On Monday the Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed that the combined support for Labour and the Liberal/National coalition was 68% – down almost 10% since the 2016 election. In other words, one third of voters prefer neither party. On Tuesday, we witnessed the unsavoury spectacle of yet another leadership spill in the Liberal Party; the sixth such spill in ten years within the major parties. The decline in support for the majors is closely linked to how they conduct their affairs and is at the heart of why trust in politicians is at an all-time low. But it is still a welcome development – the decline, not the spectre of Peter Dutton as PM.
The trend away from a two-party system has been evident in European democracies since the eighties. From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, governments are typically formed by formal and informal coalitions of parties as no single party is able to win majority. In the Nordic countries it has led to more emphasis of consensus politics, resulting in better and more forward looking policy making. Britain is desperately holding on to its archaic ways and in France the jury is still out on Macron and his party, but in almost every other true democracy in Europe multi-party coalitions is the norm.
In Australia the major parties have held on to our sacrosanct preferential voting methods. It is a system that has broad support. It also lead to the Greens getting one representative (0.67%) in Federal Parliament despite receiving 10.23% of the primary vote at the last election.
For all its virtues the preferential voting system is helping the major parties cling to a power that does not reflect their actual support in the community. Not only does no party or coalition have anything close to a majority, each of them now have roughly the same support as the one third that would prefer neither of them – a third that in effect have no voice in Parliament.
But the issue goes beyond much needed electoral reform. Despite both major parties losing support they are not listening. Until they do, electoral reform won’t happen.
They are not listening to a populace crying out for leadership on the important issues of our time – from climate change to the cost of housing and the perception of increased equality, let alone even trying to understand that the war on drugs is failing everyone.
They are not listening to the persistent calls to end the age of political entitlements. They are ignoring the fact that only 16% of those surveyed by Morgans (2017 poll) believe politicians can be trusted. They are not listening to the majority of people that say euthanasia legislation is long overdue. The Liberals were dragged kicking and screaming to conduct an unnecessary and absurdly expensive poll to legislate for same sex marriage – when all people wanted was for it to be resolved in Parliament. Similarly, they resisted the calls for holding banks to account for their misdeeds for years – now it is blowing up in their faces, as it should.
This time it just happens to be the Liberals who are having their introspective wrangling about who should lead them. A few years ago it was Rudd and Gillard swapping places under similar circumstances. The voters haven’t forgotten. Even after an unprecedented period of poor leadership and internal ructions – from Turnbull to Abbott and back again – Labour still only has two percent more primary support as per the Ipsos poll.
A poll conducted before last week’s shocking speech by the racist senator from Queensland – the recipient of 19 primary votes who got him into Parliament because of the citizenship debacle. A debacle that none of the parties have committed to doing anything to avoid happening again – such as reviewing section 44 of the Constitution and putting it to the people in a referendum.
Referendums fail is the adage so that’s why we don’t do them.
Peter FitzSimons and his Republican Movement are convinced that Bill Shorten will take a proposed referendum on having an Australian as our Head of State to the next election. That’d be great, but I’ll believe that when I see it, and then see Shorten carrying it out. Our politicians in general, and the major party ‘apparatchiks’ in particular have stopped proposing anything that cannot be vetted, sanitised and watered down to insignificance in the party-room.
Our current Prime Minister talks up tax cut to the rich as ‘tax reform’, Tony Abbott proposed precisely nothing, Gillard’s ‘education revolution’ was lost in implementation, as was Rudd’s NBN.
And as much as I support an Australian Head of State, in the current political climate it is not a priority, likely to fail again because of the enormous trust gap that exists between our politicians and voters. Unless that gap has been not just narrowed, but reversed, the Governor General will remain top dog by proxy for the foreseeable future.
What is staring at us in the face of a disillusioned Malcolm Turnbull, a power-hungry Peter Dutton and the smirks of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek is a dearth of leadership so glaring it is hard to see anything but sunspots.
We, the people, need to act. Not with pitchforks or handguns, but at the polls.
At the next election we need to hold candidates accountable. We need to demand they promise to adhere to certain standards – The Australian Institutes’ recommended ethicalcriteria is as good as any. We need to demand they have the interest of the people at heart, not that of their party or their donors.
We need to demand they listen to the voters and act to make changes because the voters want them, not hindered by party edicts or fear of change. We need our elected representatives to be courageous, to speak their minds while retaining respect for the opinions of others.
We need to elect people’s representatives, not party delegates.
And if that means even less support for the major parties, so be it. It is up to us. And when we get the representation in Parliament that we deserve, we can ask them to work on modernising democracy – returning it to the people – including electoral reform, review of the role of the Senate, regulate donations, establish our own constitution and much more.
To be continued.
Kim Wingerei is a former businessman turned commentator, writer and blogger, author of Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change. Follow @ kimwingerei.com.