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  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons

THE BANE OF AUSTRALIAN PARTY POLITICS


Introduction

 

This paper was not planned as Part II of the previous article on Australian governance, but it seems to fit the bill. Three recent events:

 

In a bold paper by Allan Patience, The Disintegration of Party Politics in Contemporary Australia, he describes dominant mainstream political parties as retreating into their bunkers, saying that the Albanese Cabinet is proving to be one of the most timid and disappointing Labor governments in Australian political history. Prime Minister Albanese is not an “Inspirational or reforming leader and he offers no vision of an Australia that is confident and independent”. 

 

Secondly, before becoming Prime Minister in 1983, Bob Hawke argued that the rigid enforcement of party politics, and the possible loss of party endorsement ensures that the policy of the Executive is largely agreed to as a formality. Any meaningful questions and discussion takes place in the party room – not on the floor of the House. Hawke talked longingly of “unattached free-thinking souls”. 

 

There is no good reason why thinking individuals should not have a range of opinions, some left, others to the right and some at the centre.

 

Third, is the arrival, like a breath of fresh air of the Teals and other independents who point the way forward for Australian politics. These independent MPs have made the most constructive contribution to Australian politics since Federation leaving the old parties flat-footed. As Allan Patience suggests, it is time to abandon the conventional political parties. The independents have provided a creative model for ensuring the future of a healthy Australian democracy.

 

The Bane at the Heart of Democratic Politics


Party politics is the bane of the world’s democratic political systems. The Australian system of government derives largely from the more than 700-year-old adversarial Westminster system.  It is particularly problematic in Australia with a population of only 26 million, where opposing parties are in government in different States and at the Federal level frequently rendering the Federation unworkable. The first step towards meaningful reform is to change the party system.

 

There is nothing in the Australian Constitution which requires the continuing existence of political parties. Parties can come and they can go. They can form coalitions and they can dissolve. In France, Emanuel Macron secured a massive majority in 2017 for his one-year-old movement, En Marche, effectively consigning the Socialist Party to the dustbin of history.

 

Disenfranchisement

 

One of the most severe consequences of the party-political system is that after each election, roughly half of the voting population and approximately half of the elected representatives (those on the losing side) are excluded from government and are effectively disenfranchised, until the next election. It fails to represent the wishes of the Australian people as a whole. 

 

The existence of political parties is deeply entrenched. However, I propose nothing less than the abandonment in Australia of political parties. This is not about a “One Party” system - it is about a “No Party” system. How would it work?


Elections


Elections would continue to operate much as they do now. Candidates for office would stand for election in each electorate, not as party representatives but in their own right. Voters will vote for their favoured candidate based on their values, priorities, community standing, history, opinions, objectives, track record, and experience. Candidates would and should have a diverse range of values and opinions including liberal, conservative, capitalist, and socialist. They would owe no allegiance to a party. Instead their allegiance would be owed solely to the voting public.


Participation in the House by all Members


Every elected member of the House, not only representatives of the party in power, would choose the Prime Minister. All members of the House would work together to nominate and vote for the Cabinet. The pool of members from whom to choose the Prime Minister and the Cabinet would be approximately doubled since every member of the House would be a potential candidate - not only that half whose party was victorious at the last election. It would be a real democracy!

 

Today there are increasing numbers of highly skilled, capable members of the House who were elected as Independents but not as members of a Political Party. Under the current system, they have no prospect of serving in the Cabinet, let alone becoming Prime Minister. Under a No Party system, every member of the House would have the potential for holding high office and serving the best interests of the Nation as a whole.

 

Under the current party political system, debate too often descends into acrimonious and hostile point scoring, as opponents seek to gain the upper hand, not for the sake of good government but rather to score political points. In the absence of political parties, the focus of the debate would be directed solely at outcomes which aim to serve the Nation’s best interests.


Conclusion - Major Benefits


Major benefits would flow from a No Party system including a greater diversity of thought and opinions. Tribalism would disappear. There would be only one tribe - the Australian people.

 

Members of the House would be free to speak and vote for or against proposals in open Parliament, not behind closed party doors. They would vote according to their convictions, not in conformity with the party line. 


Every member of the House would be a free thinking “Independent”, free to support or oppose a proposal, not to score party political points, but because they believe they should.

 

Members of the House would (and should) discuss and debate issues with each other. They would coalesce where they agree but the same members would be free to hold differing views on other issues. They would be Bob Hawke’s unattached free-thinking souls!

 

If the Teals maintain their current momentum and preserve their independent status, it is just possible that they could emerge as the “NO-PARTY-PARTY!”


“AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM” – HEAR THE OTHER SIDE!

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