By Steve Laing
Over the course of the last few years only Blind Freddie would suggest that there isn’t a growing issue in the governments of western democracies, particularly the US, the UK and Australia, where the electorate are increasingly supporting what we might call “non-traditional parties”. Of course, at election time the large parties are immediately concerned about this “protest” message, but before long they are back on their merry way (unless, of course, the results of those “protest votes” suddenly impact the passing of legislation). In the UK, a glib promise for a vote on Europe as a means for the Tories to get back into power at a general election has resulted in a country cutting off its nose to spite its face, whilst in the US we have an orange faced baboon contending the presidency. And here in Australia we have an orange haired ex-fast food purveyor now holding a not insignificant chunk of the senate cross-bench.
Sure, that’s democracy, but as we know there is very little substance behind the slogans, yet people are still supporting and voting for them, and that is a very real issue.
Now it might be argued that there are a large number of people who have actually understood the detailed policies and plans before giving their support, but given that those of use who are informed recognize the paucity of such a statement, let’s be blunt: People increasingly don’t trust the big parties.
And how can you be surprised? It is clear that despite what they say, both the Coalition and Labor are stuck in models of factional warfare. The factionally unaligned Lisa Singh was dropped down to 6th on the Tasmanian senate ticket, but got back in in spite of the Labor Party’s preferences. And Andrew Leigh, whilst retaining a shadow ministry position, does so without the corresponding pay packet – the danger of not having anyone to fight in your corner. Merit? Pfft. It’s all about influence.
In the Coalition it is of course significantly more obvious with the right-wing continuing to push Turnbull around like the puppet that he is. Again, influence is the key factor in that party too. And in both cases I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised that the amount of influence one has is significantly correlated to the amount of money that the person, or the faction that they represent, brings to the party. And we are back to the problem that in politics money talks, and the voters can see that and they don’t like it.
So when people want to register their electoral protest, why are they voting for another “big entity” like PUP or One Nation, or indeed one might argue, the Greens, rather than for the plethora of other candidates including the independents who are the least likely to be in the pockets of external donors?
Because for a protest to be valid it has to be heard. And most of us are aware that when you have a limited opportunity to protest, it’s important to make it count. And in that situation a vote for one of the perhaps plethora of independent candidates means your protest will simply be ignored; by politicians, by the media, by the world. “In space nobody can hear you scream”. Well the same goes for elections. And you can’t get much louder than Pauline Hanson, Donald Trump or Nigel Farage. So it’s perhaps no surprise that shouty, angry politicians attract shouty, angry voters. Aided, of course, by our erstwhile media who love nothing better than shouty politicians – who needs clickbait when you have Jacqui Lambie? If you want to know why Jacqui and Leyjohnholm were re-elected, and not the more thoughtful but quieter Ricky Muir or John Madigan, just consider which ones have the higher media profile (more for their outspoken opinions rather than their eloquence or well considered contributions to the political debate). The media love shouty because the viewers love drama! And sadly high TV recognition seems to attract the votes of the members of the electorate who aren’t really that interested in the detail.
Unfortunately, “shouty” doesn’t solve problems. Solving problem actually requires listening, and lots of it. Which is why loud politicians are typically ineffective – they back themselves into corners that they can’t easily get out of without losing face, so they will happily continue with pointless and expensive exercises because actually doing the right thing would be politically too expensive to their personal brand. NBN, offshore detention, Direct Action are the great shouty policies of Tony Abbott, which unfortunately our latest PM has had to adopt as part of his Faustian deal with the shouty right wing of his party.
So how do we collectively turn the protest vote against the major parties into something more solid and tangible? Something that registers as a clear rejection of the large parties, without one’s vote being considered wasted? The answer is perhaps best determined by listening to politicians of the two main parties. Whom do they implore you not to vote for? And why do you think that is?
The answer is ‘independent politicians’, because nothing worries them more than an MP, very much unlike themselves, who cannot be “bought” and isn’t a dumbass. It truly scares them shitless, because for the most part, without their party machine behind them, many politicians in the two main political parties would be unelectable.
Unfortunately these jobbing politicians, the lobby fodder of both main parties, contribute little, simply going with the flow and doing what they are told. And they know this is their role, and that they must obey or get out. Alannah McTiernan, highly effective when previously a WA state politician, said as much when she decided not to recontest her federal seat at the 2016 election – there was really nothing for her to put her considerable talent towards.
And that is where the concept of an ‘Independents Charter’ comes in. It’s a set of rules that independent candidates can sign up to, which will dictate their behavior as parliamentarians. It has nothing to do with ideology, or political leanings, and thus is as appropriate for right, left or centralist leaning candidates.
