Political Winds of Change
by Anthony John
published on the Tasmanian Times
An Article published late last year ( Democracy Tas Style, Here) addressed issues associated with the failings of our parliamentary democracy. It noted an increasing voter frustration and disenchantment with the political system; and identified the major parties themselves as central to “the problem” primarily because they controlled the selection process where merit often seems to have been a secondary consideration when selecting candidates.
The Article concluded that reform was urgently needed if our democratic rights were to be restored – where focus would switch to what was good for the people, not just the Party. It also observed that the major parties would always act to preserve the status quo and any impetus for change would have to come from the people.
A subsequent article ( Call to Action, Here ) urged action, not words, noting that lamenting the loss of our democratic freedoms, corruption of process, shonky dealings and the like, was unlikely to drive reform. Instead, it was suggested that a first action- oriented step might be to identify talented, respected people in the community willing and able to stand as independent candidates for parliament, aided bya support network of concerned people. This would provide voters with a genuine alternative to the major parties. A loose coalition of Independents might then be organised to provide mutual support.
In this context: what positives appear to be emerging from the recent State and Federal elections?
Firstly, it is obvious that self-serving, inward-looking major parties are manifestly “on the nose” in the electorate. A pox on both their houses seems to be the verdict. The people have spoken clearly: if you don’t reform in a way that enables you to reflect and represent the interests of the people, you will be consigned to the political dustbin of history. No longer it seems can you get away with making grand pronouncements on, say, Carbon Trading – and then fail to act; or on climate change, and then turn it over to a “People’s Assembly” for action. If you fail to deliver, you will be punished.
What is driving the change in voter sentiment at this particular time? A key factor is undoubtedly the rise of the Greens who have survived all attempts to eliminate them as a political force in recent times and are now able to ride the wave of ‘green ideology ‘sweeping across the continent. They now have an identifiable political “brand” which differentiates them from the major parties, and are not saddled with the political ‘ baggage’ being carried by the major parties (at least, not yet!).They appear to be more tuned-in to contemporary issues and voter concerns.
The voting public thus had a credible alternative to the major parties, and switched to the Greens in record numbers.
Another factor is the realisation that coalitions do not necessarily result in chronic instability and unworkable parliamentary processes. After all, they are now working in such countries as GB, Canada, Germany and Israel. The loose Labour/Greens alliance in Tasmaniaalso appears to be working satisfactorily at present. This means the major parties can no longer use the scare tactic of warning against the dangers of a ‘hung Parliament’ : Vote for us, or suffer the consequences——.
Another factor militating against the power of the ‘big parties’ is that more and more voters are now able to access political information from a much wider range of sources. The internet particularly has changed the way politics are conducted. Historically, voters have relied on the local media (print, mainly) for information, unaware that this can be presented in such a way as to benefit particular commercial- cum political interests. Now better informed, voters are able to see past the party-line and change allegiances.
Arguably, the most important outcome from the recent federal election is that the spotlight has been turned on Independents. Whether or not he is elected, Andrew Wilkie has clearly demonstrated that a talented, energetic candidate with a track record of success, can challenge the big parties. Hopefully, this will encourage other quality candidates to have a go in future. Additionally, we see three other interstate Independents re-elected with big majorities. This surely would not have happened if they weren’t delivering results for their constituents and effectively debunks the conventional wisdom that a vote for Independents is a wasted vote.
For all of us lamenting the systematic loss of our democratic freedoms and protections under
1. The era of dominance of the big parties is coming to an end where party interests always superceded those of the electorate.
2. Third parties can survive and prosper if they genuinely reflect the interests, needs and will of the people.
3. Talented, committed individuals can stand as Independents secure in the knowledge that they are a real chance to be voted-in if they are seen as the candidate best able to serve the interests of the electorate. That is, they won’t necessarily be disadvantaged by not belonging to a political party as such.
2010 may come to be seen in future as the year when we stumbled on a pathway leading back to democracy. There will no doubt be missteps, mishaps and misadventures along the way but at least we are now heading in a direction chosen by the people, not the major parties.