Monday 30 May 2022

Anthony Albanese: Conflict Fatigue? Collaboration? Consensus?

(source info up to 20:00 Monday 30th)

Ten days since the federal elections, the precise composition of the 47th Parliament is not yet certain: too close to call, two seats remain in doubt.

However, the Australian Labor Party did form a majority government after securing 76 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. Last week its federal Leader, Anthony Albanese, was sworn as Prime Minister.

The COALition suffered a devastating defeat: 17 seats lost, as far as I can tell, all of them Liberal Party of Australia so-called “moderates”: Josh Fraudenberg, Jason Falinsky and Tim Wilson, more prominently. The combined Liberal/National lower house fraction shrank to 57.

The Australian Greens gained three new seats. Six teal independents (all of them more ambitious than Labor on climate change) plus a former Liberal non-teal allegedly independent joined the three already seating independents.


But it’s in the 76-seat Senate (39 for majority) where the results are more interesting:


Labor will need all 12 Greens votes plus at least another crossbencher to pass legislation. That seems achievable: David Pocock (ACT) is a logical option (except for being a male, he is a teal independent). Jacquie Lambie is another possibility.

To block passage of new legislation the Libs/Nats would need 8 additional senators. But it’s possible that surviving Liberal “moderates” cross the floor against attempts to block climate change-related legislation.

Evidently, to see the end of the COALition regime and advances in the Greens is a development I and most workers welcome. It also gives some hope to the climate kids and other climate change activists.


Albanese has stated his preference for a less confrontational style of politics. He has criticised Scotty from Marketing’s obsession with wedge politics. Australians have “conflict fatigue”, he says. Consistent with that, he reportedly rang the independents to establish a cordial tone with them from the start.

Me? I’m all for cordiality and consensus and cooperation, in abstract. When it comes to the concrete, however, I have misgivings. First, because I think Albanese might be underestimating, to put it mildly, the fighting spirit of many across the aisle.


Take wages and industrial relations, for example. Albanese wants a summit between unions and employers. The idea is for them to get together to talk. Chances are an unlikely settlement between unions and employers will leave workers dissatisfied: real wage cuts. But the Hawkeish federal Government could promptly spin this as a win: you know, “politics is the art of compromise”, inflation, the sensible middle and all that. A much more likely breakdown in the talks could easily be blamed on a hawkish ACTU.

Either way, unions and workers lose. Frankly, I never was a fan of Bob Hawke. As a young man, Albanese himself wasn’t one either. Albo changed his mind. I didn’t. We’ll see who’s right.


Climate change also worries me, for it remains to be seen whether Albanese will stick to his own commitment to consensus when it comes to climate change.


If Albanese approached the Greens, as he did with the independents, either I missed it or the media kept it secret. That doesn’t speak well for consensus-making. In fact, so far top Labor pollies, including Albanese himself, have spoken of the Labor climate change plan as a “take it or leave it” thing, with no wiggle room for more ambition.

This would disappoint both Australians and Pacific Islanders and would result in conflict. Let’s hope Albanese himself is fatigued and he’s only bluffing. Kevin Rudd wasn’t. Labor can play hard ball, the thing is that they only play it with those to their Left.

Albanese should adopt a collaborative, European approach to governing – not the take-it-or-leave-it Anglo style we’re used to

Adam Simpson, University of South Australia

The Australian Labor Party is edging towards 76 seats and possible majority government after the electorate abandoned the Coalition at the federal election.

But regardless of whether it can reach a majority or not, Labor needs to learn the right lessons from the Morrison government – as well as from its last two terms in power between 2007 and 2013.

These experiences could point to adopting either a more take-it-or-leave-it antagonistic approach to politics, prevalent in the Anglosphere countries of the US, UK and Australia, or a more European, collaborative style.

Politics is the art of compromise – nobody gets exactly what they want. But adopting a European approach to parliamentary negotiations could usher in an enduring golden era of stable and progressive government, with more generous and compassionate national politics.

The take-it-or-leave-it Anglo approach

The first term of Labor’s previous government between 2007 and 2010 was dominated by Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership and his attempts to pass his climate change legislation.

The Greens considered the package too generous to polluters and ineffective in addressing climate change, so they blocked it in the Senate where they held the balance of power.

