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Robust parliamentary debate

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 30 September 2010


What does the present Labor minority government indicate for Australia’s major political parties?

There are several possible messages. First, the Coalition should not rely on negative politics in order to bring the Labor minority government down. A negative Coalition would merely enhance Labor’s message selling itself as the most progressive major party by it simply appearing slightly more progressive than its centre-right counterpart on a variety of issues.

Second, Labor and the Coalition should pay more attention to why independents were elected in Australia’s federal parliament. For example, with many voters rejecting the current economic orthodoxy by voting for independents in some rural areas, is it wise for Gillard to declare she will not reverse Labor’s dismantling of tariff barriers?

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Gillard’s dogmatic policy stance is an approach that should be avoided by politicians if Australian governments are to better demonstrate their prowess to balance domestic and foreign considerations in regards to trade.

The Australian parliament should discuss various issues affecting rural areas. For instance, to what extent is good agricultural land now subject to new mining bids; why are some dairy farmers struggling even in the most productive areas of Australia; and why are food imports increasing, a trend which is likely to lead to future cost pressures on domestic producers.

And forget any plea urging bipartisan economic policy support, which is tantamount to an individual or group thinking that they know best. The last thing Australia needs is a parliament with universal agreement on major policy issues when clearly there are varied impacts on different regions and demographic groups.

While aggregate data may suggest that all is not bad in regards to a variety of issues, all evidence should be exposed if we are to understand and address future trends. For instance, just as we know our population is ageing, so it should be that great attention is given to a variety of issues, including housing, immigration, infrastructure and the environment.

Policy answers are not easy, even for lucky Australia, still one of the more prosperous nations of the world. After all, we are light years from addressing the obvious contradiction between economic and environmental considerations. Further, it is difficult to abandon freer trade given it is a rare political concept that does encourage co-operation between those nations seeking to benefit from their interaction with the international economy.

But if we are to encourage the best possible society, including in both social and environmental terms, we should not merely accept the dominance of status quo politicians mostly inclined to accept a blind adherence to certain policy trends.

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The parliamentary process can be enhanced by policy discussion that should address a variety of perspectives rather than the present policy agenda dominated by Labor and the Coalition.

Certainly, minority governments are unstable. With support needed by other parties or independents in order to avoid no-confidence motions, minority governments are often short-lived or fall before their term expires. In 1940, the incumbent Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, after securing the support of two independent MPs to continue government, later lost their support to Labor. Further, Canada’s relatively numerous minority governments last, on average, 18 months.

I hope the current House of Representatives can vote on private member bills on a variety of issues, including the disclosure of foreign ownership of land and houses and analysis of its impact. I also hope individual MPs express their concerns about domestic trends, just as I hope that debate about a carbon tax continues to help create new industry trends and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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All articles by Chris Lewis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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