I think there are a few things we can learn from this election.
- If the major parties don't appear to be very different from each other, electors will find it hard to make up their minds. In this campaign the two parties have outdone each other on who will reduce the debt fastest, who will "stop the boats" (we're not stupid, we know neither can really do this), who will better manage health and education, and so on. So we're left to try and decide who will do this more competently, and of course we don't know.
- If we can't make up our minds we are more likely to vote for an independent (there will be four in the House of Reps and they will probably hold the balance of power there) or a minor party ( the Greens now have their first House of Reps seat and the balance of power in the Senate) - that is, if we don't vote informal, which over 5% of us did.
- Australian politics can stop moving to the right now. Although "right" and "left" are very clumsy political categories, overall both Liberal and Labor parties have been moving steadily to the right over the past 50 years. This means they support greater market and labour deregulation, a smaller welfare state with more private provision of things like health care and education, privatisation of government assets, willingness to go to war and preference for development over environment. With the Greens receiving over 11% of the vote and winning nine Senate seats, we now have a third party which is to the left of both major parties.
- Whoever governs will have to look left. Previous parties holding the balance of power in the Senate have been different - the Democratic Labour Party in the 1950s and 60s was a conservative Labor breakaway, and the Australian Democrats of recent memory broke away from the Liberals to form a centrist party. There's no more room in the centre but lots of room on the left which the Greens have happily moved into. If things work out for Labor, or even the Coalition, and they can do a deal with the moderately conservative rural independents in the House of Reps, they'll have to shift a little leftwards to get anything through the Senate. Long may it remain so!