Sunday, 19 January 1997

Why parties can't govern


Edition 1SUN 19 JAN 1997, Page 049
Why parties can't govern
By RICHARD FARMER 
WESTERN Australia provides the latest example of a fundamental problem affecting the way this country is run.
We have a parliamentary system predicated on there being two parties, one of which becomes the government and the other the Opposition.
But parliaments are elected in a way which regularly gives third forces a balance of power. The result is governments that cannot govern.
West Australian Premier Richard Court is in that position.
He was returned to office last month after his Liberal-National coalition increased its majority in the Lower House, where the government is decided.
It was a clear endorsement.
But quite perversely, proportional representation resulted in minor parties and Labor ending up with as many members in the Upper House as the Government.
There is an an element of rough justice in this.
The Labor governments that preceded Mr Court's were always in the same predicament.
It's not surprising, perhaps, that the Labor Opposition is relishing the opportunity to give a little tit for all the tat they suffered in their years trying to govern without an Upper House majority.
A pity. It's the type of short-sighted tactical decision which will reinforce the growing scepticism of the people about their political rulers.
Labor has not agreed to provide the presiding officer in the Upper House which would give the Government a majority of one.
A Labor Party truly committed to majority rule would make this concession, but political parties are not naturally democratic institutions.
In the past, our system generally produced governments sensible enough to do the things that had to be done.
Now they depend on minority support and cannot provide strong government.
Perhaps we do need an elected president.

Sunday, 5 January 1997

Year ends on note of hope


Edition 1SUN 05 JAN 1997, Page 048
Year ends on note of hope
By RICHARD FARMER 
THE two governments in Canberra, federal and local, ended 1996 in ways that give some hope of changes for the better in the way Australia is governed.
Prime Minister John Howard's government managed to end up with a privatised Telstra and at least some changes to industrial-relations laws because of the creation of a second group of Senate power-holders.
And Chief Minister Kate Carnell's minority ACT government defied all expectations by legislating to change land administration with the support of the Labor Opposition.
The example from the junior Canberra legislature was perhaps the more significant, for here was a rare example of an Opposition acting in a way that was against its own immediate electoral interests.
In the national capital, as elsewhere, people upset by a change are prone to alter the way they cast their next vote -and there are few things more controversial than changes to the rules allowing the knocking down of houses and the building of apartments in the suburbs.
In the year until the next local election, there are bound to be many groups angered by development that Labor leader Andrew Whitecross could have courted in his effort to replace Ms Carnell as Chief Minister.
That he chose to ignore that potential gain because he actually believes the Government's changes were right and proper, was a rare example of the bipartisanship that could give politicians a good name.
Up on Capital Hill, Kim Beazley should take note. His Labor Party is in no mood to abandon the traditional ways of an opposition opposing, which is what made the desertion of Senator Mal Colston such a blessing for good government.
With Federal Labor denying any notion of a mandate, the Liberal-National coalition has to win the support of one of the minority groups in the Senate before it can actually do anything.
With changes to the composition of the Senate from July 1 and the subsequent defection of Senator Colston to the cross benches with Tasmanian senator Brian Harradine, there are now three options. Any one of the Independents, the Democrats or the two Greens will provide the majority needed.