27 March 2015

Majors or minors

Is Minority government as better way? There must be many who think so, given the low voting for major parties. If it weren't for compulsory voting and two-party preferences they may be in trouble. Richard Denniss and Brenton Prosser have written a book - Minority Policy : Rethinking governance when parliament matters - and they presented it at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute. There's a stream of conservatism here, but the major parties may not see it that way. Richard: "Frankly, you can't do democracy without politics", so a politician's job is to represent and doing numbers is part of that. There were stories that illustrated that, like Natasha Stott Despoja to Peter Costello when he didn't get his way with his Intergenerational Report: "Look at the numbers ... I have, Peter, and you don't have them in the Senate". The role of the PM is not to just wake up in the morning and have a brain fart; it is to negotiate policy, with the party, with Parliament and ultimately with the electorate. So Gillard was actually very successful, passing more legislation than Howard. Abbott is not so successful; he may learn but at the election he refused to deal with minor parties (and yet, he's in coalition with a very minor party). Something I didn't know: Fraser was planning a new party before he dies; what may come of that. But thinking Fraser, it was the Liberals that rolled an elected government by denying supply in the Senate. The Constitution doesn't mention major parties (or any parties or the PM for that matter). So what's the future of major parties? Will they adapt to the demands of the electorate or manipulate it through self-perpetuating legislation (many examples, including ACT, Tassie, Qld, Commonwealth that I can remember). There was talk of CPyne and Cathy McGowan (only the latter displaying a path to a future). "For democracy to work well, we need to be prepared to change our mind when a party really disappoints" or this telling quote from Richard "Preselect the wrong people and there's no such thing as a safe seat". John Key in NZ shows that Minority government can work; the approach of our major parties is unsupported by evidence. JK is in a fourth term and implementing change. Communication is the key, let alone a source of better legislation. It was interesting to hear of negotiations within and across parties to improve legislation (ministers from one party may suggest amendments to another party to achieve change the party room might not otherwise agree to). Some evidence: only ~30% of all voting population votes for the major parties; this gives 10% representation for minor parties (5% Reps, 8% Senate); at the last Federal election, 25% of the adult population didn't vote (no shows, informals or not enrolled); of the total Australian adult population, 2-party preferred, 33% voted Liberal and 25% Labor; 5% for Nationals. Richard suggested we need a Parliamentary enquiry into the state of our democracy (but don't expect one!). ACT is the most under-represented territory/state (2 Reps, 2 Senators); Tassie has 5 Reps (in the Constitution!), 12 Senators, let alone all the state and local pollies. Change requires electoral pressure but the electorate doesn't understand the voting system. Consultation is not a problem ; it's slower but policy is more considered and effective. The Media denies complexity and the most interesting parts of politics. And to end, some fascinating comments, that "Rudd broke our polity" and Abbott learned the lesson. Opposition leader used to learn to be PM through a difficult job of influencing front and back bench and party and developing policies. RUdd just "made the words" to "lead ... from the wilderness". Gillard "did an amazing job in minority government" although her public communications were poor.

Excuse the mess of comments and ideas, but the concept of minority government deserves much better here and also in public observations. Let's hope it gets it because the cause of the major parties is suffering immensely and we don't want democracy to go with it. Richard Denniss and Brenton Prosser presented their new book, Minority Policy : Rethinking governance when parliament matters, at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

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