James Allan

Victoria’s lost chance?

Political parties and democracy

No voter in a democracy can seriously expect to be on the winning side of every important political issue, and that includes issues articulated in the language of rights. In a country of tens of millions of voters you know you’re going to win some and lose some. And when you lose you don’t get to pout, or play the victim, or make veiled references to the tyranny of the majority – though heaven knows there seem to be enough people out there these days who see it as their life’s work to be victims.

If we’re being totally honest you really shouldn’t even be able to run off to the judges and ask them to give you what the elected legislators wouldn’t, which is a far too common syndrome in many Western democracies, especially common law ones with potent bills of rights. It is much less common here in Australia, but not unknown.

In my view the proper response, when you’re on the losing side of some issue you care about, is to put some time or other resources into a political party that might deliver the outcome you want by convincing enough of your fellow citizens over into your way of thinking.

That all seems pretty straightforward, too straightforward in fact. You see our live options as voters are between only a very small number of political parties. And just as you can’t expect to be on the winning side of every policy-related and rights-related dispute, you also can’t really expect to find any political party whose views exactly mesh with your own in some 1:1 way.

All voters end up choosing between broad church political party groupings which look likely to deliver some of the things they care about and think good for themselves and the country, but not others. The question is how far can a party go in disappointing you without losing your support?

Let’s take two examples from the Coalition side of politics. Start at the national level.  I think Mr. Abbott and the Coalition are spot on in their opposition to a carbon dioxide tax that will not reduce temperatures one iota on any plausible set of assumptions but will cost jobs, increase government involvement in the economy and make Australia a worse place.

And the Coalition policies opposing the NBN, the super mining tax, the government’s position on live cattle exports and the free speech stifling media enquiry are all ones that get my approval too.

So far, so good. Then there are some uncertainties. I’m hoping that a future Coalition government repeals the awful hate speech laws being used to go after Andrew Bolt. And I’d like to think the same thing about its willingness to reform our Australian universities, which have become bureaucratic monstrosities that operate much as you imagine the former East German economy did. Of course we’ll have to wait and see on those fronts.

On the Migration Act, and the Coalition’s decision not to amend it to put the High Court in its proper place, I think the Coalition has made a bad mistake. Protecting your own borders lies at the core of the concept of national sovereignty and as much as I dislike Prime Minister Gillard’s Malaysia ‘solution’, I dislike more the prospect of the human rights mafia and unelected top judges have a veto in this area into the foreseeable future. Mr. Abbott is taking a gamble on this one, and it’s a gamble he could lose, and then come to regret.

But as I said, no one can plausibly expect to agree with every decision or policy proposal of any particular political party. And this choice on not helping amend the Migration Act is not a make-or-break policy for me.

Now put that aside and consider the position of Coalition voters in Victoria at the State level.  Personally I’m quite glad I don’t live in that State because I’m not sure I could bring myself to vote for a Baillieu government in the light of Mr. Baillieu’s apparent decision not to follow the majority decision of the Parliamentary Review Committee he himself set up to look at Victoria’s awful Charter of Rights and which came back recommending what in many ways amounts to repeal of the thing.

As it happens this is the same Mr. Baillieu who was no fan of the Charter of Rights back when former Attorney General Rob Hulls was enacting it. And yet given the chance to take the judges out of play by following the majority recommendations of the Parliamentary Review Committee and Mr. Baillieu seems to have completely caved in to all the human rights lobby groups who would never vote for him or the Coalition under any imaginable set of circumstances.

So Mr. Baillieu has taken the government’s response away from the Charter sceptic Mr. Clark’s Attorney General’s office and moved it into the Premier’s office. He seems to be riding roughshod over the predominant views of his core supporters.

In effect Mr. Baillieu is betting that this move by him won’t matter enough to most Coalition voters to stop them from voting for him.  And he’s also betting that the rest of Cabinet won’t call him on this or threaten to move to the backbenches.

Of course we can all still ask why he’s doing this and what he hopes to gain. But on the raw politics of his two bets he may well be correct. It’s hard to see a frontbench Cabinet minister who has been in opposition for years and only recently moved into government and Cabinet willing to give that up for something as amorphous as ‘principle’, though in years gone by when there were far fewer career politicians this was a much more common step.

And as for the punters, they may well forget Mr. Baillieu’s two-faced response on the Charter. I’d been hoping for a bit of backbone from him these past months despite all sorts of people telling me this Premier would never make any moves to get rid of the Charter.

Clearly they look to have been correct and my hopes misplaced. As it happens, this would be a line-in-the-sand issue for me. I simply couldn’t vote for a Baillieu government that muffed this chance to wind back the Charter. I’d spoil my ballot before I gave it to Ted if he leaves this Charter in place as is.

And I’d do that even if it meant Labor coming back into power.  

Ted is clearly betting that’s a pretty minority point-of-view among regular Coalition supporters in Victoria.

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