Waleed Aly “Politics is about persuasion but both parties neglect the public’s views”

In a damning article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Waleed Aly laid waste to the two major parties “both of whom are plumbing historic depths of unpopularity and disapproval”. He goes on to discuss the extremes of the policies enacted by both sides while in government, which ultimately end in naught as they are largely unwound either with fanfare, or through the slow erosion of funding – here he cites Gonski, WorkChoices and others.

Waleed Aly.

Waleed Aly.

Unfortunately he does not seem to offer any solution, merely criticism of the internal ALP process during conference and so forth, and that the coalition parties tend to lack persuasion and instead prefer to “bludgeon” their arguments – citing gay marriage, renewable energy and Q&A.

The link that is unfortunately not drawn is blatant and extraordinary misrepresentation of the public will that is on display within our parliament. This occurs on many issues, but the most obvious and clear-cut recent topic is that of marriage equality. Around 70% of the public polled were in favour. 80% of the coalition party room are against.

As David Marr said on Insiders on Sunday 4th – “Who do these people represent?” These are the same ones instigating wind farm commissioners, and opening coal mines in prime agricultural land for overseas mining companies. Again, who do they represent?

This is where Waleed Aly needs to focus his attention. It is not the machinations of either major party that is the problem, it is the fact that there are only two parties in the first place, despite voting intentions. In a nation where an electoral system exists that awards 15 seats to the Nationals with 6.8% of the vote, and 1 seats to the Greens with 8.4% of the vote in 2013, and too many other examples to cite here, it is clear that the system itself is the cause of the problem.

Concentrated pockets of voters are given disproportionate levels of representation – a fact evidenced recently in the UK elections, where again due to the nature of the electoral system, UKIP (whatever you think of their policies) attained 12.5% of the vote. The SNP attained 4.7% of the vote. UKIP got one seat, the SNP 56 and ultimately, of course, the Conservative party won with a majority of seats on less than 37% of the primary vote. While they have first past the post and we have forced preferences, the result is much the same because at the heart of it, the system relies on single member electorates.

And heck, I won’t even start on the United States.

I’ve noticed that for some peculiar reason, the English speaking world has this adversarial approach to politics which is imbued with a two-party culture of politics. Presumably we can blame the Westminster tradition of debating style. Either way, the recent rise of minor parties has increased disproportionality and along with it voter disaffection. There is a large proportion of the population that are not represented fairly or not represented at all, while others are over-represented.

The easiest way to see this is simply by taking the number of votes divided by the seats won. Its quite shocking. This is for the House of Representatives in 2013.

Liberal Party Room  Votes Seats  Votes/Seats
Q LP  687,853 16
LP  3,392,460 58
CLP  36,613 1
 4,116,926 75 54,892
National Party Room
Q NP  244,871 6
NP  487947 9
 732,818 15 48,855
Labor Party Room
ALP  3611178 55 65,658

Which is all well and good (although not great, hey ALP supporters?) until you consider those pesky minor parties.

  • Katter’s Australia Party – 107,017
  • Palmer United Party – 595,216
  • The Greens – 898,410

In short, our representatives are not representative. 36,613 votes to elect one MP, 898,410 to elect another. So one MP has 24 times fewer votes than another.

And before I hear you bleat – “but what about the Senate?”. To this I would answer, “Where is government formed and where do money bills originate?”.

One vote one value!

The key is electoral reform. Change this and you begin to accurately represent the community, create inclusiveness in the political process, foster proper public debate, destroy the power of the lobbyists, blow the lid of secrecy and, y’know, generally end the tyrannical rule of the two party system.

So to provide an answer as to why the major parties are ignoring the public’s views, perhaps it is simply because under our electoral system, they are not sufficiently scared of losing their seats. Listening to the public is not a requisite skill or necessity – attaining funds for advertising is.