Andrew's Inner Sanctum

My thoughts about what's happening in my world

Explaining The Current Hung Parliament Situation

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by Andrew

I got a lot of questions today from lots of you at school today who where either completely confused by what’s happening at the moment, so I thought I might write exactly what’s going to try and help explain it better. I hope I get everything correct in this blog post, but if something is incorrect, then I’ll do my best to correct it.

In Australia we have 2 houses, a lower house called the House of Representatives where all your local MPs and the Prime Minister sit and an upper house called the Senate where an equal number of people from each state sit (12 from each state and 2 from each territory to make up 76 senators). At each election we elect a brand new House of Representatives and 1/2 of the Senate. The other 1/2 is elected at the next election.

When you go to vote in an election, you vote for your local member. You never vote for the prime minister (unless the leader of that party (which is chosen by the party, not the public) happens to be your local MP). That’s why everyone here in the Redlands and in most  of the country did not see Julia Gillard on their ballot paper, she only appeared on the ballot paper in her local electorate (which is in the suburbs of Melbourne). When a party forms a government then the leader of that party (which I repeat: the party chooses, not the public) becomes the Prime Minister. Say last election if the labor party had won the election, but Kevin Rudd had not won his seat (which is very unlikely, but could happpen) then Kevin Rudd could not have been the prime minister, even though he was the one on all the posters. The labor party would have had to decide on a new leader to call Prime Minister. In 2007, this is what happened to John Howard, he actually lost his seat to Labor, so even if the Liberals had won, Peter Costello would have likely become the Prime Minister. Anyway, moving on – so each electorate votes for their local member, whether it be a liberal, labor, greens, independent or any other party on the ballot paper. There are 150 seats in Parliament with one seat for the winner of each electorate.

In Australia, to form a government, you can’t just have the most seats, you need to have the majority of seats and there’s an important distinction between those two words most and majority. Say that the Labor party won 70 seats, the Liberal Party won 68 seats, the greens won 7 seats and the independents won 5 seats. You might think, Labor won the most seats, therefore they won the election, but that’s not how it works in Australia. To form a government, they must have the majority of seats, which means a party must have 76 seats (which is just over 1/2 of 150) to form a government and that’s the problem at this election – neither of the major parties have managed to do that, the first time they’ve been unable to since 1940. The current predictions say that Labor and Liberals will win 73 seats (some say Labor 73 Libs 72 and some say Labor 72 Libs 73 each, it’s around that number) with the remaining 4 to 5 seats held by a Green (the first green in the House of Representatives at a general election) and 3-4 independents. All the figures at the moment keep changing (they changed all 3 times that I checked today) because of the postal votes that are coming in and will continue to come in for the next 2 weeks. Normally the decision is split enough that the postal votes don’t decide who the next government will be, but because it is so close this time, the postal votes are actually becoming quite crucial.

So where does this leave us, well it leaves us with a Hung Parliament, because neither major party managed to gain the majority of seats required to form a government by themselves. Julia Gillard will stay prime minister until a new government can be formed. So 3 things can happen from here. The first option is that the independents and the Green MP in the lower house strike a deal with Labor and we form a Labor/Independent/Green minority government. It is traditional that the government that has been in power before the election gets to have the first opportunity to talk to the independent and Green MPs to strike a deal that will mean 76 people will agree to work together (aka the Labor party and the independent/Green MPs required to make up that 76). If they cannot strike a deal, or the deal is seen to be too unstable by the governor-general, then the liberal party is then given an opportunity to do the same thing and strike a deal with the independent and Green MPs to try and make up that 76 seats. Once either side is able to get the 76 people required and the governor-general determines they will be able to form a stable government, then they will be allowed to form a minority government and the deal is done. What they means is that every piece of legislation that goes through the lower house will require the support of those independent/Green MPs to pass through (which is what they would have agreed to do). If neither party is able to strike a deal to form a minority government, then – back to the polls we go for another election!

At the moment because they’re not certain about those in doubt seats where postal votes keep coming in and changing the results around, neither side is sure how many seats they actually have and therefore are unsure how many independents/Green MPs they’ll need to speak to so they can form a minority government. This is why the election may not be determined for a week or so yet. Also, both Liberal and Labor have to convince the independent/Green MP that their party is the best one to support and this will lead to lots of deals which could include increased funding to projects in those electorates where the independent/Green MPs are located or possibly a spot on the front bench as a minister with a portfolio. Essentially, they will ultimately decide which bribe will benefit them more and also which policies of that party they agree with more. Currently there’s talk that Labor’s National Broadband Network will woo over these MPs because the majority of them come from rural areas where telecommunications are not great at the moment and where the National Broadband Network would benefit them greatly. On the other hand, they might decide on a party which is ultimately more stable, which is the Liberal party at the moment. So that’s where we stand with the Hung Parliament in the lower house at the moment.

