At an ACT Greens orchestrated “Dynamic democracy” forum in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon, Crikey’s Bernard Keane and University of Tasmania academic Kate Crowely strung together the oddities of Australia’s current political character under the banner “How minority governments have changed the political landscape in Australia”.
In her introduction to the forum Greens leader Meredith Hunter said the ACT has in fact only had one government that wasn’t a minority.
Crowley, the head of UTAS’ School of Governance, pointed out Australia has experienced the beauty of minority governments since 1910, people just haven’t noticed.
There’s also nothing new about the Greens supporting a government in minority either, with the Tasmanian Greens going in for their third run, having supported Labor in 1989, Liberal in 1995 and now Labor again in 2010.
It’s the symbolism of citizens delivering a federal minority government that is of significance, Crowley argued.
“Federalism is really messy,” Crowley said. “But it works really well in Australia.”
“As the general public are turning off major party politics, we may actually see a lot more minority governments. We all know there’s a disillusionment with party politics and the system here [in the ACT] is designed to share power, as is Tasmania, but others aren’t.” Crowley said.
“People are getting fed up with confrontational politics, ‘I’ll bash you, you bash me’,” Hunter said. “They want something above schoolyard antics.”
But Crowley warned that a minority government in the business of bringing agreements with independents or third parties walk a fine line.
“Making a minority government work takes many actors, not just politicians,” Crowley said.
“They’re very easily destabilised, but a political policy brinkmanship doesn’t work from a voter perspective.”
Apparently major parties in minority government that bring on early elections never fare particularly well.
Keane waded into the debate from the big hill arguing the ALP is ideologically adrift and suffering a wasting disease of endemic professionalism.
ACT’s MPs in the House of Reps, Gai Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh, are outside the mould, Keane says, because they do not come from the Labor Party cradle to grave crowd.
“The move to minority government is fed by a decline in political engagement,” Keane said, explaining your average Australian is not active in a political party anymore, so there are fewer outsiders running for office, which has meant more professionalism in politics, which people don’t like or want to vote for.
Someone you can have a beer with is the kind of person you want to vote for the idea is these days, apparently.
“The strong executive model and career structure has reduced transparency,” Keane said.
“When other parties join cabinet it increases transparency.”
Keane argued that the increasing dialogue with average Australians and interconnectedness generated by the digital era is upsetting the executive and leading to a trend towards minority governments.
Collaboration is where it’s at and doesn’t Hunter and the ACT Greens know it?
Trouble is, it’s also hard to translate that collaboration into a good mix of credit for your work and a lack of responsibility for policy you didn’t write.
Ah minority government, it’s not unusual, it’s not unworkable, but it comes with its own selection of political minefields.