Managing editor David Donovan interviews Independent MP Rob Oakeshott about party politics, democracy, media reform, re-election, the Government and Tony Abbott.
One we have often applauded, and who has suffered the slings and arrows of the conservative media establishment, is Rob Oakeshott. We admire Oakeshott’s commitment to democracy and his strong antipathy towards political game-playing. And his repeated run-ins with radio bully Ray Hadley have done nothing but increase his lustre in our view.
Here, managing editor David Donovan asks ask Rob Oakeshott about party politics, democracy, media regulation, the achievements of the current term of Parliament and Tony Abbott.
David Donovan: People seem disaffected with party politics. What are the chances of more Independents being elected in the future?
Rob Oakeshott: Traditional party structures are failing, where vested interests are now having more influence internally within political parties over community interests. The most effective groupings today are proving to be issue-based community networks. As for the chances of Independent MPs at the next election, I just don’t know.
Over time, I think new power structures in Australia are developing, and many are returning to the original model of parliamentary democracy as a better way than party political democracy. So, if not this election, I do think that over time, a combination of new power structures, more independents, more minor parties and more issues-based candidates ‒ as well as modernised and less adversarial political parties ‒ are all realities that a bit of time will bring.
DD: Do you feel MPs from political parties are primarily representing their parties or their constituents?
RO: The fact that 144 of 150 MPs sat back on election night 2010 and put their political parties ahead of their communities is proof of where the true loyalties lie for political parties. Every single MP was elected with exactly the same power at the start of this Parliament. Only six have chosen to use power to build communities, regardless of the circumstances around them.
DD: How much control do vested interests, such as major political donors, have over political parties’ policies?
RO: Personally, I think vested interests, and political donors have enormous influence over the policy platform of political parties.
DD: Do you think Australia’s political system would work better and produce better results if all major parties did not enforce such strict party discipline?
RO: Yes. I think Australia’s political culture is producing an increased desire for strict party discipline, rather than less. This is a problem. Other countries around the world have much less focus on “party discipline” with co-sponsored bills across party lines, or crossing the floor being much more common. Our culture can do with more of this, as it is where the best policy and great debate really occurs.
DD: Peter Andren, I believe, began a project to assist more Independents to stand for election and have a better chance of success. Is this a sort of project you might be at all inclined to assist in and promote?
Yes. It is a very difficult thing to do without drifting into the territory of being perceived of trying to form a party. But encouraging more candidates in all their forms in the interests of a better Parliament and, by extension, a better nation, is something I strongly advocate.
DD: If you had the chance, how would you reform Australia’s system of democracy?
RO: Culturally, I seek greater emphasis on the original ideals of democracy and representation. Party disciplines attached to party politics are ruining the free flow of ideas, and usurping the importance of the local MP as building blocks in our democracy. Structurally, I would get our three tiers of Government a lot more streamlined, with better co-ordination of service delivery. Our current structures are doing material damage and, sadly, party politics is having a lot to do with this as well.
DD: What is the mood like in your electorate? If you stand again, do you expect to win?
RO: If I stand, I stand to win. The collective mood is a difficult one to read, and the best I could say is there is a mix of very strong views across the full spectrum. Politics is alive on the Mid-North Coast!
DD: You seem to have rejected Sen Conroy’s media reforms? Why did you do that? What sort of reforms would you have liked to have seen to the media industry?
RO: I did reject the media reforms as they were poor in policy design and poor in process. The recommendations in the Convergence review were not addressed in the way they should have been, and I do think this was a missed opportunity for very important reform for our nation.
THE GOVERNMENT AND TONY ABBOTT
DD: In your view, has the minority Government delivered good results for Australia?
RO: Yes, I do think the minority Parliament has delivered. I concede the ALP is unstable, and the LNP is busy destabilising, so I do hold true to a belief that parliamentary democracy has proven itself despite these two major parties behaving badly.
Over 400 reform bills passing in these circumstances is a feather in the cap of Australian parliamentary democracy. Many of these reforms have been around for a long time, and have been in the “too hard basket” of previous majority Parliaments. They are the sweetest reforms of all!
DD: Do you feel Tony Abbott would make a good prime minister or are you fearful for the future?
RO: It is up to the people on the Parliament, and the Prime Minister, they choose in the future. May we all choose wisely!
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