Despite Labor’s rhetoric that the Greens are therefore largely to blame for Australia’s subsequent history of climate inaction, the reality is far more complicated.

Bob Brown, then leader of the Greens, wrote to Rudd after the first vote on the legislation in late 2009 seeking talks but received no reply. The Greens then put a compromise plan to Labor after the second vote, but it was again rebuffed.

Despite these overtures, in April 2010 Rudd announced his government had abandoned the legislation, which was the beginning of the end for his tenure as prime minister.

In retrospect, perhaps the Greens should have just passed the bill. But the government’s take-it-or-leave-it approach was extremely unhelpful in progressing the legislation. This approach is somewhat typical of the aggressive style of parliamentary politics in Anglosphere countries.

Most Anglosphere parliaments, including Australia’s House of Representatives, have single-member electorates, which generally results in having two combative parties that take turns in governing.

This is very different to the more cooperative European models of government.

The collaborative European approach

After the 2010 election, Julia Gillard’s Labor entered minority government in a power-sharing agreement with Adam Bandt of the Greens and two independents in the lower house.

This approach was more reminiscent of European politics, where most parliaments have multi-member electorates. In these electoral systems (also employed in Australia’s Senate) small parties have a greater chance of entering parliament and the large parties rarely achieve a majority.

It’s therefore common for European parties to enter post-election negotiations to form ad hoc coalitions or power-sharing arrangements.

This happened in Germany in 1998, when the left-leaning Social Democrat Party formed a national governing coalition with the German Greens, with the latter supplying the foreign minister.

A similar arrangement resulted from German national elections last year, with the addition of the liberal Free Democrats to create a three-party coalition. The Greens again supplied the foreign minister, as well as the economy minister.

In South Australia, Labor has adopted aspects of this approach by strategically offering independents in regional and traditionally conservative seats – and even a Nationals MP – ministries in its governments, even if Labor doesn’t require their votes. This collegiality has been continued by the recently elected Malinauskas government, even though it has a governing majority. This canny strategy will have contributed to Labor being in power for 20 out of the previous 24 years by the end of this term.

The Gillard government’s minority position forced it to adopt this more European-style consultative posture and it resulted in the most productive parliament in Australia’s history, measured by acts passed per day.

It legislated a price on carbon, which, if it hadn’t been repealed by the Abbott government, would have resulted in 72 million tonnes less carbon emissions according to research in 2020 by the Australia Institute.

Which style will Albanese take?

Labor must learn the right lessons from its last stint in office.

It will face a parliament unlike any previous government, with a significantly enhanced third force comprising the Greens, the “teals” and other independents.

Labor could entrench a progressive majority in parliament for the foreseeable future by rejecting the antagonistic, duopolistic Anglo approach to parliamentary politics that characterised Labor’s first term of government last time around. Instead, it should shift towards the more negotiated, collaborative Euro approach of its second term from 2010 on.

Negotiating in good faith with the crossbench will show teal electorates their MPs are making real progress in the halls of power on the issues they were elected to pursue – primarily climate change, an integrity commission and gender inequality. These electorates would therefore be more likely to vote teal again in future.

Single member electorates make it difficult for independents or small parties to win elections, but once they’re in they can be hard to dislodge, as the experience of Adam Bandt, Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie, Bob Katter, Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines demonstrates.

If the teal seats continue to elect independents, the Coalition will struggle to regain majority government again.

Whether Labor manages to achieve a governing majority in the lower house or not, it will still need support from the Greens and progressive independent David Pocock in the Senate to pass legislation.

Fortunately, Albanese seems to have the temperament that would favour a Euro approach. On election night, he promised to promote “unity and optimism, not fear and division”.

Nevertheless, both Albanese and other senior Labor members have already been out in force since the election stating they have a mandate from the electorate to deliver their election policies, including a 43% cut in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 – but no more. This is despite the ALP receiving less than 33% of the primary vote.

Most of the teal independents have policies of a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. And the Greens, who received almost 12% of the primary vote, want a 75% cut. A significant chunk of the electorate therefore voted for much stronger action on climate change.

Labor would do well to compromise with the crossbench in those areas where common ground can be found to build and consolidate an enduring progressive future for Australia.The Conversation

Adam Simpson, Senior Lecturer, International Studies, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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