Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

The 2012 U.S. presidential election began almost immediately after President of the United States Barack Obama was sworn into office in 2009. Down under in Australia, voters went to the polls on last Saturday, Sept. 7, barely a month after Parliament was dissolved and campaigning began.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had led the country since the end of June after ousting Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Labour Party (and in turn, the country) in an internal vote, fell short of winning a third consecutive mandate for Labour.

Tony Abbott, leader of Liberal-National Coalition, a group of center-right parties, surged to victory on widespread frustration with the Labour Party, which had been in power since 2007.

In the 150-member House of Representatives, the Abbott-led coalition won a total of 86 seats, well over the 75 needed for a majority. Rudd’s Labour Party slipped to 57 seats, their worst showing since the 1996 federal election.

Prior to the election, the two major parties essentially split the seats evenly in the House. Labour held 72 seats while the Liberal-National Coalition held 73. However, the Labour Party stayed in power after the 2010 election through an agreement of support by one Green Party member of Parliament and three other independent members, giving them a 76-member voting bloc in the 150-member House.

In 2010, then-deputy Labour leader Julia Gillard had herself ousted then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Rudd returned the favor in June of this year, riding on Labour desperation to be spared from disastrous defeat in the impending elections. Gillard had become deeply unpopular with the public for instituting a carbon tax in 2011 to maintain the support of the Green Party, despite publicly promising not to do so in the 2010 election campaign.

In the end, Rudd’s leadership was not enough to overcome the public’s perception that the entire Labour Party was more interested in their own internal factional struggles than working for the Australian people. The Labour Party lost 15 seats and carried barely one-third of the popular vote nationwide, despite the strength of the Australian economy amidst global challenges.

In the Australian Senate, 40 of the 76 seats were up for election as well. Since ballots for those elections are cast through a complicated proportional representation system involving the single transferable vote, results were not yet available immediately after the polls closed. It could take days to determine the make up of that chamber and many expect neither party to win a strong mandate, though an informal Labour-Green coalition will control the Senate until at least 2014. Typically, a potpourri of smaller parties advantaged by proportional representation hold the balance of power in the Senate.

The makeup of the Senate could cause problems for Prime Minister-designate Abbott’s more ambitious agenda items. During the campaign, Abbott vowed to repeal the carbon and mining taxes instituted by the Gillard government, get rid of the $30 billion budget deficit, aggressively turn back boats carrying asylum seekers headed for Australia, buy boats from Indonesian asylum smugglers, and institute a generous paid-parental leave program that would give mothers six months worth of their full salary at up to $150,000 per year. Abbott has also said he would like to be known as “the infrastructure Prime Minister.”

Prime Minister-elect Abbott has led the Liberal-National coalition since December 2009. He is a former Rhodes Scholar who also spent time in a Roman Catholic seminary. He is 55 years old and was first elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 1994.

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Beyond the Bubble