Democracy is all in the numbers

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WITH our own election only six months away, Canberrans should be seriously looking at the lessons of the Queensland elections – though they’re more about democracy than politics.

With a tad below 50 per cent of the first-preference vote, the Liberal National Party secured 78 of the 89 seats or nearly 90 per cent of seats in the Queensland parliament.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s party deserves to be in government. It would not matter what electoral system was used when the LNP was able to secure 49.9 per cent of the first-preference vote.

If the Liberals were able to manage a similar result in the ACT elections in October, Zed Seselja would lead a majority government. However, the opposition would not be decimated in the way that has occurred so unfairly in Queensland. It simply would not be possible in the ACT under the Hare-Clark electoral system which, unlike Queensland, is based on proportional representation.

At the last ACT election, Labor had 37.4 per cent of the primary vote, the Canberra Liberals 31.6 per cent and the Greens 15.6 per cent. The Greens wound up with four of the 17 seats or 23.5 per cent of the Assembly; the Canberra Liberals, 35.3 per cent with six seats and Labor on seven seats with 41.2 per cent.

Although these figures do not represent the result after distribution of preferences, they provide a clear indication that the seats won are proportional to the intention of voters in the ACT. This is in stark contrast to the electoral system in Queensland.

Former Queensland Royal Commissioner and crime fighter, Tony Fitzgerald, told Griffith University that the lack of a substantial opposition in Queensland is not good for democracy.

In the ACT we are relatively well served by oppositional politics. The approach of the Seselja Liberals is in stark contrast to their Federal counterparts who largely oppose anything that they can.

The ACT Greens have also played a strong role in questioning the Government and in seeking better outcomes.

These ACT parties look at politics from entirely different perspectives, but they have worked to ensure the Government remains accountable and that alternative ideas have been considered.

The recent examination of the Cotter Dam budget blow-out provides an excellent example. Liberal Alistair Coe has been a terrier with a bone while he and his colleagues mercilessly seek more information and cross-examine the Government about the $33.5 million over-budget expenditure. The Greens have supported the examination.

Close examination is important. In the end, it may well be that the two wettest years on record provide the full explanation – but it is appropriate for an opposition to dig deeper to find the extent to which that explanation accounts for the over expenditure.

The Greens relentlessly continue to push for the end to battery chickens in the ACT. The majority of MLAs have resisted so far – but this style of politics is healthy for our democracy.

We might not agree with our opposition and cross-bench party members from time to time. However, we should at least recognise that they are assisting in maintaining a healthy democracy.

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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