Now let’s return to the Senate for a second. Changes to the Senate don’t take effect immediately, so it won’t be until July 1 2011 that the 1/2 of the Senate we elected this time will actually take effect. In this election, it appears that the Greens will take the balance of power, which again, means that neither party will have the majority of people in the Senate. In Australia, once legislation is voted through the lower house (House of Representatives that I’ve been talking about for paragraphs now) it needs to be also voted through the upper house (Senate). This was originally designed as a house of review to make sure that all states were represented fairly but these days it just tends to be a way for parties to block each other’s legislation unless they have a majority in both houses. If legislation does not make it through the Senate, it can be send back to the lower house for amendment and then the process starts again. In this election, the Greens won the balance of power, which again means that neither Liberal or Labor took the majority and so now to get legislation through the Senate, they have to get the Greens to support them. This will provide the Greens with the power to do some what they call “horsetrading”, which means they will say to the government who manages to get power, we’ll only support this legislation if you agree to put this amendment into it or agree to also pass this legislation through. Many see this as a positive thing, because we might possibly have some solid climate policy pushed through the parliament and into legislation. In this election it looks as though Family First Senator Steve Fielding has lost his seat in the Senate which will mean that the Senate will probably be made up of Liberal, Labor, Greens and one Independent Senator called Nick Xenophon.

So why has this situation happened with a Hung Parliament in the House of Representatives and a Senate with the Greens holding the balance of power? Well the Australian voters made the decision that they disliked both parties and that neither of them should be allowed to govern in their own right without being baby sat by the independents and the Greens. Anna Bligh and Kristina Keneally (the premiers of Queensland and New South Wales respectively) are very unpopular Labor leaders in those states and therefore reflected badly on the Federal Labor government in this election, while Victorian and South Australian people lapped up Labor. The supposed knifing of Rudd also made Labor look pretty bad although it’s not Julia Gillard who decided that Kevin Rudd had to be removed, enough of the party was prepared to vote for a new leader of the party (which they’re perfectly entitled to do so, remember the public technically did not vote him in as Prime Minister, the party choose him as leader and therefore can also remove him as leader) and to avoid embarrassment, Kevin decided to step down before the vote. It’s unlikely, but possible that the vote could have decided he would stay as leader. Tony Abbott couldn’t quite manage to gain the majority either and this is likely due to the recent memories of policies such as WorkChoices from the Howard Government, views he expressed in the past about women, his deep religious values and how they’re often taken into account when making policy decisions and his record as Health Minister (especially abortion). Where both parties failed together was the cheap slogans, focusing on issues that really didn’t matter to the majority of Australians and ignoring others like climate change, their short terming thinking and the continuous negative advertising on TV, which told us why the other was so bad, but didn’t tell us why their own policies were better. The Greens did so well because they took all the votes of unhappy Labor voters who wanted more action on climate change and also because they produced a positive advertising campaign which stated their own policies and not why the other 2 parties sucked.

So that’s basically what’s happening at the moment, and these next few days will be very interesting and will decide the future of Australia for the next 3 years or so. I hope you understand this issue much more now than you did before and hopefully will take an interest in what’s happening and ignore the stupid and irrelevant issues such as earlobes sizes, accents and whether one is fitter than the other. If you still have further questions, then please feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll do by best to answer them.

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  • RE end of paragraph 5: You mentioned the first type of agreement the independants could form with one major party (vote with them on everything) the other option is for them to strike a deal where they only vote with said party on votes of no confidence, and then the independants assess each individual bill as it is introduced into parliament.

    We can be confident that the Green MP will side with Labor, but I’m fairly confident the other three will side with the Coalition. Guess we’ll see in the coming days. Great article! 🙂

  • thanks Sam, hmm that would be an interesting arrangement too. I was thinking the same as you about which side the independents would choose, until I saw in the news sites (even the News Ltd ones which are Liberal bias) that the NBN could save Labor, so now I’m really undecided on which way they will go lol.

  • masealake

    No matter who will win a government?

    Hung parliament result the fact people wanted fairer live resources supported

    “Health Olympic Australia” is a nationally and international significant movement in the 21 century “knowledge economy” in “Health Economy Gold Rush”:

    ● By pass all economy in human history that benefit to every habitant on earth;

    ● All habitant must to face either lost, or to win;

    ● The dead lock situation either lost health supply, or getting enough supply to win the battle of health demands in health rebuilding in her/his own right efforts to achieve wealth creation.

