||Issue No. 292||02 December 2005|
A Free Vote
Interview: The Binds That Tie
Unions: Worth Cycling For
Industrial: The Elephant in the Corner
Legal: A Law Unto Themselves
Politics: Ethically Lonely
History: Women, Unions, Banners and Parades
Women: Relaxed and Comfortable?
International: The Last Social Democrat
Review: The Corpse Bride
Culture: Tony Moore Holds His Own
The Locker Room
John Bares All
Tom A World Away
A Free Vote
The PM's ideological obsession is old news. Barnaby's buffoonery and ultimate back down was to be predicted and the Opposition parties' outrage, while well-executed, was never going to change anything.
What has been more striking are flaws in our system of government that have been exposed, the failure of our democratic structures to fulfil the basic roles they were created for.
When a 700 page Act has a six day Senate Inquiry and then when the Senate has just two days to deal with more than 300 government-sponsored amendments, any pretence to being a House of Review should be dispensed with.
Of course, we are in an unusual moment in our nation's politics - never before has such an extremist and ideologically driven administration had control of both Houses. However, it does expose as farcical the alleged separation of legislative and executive power.
In the current circumstances, the Federal ALP are - along with the workers of Australia - the victims of this convergence of political and corporate power. But in many ways it is also one of the architects of the system.
Why is it that in countries with comparable democracies, like the United Kingdom, a Prime Minister who over-steps can be rolled by his own party inside the Parliament and still survive? The situation is even more stark in the USA.
It comes down to Australia's rigid notions of Caucus solidarity - the locking in of votes in the party room before elected representatives get the opportunity to exercise their vote on behalf of their constituents.
This principle goes to the way our parties operate and to the sort of people who are elevated into the parliament. Many are compliant yes-people who know that loyalty is their core job requirement and key performance indicator.
Sadly, the last vestige of independence are in the 'wet' Liberals, throw-backs to the time when the Coalition was not dominated by neo-conservatives.
We have seen how dissent within the party room has shifted the PM on sedition. Judi Moylan's statements on Welfare to Work are a rare voice of criticism on an issue of social policy. But even here, abstaining from voting is as far as political dissent in this country seems to go - an exercise in pure futility.
There are obvious dangers in freeing up politicians to think and vote on issues on their merit - but there are even greater dangers in the current situation that vests so much power in the Prime Minister.
In America, where individuals have more discretion to vote across party lines, the system is corrupted by big business, election funding, lobbyists and interest groups that have captured the process. But learning from this experience and enacting strong campaign funding laws could create a different sort of independent voice in Australia.
There is also the reality that an independent legislature makes the task of governing that much more difficult - but if we really want a dictatorship why go through the charade of elections?
Freeing up individual MPs to vote on the basis of their conscience would be a radical step, but it may just be the fillip the major parties need as more and more people turn to minor parties, independents, or worse still, turn off politics altogether.
It's a bold step and one not without short term pain, but a party with the faith in its internal workings to choose the sort of representatives who would use this freedom wsiely would give politics in Australia the sort of shake-up it has need for a long time.
Would the public see this as a rabble? It's a risk - but my bet is that the sound of politicians being themselves and standing for what they believe in, even when it runs contrary to the party line, may be music to their ears.
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