THE leaders of the major parties and a complicit media have been hoisted on their own petard.
Presidential-style campaigns across Federal, state and territory jurisdictions continue to deliver minority or narrowly elected governments that invariably have minorities in upper houses.
A change is coming. The growing support for the Greens, the rise of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) and the success of Jacqui Lambie is telling.
There is no president in Australia, at least not for the time being. Australians vote for members of the House of Representatives who, in turn, elect a prime minister on the grounds that he or she “has the confidence of the House”.
With a high likelihood of a minority government, the opportunity is now available for the Greens’ Adam Bandt, independent Andrew Wilkie, Bob Katter and NXT’s Rebekha Sharkie to illustrate that minority government can be stable government.
For stable government these crossbenchers must sort out their own Budget priorities and negotiate financial priorities for the term of the parliament. Once this has been achieved, they should guarantee supply in order to allow executive government to manage the Budget. Every other issue should be dealt with on its merits.
These crossbench members of the House of Representatives should have the wisdom to carry out the same sort of negotiations with Senate crossbenchers as they would expect a Prime Minister to deal with themselves. The crossbenchers will rarely vote as a block. They represent quite different constituencies. However, they should all commit to:
- guarantee stable government by supporting the Budget and opposing no-confidence motions in the Prime Minister (other than for reprehensible conduct);
- insist on fixed electoral terms (my preference is four-year terms);
- insist on true transparency of donations to political parties, and
- insist on a limit on campaign expenditure in each electorate and in each state or territory.
Under the leadership of Richard Di Natale, the Greens have moved from an ideological left party to the centre left and are building a stronger and stronger support base for the next election. This shift has allowed them more room to negotiate, to examine legislation on merit and to become key players rather than just an influential voice of protest.
Ironically, the real ideologues of the last few years have been the conservatives within the Coalition. People such as Cory Bernardi and Zed Seselja drive a conservative financial and social agenda at a time when the rich are getting richer and disparities are growing. They represent elements within the Coalition that wanted a new mandate, argue for trickle-down economics and social values of a previous era.
These are the same elements who have insisted Malcolm Turnbull hold a divisive plebiscite on marriage equality that they will consider non-binding if the outcome does not suit them.
The $50 billion tax break for big business also fits with their thinking. As illustrated by the polling under Tony Abbott’s leadership, and now the Federal election, it is the conservative movement in Australia that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Australians.
The clearest message from this election is that, once again, Australians have rejected the idea that a political party has a “mandate” to provide strong government, to run roughshod over alternative views, to discard their election promises and to run a three-year dictatorship.
Malcolm Turnbull went to a double-dissolution election in order to get a compliant Senate. Australians have said a very clear “no!”.
Each piece of legislation that is presented to the Parliament will continue to be reviewed for approval from the Senate. Rather than a major party dominated perspective delivering on the whims of the prime minister, the Senate remains a true house of review.
Accountable government is what has been delivered at this election. The term “hung parliament” is as derogatory as the alternative “three-year dictatorship”.
Negotiations that take into account the minority voices in Australia is what the electorate has delivered. The question really is whether either of our potential prime ministers is up to the task – or will they look in a mirror and still see a president?