Australia: neither red not blue, but very brown

By Tina Perinotto

23 August 2010 – Business was so nervous on Monday after the deadlocked election result that some people even questioned whether to cancel functions scheduled for this week.

The Property Council chief executive officer Peter Verwer  yesterday played down the negative impact of the election on business sentiment. The industry had no trouble getting on with business during the caretaker government, he said. Buildings still got refurbished; people still started on new construction projects.

But he conceded that bigger decisions had been put on hold and may go back on hold.

Yes, we all needed to be patient and await the unfolding election result, but at the same time, a speedy resolution was important.

“We need to have something happen quickly,” Mr Verwer said.

What a shambles. A result that may not be known for days, possibly longer, a government that may or may not be able to govern very well or for very long as a result, and the potential of another election that will keep the country in a state of suspense.

OK so we didn’t get to move forward on Monday.

Business wants to know first who’s running the country.  At least.

Fair enough.

It’s a blurry picture for this industry. Will we get a climate-sceptic Coalition Government that will kybosh policy signals to decarbonise our economy? They’ve already promised to trash the green building fund.

Or will the Labor Party limp back in, and if so will they have the nerve to push for any new reforms at all, and if so, whose?

At least they have promised a beaut new $1 billion tax rebate for green building make-overs and a $100 million Carbon Trust.

What about the three Independents? One hates the ETS, one loves it.

And the Greens?

Mr Verwer pointed out that come next July when The Greens take their seats in the Senate they could bring a private members bill to perhaps introduce a version of an ETS – but only if the Labor Party forms a minority government.

Key issues creating uncertainty were: who the Independents would align themselves with; whether or not a firm commitment could be negotiated – and maintained – to not block Supply (which allows government finances to proceed); and how to find a Speaker in such a tight line-up,  “a very tricky part of the negotiations,” Mr Verwer said.

The only thing certain, he said was that the Independents would extract the “mother of all pork barrelling” for their rural constituents.

This would include Western Australian Tony Crook’s demands for 25 per cent of mining royalties to be sent to the bush, but who late yesterday also declared he could not side with the Labor Party if it persisted with the mining tax.

Chief executive of the Urban Task Force Aaron Gadiel echoed Mr Verwer’s concerns about business confidence.

The business community needs stability and long-term thinking from the next federal government and the prospect of a minority government was worrying, he said.

“Now more than ever, we need federal leadership to plan and fund new infrastructure and unblock our housing supply,” Mr Gadiel said

“This requires the kind of strength and determination that’s usually found in a majority government.”

Mr Gadiel said minority governments have a chequered history in Australia. “They can be prone to political crisis, abruptly change policy and be reluctant to make tough calls,” he said.

“With both parties promising to make big decisions on population growth and infrastructure investment, the last thing we need is short-term thinking. ”

The key indicator of what has happened in TFE’s view includes the informal vote of 5.64 per cent, up by 1.69 on the 2007 election. And a 3.4 swing to The Greens.

This is a major vote of dissatisfaction and a warning of what could happen next time. It’s as if the people have just discovered they have loads more power than they thought – mapped heartbeat-by-heartbeat through relentless focus groups and polls.

A kind of Twitter democracy.

You can bet that more Labor voters would have switched to Greens if they thought Labor was not likely to get trounced by the Coalition.

But if the Labor Party fails to sufficiently reform itself then remember the comments from one of The Greens on Saturday night: this time The Greens did pretty well; next time they will clean up.

You can’t say the Labor Party didn’t deserve it. Deposed Member for Bennelong Maxine McKew was clear as a bell on election night: a failure to sell the good stories; and a shocking campaign. And by the way, where has this excellent communicator and passionate politician been in the past three years? Another mistake.

It was the campaign that wasn’t there. On Both sides of the election divide, in fact. Tony Abbott ran an excellent marathon but a campaign every bit as devoid as vision, strategy or any sense of direction as the other major side.

The best thing the sustainable property industry can do is enjoy the thin little policy signals from the Federal Government on sustainability, hope they fatten up, but get on regardless with the job of building and enjoying this important work it does of creating the new economy.

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