By Dr Kay Rollison
Amidst the lovefest for independent political candidates, someone has to say it. Electing Independents in parliament is not the answer to our problems.
Scenario 1. Independents split the moderate vote, and the LNP is returned to government with a majority. Any Independents that are elected can propose all the legislation they like, but an LNP – especially one emboldened by another electoral victory – can take no notice of them. Just like now.
Scenario 2. Labor wins an absolute majority, as most independent candidates are running in safe LNP seats. Maybe some are elected. Hopefully a Labor government would consult with them where they have similar policies, but they are under no obligation to do so. And since Independents are likely to be moderate liberals, given the electorates that could potentially elect them, there are likely to be big differences, particularly on economic matters like taxation. Electing moderate liberals may force the LNP to rethink its ultra-right-wing position, which would be a good thing, but doesn’t solve our immediate problems, like growing economic inequality.
Scenario 3. Neither major party wins a majority. This is the only scenario in which independent members will have influence. They will hold the balance of power. This is presumably what their supporters want.
So, what next? A government is formed by the party that can command a majority of votes in the House of Assembly. Independents have to support one or other of the major parties to form a government. They have to choose, and we as voters have the right to know which way they will go. Not that they’ll tell us, of course.
At a minimum, enough independents have to agree to support a government to pass supply, which keeps the wheels of government turning. They would presumably make their choice on the basis of which major party offered them the best legislative deal. (This assumes that the independents are honourable, and not beholden to outside interests. Ok, let’s make that assumption).
But it’s not so easy to assume ‘they’ have common interests. Certainly, the prominent ones are espousing action on climate change, though not, as far as I know, with specific, detailed and costed policies. This would in any rational universe lead them to support Labor, but who knows? On just about any other matter, they may have a range of views. Will they cross the floor if they don’t like particular policies? Will they force a vote of no confidence, and bring down the government? If Labor introduces, say, free childcare, are they going to support it? Or are some of them going to argue it’s economically irresponsible? How about changes to industrial legislation? Or taxation? If the government – Labor or Liberal – has to negotiate on each and every piece of legislation with each and every independent, sound government will become impossible.
Governments need to be able to plan a whole programme. They need to be able to pass controversial legislation if it is something they are committed to. Where will the independents holding the balance of power stand?
It’s absolutely no use saying, as someone has to me recently, that we want policies, not political parties. It is political parties that pass policies through the parliament. This is not going to change in the immediate future. The alternative is political chaos, at a time when we desperately need leadership to tackle the problems we face.
It seems to me that at least some of the people who wax lyrical about independent candidates do so because they can’t bring themselves to vote Labor. Ask any Labor candidate if they support action on climate change, greater gender equity or more political transparency – the issues that seem to make the independents so attractive – and they will readily offer their support, and the support of their party to actually make changes happen. So why not just vote Labor?
Some say the Labor Party is offering an emissions reduction target that is too low, but then pragmatism is needed to understand this is a starting point which is far superior to the Liberal’s very low target.
If you live in the real world, you will know that a party needs to be elected with a majority before it can do ANYTHING. Labor needs to bring the voters with it, and to withstand the inevitable LNP/Murdoch shitshow of fear and misrepresentation that we see every election.
Furthermore, Labor has a costed suite of policies that focus on jobs – a crucial element of any transition to a renewable energy economy. Do independents support action that apportions the costs of change – or of not changing – equitably? We don’t know.
Some support for independents also derives from the ‘both parties are as bad as each other’ trope. This is simply not true, as should be obvious to anyone who looks at the reality. Sure, some Labor politicians do the wrong thing. But Labor supports a powerful federal anticorruption body. Sure, Labor haven’t reached gender equity, but they are almost there! Labor has worked hard, and successfully, to increase the number of Labor women in parliament. It is committed to a range of policies to improve gender equality not just in the parliament, but across a range of issues of importance to women.
And where Labor really differs from the LNP is in its rejection of neoliberal, trickle-down economics. Labor knows, from its roots in the union movement, that a good secure job is central to economic wellbeing, and that a proper safety net is necessary for those who for whatever reason are outside the paid workforce. Implementation is no doubt imperfect, but it is Labor’s light on the hill. How many of the independent candidates can say the same?
Yes, it’s great to see so many people, particularly women, energised to participate in politics. But spare a thought for those of us who have been doing all this for years. Never mind that most Labor candidates have worked long hours for the party before standing themselves. Somehow, it’s more acceptable to engage in political action as, or on behalf of an independent candidate than it is for a Labor candidate. We’re Labor hacks. Not that they’re likely to admit it, but many people don’t support Labor because of class awkwardness.
To put it in a broader context, the independent lovefest comes down to a reassertion of the fact that the Labor Party is not accepted as fully legitimate. Decades of neoliberalism have undermined its ability to project a vision of the national interest that is equally valid as that of the corporate/politically conservative interests in Australia, where those interests include the media.
Labor always fights with one hand tied behind its back – and until they prove otherwise, the independent candidates are simply another manifestation of anti Labor sentiment. What we really need is to do whatever it takes to elect a majority Labor government that will actually do something about the challenges we face.
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