The complexities of elections in Australia are exemplified by the fact that Anthony Albanese, the leader of the Centre-Left Labour Party, is still rather uncertain as to whether he will assume charge as the Prime Minister. Nor for that matter is it clear what the nature and composition of his government will be, or indeed the extent of cooperation he will need from independents and minor parties who won Sunday’s election.
Small wonder that analysts have described the psephological outcome as “extremely complicated”, one that is said to have mirrored the face of contemporary Australia. It is possible that Mr Albanese will be sworn in as acting Prime Minister if only to enable him to attend Tuesday’s Quad summit in Tokyo with President Joe Biden, the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida,
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I’m looking forward to seeing him and the Quad matters,” was the US President’s response when asked about his message for Mr Albanese prior to his departure for South Korea en route Tokyo. President Biden is also reported to have spoken to Mr Albanese over the phone; what passed through the ether may yet be a subject of conjecture.
The uncertainty deepens not the least in the context of the caveat advanced by constitutional experts. The constitutional law professor of the Australian National University, Professor Donald Rothwell, has let it be known that the nation’s Governor-General, indeed the representative of the ultimate Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, would only be prepared to swear in Mr Albanese as acting Prime Minister “until such time as the results are much clearer”. Mr Albanese said on Sunday that he would be “among the five people” who will be sworn in on Monday before attending the Quad meeting. The team will return to Australia on Wednesday when “we will get down to business”.
The four colleagues he mentioned include lawmakers who are likely to step into key financial portfolios and the deputy leader. The election can be deemed to be extraordinary as it is a virtual rejection of Australia’s traditional two-party system, both to Labour and the defeated conservative coalition, led by the Liberal party’s outgoing Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. The major parties saw a diversion of votes to fringe parties and Independents. And this has impinged on many seats considered strongholds of Labour or the coalition.
Requiring 76 seats in the House of Representatives to govern in its own right, Labour was on Sunday afternoon being called by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the winner in 71 constituencies, with 67 per cent of the votes counted. The outcome has been described as a “fierce rejection” of Mr Morrison’s handling of a welter of key issues, primarily Covid-19, women’s rights, political integrity and natural disasters such as floods and bushfires.
The Albanese government is likely to have a brittle foundation at the threshold. The vote has not been convincing, though democracy is not in danger.