The disintegration of party politics in contemporary Australia

Apr 5, 2024
Australian Government meeting. Map of Australia on the round table.

The world today is disastrously misgoverned by a paranoid generation of ageing political leaders. There’s not a statesman among them, let alone a stateswoman. Meanwhile, the once dominant mainstream political parties are retreating into their bunkers, fearful of the exposure of corruption that has remained hidden in their ranks, terrified of malevolent media moguls, and scared of losing the support of big-monied backers whose identities they conceal. They are blind to the emerging generations of young people who are fed up with how the old generation is wrecking their futures.

Younger voters are raising many relevant political questions whose policy answers the old generation and their dinosaur political parties are completely unwilling to deliver. Recent elections at state and federal level in Australia demonstrate that disintegration of support for the old parties is developing rapidly as younger voters (and indeed increasing numbers of older voters) turn towards political groupings and independents who genuinely represent their communities. The age of “rusted on” voters has passed.

Both the Coalition and Labor parties have become sclerotic machines confirming the efficacy of the “iron law of oligarchy.” As that law predicts, they are focused exclusively on preserving the positions of leading party apparatchiks who are divorced from the realities affecting the lives of most Australians. Self-preservation and the perks of office, whether in government or in opposition, remain their primary concern. Their politics are almost entirely performative; rarely are they substantive.

Very little policy-making of substance is being done to address the serious housing shortage. The rights of refugees in the light of the recent High Court ruling have been turned into a contemptible partisan bunfight, highlighting the moral backwardness of Australia’s leading politicians. How serious are the parties about addressing climate change? Why is the country failing so miserably to close the gap? Where is there wage justice for workers while CEOs’ and politicians’ salaries are going through the roof?

As a result, both the Labor and Coalition parties are polling poorly in opinion polls. It is unlikely that this trend will be reversed. Each party now only attracts about a third of first-party preferences. This means they have become seriously unrepresentative of the majority of Australians. Future governments will have to entice cross-benchers and independents into their ranks if they want to be in government. Minority governments are the future for this country, as is the case in similar political systems around the world.

The Albanese cabinet is proving to be one of the most timid and disappointing Labor governments in Australian political history It pales into insignificance compared to the great reformist era of the post-war Chifley government. It lacks the progressive policies of Whitlam government. It is nothing compared to the reformist courage and effectiveness of the Dunstan governments in South Australia.

Albanese has all the charisma of a retired suburban solicitor rather than an inspirational and reforming leader. He is over-cautious, and scared of the Murdochracy. He offers no vision of an Australia that is a confident and independent country. Instead he clings to the AUKUS myth in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is a non-starter. His main game is that of a factional player in an increasingly irrelevant Labor party. More concerning, however, is that Albanese’s weaknesses are shared by the majority of Labor MPs.

Simultaneously, the Liberal and National parties are determinedly trekking into the bad lands of far right politics, ensnared by fundamentalists – fake Christians – who preach a perverted “gospel of prosperity”. They are firmly under the thumb of big mining interests who demand (and receive) their allegiance to climate change denialism. Their contempt for younger voters is writ large in their racist attitudes to Indigenous Australians (vide, the Voice to Parliament referendum), in their attitudes to anti-trans people and to LGBQI+ people, in their attempts to water down Medicare and compulsory superannuation, and in their bizarre support for nuclear energy generation in order to prolong the era of coal and gas extraction industries.

As leader of the trek into the bad lands, Peter Dutton is deploying Trumpian tactics to force Australian politics even further to the right. The grimness of the man is his paramount characteristic. He is obsessed by what he thinks are evil threats to the realisation of an orderly Australia, not an Australia that is not diverse and democratic. His enemies are educated, inner-city “elites”, non-white immigrants, African gangs, asylum seekers, Indigenous leaders seeking their just place in the Australian body politic, those calling for the recognition of the variability of gender identities, advocates of EVs and clean energy technologies.

Dutton has a long record of policy poverty and negativism. The only policy he has come up with so far is the promotion of large-scale nuclear-powered electricity generators. (He’s apparently abandoned his support for small-scale modular reactors.) he seems to favour a mixture of bribes and pie in the sky promises to cajole voters to support this proposal. He ignores the economic analyses that show that wind and solar generators are infinitely superior to the nuclear option. He is unclear about how long the implementation of his policy would take, what government subsidies would be necessary, and what should be done with the nuclear waste. Meanwhile he is about to jump on the Nationals bandwagon advocating laws to break up the Coles and Woolworth monopolies.

Australia desperately needs a new set of political arrangements to respond intelligently to the needs of today’s voters and citizens. The old parties are no longer fit for purpose. Some Greens, the “teal” MPs, and some independents like Senator David Pocock are pointing the way forward for Australian politics. The role of Simon Holmes à Court in helping to mobilise community-based independent MPs has been the most constructive contribution to Australian politics since federation. He has helped raise funds and mentor people who are closely aligned with their communities and committed to representing those communities in parliament.

The old parties – especially the Liberals – have been left flat-footed by the success of the “teal” independents. However, Labor will very likely find itself in a similar position at the next election if strongly supported, community-based candidates come forward to challenge sitting MPs. Younger voters (whose numbers are increasing by the day) will prefer them over staid party hacks who have shown little interest in the people they are supposed to represent.

It’s time to abandon the conventional political parties – those antediluvian, oligarchical structures that prop up too many third-rate politicians who represent no-one but themselves. Already the independents in the present federal parliament have provided a creative model for ensuring the future of a healthy Australian democracy. Australia deserves fewer old-style political parties, more loosely coordinated independents.

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!