In 2016, we published 36 Faceless men, comparing the ‘need’ for Australian political parties to have an absolute majority when forming a government versus the preferred outcome in other countries where a coalition of political parties have to work together to form a government.
Three years ago we observed
Really, [Australian] parliament is usually not being used as a place where legislation is debated and passed based on the perceived good for the country, rather it is the two major parties’ regular conferences and the wonderfully named ‘think tanks’ that have usurped the role. Then, when the relative party is finally elected to power (for it will eventually happen), the party policy will be rolled out as legislation and there is very little that the ‘average Australian’ can do about it, other that hope the worst excesses are rejected by the ‘feral’ Senate or someone looks at the polling numbers and joins the dots correctly.
Seems that nothing has changed. In March 2019, Teena McQueen (a Liberal Party National Vice-President) claimed on ABC-TV’s Q&A that coalitions lead to bad governments, despite every federal conservative government in Australia since World War 2, being a coalition of the Liberal and National Parties (a de-facto arrangement with private terms and conditions that has outlasted many real marriages).
Since we published 36 Faceless Men, we’ve had yet another Prime Minister and further demonstration of the fact Australia has had a pretty patchy record of genuine leadership over the past 20 years. Prime Ministers have either sought to suppress alternative viewpoints in the hushed corridors of power or have been too busy looking behind them for the person about to stab them in the back (in a figurative sense only one hopes). This is in a country where one of the ‘core’ beliefs is that a government needs an absolute majority to effectively govern.
The UK, Canada and USA have similar beliefs. Brexit debate/argument in the UK over the past 10 years has also claimed various political careers over a policy that is the perfect demonstration of how hard it really is to unscramble an egg despite the desire. In Canada, Trudeau has sacked ministers who have lost their sense of probity. The USA’s ‘mid-term’ elections saw Trump’s Republicans lose control of their House of Representatives in a demonstration of buyer’s remorse. Most other truly democratic countries in the world seem to survive without absolutely powerful individual political parties.
Maybe it isn’t because our respective politicians are clueless or incompetent, maybe the system is wrong. These figures, albeit from 2013, suggest that at best, the two major political groups in Australia have a combined membership of close to 100,000. From that ‘base’ these groups have to find party members that want to and are suitable to run for election, fundraise and manage the election process as well as represent the viewpoint of around 25 million Australians. From the same set of figures, the Collingwood AFL Club has an estimated 77,000 members and the combined membership of NRL Clubs is nearly double that of all political parties, so it is entirely possible that the two major political parties (ALP & Coalition) have a very small footprint around the country.
Much has been recently said about New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, including this recent ‘weekend’ article in The Guardian. In the article, we learn that Ardern’s Labour Party is in a coalition with NZ First and the NZ Greens. The Deputy PM is NZ First’s, Winston Peters. New Zealand changed their voting system in the mid-1990s to MMP, a process that almost invariably results in the need for a number of political parties to co-operate. In fact, both the German and French Governments are also negotiated co-operatives — and they (like New Zealand) seem to have outstanding longevity for their leaders in comparison to the machinations in the UK, Canada, Australia (all of which seem to have Prime Ministers on shaky ground) and the USA where there is already a conga-line of hopefuls trying to unseat Trump in 2020. In 2016, we observed that the Finnish Government was a coalition of six parties which seemed to work and furthermore, be stable. Should Australia determine to change to an electoral system based on the New Zealand MMP model, the chance of diversity in our politicians would be greater. As a result, there is the probability that legislation would consider the identified needs of all parliamentarians and a greater proportion of Australians, rather than only those sitting in the ruling party’s executive group.
In 2016, we wrote
Minority governments can and do work in Australia and in reality have to represent the electors better than say the Newman government in Queensland, the last term of the Howard Federal government or the Kennett Victorian government ever did. While the electors finally won the day, in all cases it took longer than it should have for a sense of representation of the community’s interests to be restored.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Gillard’s minority Government worked for close to three years in spite of the outcry of some elements of the media and the Coalition Parties, producing emissions pricing, a new funding model for schools, the legislation behind the NDIS (with implementation subsequently botched by the Coalition government) and the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse. Even the Turnbull/Morrison government that ended its term as a minority government got there intact, despite their own actions.
There does have to be a better way. Maybe ‘the way’ is to change the voting system to promote diversity and different points of view in a government. Who knows, it might lead to us mug punters respecting our lawmakers.
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
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