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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

in the twilight of a hung parliament « Previous | |Next »
August 23, 2010

We have a period of political uncertainty until the Australian Electoral Commission counts the postal and pre-polls votes in the three seats in doubt--Hasluck, Denison and Brisbane-- in the context of the possibility of the global economy entering a double-dip recession.

The three country Independents (Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott) are now in the centre of the political stage, and we now know that whichever party forms government it will not have a clear majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Amidst all the furious political spin of the moment few are addressing the implications of this political shift and the possibilities for reform to address long-term policy issues:


The three independents are different political voices in that they are talking about political process, public policy, discussing ideas and acting in terms of the public interest rather than politics being driven by short-term, poll-driven politics. Will the country Independents be able to reform Parliament enough so that it actually debates public policy instead of uttering the mind-numbing demonizing the other side as partisan slogans?

It's a long time since Question Time has been about genuinely holding ministers accountable, or even seeking genuine information about government policies. When has the Parliament acted as a genuine check and balance on the increasingly centralised exercise of executive power in Australia's political system?

Mark Bahnisch in Dawn of a new political era at the ABC's Unleashed says that:

We've seen 21st century politics finally wash over insular Australian shores... the tectonic plates of change have been moving at a slower pace, just as they have in America and Great Britain.We've entered the world of a new politics.

What is the new politics, now that majority politics as practised by both Labor and the Coalition has broken down? Bahnisch doesn't actually say, but implies it is the breakdown of two party politics and the emergence of coalition governments and The Greens. What does that political shift signify?

Here's one suggestion. Parliamentary reform. Both the Coalition and the Labor have acted to hollow-out Parliament with their tactics, and they have remained indifferent to what they have done. The lower house has become a rubber stamp for the executive of the incumbent party, the debates are gagged and the many 'Dorothy Dix's' make a mockery of the debating chamber. Both parties don't care that much about democracy, as they tell voters to get used to their schoolyard games and antics.

One aspect of the new politics is the need to reform Parliament so that it does actually function as space for diverse political interests to be heard; acts as the clearing house of public policy ideas, especially those long-term policy issues that includes climate change; functions as a check on the centralised exercise of executive power; addresses the "corruption" of electoral funding; and moves to the full public funding of elections.

Another aspect is the shift from the idea of a hung parliament between "us" and "them" to a multiparty democracy based on co-operation and coalition as well as adversarial confrontation. This shift would be resisted by both the rightwing factional leaders and strategists (Bitar and Arbib) behind Gillard and those behind Abbott. Their old game of politics is be one of attempting to just buy the Independents off with promises/policies/handouts; and to ensure that they become the government in the House of Representatives by running to an election as soon as they see an opportunity to rid themselves of the irritating independents.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:57 AM | | Comments (13)


Paul Kelly is continuing to push his hung parliament=political instability line.

In his latest op-ed in The Australian he talks in terms of "the palpable fear of weak government"; "there is only one path to a fragile stability at this point"; "hopes that Australia can organise stable government from this hung parliament are heroic"; "a short-term parliament leading to a more decisive second election cannot be dismissed."

And the Australian is still banging on about the national broadband network. Gillard, the editorial, says:

has not got the message about the big government approach manifested in the NBN, a project that its chief executive, Mike Quigley, concedes will not produce the commercial returns a private investor would demand. In March, columnist Malcolm Colless predicted in this newspaper that once householders found out how much the NBN would cost, "they won't want it". But government fudging means it was only on the eve of the election that we learnt that it could cost householders up to $3000 to hardwire their homes to properly benefit from the new broadband. Indeed, the NBN is turning out to be Labor's Neuschwanstein Castle -- as fantastical as the Bavarian original built in the 19th century by King Ludwig II.

They sound like a voice in the wilderness.

Bahnisch's 'new politics' refers to the slow decline of two-party hegemony (the electoral weakening of two-partism) and the emergence of minority government.

According to William Bowe in this paper this emergence in the period posed a reform challenge to the executive in that the independents expressed:

(1) a concern that parliament function effectively as a deliberative chamber and reform of the other institutions of government accountability (eg., the scrutiny of the executive through accountability agencies);
(2) pursued a substantial policy breach from consensus major party positions in addition to a strengthening of parliament and accountability mechanisms.

This has been characteristic of the Greens in their agreements with Labor in Tasmania and the ACT.

Big Business has spoken to The Australian--a hung parliament and the Greens holding the Senate balance of power could cause uncertainty and hit economic reform. Markets do not like uncertainty. Sovereign risk is also mentioned as international markets are now wary of Australia.

