For the benefit of my international readers, who are mostly American, I better give a quick run-down on how the Australian political system works.
We have a Westminster parliamentary system in Australia. Our Head of State (called the Governor-General) is a totally separate person from our Head of Government (called the Prime Minister). The Government is elected through general elections which are called once every three years.
Skipping out all the assumptions and theoretical bits, the party (or coalition of parties) which wins the majority of seats in the House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament, where legislation is proposed) is the party which forms a Government.
The leader of that party (or the senior party in a coalition), who is normally also a member of the House of Representatives, will become Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then appoint a Cabinet, and an Outer Ministry. The Cabinet and Outer Ministry are together known as the Ministry. The Ministry runs the Government.
The other members of Parliament are called the Opposition, with the leader of the next biggest party in the House of Representatives known as the Opposition Leader. After losing the election, the new Opposition Leader will appoint a panel of spokespeople to address issues raised by the government and to propose issues of their own. This panel is known as the Shadow Ministry and from this group, a Shadow Cabinet is assembled.
Elections are held to elect members to the House of Representatives and half the members of the Senate, which is the upper house of parliament, where pending legislation is reviewed.
Members of the House of Representatives (or MHRs) are elected to represent localised districts called "electorates". These are loosely based on population distributions, thus highly populated states such as New South Wales and Victoria will have the most, whereas states such as Tasmania, South Australia and the territories will have the smallest number of MHRs.
Senators are elected to 6 year terms, and are elected to represent each state or territory. At each election (every three years), there will be 6 senators elected for each state, and two for each of the Northern Territory (NT) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Jervis Bay Territory (JBT) only has a population of a couple of hundred, and is thus included as part of the ACT for federal electoral purposes.
Currently, the Government is a coalition of the Liberal and National parties, and the Prime Minister is a man named John Howard, who is the leader of the Liberal Party. The Opposition is headed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and their leader (also the Opposition Leader) is a man named Kevin Rudd.
The Government also currently happens to hold a majority in the Senate, as well.
Right. That's out of the way. On to the round up.
More than anything else, the impression that I've got throughout this election campaign is that it has really dragged. Six weeks is a really long time between calling an election to actually having it.
Consequently, what I thought were the key issues identified at the start of the election campaign don't even appear to have registered with the voters. But I really don't have a clue. In any event, this is what I see as the key issues:
WorkChoices has been designed to shaft workers and eliminate unions. Essentially, it there to capture the votes of small business, and to great deal, it has worked. The federal government, however did go too far in implementing this, and was forced in May to implement a "Fairness Test" for all new employment contracts (called AWAs).
I notice, cynically, that the Fairness Test can be dismantled really easily if the Government of the day chose to.
The Fairness Test has backfired on the Government to some small degree. Most notably, some businesses are finding it truly expensive to adhere to the requirements of the Fairness Test, and have reverted back to the cheaper enterprise bargaining system.
With the economy motoring along at close to full employment, don't expect to see the workers of Australia voting on this issue - they don't really care if their rights are stripped away with the Fairness Test in place and more money from employers on offer.
Expect to see the Government water-down or eliminate the Fairness Test if re-elected. If the Opposition is elected, they've indicated that WorkChoices will be eliminated entirely, although the substance of their policy details indicates that some of WorkChoices will be retained.
2. Climate and the Environment
Once upon a time, "climate" meant the overall political climate. Now, it refers to global warming.
Fortunately for us Australians, global warming denialism is a spent force in Australian politics. Unfortunately though, because corporate donations to political parties are still allowed to taint the political process, the Government will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
The electorate will vote strongly on this issue - even more strongly than the Government expects.
Complicating this is the issue of water, and the Government's traditional power base amongst farmers and the bush.
If the Government is re-elected, expect no further action on emissions. Water, on the other hand, could be interesting - but I don't see anything major other than what current Minister for the Environment Malcolm Turnbull has proposed. If the Opposition is elected, they have indicated that they'll ratify the Kyoto Protocol. I have no confidence in this, and I expect them to renege. Shadow Environment Minister Peter Garrett has already shown that he can be bought, and I actually don't expect to see him holding this portfolio if the Opposition is elected. The Opposition, on the other hand could really work wonders on the whole water front, but I'm not crossing my fingers.
Climate and the environment stands to deliver some Senate seats to the Greens. This is always interesting.
Health Minister Tony Abbott has not had a good election campaign at all.
Yet, reading between the lines, the Government has possibly the best health strategy lined up if they win power, with the exception of the whole "communities run hospitals" silliness.
