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Keeping Rudd out of Gillard's hair

By Malcolm Colless - posted Tuesday, 14 September 2010

You could see it coming from the moment it became clear that Australia was headed for a hung Parliament. But the decision by Independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, to throw their lot in with Julia Gillard to form a minority government finally took the country through Alice’s looking glass into the world of the Mad Hatter.

When a smiling Oakeshott told the assembled media: “It will be a cracker of a Parliament. It will be ugly, but it will be beautiful in its ugliness” the issue was put beyond doubt.

Oakeshott’s public agonising and repeated bearing of his moral conscience in the painful lead-up to his final announcement was downright embarrassing if not confusing.


His public musings about a unity government are not just out of touch with reality they defy reality.

The electoral backlash which Oakeshott and Windsor are now facing from their own conservative leaning constituencies would be repeated on a much larger and more aggressive level across the country if Tony Abbott had fallen for this line, particularly after Labor’s post-election announcement of an alliance with the Greens.

After all under our democratic parliamentary system it is the role of the Opposition to take the fight up to the government of the day on its legislative platform not to engage in sweetheart deals. This was clearly demonstrated in the across-the-board swing against the Gillard (and previously Rudd) government at the polls.

And attempts during the election campaign to suggest that disenchantment with Labor was triggered by the ruthless political assassination of Rudd as leader went out the window with the 10 per cent swing against the former Prime Minister in his own Queensland seat.

Oakeshott’s protestations about the role which he and the other independents were playing in negotiating major reforms to the operation of the parliamentary system were blunted when it became clear that he was seriously considering an offer from Gillard to serve in a Labor ministry.

The impracticalities of wearing your heart on your sleeve while working under a system of cabinet solidarity are obvious particularly in a national political environment.


Oakeshott, in particular, made much of the pressure which negotiating his power deal with the major party leaders had placed on him and his family.

But the pressure during the 17 days between the August 21 election and the announcement of his deal with Gillard will be nothing compared to the workload that he and Windsor have set for themselves by effectively being involved in every aspect of government legislative policy.

For example, just looking at parliamentary procedural issues there have been 237 divisions alone in the House of Representatives since Oakeshott was elected in September 2008. While he missed 14 divisions while on official leave, he still missed a further 80 divisions.

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About the Author

Malcolm Colless is a freelance journalist and political commentator. He was a journalist on The Times in London from 1969-71 and Australian correspondent for the Wall Street Journal from 1972-76. He was political editor of The Australian, based in Canberra, from 1977-81 and a director of News Ltd from 1991-2007.

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