Editorial

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Preparations for federal elections always involve some deck-clearing by the parties. The severing of Labor's power-sharing agreement with the Greens is one such example - though it will not jeopardise existing parliamentary arrangements.

Together with pledges of support from independent MPs Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor, the agreement enabled Julia Gillard to form a minority government in August 2010 when a hung parliament appeared to be a distinct possibility. It has since operated reasonably amicably and productively. This is perhaps not surprising since it was very much in the interests of both parties to ensure a long-lasting arrangement. However, there have been clear and unmistakeable signs in recent months that both have wearied of the agreement.

Labor's apparent indulgence of the mining industry - exemplified by Ms Gillard's unwillingness to revisit the government's mining tax and Environment Minister Tony Burke's recent decision to allow new mining in the Tarkine wilderness in north-western Tasmania - has clearly annoyed the Greens. Labor, meanwhile, believes the Greens have resorted to something approaching treachery by, on the one hand, riding Labor's coat-tails while courting progressive voters in inner-city ALP seats on the other.

Having pressed the Prime Minister into introducing a carbon tax as well as having secured an input into policies such as dental health, the Greens could legitimately claim to have received the better end of the deal.

Labor's grounds for complaints are perhaps to be taken with a grain of salt: the agreement did after all deliver it power after it had failed to win the popular vote at the 2010 election.

Both parties now see the value of putting some distance between themselves and with that realisation, of course, comes the necessity for them to sharpen their ideological points of difference. In this respect, the Greens have a more difficult row to hoe.

Having shared a bed with Labor for three years, the Greens will be worried that voters intent on punishing Ms Gillard in September may do the same to them. That might explain why it was former Greens leader Bob Brown who made much of the running on this issue in the media on Wednesday. It is perhaps a measure of the Greens' concern that Mr Brown was back in the spotlight so soon after handing the reins to Christine Milne.

Swimming's test

In the wake of the Australian swimming team's unexpectedly poor performance at last year's London Olympics (they won just 10 medals including a single gold), administrators initiated not one but two inquiries. The findings of these reports, issued this week, have proved to be equally disquieting. The first, commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission, pointed to a lack of accountability, transparency and communication on the part of Swimming Australia, the organisation responsible for the promotion and development of swimming in Australia at all levels. The second, more damning report, prepared by business consultants Bluestone on behalf of Swimming Australia, described a team affected by a ''toxic'' culture of bullying and abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs where curfews were regularly breached and where strong, collective leadership was not provided.

The Olympics are not just about winning gold medals, though such a view is considered by many to be old-fashioned, even quaint, in today's ultra-competitive sporting environment. Nonetheless, disappointment, even frustration, at our swimmers' performance in London was palpable, and these reports will magnify those feelings.

Swimming Australia has some serious self-examination ahead of it, and those in charge of the team in London must explain how discipline apparently fell apart on their watch. The swimmers must also be held partially responsible for what occurred. With many of Australia's swimmers being young and unsophisticated, it is surely incumbent on older team members to exert a steadying influence.

Reforming and improving ''team management'' for future key events like the Olympics should be a relatively straightforward process. Mapping a new direction for swimming, and seeing it through, will be a far greater challenge.