Proportional Representation for a hobbled democracy - Australian Fabians

Proportional Representation for a hobbled democracy

Proportional Representation for a hobbled democracy

 The Australian people have lost trust in our politicians, our government, and our Parliament.

This is canvassed in some detail in the Discussion Paper issued by the Senate last year at the launch of the Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy.   

The decline in trust has occurred speedily since 2007. Now only one in five people trust our politicians. 

The rot has set in. Voters increasingly look for instant gratification in minor parties, independents, and cult heroes. Primary votes for the two old parties in Federal elections have been falling and more and more voters seem so disengaged as to merely turn up at the ballot box and haphazardly make a last minute selection on the menu.

Our democracy is in shambles.

What is to be done?

There is no magic bullet.

But Proportional Representation (PR) in Queensland would make an enduring structural reform that in time would be regarded as enlightened, and seminal.  

The time is ripe.  

Just one in four in Queensland voted for the ALP at the last Federal Elections on 18 May 2019.  It is said that the dramatically increasing “soft votes” deserted us on voting day. 



That the Queensland Labor government set up a Parliamentary Enquiry into introducing Proportional Representation  in Queensland, with widespread community consultation: as soon as possible, but well before the next State elections in October 2020. 

The objectives for Proportional Representation (PR) in a nutshell:

  • to better represent the will of the voters; This is a democratic right. In essence under PR a 10% vote for a party would mean 10% of MPs in Parliament, more or less.  This will redress the entrenched misrepresentation of the voters’ will.
  • to ensure governance stability;  PR would ensure a relatively stable cohort of MPs in Parliament, from one term to another. The Campbell Newman hurricane would not have happened; Labor would not have been scratching for ministerial candidates after its unexpected win following that hurricane.  The public service would not have had to endure the slimming and fattening regimes as governments fall and rise.
  • to banish the gutter-fighting on the floor of the Parliament;    PR means more equitable and fair representation.  This in time would demand political leadership focusing on consultation rather than the brutal might of numbers. With loyalty to the old parties falling, coalition governments are likely to be the norm under PR. Most legislation then would be negotiated beforehand, through the force of fair and equitable representation, and not be shouted through with theatre and rancour. This would improve our legislative outcomes, elevate the behavior of MPs on the floor of the Parliament, and make politicians more worthy of respect to the ordinary people.

From my casual observation it would appear that this is the case with the New Zealand Parliament, and probably with the Tasmanian State Parliament as well, with PR in place in both of these Parliaments.

  • to civilize MPs; PR also would mean more negotiation, more deliberation, the emergence of the focus on what is good for society and the slow death of the warrior mentality on the floor of the chamber. This civilizing of our politicians, for all to see, would be a welcome experience for the ordinary citizens. 
  • to put an end to perpetual campaigning and pork barrelling; more equitable representation in Parliament, a civilized parliament, coupled with fixed four-year terms, would with good leadership put an end to the perpetual campaign and the tumbling of pork barrels that assault the senses of most of the people most of the time.
  • to embed ethics into our political culture;  The preceding promises of PR would  help embed ethics in our polity.

With proper design, voters in multi-member electorates under PR would in due course have a direct impact on the quality of candidates a party would present at an election. For instance in the case of Jacqui Lambie it would appear that the voters in Tasmania valued her integrity highly. (She only had $20K to spend on her campaign!)

Yet in the two old parties winning for the plotters and the top dog incumbents is everything: the ordinary people have been left to the wolves, since Kev07’s midnight execution in 2010. 

Why Queensland?

Here in Queensland the last Brisbane City Council elections in 2016 should tell us that the ALP did not smell like a bunch of roses. From the low base of seven out of 26 councilors we lost another two. And despite our much vaunted “foolproof” grass roots campaign we achieved a swing of just 1.2%, even though we had fielded a seemingly outstanding mayoral candidate. The Greens by contrast gained 6%, and in the two wards we lost, the Greens achieved gains around 14% each.

Last week the Courier Mail, based on a recent poll, reported that neither of our political leaders is well loved.  And neither party is preferred.

There is a chance that a decision by the Labor Government to initiate a Parliamentary Enquiry into Proportional Representation, in a rigorous manner, would provide at once a political circuit-breaker and an enduring legacy for our political culture, in Queensland and elsewhere in the nation.  

Under proportional representation the Greens would be the biggest beneficiary, and coalition governments would become more likely. The Greens would become the dominant minority party, but that might be happening anyway, though at an excruciatingly slow pace that drains an inordinate amount of clear head space and energy from the Labor electoral harvesting  machine.

The voters are disenchanted with our two old Parties. They are also getting increasingly well educated. Together this will mean more discerning voters. These sooner or later would more than likely demand proportional representation in our unicameral system to retrieve their democratic rights.  

It seems such a god-sent moment to show visionary leadership and acute political nous.  


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