    There are at least five economic productivity outcomes will resulting significant GDP progressing from a “Health Olympic Australia” as follow:

    1. Reductions in Australian Health Workforce cost;

    2. Reduction in Healthcare cost;

    3. Reduction in lost productivity cost;

    4. Increase from agriculture outcome;

    5. Increase from “Health Olympic Australia” creation in goods/products exportation.

    Ma kee wai
    (Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

  • Darnaffro

    I Find it somewhat depressing that you have provided such a great blog about our political system in Australia…yet when I searched for this both through government and mainstream media websites…i found next to nothing.
    You’ve answered so many of my questions…except 1; Why is the Australian Media and Government both so useless?

  • Thanks buddy, I didn’t expect many people to read this, I’m just a year 12 kid who was sick of re-explaining things over and over again to them, so I posted it here 🙂

  • Greenhealthy

    What Australia hung parliament demonstrating deep in voter’s heart?

    Australia citizens now enter a very challenging political era for 70 years in the 2010 federal election, many reforms are demanding by voters are looking for a change with anger to share fairer resources supplied lives from the first term of government?

    Voters handed down their decisive votes during election time are looking for an efficient, effective and economically run government. A high transparency in less mistaken caused processing under no discriminately enforced services government. A long term wealth creative vision with fast action moving forward progressing resulting value add to voters benefits in each term of governing.

    Voters are crying for action right now to have improved resources support lives that suppose lead by a government in the following eight commitments:

    1. What vision of prosperity voters seen?
    2. Why action not enough in the past 3 years?
    3. How many election promises has been fulfilled?
    4. Where productivity motivation to voters?
    5. What materials to speed up election promises processing?
    6. Why some election promises in powerless process?
    7. How far transparency in each department service voters wanted?
    8. Where prioritized direction to empowerment the nation?

  • Greenhealthy

    1. What time bombs will rock Australia democratic society?

    The Australia historical hung parliament demonstrated the big gap of inequality society between the small educated elite groups who get highest pay by talk feast used mouth work controlling live essential resources of the country in every social platforms against the biggest less educated groups who get lowest pay by hands work squeezed by discriminative policies that sucking live blood from poor/less wealth off?

    Voters’ voices do not hear?
    Voters’ pains do not ease?
    Voters’ cries do not care?

    1. Poverty will not be phase out if no fairer resources to share;
    2. Illness will not be reducing if no preventive measurement in real action;
    3. Agriculture will not be revitalize if urbanization continuing its path;
    4. Housing affordability will not be reach for young generation if government continues cashing from young generation debt by eating out the whole cake of education export revenue without plough back;
    5. Manufacture industry will shrink smaller and smaller if no new elements there to power up to survive;
    6. Employability will not in the sustainable mode for so long as manufacture and agriculture not going to boost.

    Ma kee wai
    (Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

  • masealake

    What democratic societies should learn lessen from Australia election 2010:
    1. What productive action has PM Julia Gillard in office 100 days?
    When inflation is a looming threat, with the nation’s CPI growing by 3.5 per cent year on year – a 22-month high – just last month.
    When ultimately slow down the country’s growth and subsequently hose down the demand for Australian commodities.
    The Australia historical hung parliament demonstrated the big gap of inequality society between the small educated elite groups who get highest pay by talk feast used mouth work controlling live essential resources of the country in every social platforms against the biggest less educated groups who get lowest pay by hands work squeezed by discriminative policies that sucking live blood from individual poor/less wealth off?
    Voters’ voices do not hear?
    Voters’ pains do not ease?
    Voters’ cries do not care?
    1. Poverty will not be phase out if no fairer resources to share;
    2. Illness will not be reducing if no preventive measurement in real action;
    3. Agriculture will not be revitalize if urbanization continuing its path;
    4. Housing affordability will not be reach for young generation if government continues cashing from young generation debt by eating out the whole cake of education export revenue without plough back;
    5. Manufacture industry will shrink smaller and smaller if no new elements there to power up to survive;
    6. Employability will not in the sustainable mode for so long as manufacture and agriculture not going to boost.
    Ma kee wai
    (Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

  • fatsk

    My Year 12 students read your article in and found it very interesting and relevant. Could you please explain further what has happened now that the votes have been counted and the independents/greens have made their decisions as to which party they will side with. Can you explain which party each one sided with and potentially what they may have been promised(bribed) with????

    • Thanks for your kind comments. I won’t write a whole blog post about it since it is dated news now, and also because I am also in year 12 and have final assessment coming up soon, but I will provide a brief summary here. The independents had to pick sides because neither side won the majority of seats (76) required to form a majority government. The Greens member was always going to side with Labor, that was decided before the election essentially with their preference deal.