This is the problem. The electorate will only see this, and not the actual fix. Our health system is extremely good, as anyone who has seen Sicko will attest, but it could be better.
The Opposition, for all the good work of Shadow Health Minister Nicola Roxon during this election just don't really have anything other than lamely copying the federal government's policy stance. Improved performance measures will not register with the electorate.
What's wrong? The federal government is in charge of Medicare. The states are in charge of public hospitals. Don't people understand that such a stupid situation is untenable?
I expect that the copycat tactics of the Opposition has made health a non-issue at this election.
4. Secondary Education
It was left, ironically, to principals of private secondary schools to enunciate what was wrong with the Government's policy delivery on this. And with Julie Bishop going missing conspicuously during this election campaign, the government don't have a scapegoat either for what could have been a well received yet blatant attempt to bribe the electorate.
I will attempt to post a follow-up post this week about why secondary education in Australia is so completely fucked, but just like the Government, I don't like my chances.
This will be an issue during this election. Despite this being a boost to the pockets of middle Australia thanks to our high private school usage, no one likes it when the wealthy get handouts.
The Government will implement their policy of handouts to parents of private school kids if elected. The Opposition has wisely chosen not to copy this particular policy and have benefited from the fallout.
5. Tertiary Education
Oh, I forgot. Something from the Opposition. Scholarships, I believe. But scarcely a blip, really.
Wasted opportunity all round.
6. The Economy and Interest Rates
Treasurer Peter Costello has wasted no time going round and trumpeting his economic credentials, and with good cause - unemployment is at record lows and the economy is doing spectacularly well.
Too well, in fact. Inflation is not under control, and interest rates are on the way up as a result.
Unfortunately, spinning this into something that grabs the punters is close to impossible, especially when having a mortgage is almost a legal requirement for the Australian voter.
And while it is unlikely that we'll have a credit crunch like what they're having in the States, it only takes a couple more interest rate rises to see a housing price collapse, particularly with housing affordability the way that it is.
On the downside, both parties have made a lot of costly election promises. And as Master Yoda would have said:
Spending leads to inflation,
Inflation leads to rate rises,
Rate rises leads to the Dark Side.
Or he might not. In any event the spending promises during this election campaign have been profligate. In fact, I awake in dry sweats thinking about it. Ex-PM and Treasurer Paul Keating has savaged both parties for the disgraceful spending that has been promised.
For once in my life, I agree with him.
Expect the voters to give the Government the big thumbs up for economic management - they already appear to have bought the line that interest rate rises were unavoidable and that the Government weren't lying through their teeth at the last election about this very issue.
7. Housing Affordability
Housing affordability in Australia is a DISGRACE!!!
And both parties think that they have the solution: throw more money at buyers.
Needless to say, this will be extremely popular with the electorate, who have proved that they have the economic nous of a doormouse.
I'm a poet and I don't know it.
Nyuk nyuk nyuk. (Cue: "Wiseguy, eh?" followed by Three Stooge-esque violence)
In any event, this will be influential in the marginal seats. Never mind that inflating demand will only exacerbate the problem. Houses will only become more unaffordable. Why don't people realise this?
Something really needs to be done about people's economic literacy.
This will thankfully be a minor issue that this election. Thank FSM for that.
And because 8 will be a non-issue, so will point 9. It should be mentioned that thanks to our ridiculous preference system in the Senate, the key religious party, Family First stands to gain a seat (at the most, I'm tipping) but they've been quiet.
It will be interesting to see how the preference deal between the Liberals and the Christian Democrats for the New South Wales Senate seats goes - they're even more of a bunch of nutbars than Family First.
10. Bennelong and Liberal Succession Planning
John Howard has indicated that he will stand aside during the next term in favour of Peter Costello. Don't expect that there won't be as fight if this happens. Brendan Nelson, Abbott and Turnbull will, I expect, put in a real humdinger of a fight for the top job.
But that could happen sooner, particularly if the unthinkable happens in Bennelong.
Bennelong will be the most closely watched seat in the House. Not only is it the electorate of the PM, but there is also a really good chance that it could be won by high profile ALP candidate Maxine McKew.
If that happens and the Government wins the election, we will, theoretically, have no Prime Minister until Peter Costello is confirmed. Again, though, watch this space. Nelson, Abbott and/or Turnbull (who has his own fight for Wentworth to look at) will get treacherous.
Hope that you enjoyed that. I'll do a part two later this week, where I cover off on which way I'll be voting.
I notice that in my election polls, there is a really big wish that the Greens could win the election. I would never have thought this about my readership.