Australia Federal Election Analysis 2010

Australia Federal Election

The 2010 Australian Federal Elections were fought against the backdrop of Kevin Rudd’s removal as prime minister following a leadership challenge by his deputy, Julia Gillard, in June 2010. Seeking a mandate of her own, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her intention to hold federal elections ahead of the constitutional deadline of April 2011. In July 2010 she announced that elections would be held on 21 August. The polls were neck and neck on election day and resulted in the country’s first hung parliament since 1940.

After she came to power, Gillard described her predecessor’s administration as “a good government… losing its way”. Moreover, with a background in the tough, union-dominated politics of New South Wales and a focus on domestic political issues, Gillard marked a shift from Rudd and a deliberate challenge to the tough-talking Abbott. Rudd’s fall could be traced to a number of policy issues – particularly relating to asylum seekers, environmental issues and a controversial mining tax – on which Gillard was quick to distance herself from ahead of the election. However, by August these problematic issues had returned to frustrate Labor. For example, a possible solution to the asylum seeker problem stumbled when East Timor, Labor’s proposed location for an offshore detention centre, rebuffed Gillard’s proposals. Labor then found itself outflanked by the Liberal Party, which suggested reopening the old detention centre on Nauru – a proposal met with considerable enthusiasm by Nauru’s cash-strapped government.

Labor was also rocked by a series of damaging leaks; attributed by some in the media to Rudd or his disgruntled supporters. This apparent disunity at the highest levels gave the opposition the chance to characterise Labor as lacking a clear policy line and moral leadership, instead relying on focus groups and opinion polls. The issue was temporarily resolved in August when Rudd announced that he would campaign for Labor at the national level and indicated his support for Gillard.

The winners from the 2010 poll were the Green Party, which took a single seat in the House and nine seats in the Senate. Additionally, three rural independent MPs enjoyed a brief period of power, as they deliberated over which of the two main parties to support in the immediate post-election period.

After weeks of political vote trading, on 7 September two of the three independents indicated their support for Labor. With the support of the one Green MP and the independent Andrew Wilkie, this gave Labor 76 seats in the House and enabled it to form a government. The Liberal National coalition were left with 73 seats and the support of one independent, the colourful Bob Katter.

The Greens performed particularly well in the Senate and with their nine seats they will hold the balance of power in the chamber when the new body sits in July 2011. While Green leader Senator Bob Brown will align his party with the Labor government on most issues, there remains the potential for disputes, particularly on environmental issues. Nevertheless, the Greens would be unwilling to side with the opposition given Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s hostile stance towards the issue of climate change. Indeed the prospect of an obstructive Senate was a key factor behind Labor being better placed to form a government than the opposition and will likely prove a key factor in ensuring that the current government lasts its full three-year term.

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