JOHN MENADUE. A hung parliament could be a good thing.

Jul 3, 2016


We have been warned time and time again about hung parliaments and the chaos that follows. The media which is so often more concerned about politics and personalities than good governance, joins in the chorus about the risks of hung parliaments.

The claims that minority governments are disastrous are nonsense.

Even if the Liberal party has a tenuous majority in the House of Representatives, it is likely that its minority position in the Senate will even worse than before. No government in Australia in the foreseeable future is likely to have a majority in both houses of parliament.

If we are to have stable and inclusive government, compromise will be necessary and complaining about independents and small parties is avoiding the hard issues.

The fact is that many people have lost trust in our major parties.

Small parties and minority groups are growing dramatically. In yesterday’s election for the House of Representatives over 20% of first preference votes were for independents or small parties., the highest in history. In the Senate the major parties did even worse. Add to that those who did not enrol, did not vote, or marked their papers informally – and we have a serious problem about the failures of our major parties.

The coalition primary vote in 1946 was 48%. It is now 42%

The ALP primary vote in 1946 was 49%. It is now 36%

The primary vote for  small and other parties was 3% in 1946. It is now well over 20%.

Neither of the major parties represents their voting constituents. The Liberal party is increasingly a front for big business and the pursuit of power for its own sake. The promotion of fear is a regular part of its agenda. The Labor party is controlled by factions and state machines, and not the people who traditionally vote Labor . The Greens are stealing the ALP’s lunch but the ALP controllers don’t seem to care.

Until the major parties reform, the best hope is for more minority governments where political leaders have to compromise. A compromise for example on same-sex marriage will be preferable to a plebiscite that gives a platform to extreme views on this sensitive issue. Most Australians are ashamed of what is happening in Manus and Nauru, but the politicians refuse to compromise .

New Zealand with its part proportional representation electoral system since 1993 invariably has coalition governments. And it is working well. The New Zealand government has to negotiate and compromise, and New Zealanders are better off as a result.

The most successful government in Europe is in Germany which has a grand alliance between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. In such an arrangement compromise is essential. Because of that alliance, Angela Merkel has been able to hold at bay the right-wing extremists who want to attack and victimise refugees . If only Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten could also make a deal to end the concentration camps in Manus and Nauru.

Those who try to frighten us about minority governments point to the hung parliament of 2010-13. Certainly we recall from that parliament the war between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, and the wrecking ball tactics of Tony Abbott. But that hung parliament had much to commend it because the government had to negotiate with Independents like Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott and the Greens. There were considerable agreements – National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the NBN workforce reform and even the carbon tax which was so vilified, but which we will have to return to . We had record private investment, lower unemployment and lower government debt than we have today. There was a record number of private members bills and 30% of all legislation was amended. The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse was established.

All in all the ‘hung parliament’ had quite a good record despite Tony Abbott’s attempt to wreck the place.

See earlier post ‘Was the ‘hung parliament’ all that bad?

Despite the personal and political downsides of the hung parliament, it had more to commend it than the parliament recently led by Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

We lack trust in politicians and many of our institutions, including parliament. Forcing parties to compromise in both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be a good start in encouraging more adult and inclusive governance.

But longer term reform of parliament, including our electoral system, is essential. Proportional representation would build in the need for compromise and inclusion. The major political parties need reform and renewal in their structures and practices,

The authority of our major parties is being leached away. They need to be taught a lesson. Forcing compromise like in Germany and New Zealand would be a good start.

We badly need democratic renewal.

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