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Groundhog Day

Nick Bryant | 06:51 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

So an election campaign oft-compared to a national soap opera has produced a period of political deadlock that now has the feel of the movie, Groundhog Day. Whereas Bill Murray woke up every morning to Sonny and Cher's "I've got you, babe" blasting out of his clock radio, I find myself shaken from my slumbers by the "Three Independents" crooning on about "new paradigms" and "post-partisan politics", and indicating to Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard that neither has yet won their affections. "You haven't got us, babe", I suppose you could say.

Punxsutawney Phil

The furry star of Bill Murray's movie, Punxsutawney Phil, used to foretell whether winter was about to end or the residents of his small Pennsylvania town were in for another six weeks of bitter cold. How Canberra could do with an animal blessed with the same psychic powers to indicate when the next government of Australia will be formed. Already we know that the outcome of an election held in winter will not be known until the spring.

So for now the row continues between Labor and the Liberals over who won the most votes on election day. The arguments continue over which leader would best represent the interests of regional Australia. The independents keep on complaining about the heavy-handed tactics and "Rambo-style" phone calls of certain members of the Coalition. And Bob Katter continues to wear his trademark Ten Gallon hat, although he hasn't mentioned flying foxes and Taipan snakes for the past couple of days.

At least the briefings which the independents demanded from department heads and the like have now started, although Tony Windsor, the independent who represents the country town of Tamworth, has warned it is likely to be next week until he and his fellow regional independents finally make up their minds. Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP representing the seat of Denison in Tasmania, has indicated he could announce his decision as soon as today - not that it will decide things.

All of them are talking about Australia getting a more grown-up politics, and yet the ongoing rows about which party got the most votes will strike many as rather infantile. Possibly irrelevant, too, since the claims from both sides about their moral legitimacy to govern are unlikely to sway the independents. Nor, apparently, has a poll which suggested their constituents favour Tony Abbott over Julia Gillard as the next prime minister, which is has been the presumption all along given they represent traditionally conservative seats.

Personal chemistry, long-standing enmities, the bad blood between the independents and their former National Party colleague, and even the demeanour of the two prospective prime ministers. All of these factors could arguably weight more heavily. Will it help Tony Abbott, for instance, that he has started to publicly describe his conservative Coalition as the "government-in-waiting"? It may strike the independents as gratuitously hubristic. Or will it hurt Julia Gillard that she has not as yet offered a public explanation as to why her government performed much worse than expected at the polls?

Certainly, I would not like to play poker against the three key regional independents, because they have been incredibly hard to read.

Away from Canberra, there have been intriguing distractions on the news front. Paul Hogan, the comedian who used to lure tourists Down Under with the promise of throwing an extra crustacean on the barbie, is now what his lawyer describes as a "prisoner of Australia" because of allegations of tax avoidance. But I suppose we shouldn't be that surprised. Given the madcap drama of the past two months in Australia, it was surely inevitable that Crocodile Dundee would end up making an appearance....


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