October 31, 2012

Horse 1391 - ACT Now!

The ACT election has thrown up the result of Labor with 8 seats, the LNP with 8 seats and The Greens with 1 seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly. Most commentators would see that the Green member would join Labor in a coalition to form government but they equally could do so with the LNP in theory.
There is a third option which I'd find more favourable and fun and that is the idea of a Unity Government, with all members forming government.

Due to the way that the Westminster System operates. there is almost always the government and an official opposition. In NSW at the moment where the Labor Party suffered a wipeout to such a degree, it is debateable as to what the actual point of having an opposition is at all, for they ate unable to push even slight changes on legislation brought before the house but this isn't really in the scope of this post.
In most lower houses of Westminster parliaments, there government and opposition usually spend a great deal of time basically ripping into each other and that's partly as a result of the mechanics of adversarial politics. Really it acts like a perpetual divorce case, or the two sets of supporters and ultras at a football match. They yell, rant and chant cant at each other and then go home.
It makes for interesting radio and I suppose does provide ten second sound bites for the news but I don't know if it improves the political discourse or dialogue of the country; nor do I think that it necessarily solves problems all that well.

In a Unity Government because all members on the floor would be in the government, they would select the cabinet from all available members and to a far greater degree would have to argue through the merit of legislation rather than the usual slanging match down party lines. This isn't to suggest that those forces within the parliament would somehow magically disappear but I think that the acidity of the dialogue would be toned down.

The very idea of party politics has been going on for millennia. There were arguments based on party and factional lines in the Roman Senate; so I don't see it going away in a hurry.
In Westminster herself though, as little as 150 years ago, when the difference in ideology of the parties was significantly different (about the time of Peel, Russell, Canning, Lord Melbourne), members on the floor were far more erratic in how closely they associated with the government. Sitting members of the government would more freely cross the floor in both directions. Even in the first decade in the Australian parliament, before Labor and the Conservative parties squared off, there were Protectionist Party, Anti-Socialist Party and Free Trade members who regularly added colour to proceedings.
If we look at multi party parliaments like Belgium or Italy, there is a pulling and pushing of forces which shapes legislation to a far greater degree than in the regimented world of strict two party politics that Westminster parliaments have a strong tendency to produce. Even in the UK currently where there should be a vociferous LibDem voice railing against the Tories with whom they share government in coalition, they have almost respectfully fallen silent.

It seems a little odd that two party politics which results in a great deal many more words being said, results in a narrowing of voices. Personally I think that parliaments work best when there is a bigger plurality of voices all adding spice to the pot.
I suspect that the Greens will form government in the ACT with Labor but I'm not sure if that is even best for the ACT. Stable government does help a state/nation/local council etc. achieve practical outcomes and allows both the supply and administration of government to continue but again I ask what we want from our parliaments. Do we want mere administrators? Do we want parliaments which sort things out? How does that sit in relation to say, the proposed changes in the  ACT Human Rights Act or Public Transport usage?

 Do we want dialogue that has more than just two voices?

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