By Julian Cribb*
Election 2022 may herald the end of party rule in Australian politics. Indeed, like Gorbachev, Scott Morrison seems poised to pull the trigger on the dissolution of the rotten old party system. It could be his political legacy.
It’s a big thought, after a century or more of the national interest being subordinated to vested interests, but there are signs that Australian electors are thoroughly jack of party politics and more than willing to try new things and new people.
It shows in the febrile oscillation of the opinion polls, the frequent switches of government and leader, the determination of voters to deny ruling parties control in the Senate. It shows in the disgust of ordinary Australians at each new case of political corruption, secret dealing and rip-off by spendthrift MPs, who preach restraint while plundering the public purse in their pursuit of power.
It shows in our dismay at the ongoing deterioration in our education system – school, university and TAFE – the degradation of our scientific enterprise and healthcare system – which overall add up to an attrition in the nation’s skills, technologies, fitness for work and capacity for sustainable economic growth.
It shows in the complicity of the mainstream parties in the wrecking of the Australian landscape and oceans – the extirpation of native species, the raging bushfire infernos, the now almost-unavoidable ruin of the Great Barrier Reef and the dying rivers. Particularly, it shows in rising public anger over the destruction of the world our grandchildren will have to inhabit. A world where famines, fires, wars, refugee tsunamis and 50 degree heatwaves are commonplace.
It shows in the Canute-like attempts of politicians across the spectrum to deflect the flood-tide of Australian wrath on issues such as domestic violence, rape, marriage equality, inequality, discrimination and assisted dying.
And it shows in the public revulsion at the love of the main political parties for endless, pointless, unwinnable wars, their exploitation of terrorism and the Chinese boogey man to justify greater surveillance and repression, and their inhuman treatment of people fleeing those wars.
The word ‘party’ is from the Latin, pars, partis – a part – the stem that gives rise to the term partial. That is exactly what Australian political parties today are – clubs partial to their own interests and those of a tiny minority of supporters. They are not there for Australia or Australians. By definition, as well as by practice, they are no longer aligned with the national interest or the public good. And we are simply the mugs who let them get away with it, time and again.
Once upon a time, political vested interests were diluted by well-meaning people with a commitment to public service and national wellbeing. No longer. A never-ending cycle of political pay hikes, rorting of public funds and parliamentary privileges, placemen, gold-plated pensions and ‘entitlements’, furnishes undeniable proof that most of them are in it for what they can get. The driving ambition of Australian politics has become personal, rather than national, enrichment – and to hell with the rest of you.
At the last election Australians (on the record) spend $68 million on political parties, of which $55m went to the LNP and ALP. It’s a fair bet most of that was donated in the expectation of some sort of special treatment or exclusive advantage granted by the ruling party. In other words, an officially-sanctioned bribe. However, as the NSW ICAC continually discloses, these are but the first whiff of a large and festering corpus of hidden or less-visible rewards, rorts, abuses of office and, post-politics, the rewarding of scores of undeserving former Ministers and MPs with juicy sinecures on corporate boards, where they continue to peddle political influence for personal gain.
The answer obvious to most Australians – a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption – is one that continues to be pushed aside, for obvious reasons, because of the glaring evidence it will ultimately furnish that the entire party system is corrupt and rotten, root and branch. Every MP who opposes it clearly has a motive for so doing.
The role of the fossil fuels and mining lobby in de-railing climate policy in Australia is the worst case of the preparedness of parties and their paymasters to sacrifice the national future, our grandchildren and the planet, to their own short-term interests. It harms all Australians now, and for generations to come. This alone demands a Royal Commission – or a Federal ICAC – if not substantial gaol sentences, as any crime against humanity involving mass death and injury deserves.
Disenchantment with political parties has halved their membership in recent decades. Despite the secrecy, journalistic investigations suggest that the combined membership of all parties now totals less than 100,000, maybe far less. No party comes even close to the membership of the main AFL football clubs, for example. This means that the leaders of Australia are being chosen for us by less than 0.4 per cent of the Australian population. In reality, a microscopic handful of powerbrokers within this tiny minority picks our leaders. This is an utter travesty of democracy, ensuring the most corrupt and least competent leadership.
This election there are signs of real change. A determined move by independent candidates in traditional LNP/ALP seats round the country could sweep away many useless incumbents, replacing them with Australians – mainly women – of character, decency, integrity and commitment to a fairer, more sustainable country. We have already seen excellent examples in Helen Haines, Kerryn Phelps, Zali Stegall, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and Rob Oakeshot. There are many more of their calibre on the way thanks to the ‘Voices Of’ movement, which is already fielding over 30 independent candidates, Simon Holmes a’Court’s Climate 200 fundraising group, and similar grassroots political movements by Aussies who have simply had a gutful.
Neither the parties nor the national media display much grasp of the emerging multi-spectral character of Australian politics, in which hung parliaments, complex alliances of minor parties and negotiation with a multiplying throng of independents form the central dynamic. A fairer, more representative, Scandinavian political scene, rather than the corrupt old British class-based two-horse race we’re used to. As of 2022, the balance of power in Australia, even the choice of PM, could be in the hands of decent Australians, rather than grubby party hacks.
It takes just one thing for this to happen. For a majority of voters to publicly rip up their party how-to-vote cards, ignore the deluge of deceptive advertising and soon-to-be-broken promises, and put their mark next to the name of the most decent, well-intentioned Australian standing in their electorate. The person with a track record for honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, hard work and commitment to the future. The exact antithesis of the usual party clone.
Of such small things are political revolutions made.
*Julian Cribb is a former newspaper editor and author, based in Canberra. He votes.