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Australia’s 43rd election since Federation in 1901 is over, with no popular or majority mandate given to either major party yet again – with the Coalition enjoying only 45% of the primary vote. 

Preferences, however, mean that the Coalition has the legitimate and legal right to govern, with well over 50% of the seats in the Lower House. But the Coalition has a minority of seats, and an uphill battle, in a dysfunctional Upper House of many unrepresentative (but legal) members and members from hostile major (Australian Labor Party) and minor (Greens) parties.

It is more likely that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) lost the election than that the Coalition won, but a win is a win. And that carries a right to govern – with legitimate resistance, but not excessive obstructionism. Nevertheless, it is somewhat depressing to find a winning party, and the losing party for that matter, with a platform of near platitudes and popularism and silence or filibustering on key issues such as long-range vision, the digital era, energy direction, taxes (including the GST) and industrial relations reform, among others. This, of course, is partly the result of spin doctors and a 24/7 media frenzy. 

As will be suggested later, the elements of a well-run nation are too important to have been ignored, for whatever reasons, by either major party during this election.

Putting the latest election results into perspective is useful and revealing. The first chart shows the results of the 43 elections for the House of Representatives from 1901 to 2013.







The conclusions are straightforward. The Coalition (of many different partners and names) has ruled for 71% of the time and Labor (an unchanged party) just 29% of the time. In short, the electorate has rarely tolerated the ALP in power for long periods, or often, with the exception of the Hawke and Keating governments from 1983 to 1996. This is due to the nation suffering reform fatigue and usually poor fiscal management of the economy under Labor – with ideology, zealotry, overspending and under-taxing at work.

On the other hand, the reform history of the Coalition has been poor, but the fiscal management is usually very good, except for the Fraser Government of 1975 to 1983. This period was one of appalling systemic deficits and little, if any, significant reform.

The Coalition rarely rescinds Labor reforms, but does make them work within a balanced budget.

The picture emerging within the Senate is very different, as the next chart shows.








While the major parties dominated at different times until the end of the Industrial Age in the 1960s – favouring the Coalition, which dominated for 15 terms compared with Labor’s six – such dominance has only occurred in two terms of government over the past half-century, both times by the Coalition. In short, the electorate in the New Age favours a clear majority of one party or another in the ruling house, but hedges its bets by making sure that the same party has a difficult time fulfilling its platforms. The Gillard Government was a rare double whammy in this regard, with no majority in either house. A hung parliament indeed.

This dilemma has been compounded by a more pluralistic electorate voting for the Upper House, where minor parties are given a lot of room to move. To some extent, this has been due to reform stubbornness by the two major parties and, more lately, on the issue of the environment, with the Greens making big inroads in terms of seats and the balance of power. But before the Greens, there were the Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Democrats. At the most recent election, a remarkable number of independents were elected with negligible primary votes.

Ironically, the Upper House at the time of Federation was intended as a states’ house not a party political house, but it never really became that state-protecting entity. It is now simply a power-balancing or power-enervating parliamentary body – as frustrating as that is. And, unlike the United Kingdom’s Westminster system, our Senate can both delay and stop legislation from the Lower House.

So what do voters want, with full and thoughtful consideration, from a good government to benefit themselves and future generations?  The following list is suggested as a guide.










Rarely does a government deliver all or even most of the above. There have been some 78 leaders of the nation since 1788, including 19 governors, 32 premiers of our two major states and 27 prime ministers. Barely one in four have satisfied most of these criteria.

The successful statesmen, 19 of them, are listed in the following exhibit along with five other leaders who were dedicated, larger-than-life and reformist leaders but fell short on many of the above criteria (especially the employment and economic criteria).

Emotions, prejudices, ideologies and – more recently – ‘spin’ get in the way of facts, which usually destroy a good story anyway. When people look at this list of leaders, they often say, ‘You have got to be joking. Him, no way!’ This is human nature at its predicable best; people so often look at the sizzle and not the steak. Again, we should draw attention to what characteristics most people would agree on in a leader that is best for their and their children’s future: the elements listed above.









No-one disputes the important contribution of the unnumbered prime ministers in the above list, particularly Sir Henry Parkes and Robert Hawke. But they were not necessarily good fiscal managers and they also presided over some terrible unemployment levels. Conversely, the statesmen listed were not all popular PMs, indeed some were despised!

The characteristics of these statesmen (none yet being female, but that will come) are shown below.










So here we are in 2013, with a less-than-successful Labor period of six years behind us.

GDP growth averaged just 2.6% per annum compared with our long-term average of 3.5% per annum. Our national debt rose from less than 10% of GDP to nearly 30% over the same period, and unemployment went from full employment to nearly 6%.

To use the global financial crisis as an excuse is untenable. We had virtually no debt when the GFC emerged in 2008, no subprime lending (so we were insulated), a mining boom underway and two-thirds of our external trade in the Asia-Pacific, a region growing at 7% per annum, or twice the world average and four times that of the European Union, Japan and the United States combined. Conditions for strong growth do not get any better than that.

We now face some urgent reform priorities in a very competitive region such as ours, which is expected to overtake the GDP of the European Union and the whole of North America (the United States, Canada and Mexico) by the middle of the next decade, a dozen years away. The main priorities are listed below.








The electorate has voted out a party that was not addressing most of the above, rather than voting in a party it thinks will. That is not to say the elected Coalition will not tackle many of the above, as it may well do so. But we have not fully endorsed the Coalition with a primary vote over 50%, but rather given it a working majority in the Lower House. Nor have we allowed it to control the Upper House. This does not empower the government to be brave and resolute over the next three years.

Many governments in the developed world (the OECD) are in the same boat. But this is not much of a consolation.

Here’s hoping enough progress is made to get us back to better growth, full employment, higher productivity and balanced budgets. For starters.
















































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