Lots of managers are amazingly naive about political processes. I'm sure they are currently rolling their eyes and demanding that the government, or the High Court, or the Governor General, or somebody, sort this 'problem' out immediately. Preferably by making Abbott prime minister.

re the comment: "Bahnisch's 'new politics' refers to the slow decline of two-party hegemony (the electoral weakening of two-partism)"

Ours is less a two-party system than a two-party dominant political system, since the proportion of voters who are persistently loyal to the same party is shrinking.

If the majority of the electorate continues its traditional voting pattern, then a growing minority is prepared to support independents and minor parties.

Rob Oakeshott proposed a unity government because a majority of 76 would not be enough to ensure stable government in the event of a by-election.

That won't appeal to The Liberals. They want power for themselves. The Nationals want to kill off the country Independents.

Robert Gottliebsen inRural revolution is coming at Business Spectator says that:

The 3 Country Independents want to see thriving rural regional centres with higher populations.Bob Katter believes that the way to achieve this is via the Bradfield scheme, which would divert the Queensland waters inland. That proposal will be looked at again but in 2010 increasing regional prosperity is linked to the national broadband network.

Tony Windsor makes that point. Gottliebsen says that the three Independents work within McEwenism:
McEwen is best known for his high tariff policies and we are not going back to that. But behind McEwen was a deep sense of economic nationalism with a rural bias. McEwen applied this underlying principle to the circumstances of his day, which are different to 2010. If they have the chance, Katter, Oakeshott, and Windsor will apply a version of McEwenism to today’s circumstances.

It looks as if major changes to Australian politics will happen in this challenge to neo-liberalism.

Giles Parkinson argues in Votes, shoots and leaves at Climate Spectator that:

Two of the three conservative independents have thought carefully about climate change (Katter seems to be a bit of a sceptic, but understands enough about the water crisis), and all three are keen supporters of renewable and clean energy. Importantly, though, these three politicians will bring the debate into the public arena, as you can be sure the Greens will also do.

I doubt that we will see a shift to a tax on carbon tax in the next parliament though.

Ben Eltham in Election post-mortem at the ABC's Unleashed says:

In the long-run, the rise of the Greens poses inexorable problems for the Australian Labor Party. Philosophically, it marks the end of the long alliance in this country between trade unions, their political representatives in the Labor Party, and the other progressive forces of politics. Labor is at much at fault as it is a victim: by moving steadily rightwards in fear or pursuit of the rightwards march of the Liberal Party, it has left behind many of its more progressive supporters, and even some its left-wing union base. Some of those supporters have now found a new home with the Greens.

He adds that:
the rise of the Greens will almost inevitably force Labor into a coalition of some kind with the environmental party. Simple numbers dictate this outcome: as the Greens continue to eat into Labor's inner-city base, it will make ever less sense to run three-cornered contests. This will be hard for the proud Australian Labor Party, which may never again govern nationally in its own right. But binding the Greens into a governing coalition acknowledges the electoral arithmetic of Australia's centre-left voting base, which is now split irrevocably between the two parties.

Will that happen? I don't think that the coal mining union bosses would be too happy with Labor forming a coalition with The Greens.

John Menadue in An opportunity to revive parliament at Unleashed mentions building critical information flows, analysis and independent policy advice to the parliament. He says:

The resources of the Australian public service are directed almost exclusively to serving the Executive and not the public through the Parliament. The result is an information deficit in the community and little independent advice to challenge the all-powerful executive.

The aim is to countervail domination by the Executive and the Australian public service.

In A chance to end the mindless allegiance of party discipline in the National Times John Hirst says:

The independents are being portrayed as horse traders who will support whichever side provides the best deal for their electorates. But Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are actually very interested in having a parliament that is a true deliberative assembly. They are independents because they cannot bear the mindless allegiance which the Australian parties demand from their members...Even in the Australian Parliament, question time used to be an occasion when backbenchers asked real questions of their own ministers. Now it's a party slanging match, a total disgrace.

Trouble is that once the Independents lose their power when one party again gets a majority in its own right.Then the reforms can be rolled back.

Paul Kelly continues to bang his minority government=instability drum in his Minorities will be held to account whilst directing his animus against The Greens.

Any minority Labor government will be dependent to an extent on the Greens with their new single House of Representatives MP and nine senators holding the balance of power. The Greens will set minority Labor government's agenda. What is needed, if this instability happens (and it will) is for an election to be called as this is a case of minorities threatening the agenda and authority of the government.

The Greens have to be put in their place. The heart needs to be turned up on them by the media.