During the election campaign, Malcolm Turnbull ran his own little mini-scare campaign. “A vote for Labor and the Greens,” he said, “was a vote for political instability.” implying that Labour/Green voters were political anarchists hellbent on destabilising the Australian political system.
A vote for Labor and the Greens was no more a vote for political instability any more than a vote for the Coalition was a vote for political instability. If everyone had voted Labor and Green, we would have had a very stable government.
The election result that we have is a reflection of the diversity of the Australian electorate, not a reflection of the desire of nearly 50% of the population for political instability. It is also a reflection of the growing disillusion of a significant proportion of the population with the two mainstream parties. If worldwide trends are any indication, we can expect this to continue and for there to be further splintering of political support.
Given that we now have two quite different voting systems in our bi-cameral federal electoral system: a forced preferential system in the lower house and a bifurcated optional preferential system in the upper house, we can expect results which reflect the diversity of the Australian to occur with increasing frequency.
We now have the lower house where there are four major parties (the Liberals, the National Country Party, Labor and the Greens) and five Independents. That probably doesn’t encompass the complete spectrum of political views in Australia but it’s beginning to represent a diversity of views that wasn’t present 20 years ago and that has to be good for democracy.
Thanks to Malcolm Turnbull’s reforms in the Senate, we now have a hugely diverse set of views in the upper house: the Liberals, the National Country Party, Labor and the Greens and 19 cross-benchers.
We wont all be happy with the political make-up of the cross bench but it will be diverse and given the current voting system, this diversity is likely to become systemic.
So it is likely that the electoral outcome that we have for this election will become the norm in future elections and may well be the outcome we get if we are returned to the polls again this year.
Politicians need to remember that elections are not some kind of test where there is a right answer (in this case, the right answer being electing one of the two major parties) and where the electorate is sent back to the ballot box until it gets the answer right.
The Australian electorate has not voted for political instability as Malcolm Turnbull would like to have us believe. What it has done is elect 126 representatives that it expects to carry on the business of running the country for the next three years and that is what they should now do.
Andrew Wilkie the Independent from Tasmania made an excellent point when discussing who he would support if there were to be a hung parliament.
He said that Malcolm Turnbull would need to change his policies significantly to get his support to form a minority government.
Underlying this response is an exceptionally important principle. If one of the major parties is to govern with the support of independent members of parliament, then the people who elected those independent members of parliament can reasonably expect that the major party will negotiate and compromise on some elements of its policy, presumably elements of its policy that are important to the independent member and his or her supporters.
If we take this argument one step further, we can ask “Why would Malcolm Turnbull not approach Bill Shorten to develop a policy agenda that is acceptable to a reasonably large proportion of both of their parties and presumably a large proportion of the Australian electorate?”
Given that the two major parties represent some 75% of the electorate between them, why don’t they start trying to develop some policies that have a reasonable chance of bi-partisan support from the centre of both their parties.
Perhaps it is time for a reappraisal of the usefulness of the two-party political system and whether there may not be other ways of making things work.
If we have to have another election, why don’t we say that no one who was elected in this one is allowed to stand again. They had their chance, they couldn’t form a government, so now they have to give someone else a go.
That should focus the mind.