The predictable and emphatic win by Tony Abbott and the Coalition on Saturday means all the attention is now focused on the Senate. It looks like it will take more than Labor and The Greens to block the government, but exactly who will hold the balance of power and how they will exercise it is far from certain.

Even so, the supporters of the Coalition’s agenda are (predictably) arguing that Tony Abbott has a mandate to implement his policies, and the Senate should just roll over and do his bidding. Maybe enough of the newly-elected senators will be happy to oblige. With previously unheard of parties and candidates likely to be represented in the Senate from July next year, we have no idea what their policies are or how they will perform in the harsh political spotlight.

But there are good reasons for all Senators who don’t support the Coalition’s agenda to stick to their principles and vote accordingly. And it’s actually in Abbott’s best interests that his agenda not be given a free ride through the Senate.

The mandate thing

The Senate is elected on a (sort of) proportional representation basis. I say “sort of” because this election has reiterated that candidates with an extremely low primary vote can be elected on the basis of opaque preference flows. Leaving that aside, most Senators are elected by a constituency that wants those Senators to reflect a particular set of policy priorities. Their mandate, their obligation, is to represent the views and preferences of the subset of electors who voted them in.

And let’s not forget the long tradition of many people voting for one way for the House of Representatives, and the other way for the Senate. Checks and balances are no bad thing.

The obligation of those elected is to do what their supporters put them there to do. If that means voting against the repeal of the carbon tax or in support of protecting jobs in the renewable energy sector, they have the mandate to do so.

Tony’s new best friends

And then there are the benefits to the Coalition of not having control of the Senate.

As many members of John Howard’s government have admitted, their downfall in 2007 was largely a result of their Work Choices policy, an unpopular piece of legislation that would not have got through a “hostile” senate. Ironically, if the Greens and/or the Democrats had held the balance of power in the Senate for the duration of Howard’s government, he may well have been re-elected in 2007.

There are many uncertainties clouding the political crystal ball at the moment. How will Abbott perform as PM? Will he be able to quell the dissenters within his own party? Who will make up the Senate and what do they represent?

About the only thing that seems certain is that the next three years will be a pollie-watcher’s delight.

Image: JJ Harrison via Wikipedia