For voters, the charter gives a level of assurance that the independent candidate they are voting for won’t act like an obstructionist pork chop, or vote in a manner entirely contradictory to their pre-election promises.
One way out of the current political morass is to diminish the powers of the major parties. Not to replace them with a new major party, but to get the power back in the hands of the people, and away from those of the vested interests, the powerbrokers, the corporate sponsors, the wealthy elites, that ensure the two-party system continues to do their will. And that means we need more independents, and we need to ensure that people will vote for them, confident that they have the power and capability to develop quality policies and get them enacted.
So here is my first draft – quite literally a straw man. It is open for discussion, addition and change, but it stands by the principals of integrity, transparency, duty and honesty.
- To apply for the role I am standing for, I will submit my resume and a “covering letter” stating why I believe I am qualified for the role.
- I will document in my own words my personal positions on each of the key areas of government. If I have no strong position I will state this too.
- Once elected my first priority is to the citizens of the entire country, and then to those of my electorate (both those that voted for me and those that didn’t). I will work positively for whomever the government of the day is, although this does not mean that I will necessarily vote for the bills they propose.
- I will explain to my electorate why I voted the way that I did on every piece of legislation enacted. There will be full transparency for my actions. If the electorate decides they do not like how I have operated, and what I have done, they can vote me out at the next election.
- I will respect the views of others, even if I do not agree with them. I will base my arguments and decisions, wherever possible, on facts and reason, rather than opinions and hearsay. Where I do not believe I have enough knowledge to make a judgment on a particular issue, I will abstain from voting, and explain to my electorate why.
- I accept the decision of the majority even when it disagrees with my personal viewpoint. Diversity of opinion is not a bad thing, nor a sign of weakness, but is actually a strength.
- I will not undertake any paid political advertising. My ability to persuade electors to vote for me should be on the strength of my arguments, not the size of my election war chest. With no funding required, I will not be beholden to the views, or desires, of external parties.
- Being an independent does not preclude me from associating with other like-minded individuals, indeed such should be encouraged. However, these associations should not require a formal association, and agreement on most issues should not presume agreement on another.
- I will only claim expenses that are directly associated with my undertaking of the role I have been elected to do, and not as an additional source of income. If I am found to have abused this privilege I will expect the same outcomes as any other citizen.
- I will declare any personal investments or other potential conflicts of interest, and recognize that failure to declare such should be dealt with appropriate to the position I hold, and the personal benefit that might be obtained.
So that’s my first stab at it. I’d welcome any feedback, edits, ideas, additions. I’d like the end product to be a collective effort, and the intention is to send out to independent politicians for their thoughts, and ideally them signing up, to create an independents movement, a means to break through the current political torpor that is holding our country back. Democracy is meant to be lean and agile, but currently the autocratic nations, like the Chinese, are the ones who seem to be doing best at progressing their countries long-term needs.
Of course, I know that many still believe that their party will save the day. Let me assure you, if you don’t change the way the system works, money will continue to talk.
Perhaps the greatest collective of independent politicians ever assembled were the signatories to the US Constitution who developed a political system that was exceptionally robust for the time. It has, unfortunately, been eroded by the vested interests of the two main political parties (much like the situation here in Australia, and indeed the UK) – a possible outcome that was certainly predicted by one of the key Founding Fathers, namely John Adams, the first Vice President, and second US president who said:
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
He certainly wasn’t wrong there. The questions is, have we the will to fix it?
About the author: A regular bloke, Steve Laing is unaligned to any particular party, but cognizant of the reality that people are our biggest asset, so it makes sense to look after them. Uncomfortable with the ineptitude that permeates our current government, and yet sees such as the prevailing condition in our political system. Over the years Steve has worked for a number of different businesses, both corporate and small, and has experienced good and bad “policy” development and decision making, and seen the outcomes of such.
Whilst the business world has changed radically, our political system seems stuck in an outdated paradigm, which is increasingly undemocratic, with outside influences now having far greater control than the will of the people. The inventiveness and flexibility that a good democratic system should deliver, has in Australia’s case become moribund predominantly through a system that has allowed ineptitude to flourish. We are increasingly susceptible to our economy being overwhelmed by the sheer force, but potentially dangerous one-mindedness, of autocratic governments where groupthink might easily result in catastrophic outcomes, so revitalizing our democratic processes is essential.
Ideas to do such are documented on his blog www.makeourvoiceheard.com Please feel free to drop by.