In an effort to win majority government, both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have promised that they won’t do deals in the event of a hung parliament, pleading with voters to give them the numbers. The real question is, do Australians have anything to fear from a hung parliament?
If former German chancellor Angela Merkel could provide decisive leadership at the head of grand coalitions under the power-sharing German voting system, then surely Australia can manage a minority government, if that is the outcome on May 21. Indeed, New Zealand has a similar power-sharing voting system to the Germans.
Putting aside the political posturing, if the governor-general invites Albanese or Morrison to form a minority government, they have a duty to do so. It’s not for political parties to say, “we didn’t like how the people voted, let’s have another election”.
“Teal” independents Allegra Spender, Zoe Daniel, Kylea Tink, Sophie Scamps and Kate Chaney hoping to “steal some votes” from the major parties.Credit:Jessica Hromas, Elke Meitzel, Wolter Peeters, Nick Moir, Tony McDonough
Australia’s political leaders have an obligation under the Westminster system to form a government. The will of the people is the most paramount outcome from an election.
To form a minority government, the major parties don’t need an alliance with independents or minor parties, only a negotiated agreement to support supply. Minority governments do require a lot of hard work. I led a minority Queensland government in 1998 with one independent promising Labor supply.
We must respect a candidate’s democratic right to run as an independent.
In office, if a minority government can’t convince a majority of members of parliament to support a particular bill, that bill doesn’t deserve to pass. Minority governments have to use the power of ideas to persuade the parliament and the community to its vision and be transparent and open to govern effectively.
Whether there is a minority government remains to be seen. It is still the most likely election outcome at this point in the campaign. The winner faces numerical challenges in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, where legendary psephologist Malcolm Mackerras has predicted that Tasmanians Jacqui Lambie and Tammy Tyrrell, along with South Australian Nick Xenophon will hold the balance of power.
We certainly live in interesting times. Indeed, the twenty-first century has become a battle between democratic values and the expansionist polices of totalitarian regimes. Ukrainians are dying every day in the name of freedom. Anzac Day this week reminded us that our democratic values are worth fighting for, something on which all the major political parties agree.
Sadly, the political discourse in Australia has become too toxic. To protect our cherished democratic values, we need an informed public debate based on mutual respect without an accompanying character assassination. We have to demonstrate to the world that our democratic way of life is better, not just talk about it. That is a test of real leadership.
That means we must respect a candidate’s democratic right to run as an independent. There is no law which says that if you live in a safe Liberal seat, you must be a Liberal, and it doesn’t make independent candidates or their supporters in those seats “anti-Liberal groupies”.
There is nothing in the Westminster system that says that if your income is over $180,000 you must be a Liberal voter if you live in Wentworth, Warringah or North Sydney electorates. Nor is there a rule which says that if you are working family living in the Hunter or Capricornia electorates you must be a Labor voter. Voting patterns are changing.
It is no secret that the ALP is struggling to hold the support of traditional blue-collar voters in seats like Capricornia and Hunter over energy policy and coal mining. Similarly, small “l″ Liberals don’t feel represented by the modern liberal party in seats like Wentworth and North Sydney.
These alienated voters have contempt for the major political parties. What they care about is good policy which affects their lives. The more they are denigrated by party politics the more alienated they become. Every vote in our democracy has to be won on its merits by visionary policies and quality candidates. Sound policies give the best chance of a good government.
The major parties don’t like independents “stealing their” votes but they have just as much right to be in parliament as members of political parties. Prior to 1940, independents were more common in parliament and we may be seeing a return to the pre-World War II role of independents. Unless the major parties lift their performance, minority governments may become a lot more common in the future.
Peter Beattie is a former Labor premier of Queensland.
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