Written by Julian Cribb, and originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Election 2016 may herald the beginning of the end of party rule in Australian politics. Indeed, rather like Mikhail Gorbachev, Malcolm Turnbull might just have inadvertently pulled the trigger on the dissolution of the party system. It’s a big thought, after a century or more of the national interest being subordinated to vested interests, but there are signs that Australian electors are thoroughly jack of party politics and more than willing to try new things and new people.
It shows in the febrile oscillation of the opinion polls, the frequent switches of government and leader, the determination of voters to deny the major parties control in the Senate. It shows in the disgust of ordinary Australians at each new case of electoral corruption, secret dealing and rip-off by spendthrift MPs, who preach restraint while plundering the public purse.
It shows in our dismay at the ongoing deterioration in our education system – school, university and TAFE – the degradation of our scientific enterprise and healthcare system – which overall add up to an attrition in the nation’s skills, technologies, fitness for work and capacity for sustainable economic growth.
It shows in the complicity of the mainstream parties in the wrecking of the Australian landscape and oceans – from the Liverpool Plains, to the extinction of native species, to the now almost-unavoidable ruin of the Great Barrier Reef. As Euan Ritchie and Don Driscoll noted on The Conversation, the national biodiversity crisis does not rate priority policy from any of the major parties.
It shows in the Canute-like attempts of politicians across the spectrum to turn back the flood-tide of Australian opinion on issues such as domestic violence, marriage equality and assisted dying.
And it shows in the public revulsion at the engagement of the main political parties in endless, pointless, unwinnable wars, in their use of terrorism to justify greater surveillance and repression, and their inhuman treatment of people fleeing those wars.
The word ‘party’ is from the Latin, pars, partis – a part – the stem that gives rise to the term partial. And that is exactly what Australian political parties today have become – bodies partial to their own interests and those of a tiny minority of supporters. By definition, as well as by contemporary behaviour, they are no longer aligned with the national interest or the public good. And we are simply the mugs who let them get away with it, time and again – probably because we haven’t yet completely figured out there is another way.
Once upon a time, political vested interests were diluted by well-meaning people with a commitment to public service. No longer. A never-ending cycle of political pay hikes, rorting of public funds and parliamentary privileges, gold-plated pensions and ‘entitlements’, furnishes the proof that most of them are in it for what they can get. The driving ambition of Australian politics has become personal, rather than national, enrichment.
In 2014-15, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, the combined parties of Australia received over $170 million, mainly donations and mostly from private individuals and companies. As the public understands, it’s a fair bet most of that was donated in the expectation of some sort of special treatment or monetary advantage granted by the ruling party. In other words, an officially-sanctioned bribe. However, as the NSW ICAC continually discloses, these are but the first whiff of a large and festering corpus of hidden or less-visible rewards, abuses of office and, post-politics, the appointment of scores of former Ministers and MPs to juicy sinecures on corporate boards, where they peddle special influence for personal gain.
The hypocrisy of this system has recently been illumined in the LNP’s attempts to expose Labor’s connection to shonky union affairs in the Royal Commission, and the ALP’s counterbattery retort in the form of a proposed banking Royal Commission. The answer obvious to most Australians – a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption – is one that none of the leading parties wishes, for obvious reasons, to countenance: it would expose glaring evidence that the entire party system is corrupt and rotten, root and branch.
The role of the fossil fuels and mining lobby in derailing climate policy in Australia is a further case of the preparedness of parties and their paymasters to sacrifice the national future, our grandchildren and the planet, to their own short-term interests. This alone demands a Royal Commission – or a Federal ICAC – if not substantial jail sentences, as any crime against humanity deserves.
Disenchantment with political parties has halved their membership in recent decades. Despite the secrecy, journalistic investigations suggest that the combined membership of all parties totals under 100,000. No party comes even close to the membership of, say, the Collingwood Football Club (76,000 – maybe it should run for office instead of trying to play football…). It is therefore likely that our leaders are being chosen for us by less than 0.4 per cent of the Australian population, a travesty of democracy (and in reality, by a microscopic handful of powerbrokers within this tiny minority). Not surprisingly an Australian National University study (2014) found that only 43 per cent of Australians believe it makes any difference who is in power.
Given all this, one enchanting possibility in the coming election is that Turnbull’s gamble to rid himself of the cross-benches might just backfire horribly – as disgusted voters decide to punish both he and the equally disappointing and compromised Shorten. It’s not the sort of thing that shows up in opinion polls, which are interpreted chiefly by the media’s need for short, simplistic two-horse-race stories. Neither the parties nor the media display much grasp of the emerging multi-spectral character of Australian politics, in which hung parliaments, complex alliances of minor parties and negotiation with a multiplying throng of independents form the central dynamic. A Scandinavian political scene, rather than the one we’re accustomed to.
It only takes one thing for this to happen. For a majority of voters to rip up their party how-to-vote cards, ignore the deluge of deceptive advertising and soon-to-be-broken promises, and put their mark next to the name of the most decent, well-intentioned Australian standing in their electorate. The one with a track record for honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, hard work and commitment to the future. The exact antithesis of the usual party hack.
Of such small things are political revolutions made.
Julian Cribb is a Canberra-based author and science writer.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/is-this-the-end-of-party-rule-20160502-gokc1m.html#ixzz48y8o1THi
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