      Andrew Wilkie was an interesting one, because he was an independent, who wasn’t interested in working with the other independents and made his decision to support Labor early on. Was also quite odd the Bob Katter supported the Liberal party, although it probably has something to do with Labor replacing Kevin Rudd. If Rudd was still in, he probably would have voted Labor. I think one of the key reasons that the other two independents (Oakeshott and Windsor) choose to side with Labor was because Tony Abbott was never really interested in staying in minority government in the long term and if he had won, would probably try to trigger a double dissolution or some other event which would cause the country to return to the polls prior to 3 years, so he could come back with a majority government. The independents want to keep their power for as long as they can, so I think that’s probably one of the key reasons they sided with Labor.

      The other is broadband. Labor’s broadband policy is far superior to the Liberal plan. It’s more expensive, but it’s also expensive for us to build bitumen road all the way to far west Queensland, but we still do it, because we know we have to support our country folk. By making the cost of internet services equal to everyone, we provide them with equal access to communication. The rural independents in their rural seats would have seen the importance of this and that’s probably the other reason they supported Labor.

      The good thing is, the deal means they do not have to support every Labor bill, in fact they probably won’t. It simply means they won’t block supply (budget) bills and they will vote in confidence of the government. Everything else is fair game. Shall be an interesting few years in Canberra!

  • Great read and informative, thanks. You’re right we don’t hear very much at all about the Greens Policies. I had no idea they didn’t recieve big biz political donations – good on them. This will be something I’ll be keeping strongly in mind when I head to the ballot box.
    Very awesome of you to share these – thanks! 🙂

  • masealake

    Why believe coalition Supporting Local Communities?
    It’s all about power and money most Politicians and parties wanted above all and after all election?
    Just listen how Barry O’Farrell convincing voters: “Over the last four years I announced positive and practical policies which will help support local communities……..” .
    Take a look below the link subject: “Time for Action” in “Healthy Active Life” program that convert Broken hill into a Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy? Link with http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=20747&mycomm=ES
    … , will you then still believe Barry O’Farrell’s announced positive and practical policies which will help support local communities……..” ?
    Will you also believe there were only 1-2 Politicians responding to this greatest “Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy model”?
    Why the most Politicians do fail their own test in support community health/economic development who with$1.65 million Tax payer’s money each annual spending for?
    Masealake (Member of Inventor Association QLD)

  • masealake

    Why believe coalition economic plan works without revitalize agriculture and manufacture industries??
    It’s all about power and money most Politicians and parties wanted above all and after all election?
    Just listen how Barry O’Farrell convincing voters: “People are our asset. They are our greatest wealth and they should be given the opportunity to pursue their dreams?” On the issue of economic management, Mr O’Farrell was asked what he thought was the state’s greatest source of wealth, given NSW lacked a resources industry.
    Take a look below the link subject: “Time for Action” in “Healthy Active Life” program that convert Broken hill into a Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy? Link with http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=20747&mycomm=ES
    … .
    Will you then still believe Mr Barry O’Farrell’s announced positive and practical policies which will help revitalize agriculture and manufacture industries for create more sustainable jobs, and innovative export products? ……..
    Will you also believe there were only 1-2 Politicians responding to this greatest “Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy model”?
    Why the most Politicians do fail their own test in spend little brain work to revitalize agriculture and manufacture industries who with $1.65 million Tax payer’s money each annual spending for?
    Masealake (Member of Inventor Association QLD)

  • masealake

    Why believe coalition committed to health reform without implementing the Preventive Health?
    Just listen how Barry O’Farrell convincing voters: “The key to our program is giving medical professionals a bigger say in how health services are delivered in their area. These are the people who know what their patients need…so we will be listening to them”.
    Take a look below the link subject: “Time for Action” in “Healthy Active Life” program that convert Broken hill into a Healthy Las Vergas Broken Hill economy? Link with http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/showPost.cfm?bid=20747&mycomm=ES
    … .
    When we look at what Kevin Rudd’s labor government has expend John Howard’s coalition government endorsed Preventive Health program into “Healthy Active Life” program phase 1-2 before oust.
    Will you then still believe Mr Barry O’Farrell’s coalition opposition is committed to health reform (put some money in some hospital if you liked)? Then call it rebuild the hospital system through Better Hospitals and Healthcare program? A truly health reform that would fix all health problems?
    Masealake (Member of Inventor Association QLD)

  • This was originally designed as a house of review to make sure that all states were represented fairly but these days it just tends to be a way for parties to block each other’s legislation unless they have a majority in both houses. If legislation does not make it through the Senate, it can be send back to the lower house for amendment and then the process starts again.