So have I got your attention with that title. I bet a get some hits on this post from people not really looking to read about the Australian Parliamentary system, but that’s kind of what this is.
Thankfully we have now hit the final week of this election campaign and if the political advertising is to taken as a guide it seems we may well be dredging the bottom of the barrel on the strategy and policy fronts. There are so many things that make me despair about the path we are about to embark on, and that’s with either of the two major parties. One of those and perhaps, for me, the most concerning is the suggestion (and this is but no means a new one) that the parliament of the last three years has been chaotic and unproductive, and now both sides are determined to ensure this situation is never repeated.
The situation I refer to here, of course, is the fact that we have had a hung parliament for the previous three year. I don’t see this parliament in the same light at all. The Australian Labour Party has, without doubt, had significant internal troubles, but despite that the parliament has been stable (for the most part at least), productive and reformist. It’s a parliament that achieved outstanding policy reforms in a way that will be looked back on with admiration (I hope). The policies that most stand out for me include the introduction of a carbon price, the National Disability Insurance Scheme – which will be a lasting and life-changing reform for many families, like Medicare was in the past – the National Broadband Network, the improvements for school funding, paid parental leave, increased access to dental care for those on low income and especially for children, plain packaging for cigarettes and the list goes on. In fact this parliament passed an astounding 590 pieces of legislation.
That’s hardly what I would call unproductive or chaotic. It certainly has not been perfect. The reforms in pokie machines fell apart completely, the mining tax was too watered down to be effective and the lack of progress on marriage equality all left me a little disappointed. The government also had real problems getting their message relayed in the media, the latter choosing to focus almost exclusively on the leadership tensions which existed in this time. Internal leaks and bickerings were such a distraction that all their wonderful work, or much of it anyway, was ignored, overlooked or swept aside.
But this hung parliament was truly amazing, The necessity to work with smaller parties and independents to get legislation through the two houses of parliament meant that for the first time in a long time we were hearing political voices that we don’t usually. Compromising was essential and I think it mostly worked.
What the hung parliament did was represent where Australia really was on the political front. And that is disillusioned with both major parties to the point where we couldn’t pick one from the other, instead we picked both (or maybe neither) plus some greens and independents. How refreshing! But instead of taking on this point, one of the two major parties declared that they just didn’t like this parliament (the one that the AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE ELECTED TO REPRESENT THEM) and demanded a new election…. FOR THREE YEARS! Instead of using their time in opposition to question the government on policy and to hold them account to those policies, they spent the entire term of parliament banging on about leadership, name calling and scare mongering. Just look at how many times the opposition leader called for a suspension of standing orders in parliamentary question time, or how many questions were directed to any minister besides the Prime Minister. (The answers, by the way, are too many for the question and very few for the second.)
And now in their attempt to never allow another hung parliament to happen again the Liberal Party are tinkering with their preferences to the detriment of minor parties, especially the Greens. This disgusts me. It seems so entirely anti-democratic that I can’t believe they’re not being called out on it more strongly. While it is the job of political parties during an election campaign to do whatever it thinks will get your vote – and there seems little they won’t do on that front – when the election is over and the votes counted, it is then their job to accept OUR decision. Not to have a three year long tantrum because they didn’t get their way.
What concerns me even more than this fiddling at the edges of our democratic processes is the prediction that at the end of this vote we will find ourselves with one party easily controlling both houses of parliament. This is never a good thing, for either major parties. We NEED a Senate that will keep the government in check, that will carefully scrutinize legislation before passing it and ensure that party doesn’t have a rubber stamp to pass any and all legislation it so chooses.
So having said all I feel I have to say on this election stuff I’ll leave you with two pleas. Choose your own preferences, second place counts so make sure you know who you’re giving it to and make sure you can live with that. And secondly, think carefully about your vote for the Senate, it’s important!