- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2016

Australia’s conservative prime minister finally declared victory Sunday, a full week after the national election was held, but a slimmer majority for the ruling coalition has only fed the growing concern about the new government’s agenda.

“We have won the election,” announced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the leader of the Liberal-National right-wing coalition, during a Sunday press conference.

Eight days after the longest and closest national election, the Australian Electoral Commission concluded the coalition won the 76 seats needed for an absolute majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Many of the seats had been too close to call originally and for a week the commission had been receiving and counting absentee ballots.

“It is clear Mr. Turnbull and his coalition will form a government,” said Bill Shorten, the head of the Labor Party. “I hope they run a good government.”  

The center-left Labor Party will look to gain at least 69 seats. The Australian Greens will look to gain one seat while other minority parties will gain the remaining four. The official results will be announced Friday as votes are still being counted.

The eight-week election campaign that ended July 2 returned no clear majority for either of the two major parties in Australia for almost a week. Due to this, incoming postal votes were needed to declare many seats.

“They don’t count the postal ballots until after the regular ballots have been counted,” explained Rhonda Evans, director of Texas University’s Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies. “Your ballot can come in until 13 days after the election and while every vote matters anyway, postal votes mattered much more in the remaining seats where they are still counting votes.”

If neither party could have gathered the needed number to govern, both would have had to look towards forming a minority government with the independent members of the Australian Parliament.

In 2010, Julia Gillard kept the Australian Labor Party in power with Green’s MP Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor declaring support. The resulting 76-74 margin formed a minority government in Australia and was widely criticized by former coalition leader Tony Abbott.

The coalition — then the opposition — questioned the legitimacy of Labor’s minority party and now Mr. Turnbull’s slim majority will face similar challenges from Mr. Shorten’s party.

“He’s wounded within his own party, his government is gonna be in a weak position in the House and in respect to the Senate,” said Ms. Evans after explaining that the Senate will have no majority. Instead, the upper house of parliament will most likely be a diverse group of minority parties and independents who were able to win seats because of the double dissolution of both houses of the legislature which set a lower quota to win.

Mr. Shorten has already called for the prime minister’s resignation saying that Mr. Turnbull was “not up to the job.” However, Ms. Evans believes that his resignation would be unlikely and that “Labor would just love the idea of the Liberal party in turmoil.”

This election was one of the only ones in which many voters gave first preference to a party other than Labor or the coalition, and now there’s growing concern about an increase in Medicare, violence against women, and the trustworthiness of government.

“People in Australia feel threatened,” said Ms. Evans. “They feel that the major parties are part of the problem not part of the solution. The fact that you have so many first preferences going to non-major parties, it’s not too dissimilar to what the Brexit vote registers. It’s a symptom of economic insecurity and economic inequality.”

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland said that the coalition victory would, however, “lift business confidence.” The coalition policies are expected to include tax breaks and infrastructure policies, but Mr. Turnbull will more than likely face a number of issues getting his agenda through the new  Senate.

In fact, Mr. Turnbull’s promise to cut Australia’s company tax rate from 30 percent to 25 percent now seems doomed with independent senators like Nick Xenophon opposing tax breaks for big businesses. The plan would cost $50 billion but Mr. Turnbull assured it would stimulate “jobs and growth.”

While Mr. Turnbull will most likely face setbacks in the upper house, Mr. Shorten claims Labor will not obstruct government in the lower chambers and that the parties “need to make this parliament work.”


• Erica Brosnan can be reached at ebrosnan@washingtontimes.com.

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