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Australian politics is in turmoil of a type and intensity not seen for 70 years. The federal election of August 2010 and the following weeks of bartering, have yielded no decisive outcome. In Canberra, the new Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Labor Party will have to find monthly solutions on the floors of both houses of parliament, for both are "hung". Ms Gillard, the country's first female PM, migrated from Wales to Adelaide as a child, and became a lawyer and skilled political operator before deposing her own leader, Kevin Rudd, earlier this year. She will need high skills to survive the next three years.

 Julia Gillard: Australia's first female prime minister

How the deadlock arose is a tentative warning for British electoral reformers. Elections, both federal and state, are frequent in Australia, and voting is mandatory. The maximum term of a federal parliament is only three years, a result of the ultra-democratic Chartist movement of the 1840s, which had much less influence in its native Britain than in Australia. Voting for the lower house is not on the first-past-the-post formula. A candidate can come second or even third on the primary vote but then win the seat through the allocation of the preferences that every voter must mark on a ballot paper. Normally, this complex system delivers a high degree of certainty. A political party, once it has won office in Canberra, can expect to win the next three or four elections. "Bob" Menzies actually won six successive elections for the Liberal-National coalition during the period 1949-1966, his second term as PM. But Kevin Rudd, who convincingly won the federal election of 2007 for Labor, did not even survive his first term. Plotters in his own party deposed him.

Rudd had begun his leadership as a golden boy. His first career was in the Australian embassy in China, whose language he speaks. But federal politics was his goal, and he became leader of his party not because he was popular with colleagues but because it seemed that he could end its 11-year spell in opposition. He was a fresh face and the next generation in politics. In his first prime ministerial year, his personal popularity remained high. Even on Sundays, he offered photo-ops outside the Anglican church he attended. Working defiantly long hours with little sleep, he was seen as a new hand at the helm. 

When the world's economy was shaken in 2008, he was busier than ever, dispersing money. In one gesture, the great majority of taxpayers received a hand-out, to spend as they wished. He gave a public apology for his nation's past treatment of Aborigines, many of whom appreciated the gesture. Rudd promised, in winning the election of 2007, far more than he could achieve. His government became accident-prone, especially in fields the voters could themselves inspect. Thus almost every school was promised a new assembly hall, library or other amenity, even when the heads said they didn't need one. The blunders, the excessive costs and the delays became a national scandal.
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Major Plonquer
November 27th, 2010
11:11 AM
Australia is doomed. Not by global warming but by global stupidity. Two years ago it rode out the recession largely on the back of China stockpiling mineral resources and investing into Australian mining infrastructure. Today I can't find a single Chinese company looking to invest further into Australia. The sheer self-destructiveness of the socialists in Canberra have ensured that Australia is rapidly becoming the new New Zealand. Thankfully, New Zealand is becoming the new Australia. But the big winner is Canada where Chinese attention - and dollars - is now turning. And Africa.

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