Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hung parliaments are good for society

Lots of people have been talking about the likely outcome of the Australian election, which is that we will end up with a hung parliament. I have heard opinions that Australian voters have somehow messed up, and that our country will be somehow crippled. I disagree.

I think that a hung parliament is the best outcome in this election, if it eventuates, and I have been hoping for just this to happen. Here's why:

Unless you live in Julia Gillard's electorate, or Tony Abbott's electorate, then no matter what the major parties tell us, you are not voting for Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. People vote for someone to represent the interests of their electorate, and those of the state, and those of the country. It is a corruption that has led to the situation where people vote for a political party instead of a representative. That corruption is bloc voting.

Let's say that there is a faction in the Labor party that is just over half the size of the party. And let's say that just over half of that faction votes against supporting gay marriage. That faction becomes bound to vote against gay marriage. Sorry Penny Wong. Anyway, now that faction votes within the Labor caucus to oppose gay marriage, which binds the whole party. So, now Labor has to vote against gay marriage. And let's now assume that Labor has just over half the parliament. Because Labor votes with one voice, just over one eighth of the parliament has managed to force through their policy, without even asking the rest of the MPs what they think. This might be an extreme case (though due to the opaque nature of negotiations, we don't really know), but it highlights the issue: A small minority of MPs can force through a policy that binds all of Australia, even though the issue is not core to the electorates or even the party they claim to represent.

So now that no party has a majority in either house of parliament, the bloc voting can only work up to the level of the party, and neither party can pass legislation without the help of a few independents. These independents get elected, despite not having a major party name associated with them, because they work to represent the interests of their electorates. Hopefully, and I may be a bit idealistic here, these independents will require more than "because we told you so" as a reason to pass legislation. Legislation will still be passed, but there will have to be more deliberation, which should help to filter out crap like Internet censorship and the ACTA treaty.

It could even lead to individual MPs taking the same kind of stand that the independents get by default. Kate Lundy might grow the metaphorical balls to vote against Internet censorship or Penny Wong might realise that it's a matter of conscience to redefine marriage to mean something that wouldn't cause Alan Turing to kill himself.

As for who should be Prime Minister, that ill-defined face of the country, well, it's obvious really. Same as everything else, if the bloc voting can be broken, then all the MPs just have an internal election. If I remember correctly, ministers are a real position, according to our constitution, but the PM is not. The PM, if one must exist, should just be an ephemeral position. Whoever has the confidence of the parliament, for a time and for a task, is PM. Things should be expected to change, without the need for knives or tears. This system would result in an understanding that would prevent such complaints like "I voted for Rudd to be PM. I don't want Gillard," because the recognition would return that people only vote for their own representative, rather than a party or a PM.

Anyway, I am making chicken soup for a sick wife, so enough rambling from me...