The election – with its long, bruising, and often deceitful campaign – is over, ending as it should have begun – with a modicum of goodwill on both sides. Both retained prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten have vowed to work together in the national interest, Shorten committing Labor to finding “common ground in the 45th Parliament”.
If this proves to be the case, it will be a very good result for Australia – and a contrast with the ugliness and silliness that continues in Britain in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Turnbull and Shorten will be able to agree on a badly-needed modest cut in taxes for small and medium sized businesses, leaving aside the issue of lower company taxes for big companies until well beyond the next election. Changes in over-generous arrangements for superannuation of the wealthy will pass through Parliament, without imposing taxes on those who draw super. There is at least a chance of a more bipartisan approach to tax reform. If both sides can commit to budgetary savings, there is a better-than-evens chance of avoiding a downgrading of Australia’s AAA rating. There will be no time-wasting royal commission into the banks, but both sides of politics will watch the sector very closely.
While independents have gained ground in both houses of Parliament, they present a different face to the group that have blocked progress in the past, a point largely ignored by the media.
Speaking of which, the media coverage – and particularly that of the Canberra press corps, was one of the worst features of the election, particularly in the final stages. Only the ABC emerged with much credibility, surprising perhaps, given the partisan approach of programs like Q & A in the early stages.
In the days immediately following July 2, many of the newspapers’ best known and most vocal commentators were predicting doom for Malcolm Turnbull, concurrently talking up Shorten’s ‘victory’ tour, and predicting an Abbott-led revolt against the prime minister. None of this ever happened, and by the weekend these same so-called experts were ridiculing their own earlier predictions (while not admitting to authoring them) and saying it “was too close to call”. The ABC’s Anthony Green got it just about right.
So what happens now? Australia will still be prey to international forces that may slow world growth, especially those in Europe as the Brexit saga rolls on. Assuming she is selected, Theresa May will be a better British prime minister than was David Cameron, and may well be able to negotiate a deal with Brussels that he could not, perhaps justifying a second referendum. Either way, Australia should remain focused on Asia, doing what it can to ease tensions and to promote trade, while continuing to follow NSW’s example of remaking its economy more flexible and less exposed to falling commodity prices.