With the 45th Parliament to sit for the first time next week, it’s a good time to ask the question – who actually won in the 2016 Australian Federal election?
Now you might be thinking “Hang on, we already know the answer” – even though it took a while to get a clear result. But I’m not talking about who formed government – that’s a settled fact and most people would know the answer to that question. I’m asking who actually won.
The reason this is a question worth asking is because Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party certainly didn’t win the election. They suffered a significant loss of seats and have barely retained majority government by the thinnest of margins. After the botched calling of a double dissolution and rewriting the electoral rules for the Senate, the Upper House is now potentially more difficult for the government to get legislation passed through than it was prior to the election.
It’s not nice to call someone a loser, nor particularly respectful when they’re the Prime Minister, but it’s hard not to see Turnbull as a political one at this point.
But the Opposition Labor Party certainly didn’t win either. Despite electoral gains, they didn’t “win” by any stretch of the imagination. The Australian public was certainly not prepared to endorse Bill Shorten and his colleagues to run the country.
The Greens didn’t win, failing to gain in any of the seats they supposedly stood a chance to take and losing one of their Senate spots.
Social conservatives didn’t win – as they currently still have a very non-conservative leader running the government. Religious conservatives didn’t win, as no specifically Christian parties gained any seats in the election and Family First’s Bob Day is the only senator of that general persuasion who retained his seat.
The pro-life cause didn’t win, as the most active champion of the rights of unborn children in the Australian Senate, John Madigan (formerly of the DLP) was not re-elected.
The only real winners at this election were Nick Xenophon; Pauline Hanson; their respective parties; and the people who were disenchanted enough with the major parties to vote for them.
Xenophon and his team have the potential to play a positive role in Australian political life, by being a centrist force that holds the major parties to account. Their antipathy towards gambling and support for state and consumer rights are certainly welcome. However, Xenophon’s support for same-sex marriage is a serious blight on his policy program from a conservative perspective. And while his concerns about Scientology and the Catholic Church are partially grounded, one has to wonder whether his preparedness to crusade against particular religious groups makes him a potential danger to freedom of religion in Australia.
Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s resurgence is a terrible outcome for everyone bar her team and those who gave their first preference votes to them. The fear-driven, reactionary, political populism One Nation represents is not a positive force in our public life. While Senator Hanson may make federal politics more colourful, it’s a clashy, unpleasant sort of colour we’re talking about. Bad memories and alarm have already been triggered by her re-election.
So while I think the election outcome in the House of Representatives was about the best we could have hoped for in a dismal situation (i.e. a Coalition government with the slimmest of majorities), the overall make-up of Parliament is certainly not great. The election wasn’t a win for Australia.
Without wanting to indulge my inner pessimist too much – there does not appear to be much hope of a positive way forward in Federal politics. With the numbers as they stand, the elimination of Turnbull as leader, by conservative forces within the Coalition, would probably hand the ALP government one way or another. So too would a breakaway of conservative MPs like Cory Bernardi, George Christiansen and possibly old hands like Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews.
A Labor government would be disastrous for Australia at this point in time – if the current example of the People’s Socialist Republic of Victoria under Comrade Daniel Andrews is anything to go by. Even the more moderate and largely ineffectual Labor government in Queensland is beginning to show concerning signs regarding its ideological inclinations.
Thus, a heavily restrained Coalition government under Turnbull is unfortunately the least disastrous political option for the time being. Hopefully the government’s wafer-thin margin in the House and severe disadvantage in the Senate will force it to advance policies that are in the interests of all Australians. And hopefully when it does try to enact unprofitable or ill-thought-out legislation, the crossbench will hold the government to account and force it to review and negotiate.
Because when the two major parties are very poor choices and the minor players don’t offer a much better alternative – having the least-bad side of politics govern on a very short leash may actually be the only way to get some small wins out of a minefield of potential losses.
 Sam Ilić Parliament House Canberra (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr
 DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, visiting the Pentagon on 18 January 2016.CC BY 2.0
 Peter Campbell “Bill Shorten MP” CC BY-SA 3.0
 Australian Greens “Richard Di Natale” CC BY 2.5 wikimedia
 Cirt Nick Xenophon CC BY 2.0 wikimedia
 Velovotee Hanson at a book launch in 2007 CC BY-SA 2.0 wikimedia