Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tony Abbott, the Game of Thrones and why party politics is failing

Its interesting to watch the decline of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.  I was concerned when he became Prime Minister that he would not be a good leader.  My worst fears have since been realised.

Tony Abbott: Source

The list of broken promises and bad policies gets longer almost every day, here are just a few:
  • Funding cuts to ABC and SBS (a broken promise and appalling "efficiency levy lie)
  • "Loggers are the ultimate conservationists" and "no more national parks" (appalling lie)
  • "Coal is good for humanity" (appalling lie)
  • Deregulation of university fees - that could result in $100,000 degrees (no policy for this during the 2013 election campaign)
  • Continued incarceration of asylum seekers (including children) in concentration camps and offshore processing centres - a clears breach of human rights and the UN Convention for Refugees. (Note this is also supported by the Labor opposition)
  • Encouraging Islamaphobia is making Australia less safe, rather than considering the causes of radicalisation of the minority who join the likes of ISIS, and how we can prevent this happening.
  • Lifters and Leaners: vilification of low income earners and protection of corporate tax evaders
  • A budget emergency that actually did not exist, but is now being created by the failed LNP budget and policies.
  • Ongoing denial of climate change accompanied by policies that are crippling our transition to renewable energy and a zero carbon future.
  • The proposed GP Copayment - research indicated that this will have a negative effect on health care outcomes and greatly disadvantage low income earners.
All these policies have a common thread - they are based on ideology rather than evidence.

However, for all this I don't just blame Tony Abbott.  

We have serious systemic problems with political parties, where their policies come from, how their leaders are elected, and the basic failure of representational democracy.

Political parties actually only represent their own traditional support bases:
  • Liberal - medium to high income earners, "the big end of town" corporates, media barons etc. Notional "conservatives".
  • Labor - "working families", unions (some but not all), Notional "progressives" etc
  • Greens - conservationists, some unions, progressives disillusioned with Labor and the Coalition
  • Nationals - the notional "rural vote"
The average citizen has next to zero input into party policies.  Many actual party members (a small fraction of voters) also have little or no input to party policies.

Party policies come from secretive processes that are largely controlled by internal and vested interests.

The basic failure of representational democracy is twofold:
  1. Yet we vote for our local Members of Parliament, who are supposed to represent us. In reality, they vote the way their party instructs them most of the time.
  2. Parties have policy platforms during an election that are not binding - promises are routinely broken once government and policies that were not part of their election platform are forced onto society.
Our Prime Ministers are selected by internal party processes such as Party Room votes.  There is never any public participation with this - MPs decided when to sack a sitting Prime Minister and appoint a new one.

Recently, this has been chaotic.

The Labor Party sacked Kevin Rudd due to internal problems they had with his autocratic leadership style.

The Labor Party then sacked Julia Gillard and reappointed Kevin Rudd because nervous Labor MPs thought she couldn't win the 2013 election - which Rudd went on to lose.

Malcolm Turnbull was deposed as Coalition Opposition Leader in 2009 by the Liberal Party room, many of whom were concerned by his bipartisan support for an emissions trading scheme.  Tony Abbott won by one vote and went to become Prime Minister.

Now in 2015, it is evident to the wider electorate that Tony Abbott is manifestly unsuitable for the role of Prime Minister, so nervous back benchers (scared of losing their seats) bring on a "vote of no confidence" in him, which is defeated (61 votes for him, 39 against) with no alternative candidate. 

Since then, Abbott has continued to prove himself incapable of governing the country, he is locked into "attack mode" where he insists he well "beat Bill Shorten" and he continues to bully and threaten anyone who doesn't agree with him such as Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs.

It now seems likely that the Coalition Party Room will vote again on who will be Prime Minister (if someone challenges) and that Tony Abbott is considered likely to now lose.

So these are some big problems.  

Here are some possible structural solutions:

Constitutional change: Form governments based on the skills of elected MPs rather than party allegiances and membership

Constitutional change: Ban binding party votes - make every vote a conscience vote

Constitutional change: Provide voters with the opportunity to directly elect political leaders (e.g Prime Minister, Head of State) and move to some form of Republic

Legislative change: Ban large political donations - these fundamentally corrupt politics as they buy influence and large media driven election campaigns.

Constitutional change: Citizen initiated referendums and issue/policy referendums - give voters the opportunity to vote on binding policy matters that governments must then implement.

If we don't reinvigorate our democracy will continue to be subjected to the whims and vagaries of a largely autocratic political elite that don't act in the best interests of the nation and all citizens.