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Australia has lost the election

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 8 July 2016

What is the difference between Austria and Australia? Well, when the Austrians recently went to the polls to elect a new president, procedures were so flawed that their Constitutional Court told them to hold the election again.

Australia’s election procedures, meanwhile, seem relatively flawless. It is just the vote count that is agonisingly slow.

You would think that on day 6 after an election, we might have an idea who has won.

Not so in Australia. So far, we only know who has lost.

There are two losers in the Australian election: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. And Australia.

Let’s start with Turnbull. He removed Prime Minister Abbott by a coup in the party room only eight months ago. His justification at the time: Only he could secure his coalition government a second term, and only he could provide sound economic management.

On both counts, Turnbull has failed. If he is very lucky, he might have gained a wafer-thin majority. More realistically, he could lead a minority government. In any case, he would have lost more than a dozen seats. Not the greatest result.

As for Turnbull’s claim of being a better manager, his short time in office does not support it. Nor does his election manifesto.

In fact, apart from a vague promise to cut company taxes over the next decade, there was nothing much in Turnbull’s plan. Apart from a plethora of buzzwords, that is.

There would have been plenty a true reformer could have talked about. Most importantly, fixing Australia’s budget situation should have been the first priority. But on that, there was precious little the coalition had to offer.

Not that the opposition would have been any better on fiscal management. Far from it. The two main parties are just as hapless as each other when it comes to confronting Australia’s fiscal predicament.

Which makes Australia the real loser of this election.

To make matters worse, the uncertain majorities in the House of Representatives will be accompanied by an even more fractured Senate. The return of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is only the icing on the cake.

There is one more difference between Austria and Australia: With all due respect, it hardly matters who will be the next Austrian president.

But it matters a lot how Australia will be governed for the next three years. And sadly, the prospects for good government across the Ditch are not good.

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