07 May 2015
by Sean Stinson

Democracy: Coming soon to a parliament near you.

At the recent Queensland election, responding to Campbell Newman’s threat that a hung parliament is a hung Queensland, Bob Katter made the astute observation that a hung parliament would more likely result in a minority government, a situation similar to almost every other constitutional democracy in the world. Now personally I’ve always thought Katter a bit of a nutter, in the nicest possible way of course, but in this instance I believe he hit the nail squarely and firmly on the head.

Looking around the world today there seems to be a pattern emerging. The traditional parties just don’t seem to be holding sway anymore, particularly across Europe where governments of all political stripes have allowed serial rape and pillage by the central bankers while administering cruel and crushing austerity. Angela Merkel may manage to hold onto power for a while longer but France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande will not see re-election. Some commentators have argued that this all points to a breakdown of our systems of governance. I beg to differ.

At the time of writing the UK election also looks set to deliver a minority government which might see an unlikely coalition between Labour and the Scottish National Party. One thing is certain; neither of the major parties will get the votes needed to govern in their own right.

This follows the recent election in Greece, where the traditional left-right duopoly got less than a third of the popular vote between them, leaving Alexis Tsipris’ anti-austerity Syriza party to form government with the aid of the nationalist Golden Dawn. Spain could soon follow, with Pablo Iglesias’ Podemos party gaining traction by the day.

Meanwhile in the US Bernie Sanders has announced his bid for the presidency, which may well come to nothing, but I am predicting now that he’ll get a larger than expected number of votes and may even give Hilary Clinton a run for her money.

Of course this is not a new thing. Those with not so short memories will recall we experienced something similar right here at home not so long ago. If you believe the mainstream media, the previous 6 years of Labor government were plagued by internal rivalry and policy chaos, but evidence shows otherwise. In fact a record amount of legislation was passed under the Gillard government, thanks largely to the integrity and nous of a couple of strong independents. Through this prism the shenanigans of the ALP seem largely irrelevant to the broader picture.

Of course a lot of this good work was undone in short order, but much of the framework remains for investment in clean energy, which is absolutely necessary as we near the end of the fossil fuel age, and for improved funding for education and disability services. Not bad for one term I’d say.

Currently the only thing standing between us and the Abbott government’s carte blanche open for business agenda – senseless environmental carnage, shovelling billions into stranded assets while subsidising an industry that will never return a profit, selling out our labour market, widening income inequality and restricting access to health and education outcomes for the financially challenged – is a handful of independents and micro parties. While I don’t always agree with Nick Xenophon he keeps a cool head, and while the likes of Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus are easy targets, they’ve shown themselves to be principled, if not always the most polished performers.

Of course the flipside of this coin is we also have David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day, the former bright spark telling us that the Lindt Café massacre might not have gone down so badly if everyone had a gun.

And then there is Jacqie Lambie.

Lately I’ve heard some noise on social media calling for some sort of green-left-labor coalition. While I hate to rain on anyone’s parade of misguided enthusiasm, I can’t help thinking they’ve missed the point.

Corruption is rife in our political system. The outrageous farce in which a billionaire mining magnate bought himself a seat in the lower house and three seats in the senate to insure that an unfavourable tax was repealed has surely not escaped anyone’s notice. As successive state governments have been dragged through the NSW ICAC we have learned of the culture of donations for political favours, but that’s only one side of the coin. Politicians also buy favour, by directing funding to marginal seats, which usually means that rusted on National Party voters in the bush get the rough end of the stick.

That’s of course unless you happen to live in the electorate of Indi, where independent Cathy McGowan’s grassroots campaign saw here knock off Liberal stalwart Sophie Mirabella in an unprecedented victory.

Freedom of choice is one of the cornerstones of capitalism. There are more than 60 brands of cars sold in Australia, which is even more than in the US. So why should we be satisfied with two brands of politics? Why then when it comes time to decide who will rule us, are most of us content with a choice between a guy in a grey suit and a blue tie or a guy in a grey suit and a red tie?

In a previous column I have argued that the middle ground of politics has shifted. We saw this just this week with Bill Shorten’s announcement that a Labor government would continue with Abbott’s boat turn-back policy. The 2014 budget was never intended to pass. It didn’t need to. Think of the political spectrum as less of a see-saw and more of a tug-of-war. Through populism and lack of vision the middle ground of the debate has been pulled so far to the right that it has found a new equilibrium. We now have a political system where money speaks for money while the rest of us have no voice at all, and when it comes to the major parties it really doesn’t make that much difference who’s in charge.

If we are to have any kind of functional democracy in this country we need more strong independent voices, not less. Voices who are directly answerable to their electorates, who we trust to represent us, our values and our aspirations (cue national anthem), and who are willing to sit down at a negotiating table and argue their case until the best possible compromise is reached. As the Greens now consider backing changes to the AEC guidelines which will prevent a result similar to what happened at the last election, perhaps they might do well to think about this.