Group Hug Politics Not in the National Interest

I have resisted commenting on the Federal Election until the final result was known. We now know that Julia Gillard will continue as Prime Minister thanks to the support of a Green, a green independent and two country independents.

Although I am disappointed that our nation will forgo competent government for some time yet, the fact that such a close election can still deliver an outcome shows what a wonderful political system we have in this country.

Having followed the ‘who should form government’ negotiations with interest, with the benefit of hindsight it is clear to me that there was very little hope of the two country independents siding with the Coalition.

Only they can explain how they arrived at their decision, but the evidence suggests their ‘consideration’ was more about political posturing than genuine assessment of the alternatives before them.

That said, they are both elected Members of Parliament who were asked to make a decision and they have. Appropriately, they will live or die (politically) by their choice. The government too, will survive or wilt according to the ballots cast by the independents when considering legislation.

Among the talkfest of the past fortnight has been a public airing of a new, friendlier parliament where we all talk things through to reach an agreed conclusion. There was even the thought bubble of having both major parties represented in Cabinet!

Such fanciful ideas are impractical and I believe would result in a poorer parliament. Let me explain.

Firstly, the House of Representatives is all about the numbers. If you have them, you get your Bills through and the Senate can examine them. The Senate is used for negotiating amendments to Bills and often refers them for a more thorough examination to a Senate committee.

More often than not this improves the end result because there are a number of views exploring the issues. If recommendations are not adopted then the government will wear the consequences of their decisions.

This brings me to the second point. A proper examination of the Bills is most effective because we have an adversarial mode of politics, where one side is always trying to highlight the failings of the other. At the very least this keeps a government trying to do the right thing in order to avoid exposure or embarrassment.

If the new paradigm is filled with legislative ‘group hugs’ and consensus, it is almost certain that important flaws will not be fixed or possibly even ignored.

By giving the parliament collective ownership of partisan legislation, it allows the government to apportion responsibility to others, rather than wearing the consequences of their own decisions.

The combative nature of our parliament and legislative process keeps government honest. It keeps the opposition honest too and should keep the independent members honest as well.

Rather than reaching for the consensus olive branch hoping to bind Liberal and Labor together, the independents must examine every Bill before them and make a considered judgement.

They shouldn’t expect to have the cloak of big party consensus to shield them from the consequences of their decisions, which will direct the nation for the next three years.

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