Welcome to the hung parliament. A disaster, according to our PR obsessed prime minister – instability and chaos, But for ordinary Australians it might not be so bad.
After all, Julia Gillard’s regime managed to get quite a bit done in spite of Tony Abbott and his cohorts – including Scott Morrison. And apart from anything else, minority government provides an opportunity for some long needed parliamentary reform resisted for years by the majority governments on both sides.
One of these has already emerged. The Greens and the crossbenches are collaborating on a bill to introduce a federal anti-corruption body, modelled loosely on those which operate in most states – and which were mostly forced upon them through minority governments.
It has not always been a smooth process; in NSW alone two Liberal premiers have been brought down as a result of the ICAC and there have been numerous controversies demanding its abolition or at least emasculation. But the public seems to like the idea of Keeping the bastards honest, or at least less tainted than they might others wise become.
The federal coalition has always adamantly opposed but Labor, although never enthusiastic, has dipped a toe in the water in the past and given the numbers in both houses, may well be tempted. So our Attorney General, Christian Porter, is preparing to bow to the inevitable and is thinking about action on his own, to avoid incoming embarrassment.
It should be said immediately that there is little evidence of genuine corruption within the federal parliament. But that is not the point. As Barnaby Joyce has repeatedly demonstrated, while the laws of the land may not have been broken and the special rules designed by parliamentarians for parliamentarians can generally be interpreted to cover most behaviour, limits have been stretched to breaking point.
And of course there are probably many instances that have never been publicised. A federal ICAC would at least have exposed much ethical dubiety, and that’s without its salutary effect on other institutions under federal purview. It should be a no-brainer. And finally last week, the idea may have finally come.
And if not an ICAC, why not more? The other great reform forced on state parliaments through crossbench independents is fixed four year terms of parliament. A cynical public tends to reject the idea – why give the bastards more time, we want the chance to throw them out as quickly as possible,
But there is no doubt that current system, in which governments need their first year to get established and their last to set up the next election means that in practice they spend only about a third of their time governing. With four year terms we could increase this to a half.
Of course this assumes that they will govern with some sort of diligence and coherence, and the hung parliament can help in that regard too; a government that needs every vote will be far less eager to embrace the crazy extremes which make a big majority tempting.
This can bring disadvantages as well; it will be harder to gain support for necessary but unpopular policy stances. But it will not be all bad, and in any case it is what we’ve got. Welcome to the hung parliament – let’s use it.