I’ll wait until the Senate results are officially finalised before commenting more fully on what the ramifications might be. There are a lot of votes still to be counted, and I think there is a reasonable chance in Victoria that the Greens will catch up with the Liberals to take the final Senate seat there – although if I had to bet on it, I’d still back the Libs. (If you want to follow the progress of that count, go to this post on The Poll Bludger’s site). There is also a remote chance the Greens could get the final Queensland seat instead of Labor, although I’d have to say that looks very unlikely.
The likely result will leave Queensland with all 12 Senate seats shared between Labor and the Coalition, with Barnaby Joyce being the closest thing to an independent voice – an outcome I’d foreshadowed throughout this year as quite possible in the event I didn’t retain my seat, and a situation that has not occurred in Queensland since 1981. This will also now be the situation in New South Wales, with 6 Labor and 6 Coalition Senators, the first time that state will have been without any Senate voice outside of the major parties since Democrat Colin Mason took up his Senate seat back in 1978.
It is understandable for people to focus on the Democrats’ pending disappearance from the Parliament, but I’m even more concerned about the absence of any voice at all from Queensland that will focus consistently on the environment, human rights, justice and Indigenous issues.
One of the reasons Labor is fairly weak on many of these issues – especially Indigenous issues – is because they can afford to be, as they are rarely subjected to any positive political pressure on them by the Coalition parties. As the Liberals and Nationals seek to reinvent themselves, there are worse things one or the other of them could do than become reasoned but passionate promoters of Indigenous rights. This would certainly be consistent with a genuine liberal tradition, and the record of the Fraser-era Liberals in this area is sufficiently defensible to give them a credible base from which to work.
It’s not quite so consistent with the political traditions of the Nationals, but if someone like Barnaby Joyce decided to give some genuine priority to Indigenous issues, I think his reputation for saying what he genuinely believes might enable him to carry this off with some credibility – as long as he made the effort to take an informed approach to it. He would not be able to do it honestly without saying some things that some of the old traditional Country Party base didn’t want to hear, but enabling economic and social equality to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people would help revitalise many regional areas.
Not that I’m overly interested in how the Coalition go about politically repositioning themselves. I’m just concerned there’s going to be even less pressure on the new Labor government to do little more than take a minimalist approach on Indigenous issues.
I’m not suggesting there are no people in Labor genuinely committed to this issue- I know there are. I just fear that the narrow strait jacket which Kevin Rudd operated within during the past year will continue, and that will mean consolidating the conservative ideological base which Labor has partly taken from the Coalition and avoiding anything which might be seen as threatening that. Kevin Rudd’s approach during the recent election campaign of barely mentioning Indigenous Australians, apart from the occasional platitude, does not fill me with much hope that there is any great commitment to seriously tackling the grotesque inequalities faced by many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people. As far as Queensland goes, there’s no serious political pressure in regards to this issue on the Labor Party at state government level, and unless the federal Coalition sees fit to give it some priority, there won’t be much at federal level either.