With the crossbench apparently here to stay – despite the major parties' best efforts – minority governments should be welcomed rather than feared, says Thomas Mansfield.
However, is this really the case given the need for bridging political divides?
With two weeks remaining before Australia fulfills its civic duty at the traditional sausage sizzles, polls suggest a surge in seats by the Greens and Nick Xenophon’s South Australia-based candidates — in both safe Labor and Coalition seats).
Seemingly confident in retaining Government, the Coalition intends to preference Labor over Greens in all seats, potentially denying the upstarts gains in inner-city Melbourne seats. Labor rejects re-forming government with the Greens or others following voter backlash in 2013.
The notion that minority governments lead to instability and indecisiveness is at best misleading.
Gillard’s minority Government passed nearly 561 pieces of legislation during its term, as opposed to 100-200 annually by the majority Howard Governments. While Labor undeniably made errors in policy implementation, the figures show a minority-run parliament can operate smoothly and efficiently.
Tasmania, under its Hare-Clark voting system, has a long history of delivering working coalition governments –generally Labor/Green – which have been instrumental in seeing major reforms brought to the State.
New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system, introduced in 1996, makes it extremely difficult for a party to gain a majority necessitating cooperation with minor parties to pass legislation. New Zealand arguably outperforms Australia in many indicators — and with less upheaval of prime ministers in recent years. I don't think many would accuse them of chaotic government.
Recently passed Senate voting reforms greatly reduce the likelihood of "micro parties" being elected and limit representation to those who meet a certain electoral threshold. With that in mind, forming a coalition better represents the will of the majority than a single-party led government.
This compromise avoids a system similar to Brazil’s, where an extremely low electoral threshold truly does allow for micro parties to sabotage legislative agendas.
Instability and political quagmires are not inherent to minority governments, just as stability and smooth governance are not inherent to majority governments. The inability of the current Government to negotiate passage of key legislation highlights this.
Rather, it depends on the individuals involved and those minor partners who exploit their position in a minority government will generally be punished at the ballot boxes.
The mark of a good government is an ability to negotiate and compromise across the political divide, rather than one which shoehorns an agenda through without consultation.
With the minor party vote increasing at each election, a future where minority governments are the norm looks ever more likely.
I for one would welcome this.
You can read more from Thomas Mansfield on his blog.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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