27 September 2010

Election result gives Federal Labor a fresh start

With the Gillard Government now relying on four other members of Parliament to govern, there is little doubt that the next three years presents some interesting challenges for Labor. However, despite the image of instability minority governments often invoke, these challenges should never be viewed negatively. Instead, the new Parliament will be an excellent opportunity for Labor to govern in a whole new fashion. 

For some voters, the previous Federal Labor Government had simply lost its way. In addition to failing to provide a clear message of achievement, Labor had also failed to connect with some sections of the community. It was a government that did not seem to know how to utilise the basic tools for effective public consultation and communication. The end result of Labor's troubles was a 2.6% swing against the government and a hung Parliament.

To our American friends observing the new Australian political environment, governing without the control of the legislative arm is nothing new. Over the years, various US presidents have had to either deal with a hostile Congress or manage a supportive one. Although the systems are completely different, the basic lessons are not. To ensure a successful legislative program, the executive needs to build programs and devise policies that have broader agreement. It is a lesson that the Gillard Government should heed. By learning to negotiate, and importantly listen, a more consultative and responsive government could ensure that key elements of its program are adopted by Parliament. Of course, this will mean some maturity from the Greens and those impatient with the pace of change.

Labor has already hinted that it has a bold legislative agenda. Recently, the Government outlined some of this agenda when it mentioned establishing the first National Preventative Health Agency to tackle the preventative health challenge; strengthening ozone protection mechanisms and water efficiency labelling; and giving real recognition to personal carers. Although some of the stated measures are unlikely to be divisive or unpalatable to the rural independents, the main challenge for Labor will be to seek and negotiate common ground between it and all four MPs. With views on some matters already expressed by the Greens and the three independents, for some policy issues, this task may not be insurmountable.

Make no mistake. Labor can successfully govern with the support of independents. Indeed, Labor has a history of managing very well in a minority government situation. But to ensure success, the Gillard Government needs a fresh approach to policy making. It needs to govern in good faith and accept that the political tactics of the past have been rendered obsolete. Indeed, the next three years will be a fresh start for Labor and for the future of our parliamentary system.

No comments:

Post a Comment