The ABC’s elections expert Antony Green has said there’s very real possibility of a hung parliament result tonight. It’s something everyone seems to be stressing about but we’re here to hold your hand and calm everything right down. So what is a hung parliament and what would that mean? If you didn’t study politics in Year 12, this explainer is for you.
What is a hung parliament?
A hung parliament is the term for when neither of the two major parties holds the majority in the House of Representatives.
Still not really sure what most of that sentence means? No worries.
Australia’s Federal Parliament is split into two houses. The Senate (the Upper House, or the one with red seats) and the House of Representatives (the Lower House, or the one with green seats). The House of Reps is where the main characters are — Scott Morrison, Anthony Albanese, the treasurers, ministers and whoever you voted for on the big ballot paper in your electorate.
In case you needed reminding, in Australia we don’t go to the polls to vote for the party leader, we vote for the party’s representative of the electorate in which you’re registered.
Whichever party wins the most seats forms government, but that doesn’t mean you have to win the majority of seats to lead.
There are 151 seats in the House of Reps so to be guaranteed to have an outright majority one of the parties needs to win 76 seats at the election.
Currently the Coalition (the Liberals and the Nationals) has the majority with 77 seats, but it’s looking pretty unlikely that either it or Labor will win 76 seats at next Saturday’s election.
Why is a hung parliament likely in 2022?
Hung parliaments happen when more seats are picked up by minor parties (like the Greens, One Nation etc) and independent candidates not affiliated with the Coalition or Labor. This has been been happening more and more over the years.
It’s a long-term trend as minors and independents gain prominence and voters become increasingly dissatisfied and disillusioned with the majors.
But this year it’s looking likely because of the rise of the so-called “teal independents”: candidates contesting previously safe Liberal seats offering a climate-focused alternative to the Libs but still more conservative in values than Labor.
These candidates are a “threat” because they have been very well funded by a group called Climate 200, giving them a real shot at winning and turning some currently blue (ie Liberal) seats teal.
How common are hung parliaments?
They’re nothing new and are fairly common — we’ve seen a bunch at the state level in Australia’s parliamentary history. But a hung federal parliament isn’t super common. In fact we’ve only had two since the two-party system was established in 1910.
The first was between 1940 and 1943 during WWII and the most recent was the Gillard Government from 2010 to 2013.
Why are people stressing atm?
The idea that the party in power could not have a majority in the House of Reps sounds scary. People assume (and the Liberals suggest) that it means whenever it comes time for the parliament to vote to pass a new law, it’ll be blocked by the rest of the sitting members, the process will be gridlocked and nothing will get done.
The =prime minister, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and other members of the Coalition are trying to spin a narrative that voting for independents is an “attacking democracy” and would cause “chaos” because it would interfere with the parliamentary process. They’re even started referring to independents as “fake independents” hoping a proven Trump tactic could work here and keep them their blue seats.
But to put it frankly — this is all bullshit.
To pass a bill MP votes are carefully “whipped” through negotiations well before it comes time to actually raise hands in parliament. When the government introduces a bill, independents and minor parties pick a side and frequently align with the government. The opposition party will also sometimes vote with the government, as we’ve seen recently with the Religious Discrimination Bill.
If history tells us anything, it is in fact possible an indecisive election could produce a more productive government.
Which governments have gotten the most done?
Data gathered by Guardian Australia shows the Julia Gillard Government was in fact the second-most productive government in Australia’s history, despite Labor not having a majority in the House of Reps. And yes, it is ahead of the current Morrison Government.
The Gillard government has the second-highest percentage of passed legislation on record with 91.8 per cent of bills it introduced becoming law. It is second to the Howard Government’s fourth term which passed 93.7 per cent of bills. But this was when the Howard Government had a majority in both the House of Reps and the Senate which is very rare in Australia.
The current government has only managed to pass 83.6 per cent of legislation and the previous government, led by both Malcolm Turnbull and Morrison at different times, only 74.5 per cent.
So basically a hung parliament really means nothing when it comes to productivity. There are loads of factors, and this really ain’t one of them.
So in conclusion, we can expect to get hung parliament for the next term, but please don’t fret and don’t listen to Scott Morrison’s nonsense. If it happens, everything will be fine.