Post-election political posturing in its own way can be as important as pre-election political posturing, but given that the voters have just spoken, maintaining some connection with reality is probably a bit more important.
Which made me somewhat surprised to see these comments from ACT Labor Leader Jon Stanhope:
”We have won this election. The people of Canberra have invested in us the responsibility for governing the community for the next four years,” Mr Stanhope said. He and his deputy, Katy Gallagher, will constitute the Labor team to meet the three Greens representatives. Mr Stanhope said he was confident a resolution would be reached soon. ”I don’t see it so much as a negotiation meeting, I’m not sure what there is to negotiate,” he said.
I know the entrenched two party system sometimes clouds political analysis in this country, but I thought that to “win” an election, a party had to demonstrate that a majority of the people elected were willing to support them in the relevant Parliamentary chamber. Seven (or even eight if the count falls their way) seats out of seventeen doesn’t quite make it.
I suppose it’s possible Jon Stanhope is engaging in some clever reverse psychology, trying to be offensive and presumptuous in an attempt to make the Greens choose the Liberals, with the expectation this would be highly unstable and cause major political problems for the Greens, thus driving the electorate back into the familiar arms of Labor. But I think it’s more likely Stanhope is just being incredibly presumptuous.
Now I think the odds of the Greens coming to an agreement which would see the Liberals governing in the ACT are 1000-1. There’s no doubt the Greens need to look for ways to broaden their voter appeal and show they do not always lean towards Labor, but supporting the ACT Liberals would surely be a bridge too far in this circumstance – far more so than for the WA Nationals to backLabor ahead of the Liberals after their recent poll. Of course, that proved too politically risky for them despite Labor offering a better upfront deal.
It would be a potentially very damaging move for the Greens to let the Liberals govern at this stage – perhaps not quite on the scale of the Democrats supporting the GST, but asking for trouble none the less. Bold political moves are fine, but (a) it helps to properly prepare your main support base somewhat in advance, and (b) you need to be able to credibly justify and explain it the morning after, when the excitement of making the ‘couragous’ deal fades away.
Minority governments are the norm rather than the exception in the ACT and the highly democratic electoral system means the count takes longer to finalise – all of which makes this small delay in resolving the outcome fairly run of the mill. While the Greens are highly likely to go with Labor, they have every right – indeed a responsibility – to use their position to ensure the next government operates in a more open manner, and to seek to have their policy concerns treated seriously and adopted where possible. This is particularly the case in the ACT, which is not your standard Westminster style Australian parliament and there is the potential to explore processes and practices that are more collegiate.
Probably the one thing that could make it politically feasible and credible for the Greens to reach an agreement with the Liberals would be if Labor maintained a “there is nothing to negotiate” stance in the weeks ahead.