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System reconstruction in Australia is long overdue

By Klaas Woldring - posted Friday, 3 January 2014


There are already rumblings in the ranks of the Liberal Party and between Coalition partners since the election in September 2013. That is not surprising considering that in recent polls the Coalition has ceased to be the preferred government, even before their first 100 days in office. Yet, only recently did Australians also experience amazing leadership tensions and changes generated by factions in the ALP.

 Voters have just been treated to Abbott's mind blowing triple backflip on Gonski. A growing number are already disenchanted with the Government's "performance" on environmental policies, foreign affairs, asylum seekers and public debt ceiling limit increases. An entire parliamentary period of three years discontentment now lies ahead. In a two-party system, always characterised by a lack of flexibility, and the endless unproductive blame game, the usual remedy is massive and lengthy public protest until the next election. However, is it really a remedy or could the next election see a repeat but then by the other major party? Do we need the adversarialism of the Westminster legacy at all? This country could move toward a multi-party system that provides diverse, democratic representation. That ensures the flexibility to arrive at functional parliamentary majorities. Is Australia ready now for a debate on alternatives that actually suits this society and makes parliaments productive? That could be energy much well spent.

The two party system is actually a two party faction system that ties the other minor factions into a major party straight jacket. Abbott has modified his own preferences to lead the major extreme faction of the Coalition while the ALP is generally dominated by the right wing of that party. In multi-party systems this problem doesn't exist. Non-Westminster systems of Western societies provide alternatives Australia need to look at. The Scandinavian, Dutch, German and Austrian systems provide flexibilities that do not exist here. Rather they are shaped by political cultures that require a search for cooperation between a number of parties to form parliamentary majorities.

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Given the luxury of steady economic growth since WWII, absence of severe depressions, even the avoidance of the effects of the Global Financial Crisis, blue skies seem to prevail. The reality may well be quite different. Clouds are on the horizon. If the pessimism of Treasurer Hockey is even half right a real crisis is around the corner, a crisis on many fronts. Therefore questions concerning an effective party system, a solution to the dysfunctional aspects of continued federalism, the endless archaic struggle in industrial relations, the proper protection of the environment and, inevitably, Australia’s frozen Constitution will be on the agenda. For the moment these dysfunctional major parties have no strategy to deal with such issues.

Readers may wish to read my 56 p.p. eBook on system change for Australia to get the complete picture. This book is a plea for system change in Australia,referring to the various systems that underpin and shape governance. It was published by three eBook publishers just before the September 2013 federal election. As the 2013 federal election approaches the many flaws in the system of government in Australia were already evident. However, they did not themselves form the focus of the election debate. Indeed not at all.During the last years the tone and quality of the parliamentary debate has become the focus of attention though. This actually continued almost unabated after the election until the recent parliamentary break. Most people don’t like the combative style that is on display on a daily basis when parliament is in session. Voters have turned away from this spectacle and politics generally, especially the young. Letter writers have condemned it in droves. Journalists have tried to describe and understand it. Only rarely are the very pertinent questions asked, “Why is it so?” and “What can be done about it?"

The Hung Parliament of the last three years had actually added a new, valuable dimension to the system. The need for the ALP government to make partnership agreements with the only Green MHR Adam Bandt and three Independents had delivered benefits. However, at election time the major parties again insisted on governing “in their own right”. They reverted to type but would it not be better to move forward to meaningful reforms?

The main thesis of this small eBook is that the need for much greater diversity, democracy, fairness and cooperation between parties in the Parliament is not served by a continuation of the current two‐party system. Hence the reader will find strong advocacy here for an electoral system that would provide for the achievement of such objectives and much wider participation.

In addition, there are reflections on the costly federal system and the Australian Constitution, an archaic document that can hardly be amended given the several barriers in the way of its evolutionary amendment and development. It is suggested that the federation should be replaced with a more appropriate decentralised system of government in which the national and local government levels are paramount. The Constitution should be rewritten entirely and a new draft be put to the people in one package after a series of consultative plebiscites.

Also, it is shown that the question of Constitution cannot be seen as just a legal issue. The inadequacy of other systems, both federation and the two-party system, created by the 1918 Commonwealth Electoral Act, are shown as primary causes for the constitutional stagnation

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They idea that federation could and should be replaced appears to be unfamiliar to many Australians but surely a system that has been roundly condemned even by the present Prime Minister, not long ago at a major conference, can be changed. And a sovereign people don’t have to put up with a Constitution that no longer suits the purpose of this society. Equally the tug-o-war attitude to industrial relations by trade unions and employer organisations is a hindrance to workplace democracy AND productivity, something that has declined while executive salaries have steadily reached despicable heights!

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Klaas Woldring's book Australia Reconstructed can be purchaser by visiting http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EUSGN3Ghttp://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/australia-reconstructed/book-NkET686PbE-srNYdNHfhow/page1.html or https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/isbn9780987570192.



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About the Author

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former Associate Professor of Southern Cross University.

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