Was the ‘hung parliament’ all that bad? John Menadue

Jun 2, 2013

We have been told many times since the 2010 election that the hung parliament was an abomination, it wouldn’t work and that it wouldn’t last. Denied government after the last election, the Coalition tried to make the government as well as the parliament as unworkable as possible. Paul Keating put it more colourfully “If Tony Abbott doesn’t get his way, he sets about wrecking the joint”.

But here we are almost three years later with the parliament seeing out its full term.

It hasn’t such a bad record as the Jeremiahs said. Let’s look first at some achievements.

The establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office was a major change. We will hear more about it during the election campaign. It will provide independent advice to the whole parliament, including the opposition, which was never available before on key budget issues. For a long time executive government, supported by a disciplined party system, has dominated the parliament. The information the parliament and we received was largely determined by the government. Rolling back domination of the parliament by the executive will be an important achievement. Hopefully the PBO is just a start in that process.

There were many legislative achievements and I believe that the carbon tax was one despite the violence of the language and the opposition. Changes to the present carbon tax arrangements will be necessary but the carbon tax remains the best and most efficient way of reducing carbon pollution and global warming leading hopefully to an emissions trading scheme.

For decades the tobacco lobby has brought great harm to hundreds of millions of people around the world. The plain packaging of cigarettes show that Australia is a world leader in rolling back the damage of tobacco.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme may rank with Medibank and Medicare as one of the most important social reforms of the last 40 years.

There was also the Murray Darling Basin Plan, paid personal leave and hopefully, the Gonski reforms even though they will be a paler version than what Gonski intended.

The NBN has opened the way for a fast, world leading 21st century communications system.

All the appropriation bills have been passed, which has helped Australia achieve one of the best performing economies in the world. In 2011 and 2012, 199 and 195 Bills were passed by the House of Representatives. Apart from 2009 this was the highest number since 1997 and above the annual average of 184.This was achieved despite the Gillard Government not having a majority in the House or the Senate

In 2011 23 private member bills were presented, with the same again in 2012.The average number of such bills since Federation is four per year. 30% of all legislation was amended through negotiations between the Government the Independents and the Greens. The Independents, and particularly Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott performed with good sense and responsibility despite the vitriol often heaped on them.

There were clearly some downsides.

  • The House of Representatives was often disorganised and with intimidatory language. Both parties have responsibility for that but the provocation in my view was mainly by the coalition. It was determined to prove that the parliament was unworkable and that the Government was illegitimate.
  • There were three Speakers. Not all performed creditably.
  • The shadow of Craig Thompson hung over the parliament but he is still there!
  • The mining tax was a mess.

All in all I think the evidence is that the ‘hung parliament’ performed quite well in the circumstances. It has survived almost three years with considerable achievements to its credit.

The next election is unlikely to produce a hung parliament. But I wouldn’t be disturbed if it did.


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