The Hon Kevin Andrews MP is a member of the Australian Parliament and publisher of the Australian Polity. This will be the first of an occasional report he'll be submitting for ConHome readers. Follow Kevin on Twitter.
The Australian Parliament is in recess until the annual Budget session in May. Despite the break from proceedings in Canberra, much has happened on the political landscape in the past few weeks.
First, the Labor Party were thrashed in the Queensland election. In what is essentially a ‘first-past-the-post’ system (optional preferential voting) for a unicameral Parliament, the Liberal National Party, led by the former Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, scored the biggest landslide in Australia’s political history, winning 77 of the 88 seats, and sweeping Labor from office. Neither the Greens, nor the Australia Party, an agrarian socialist movement led by former National Party minister, Bob Katter, made any significant headway.
The outcome was a result of a number of factors. First, the Queensland voters had been waiting for years to oust Labor from office, but there had not been a credible alternative. The unification of the previously warring Liberal and National Parties was a significant step in creating an alternative. The election of Newman, the popular Lord Mayor of Brisbane as opposition leader, albeit outside the Parliament, competed the process.
Finally, Labor ran a totally negative campaign, focused almost entirely on attacking Newman and his family. When they were forced to concede a few days before the polls that there was no substance to the mudslinging, the voters reacted with anger.
A more significant event during the recess was the announcement by the leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown, that he was stepping down from the leadership and would retire from Parliament in June.
Brown is an enigmatic figure, part idealist and part ideologue, who has been the face of the party since he co-founded the Australian Greens with the radical ethicist, Peter Singer, in 1992.
After heading-up the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, and a stint in the Tasmanian Parliament, Brown was elected to the Australian Senate in 1996. His moment of glory emerged when Labor was reduced to a minority in the Parliament at the 2010 election, and Prime Minister Gillard signed an alliance with the Greens and some independent members. It kept her in The Lodge, along with her ‘First Man’ but the price for the deal has proven a burden to Labor.
Having promised that “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” before the election, Gillard reversed her position to satisfy Brown and the Greens. She also reversed other commitments, including a promise to introduce mandatory pre-commitment requirements for poker machines.
The result is a Prime Minister who is widely distrusted, and a government flat-lining in the polls at disastrous levels. Labor’s primary vote has hovered around 30 per cent for months, and the two-party preferred vote favours Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National Coalition by a wide margin.
Brown’s decision to step down was unexpected. A week or so before, he had intimated that he would be around for a long time. But he has been under increasing scrutiny. An otherwise malleable media had started asking the Greens the type of questions they ask the major parties.
Then Brown had his “Beam me up Scotty” moment in delivering the annual Green Oration. The senator commenced: “Fellow Earthians, Never before has the Universe unfolded such a flower as our collective human intelligence, so far as we know.”
He went on to wonder why other intelligences had not contacted us: “So why isn’t there life out there? Why aren’t the intergalactic phones ringing?”
The answer, according to the senator, is that they had destroyed their natural environments.
The speech, in which Dr Brown went on to propose a Global Parliament was treated as bizarre.
Brown has been presiding over an increasingly divided party. While Brown, and his successor, Christine Milne, represent the environmental strand, a new Marxist grouping has emerged with the election of their first lower house member, Adam Bandt, and the former communist, Lee Rhiannon.
For the 67 year old Brown, having achieved the virtual co-prime ministership of the nation, and seen some of his cherished policies implemented, it may have seemed like a good time to depart.
He leaves a fractious party, and a prime minister to defend the unpopular policies that he foisted upon her.