The worst case scenario - or why two party systems aren't so bad

Rodney 4 comments
  • Australian Politics
The worst case scenario - or why two party systems aren't so bad

For our international audience's benefit: Australia has just had a federal (national) election, to select our government. This election, for the first time in 70 years, has failed to provide a clear mandate to any one party. As a result, we now have what's known as a "hung parliament" - in other words, we have no clear government.

In effect, this result is a huge slap down for the incumbent Labor party (centre left) government. At our last federal election, in 2007, Labor won a massive (landslide) election, and had a very large majority going in to this election. A virtual draw shows that they lost a huge 15 - 17 seats (vote counting is not yet finished), which is the biggest loss for a first term government in Australian history. The reasons for this loss are varied and outside the scope of this article, however they range from perceived bad policy, economic mismanagement to public infighting and backstabbing.

Where the whole situation is now becoming a huge mess, however, is in the formation of a minority government. Minority governments can sound appealing, on the surface. Instead of a single party in control, you have multiple parties, or independents, governing as a team. This can provide extra checks and balances, if everyone is looking out for the best interest of the country, because the smaller partners in the government can reject policies which would ordinarily have been approved because of "party unity".

However, in reality, this is rarely the outcome. What usually happens, especially when independents form part of a minority government, is that they look out for their electorate exclusively. So policy, instead of being for the good of the country, becomes hijacked by a single player who metaphorically holds a gun to the government's head 24x7, with the ability to dissolve government any time they don't get their way. Instead of making decisions based on what's good for the majority of the 22 million Australians, we're likely to see decisions made on what's good for the 2,000 rural voters in a small electorate in northern NSW (for example) - and this may be very, very far from what suits everyone else.

Aside from Australia, my "other country" is Israel. Israel is the grand daddy king of minority government's. Israel hasn't had a clear mandated majority in a long time; instead several (sometimes dozens) of smaller parties form together and form highly fragile governments that fail to last full term and usually have diametrically opposed goals. This results in policy paralysis, as no policies can get passed or even discussed, for fear of fracturing the weak alliance that is the government. Governments usually include parties from the centre, the right and the left. As a result, no one agrees on anything and the whole game becomes about staying in power by not rocking the boat, rather than actually making things change. The best way to not rock the boat is by not doing anything. This is probably the largest reason (on Israel's side; not including a lack of progress on the either side) for why no peace process has advanced, for example.

Although most Australians, myself included, are sick to the guts with self serving, aggressive, abusive politics and believe that the two party system is letting us down, we need to be careful about wishing for drastic changes. At least a single party in government, with a clear mandate to rule, can actually make policy changes and cause things to happen.

We need to remember that we have two houses of parliament - the upper and lower. The upper house (who approve the new laws) are supposed to provide the checks and balances against the lower house (who suggest the new laws). We don't need another set of checks and balances in the lower house. This is likely to just result in nothing ever changing.

This is why, as distasteful as it may seem, it would be better for us to endure yet another election, to allow someone a clear mandate to rule, rather than to hand the balance of power over to a group of just 3 men, who answer to very small electorates (in terms of population) only. Our federal government needs to rule for the good of the nation, not the good of just 3 country towns.



Tuesday 24th August 2010 | 07:10 PM
62 total kudos | 1 for this comment

Even when the Government has a majority nothing ever gets passed by the Senate anyway. Look at what Rudd tried to do and failed and then just gave up.

Our problem is that both of the major parties never agree on anything whether it is good for the country or not - one party is always in opposition.

I am sick of the way that the Australian major political parties are always being aggressive to each other. No one is ever right and now that feeling has been made public by the way the Australian population has voted. The two major parties are now the two minor parties and maybe this is a wakeup call that they both needed.

I wish that there was a mixture of all parties with a bipartisan approach to getting things done.

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Tuesday 24th August 2010 | 08:25 PM
340 total kudos response to this comment by TVBIZ(BOB). Hi Bob,

I think we can all agree that Australian's are fed up with negativity, aggression and just nastiness being a substitution for politics. I can't imagine why they do it because everyone says they hate it.

The problem appears to me, however, to be that bi-partisan-ism never happens and a big eclectic mix of parties usually turns into a disaster, looking at overseas examples. When Howard's Liberal government had their second term, they had control of both houses, and thus had the capacity to do "whatever they wanted". If we put aside political tastes, it can reasonably be argued they were actually responsible with this power - they didn't mandate ludicrous laws or draconian powers for themselves. In fact, in all reality, very little fundamentally changed. They certainly did some things people didn't like (or more over, didn't do things people did like) but it would be difficult for all but the most staunch Howard hater to argue they abused this power.

Which is probably the other big problem with Australian politics. Both major parties are essentially the same thing. There's very little difference between them. They both just take turns making (and breaking) the same promises and yelling at the "other guy" for not delivering.

Hopefully that's the one good thing that comes out of this election: both major parties are now saying they intend to behave "nicer" from now on, as it's clear people are fed up with the way things have become. I have a feeling nothing's going to change, however.

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Wednesday 25th August 2010 | 02:35 PM
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Personally I think WORK CHOICES was a massive abuse of power by the Howard Government. I know what I am about to say will sound pro Labour, so bear with me.

The Libs are crowing about what a massive victory this has been for them and likewise they are trying to undermine Labour for backstabbing and infighting.

Has anyone stopped to think what the result of this election would have been had they not gotten rid of Rudd? It would have been a landslide Liberal win.

Julia in just 5 short weeks has won the confidence of a huge audience of people, and had she waited till October to call an election I believe she just might have won.

Still, I voted Green and am actually considering entering politics myself now. I am encouraged by what has happened not only in Melbourne with the Greens winning outright, but by what IS possible as a result of this hung parliament.

I think 3 of the 4 independents are capable of achieving great reform and positive outcomes for the entire nation.

Bob Katter is just an angry angry angry man who scares the crap out of me...

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Wednesday 25th August 2010 | 09:56 PM

Maybe we can have another election, but please no 5 week campaigns and no tv ads, julia nd tony have 3 debates and we all vote in 2 weeks time.

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