Like many other countries in Europe, Australia swung to the Right in the October election, but at least we were spared the rise of racist right wing nationalist parties as well. The Far Right here is fragmented and though the last few years has seen the rise of an unpleasant xenophobia directed against asylum seekers, this is scattered across the political spectrum, while the conservative Christian parties seem to be fragmented, despite their opposition to further Muslim immigration. Hopefully there will soon be some analysis of why protest votes, largely on the Right, went to Clive Palmer but not Bob Katter, while with a bit of luck, Pauline Hanson will finally quit the electoral fray.
The paradox is that while European economies are suffering from chronic high unemployment, Australia is doing comparatively well, although you wouldn't think so from the Coalition barrage directed against Labor governments, both state and federal. The big question will therefore be what changes the Abbott-Hockey team can make which will impress the swinging voters who voted Liberal and whether or not it is possible to address some of the long term issues like health, education and a growth in more permanent jobs rather than casual employment, as the manufacturing sector continues to decline.
The appearance of the Palmer United Party also represents an interesting new development although it remains to be seen whether Clive Palmer will get bored with the humdrum of Parliamentary business when he only has one seat out of 150 in the House of Representatives and his two (or three) Senators will find themselves largely ignored in the Senate, unless they hold the balance on a crucial vote.
The depressing factor is that Labor has to get its act together if it aims to offer a viable alternative to the Coalition after three or six years and so far this seems unlikely with the choice of Bill Shorten as the party leader, representing the continued dominance of the Right Wing ALP faction in New South Wales.
While the Greens represent a potential coalition partner, the voting system means that they are unlikely to gain more than a handful of seats in the House of Representatives, despite their numbers in the Senate. In Europe, the Greens have been able to form a coalition in various countries because the voting system is more representative, but in Australia, apart from Tasmania with its Hare-Clark voting system, it will be almost impossible for any minority party to gain a substantial bloc of seats in the Lower House.
While the Coalition bangs the jobs drum and derides proposals for progressive social legislation like same sex marriage and Death with Dignity as irrelevant and out-of-touch with mainstream voters, the fact remains that the Australian economy is very much at the mercy of global forces and we only have 23 million people. Our economy has remained strong in the last decade because of the mining boom but that remains dependent on demand from Asia and commodity prices will always rise and fall. While business traditionally supports the Coalition, they are going to pursue profits in the best way they can by cutting costs, which usually means cutting labour and if necessary, moving offshore, like the Caterpillar company here in Tasmania which is moving jobs to Thailand.
Voters, angry with the impact of globalisation and inclined to lash out at asylum seekers as a scapegoat, may well find that the Coalition is not really interested in their concerns and can do little to alleviate their issues, even if they did care.
One other worrying concern is the Coalition's advocacy of higher military spending while locking Australia into a closer alliance through the United States Pacific strategy, further accelerating a regional arms race already under way with the surge in Chinese modernisation of its armed forces and the more hawkish direction being taken in Japan. India's naval expansion and rivalry with China in the Indian Ocean is also a growing concern but spending more money on the military in Australia hardly offers an alternative, especially with the dubious decision to invest in the dodgy F-35 and a new generation of submarines.
Real security does not come through escalation of military expenditure yet the Coalition government is committed to slashing overseas aid while increasing the military budget, a recipe for increased regional insecurity. Increased military expenditure creates relatively few new jobs, especially when the expensive hardware is purchased overseas.
Unfortunately, neither Labor or the Coalition consider the environment as a long term security issue, because although they may lip service to combatting the impact of global warming, the short term electoral cycle prevents them planning for the future, despite the growing evidence of the impact of global warming on Australia.
In the field of foreign policy, the Coalition has already made a disastrous start, and although eager to take its seat on the UN Security Council after rubbishing the Labor government's campaign to get the seat in the first place, our humanitarian record must stand at an all time low with our blatant disregard for Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 'Everyone has the right to seek asylum.' Letters to 'Major' Morrison pointing out that asylum seekers are not 'illegals' get ignored as part of the new silent treatment so there is not even the semblance of a debate and the navy must be seething with their new role of chasing asylum seeker boats around the waters between Indonesia and Australia. Hopefully this wall of silence can in time be broken down by a frustrated media and enraged human rights activists.
For progressive voters the outlook remains grim but the electoral cycle will continue to go round as it always does. The over-riding question remains whether or not the ALP can use its time in opposition to develop a real viable alternative direction for Australia, perhaps involving minority parties and progressive independents. Only time will tell.