Lazy Luddite Log

1.9.10

Hung Parliament

The last time I experienced a hung parliament was following the 1999 Victorian State Election. There were several weeks of negotiation with rural independents to form a minority Labor government. All the while the wheels of public service continued to turn and life went on. So the current circumstances following the 2010 Federal Election are vaguely familiar. Still I have to admit that the result was a surprise to me. I had become complacent and placed a bet that Labor would win simply because of my assertion that “one-term governments are a thing of the past” (I may still win that bet however as its wording is “Party of next Prime Minister – Labor”).

Following the drawn election result there was much shock and consternation among friends online. And I was left to wonder what everyone thinks electoral democracy is for anyway. Do we want order and predictability from the model? Screw that! We need it to surprise and shock us every now-and-then and that is exactly what it has done. A particularly boring campaign was followed by a fascinating result which invites us all to contemplate exactly how the process works and to scrutinize what all sorts of interests in this diverse society want.

My response has confused some friends I suspect. To help them understand I should declare that for the purposes of this election there are two of me! There is Daniel the post-hippy era progressive who is naturally hoping that negotiations will result in a Labor minority government and Greens holding Senate balance-of-power. But there is also Daniel the politics nerd. This is the person who as an undergraduate would stare in wonder at the beauty of charts depicting the political composition of the European Parliament and then draw imaginary ones of his own. The necessity of debate… the creativity of compromise… the expression of perspectives alternately fantastic and repugnant all in the one space… such things made this politics nerd go squee.

For the rest of this entry I will address a few isolated concepts that have arisen from discussion of the hung parliament. Both aspects of me described will vie for attention in these statements...

* The two-party preferred vote is an interesting statistic but nothing more. What matters is the House Of Representatives majority. Put it another way – the government must have the majority of votes across the majority of electorates. Whatever arises from current negotiations will be the right result according to our political process.

* A handful of independents or minor party parliamentarians in whichever chamber only have the power they have because major party parliamentarians voluntarily relinquish power to party discipline. If the cross-benches possess disproportionate power then we also must say that those major party members exhibit disproportionate neglect of responsibility.

* In an older entry (see second last paragraph) I made the bold prediction that my former party the Australian Democrats would hold the record of Senate representation for a minor party indefinitely. Once more politics is full of surprises and the Greens performance has been phenomenal. The election of one Member of the House of Representatives in a contest with both major parties has somewhat obscured the likely result of nine Greens senators (six elected at this half Senate election and three elected in the last half Senate election). Luckily my prediction was never sweetened by any statements of “or I will consume my hat with Nutella”. I will however take my hat off to the Greens who distinguished themselves by both concerted professional campaigning and a bold and distinctive message across all issues.

* Many of my friends seem to need monsters to exist in their lives. So they will say things like “we may have got rid of the Family First senator but may get a Democratic Labor Party (DLP) senator replace him” and “they are as or more scary”. Now is the time to understand that there is such a thing as shades of grey… and different stances on different issues… and that sometimes the particular senator is more important than the party they represent. Most importantly it is worth understanding how other perspectives work. To assist in that here is an old post of mine on the DLP.

* One of the rural independents – Rob Oakeshott – likes to inject all sorts of novel concepts into public debate. Like saying we may be moving to a more multi-party polity like we see overseas. Naturally I find that fascinating but if it comes it will come slowly. Also if it does come it will be more via the growth from minor-to-major player of parties like the Greens than from the election of independents. Another of his statements was of us returning to the original practice of a parliament of independents. Of that I am very sceptical. In a modern mass society the political party is a very useful tool in organizing and representing public opinion and I think abandoning it altogether would produce as many problems as it solves. Having more democratic party structures… more allowance of conscience voting across all issues… and more need to negotiate to get bills passed would all be things I want to see more of.

So that is just a handful of the things I could say on this election result. It is fascinating but – yes – also somewhat tense. But I cannot object to living in interesting times. Bring it on I say!

Cross-posted here.

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