The result was resounding – the Australian people proclaimed they disliked and disbelieved the major parties so profoundly that they produced a parliament that denied either side of a majority.

After three weeks of intense grovelling, it was the Labor Party who managed to please the required four non-aligned MPs and formed government. This didn’t come without a number of concessions: the three things that stand to define this government for good, bad, or otherwise, namely the carbon price, the pokies pre-commitment scheme and the National Broadband Network (NBN) were all key policies that helped Labor secure this power.

But anyway, onto the policies that have been implemented:

The Carbon Tax

Arguably the biggest of the concessions made by Labor, which was particularly important in securing the confidence of Green MP Adam Bandt, was that of a commitment to introduce a price on carbon within this parliament. As we all probably know, pricing carbon is no new concept, both in general and to the Labor Party. Kevin Rudd promised to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme way back in the lead-up to the 2007 election, a promise that was subsequently matched by the outgoing Prime Minister John Howard, who was acting on advice from his Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Fast forward a few years, Kevin Rudd’s decision to snub the Greens and attempt to negotiate an ETS with Mr Turnbull, who was then leader of the Liberal Party, saw the latter lose his position and the ETS defeated. Mr Rudd’s decision to defer its implementation led to his demise as leader of the Labor Party, as well as the Labor Party’s attempt to put of the issue of climate change for a few more years.

However, the beauty of minority government prevailed against this rather lazy policy decision. Ms Gillard’s proposed “citizens’ assembly” was junked in favour of what we now know as the “carbon tax”. The previously impossible issue of dealing with climate change is now guaranteed legislative passage thanks to Labor and the Greens, along with the independents Windsor, Oakeshott and Wilkie.

The irony of all this is that while both parties went to the election with what could only be described as “token gestures” to deal with the issue of climate change, a substantial if not very industry and household-friendly policy has been introduced.

Pokies reform

In order to get Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie’s agreement to form government, Julia Gillard was forced to agree to introduce legislation for a mandatory pre-commitment technology on what are dubbed high-intensity poker machines (high-intensity being those machines that allow bets of more than $1 per spin). This policy is being rigorously debated in the media at present, and I intend to examine it further in another post. However, despite both parties claiming to be “concerned” (no points for telling me you’ve heard that word from a politician before) about problem gambling, neither side had any interest in doing anything substantial about it.

Enter Andrew Wilkie, and his upper house anti-pokies colleague in Senator Nick Xenophon. Despite what you may think of them as politicians, their commitment to at least addressing the issues surrounding problem gambling in a serious fashion, as well as bringing the debate into mainstream prominence, must be credited. As such, it is almost certain that Australia will have these cash-guzzling machines limited in some fashion, if not removed from existence altogether.

Asylum seeker policy

I’ve examined this in great detail before. Despite the end of the Howard era seemingly seeing a shift to a semi-humane policy on treating unlawful boat arrivals, the deposition of Kevin Rudd saw Labor “lurch to the right on asylum seekers”, to quote the now-foreign minister. Labor prior to the election rediscovered a taste for offshore processing, firstly promising to send asylum seekers to East Timor, then Manus Island, before finally deciding to arrange a swap deal with Malaysia. The Malaysia deal ended up so condemned by all that even humanitarians were starting to question whether it was worse than the Nauru option previously employed by John Howard.

Alas, minority government, with the support of the High Court and a contradictory opposition, won out again. After being ruled illegal by the High Court, the government saw to amend the Migration Act to allow their less-than-humane “solution” to proceed. However, with the Greens holding the balance of power in the senate, and their MP Adam Bandt being part of the lower house power sharing deal, there was no way the amendments would pass. After a few painful weeks of watching the government, through Julia Gillard and immigration minister Chris Bowen, try to talk up a failing, unpopular policy and sweet-talk Bob Katter and WA national Tony Crook, they finally admitted, through the deference of the amendment legislation, that it would not pass, and re-embraced onshore processing of asylum seekers.

Again, the irony of this situation is so beautiful. The two major parties both went to the election with policies so far to the right that even Pauline Hanson was supporting them, yet due to the politics and the parliament numbers, a relatively left-wing humane policy outcome was reached.

So, despite the entrenched unpopularity of the government as this point in time, it does appear that some substantial policy outcomes have been reached. Their politics in dealing with these policies has been nothing short of woeful, and while I do expect to watch Labor get thumped at the next election, at least the policies implemented by this government have been for the most part ones I embrace.

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