For mainstream and social media partisans the current prolonged election campaign is an essential life or death struggle for premiership victory by one’s chosen team. But to my way of thinking it doesn’t really matter very much which team wins. The two major parties are Tweedledee and Tweedledum on asylum seekers, defence and national security issues. Both subscribe to eclectic versions of standard neoliberal economics that differ only marginally from each other, albeit somewhat skewed in favor of their primary sponsors (corporate Australia and the trade unions respectively).
As for second order political issues, a royal commission into banking is likely to prove just as much a waste of time and money as the trade union royal commission turned out to be, producing very little real reform, only occasionally entertaining courtroom theatre and a generous bread and butter income for a posse of Sydney and Melbourne barristers. Sadly, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will probably end up the same way, although at least it has provided a forum for some useful catharsis for victims. It might also lead to a non-litigious redress scheme, though present indications suggest it will be woefully underfunded.
If Turnbull wins (as still seems more likely than not), a revived Australian Building and Construction Commission would prove as ineffectual as its previous manifestation and as big a waste of money. Its draconian powers are pretty scary, but no more than the plethora of other such bodies granted extraordinary powers in the post -9/11 State of Exception, and I suspect union officials won’t be unduly discomforted by being questioned for no useful purpose by a Tory barrister in a secret Star Chamber.
On same sex marriage, an unnecessary plebiscite will cause stress for LGBTI people at the hands of fundamentalist Christian bigots, but the plebiscite will probably pass anyway and might even help to muster a (currently uncertain) Parliamentary majority for eventual passage of the legislation.
In other words, things will go on pretty much as normal whichever side “wins” the federal election. The real interest for me lies in whether the result and its aftermath continue the process of disaggregation of political parties we have seen over the last decade or so. My ideal would be for a multi-member system of Lower House members elected by proportional representation, because that would result in more diverse political representation with parties and politicians forced to contest, argue, collaborate and compromise in order to be able to deliver effective government. For me, this sort of pluralistic agonism would deliver a superior form of democratic governance. But neither major party is ever likely to legislate such a system willingly. The current “winner takes all” rotating elected dictatorship suits them better.
However, the tide of political history may end up achieving a somewhat similar result whether the major parties like it or not. Labor has already been filleted from the left by the Greens. Its core support is now at 35% or lower; it can’t ever again realistically aspire to control of the Senate, and is at significant risk of losing one or two more inner urban Reps seats to the Greens.
By partial contrast, the Coalition’s core support still looks to be around 42%. The genius of John Howard as leader was to stifle the growth of Pauline Hanson’s extreme right One Nation by conspiring with Tony Abbott to have Hanson chucked in prison, and then stealing all her policies while somehow simultaneously retaining the support of the Liberals’ more moderate support base. Neither Turnbull nor Abbott nor any other conceivable contemporary Liberal leader looks to be anywhere near as politically agile as Howard was until he got complacent and over-reached with Work Choices.
I doubt the Liberal Party will remain the “broad church” of which the Tories habitually boast. If Turnbull wins comfortably and begins moving the Liberal Party in a liberal direction even marginally, will Abbott or one of his loopy acolytes form a breakaway right wing Tea Party which will begin to do to the Liberal Party what the Greens have done to Labor? On the other hand, if the Right regains control in the wake of a Turnbull loss or very narrow win, will a new non-union-aligned centre party emerge, possibly from an expanded Nick Xenophon Team, and take moderate votes from both Liberal and Labor?
If we end up with both major parties having core percentage first preference support levels in the low 30s, with two or three significant minor parties consistently attracting 10-15% each, then minority government might become the new normal. For partisans of the two major parties that is the ultimate horror scenario. From my perspective it would be great. The Labor minority government of 2010-2013 had an extraordinary and overwhelmingly positive record of legislative achievement through a constructive synthesis between ALP, Greens and Independents. The actual implementation of legislated programs was much more patchy and inconsistent (to put it mildly), and the whole show was undermined from within by Rudd’s retributive treachery and Abbott’s relentlessly effective destructive opposition from without. However, I don’t think those are inherent or necessary characteristics of minority government; instead they are just consequences of a general but outdated perception that agonistic minority government is an abnormal and undesirable situation, and that somehow all will be well again when government reverts to the familiar situation of “winner takes all” rotating elected dictatorship. Our Australian polity will change for the better once it dawns on participants and the electorate alike that multi-party agonistic pluralism is the new normal.