Remembering The Dismissal

Old Parliament House holds a special place in Australian political history. Most famously, it was here, on the front steps on 11 November 1975, where David Smith, Official Secretary to the Governor-General Joseph Kerr, announced that then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had been dismissed from the country's top job. Whitlam's famous words "Ladies and gentlemen, well may we say 'God save the Queen', still echo to this day.

The events that led up to The Dismissal (as it is commonly known) have a few similarities to the events leading up to this year's election. In particular, Whitlam's government held the House of Representatives with a slim majority, however they did not control the Senate. The Senate was controlled by the Liberal Party, with Malcolm Fraser at the helm of the party. Whitlam's Labor government was becoming less and less popular amongst the electorate, and in 1975 Fraser used the Senate to block government appropriation bills that were necessary for the government to access finances to govern the country. The Opposition threatened to continue blocking government bills unless Whitlam held a federal election, which he refused to do. The Governor-General dismissed Whitlam a short time later and Fraser was installed as Prime Minister.

What is interesting in regards to these events of 1975 is that this year, prior to the election, Malcolm Turnbull asked the Governor-General to call a Double Dissolution because his government could not get their proposed Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill though the Senate. The ABCC Bill had been taken to the Senate once before, in August 2015, and had not passed then either. With the Upper House refusing to pass the bill, Turnbull formally asked current Governor General Peter Cosgrove for a Double Dissolution, with the hope of maintaining control of the House of Representatives, and then taking control of the Senate as well. His plan, if successful, would give his government control of both houses of parliament, which would enable their bill to be passed.

What we now know however, is that Turnbull's plan backfired badly. The election did not deliver what Turnbull had banked on, indeed quite the opposite. The ABCC Bill is now dead in the water, with no hope of the bill being passed by the Senate on current results. Adding to this, the Coalition has conceded seats in the House of Representatives, meaning that at present, it can not even form a majority government in it's own right. Recalling the 2010 election, when neither Labor or Liberal had the numbers to form a majority government (and Julia Gillard was eventually successful in forming a minority government after 17 days of negotiations with Independents), it is now up to both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to try and win over the numerous Independents to see who can form a governing party. It is a strong possibility, as first mentioned by ABC's Barry Cassidy on election night, that the electorate may indeed have to go back to the polls for another election if neither party can form government. 

As for now, only time will tell.

The pictures below were made on Election Day at Old Parliament House in Canberra. The famous steps where Whitlam was dismissed can be seen in many of the photographs, along with the voting public, many from Canberra as well as interstate. When all is said and done, elections are not about the politicians who are vying for our votes, rather they are about the people who cast the votes. These are the people who decide the future of our country.