Has Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull's gamble paid off?

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Malcolm Turnbull's ruling Conservatives only just won the closely fought election

It was meant to be a cleansing election called by a progressive Australian prime minister intent on purging a fractious parliament that was obstructing key labour reforms. But has Malcolm Turnbull's great political gamble backfired?

Instead of delivering a clear mandate, the electorate has given his centre-right Liberal-National coalition the most slender of majorities in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber.

Record numbers of voters have turned against the two major parties, and the Senate, one of the most powerful upper houses of parliament in the world, which must approve all new laws, is likely to be even more disparate and unpredictable than it was before.

"Malcolm Turnbull's objective with the double dissolution [an election that dissolves both houses of Australia's federal parliament] was to try and reduce the amount of crossbenchers and independents, and, in fact, what we have done is ended up with having more," said Dr Maxine Newlands, a political scientist from James Cook University in north Queensland.

"Unfortunately I think it is going to add to the years and years of chaos and confusion."

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The balance of power in the Senate is expected to lie with populist, anti-establishment headline-grabbers who variously want to ban the building of new mosques, are wary of free trade agreements and support voluntary euthanasia.

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Image caption One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson outlined a series of protectionist and anti-immigration positions at her first post-election press conference

The head of the anti-immigration One Nation Party, Pauline Hanson, the former personal injury lawyer and high-profile anti-gambling campaigner Nick Xenophon and the "Human Headline" Derryn Hinch, an erstwhile radio shock jock, are already household names in Australia, and they will have a decisive say on the tone and conduct of the next parliament, not to mention its longevity.

The Australian Greens will expect another influential contingent in the upper house, and there may even be a spot for a country music guitarist, Gabriel Buckley from the Liberal Democrats, who is the front-man for the Brisbane-based southern rock band Whiskey Protocol.

Writing on Facebook, he paid tribute to his fellow candidates: "Sticking your hand up (and your neck out) to run for public office is a daunting prospect.

"Whether you were motivated by civic responsibility or clinical insanity, I salute your bravery and hope you've developed a taste for it," he said.

Mr Buckley will not know if he will be swapping his six-string for a possible six-year term in federal politics until the final make-up of the Senate is released, probably in early August, but as the exhaustive counting of votes plods on, the prime minister in Canberra is giving the impression that it is business as usual.

Mr Turnbull favours tough new anti-terrorism measures that would keep convicted extremists in jail at the end of their sentences if, like some paedophiles, they were considered to still be a risk to the community.

Here, the prime minister is on safe political ground, but controversial changes to superannuation (Australia's pension saving scheme), a proposed plebiscite on gay marriage and a bold approach to climate change will provide sterner challenges for a leader who must placate right-wing colleagues, some of whom will never forgive him for deposing their champion, Tony Abbott, in a party-meeting ambush last September.

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Image caption Labor leader Bill Shorten conceded defeat, but is predicting a return to the polls

Already, internal cracks within the governing coalition have appeared.

The South Australian senator Cory Bernardi, who resigned as Mr Abbott's parliamentary secretary in 2012 after linking gay marriage to the social acceptance of having sex with animals, has suggested he may form a breakaway conservative party that would stand up "for common sense and the silent majority".

But the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, believes Australians want to see unity and collaboration in parliament, not malice and recrimination.

"If we don't improve, we'll see an increased level of disengagement and disenfranchising of voters continuing," he said.

"The fact that a large number of people voted for anyone other than the major parties is something I think that all the major parties have to closely consider.

"But the 45th parliament is a fresh start.

"It's a bit like New Year's Eve resolutions for politicians.

"I think the parliamentarians… should all commit themselves to going back to parliament in a few weeks' time and trying to do their job with less divisiveness and less rancour."

Fingers-crossed, but not everyone believes Australian politics is about to become all Kumbaya-like and unexpectedly harmonious.

The opposition Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said: "The combination of a PM with no authority, a government with no direction and a Liberal Party at war with itself will see Australians back at the polls within the year," he said.

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