I used to think a hung parliament wouldn't be such a bad idea. After all it worked here in Queensland, where the Labor Party had to appease a rural independent for a whole term. It didn't do them any harm. Plenty of other countries have governments that include loose coalitions of parties cobbled together post-election and they still seem to function.
However, in the case of the Gillard Government I'm starting to have second thoughts. Since Gillard finally made her peace with the Greens and Independents in September, things seem to have gone badly in a lot of different ways.
I don't necessarily mean on governance. There have been some successes here. The government has managed to actually get agreement on a health reform package and new workplace safety laws, while some good progress has been made on a carbon tax. Other areas are more disappointing, especially on asylum seekers where Gillard has become so like Howard she may as well shave her head and put on glasses.
The problem is more in the public sphere, and I think this has a lot to do with the kind of coalition Labor was forced to negotiate. Where the Queensland hung parliament only required the Beattie government to negotiate with one reasonably predictable rural independent, the Gillard government has to get agreement from the Greens, a more or less left-leaning independent in Andrew Wilkie, and two rural conservatives in Windsor and Oakshott.
This seems to be giving the government two problems. First of all, it makes it schizophrenic. It has to lean right to get legislation through the lower house, then lean left to get it through the Senate. This constant swaying causes motion sickness and loss of direction.
Secondly, the diversity of the minor players creates an incentive for stakeholders to conduct their lobbying in public, trying to build pressure on Labor's partners. Tony Abbott is more than willing to play along by opposing everything.
Nothing illustrates this better than the debate over the carbon tax, where representatives of various poluting industries have lined up to publicly whack the government and demand outrageous compensation for losing the right to ruin the planet.
All this posturing and threatening creates an air of perpetual crisis. Anything the government attempts is greeted with choruses of protest from people who wouldn't bother if there was a solid majority government. The Labor Party, already spooked by Rudd's dethroning and its swift decline in popularity, gets more skittish with every passing poll. Gillard, having ruthlessly dethroned Rudd, knows she has to watch her own back. Abbott gets more strident by the day. How much longer can we stand the drama?