Before the election, I commented in this blog on how nice it would be if a straightforward, honest politician with integrity entered our political scene:
“And yet, I wonder. If a genuine and sincere politician came along one day. Someone who always told the truth, even if it were against his personal interests. Some who gave his word and stuck to it. Someone who focused on the real issue rather than on merely gaining popularity and scoring political points. Could you imagine the respect and trust such a leader could command? Can you imagine the good they might do? But could such a person ever succeed in our current political system?
There was actually such a person in Australia. His name was Ted Mack, and he had to run as an independent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Mack_(politician) … He was a beacon of integrity for a number of years, but his usefulness was limited because of course, you can only do so much if you are not in one of the major parties.
How wrong I was in that last sentence! Through a remarkable set of circumstances, we now find ourselves in the unusual situation of having a hung parliament, with the Labor Party depending on the votes of three independents for their majority. Suddenly, those powerless, inconsequential independent members of parliament who must often have felt like so much useless baggage are in a position to steer the whole ship!
We stand on the brink of a strange new era. If you are an optimist like me you must really be hoping that the introduction of independents with real power will lead to a shift away from the decadent party politics that has so stifled good government in the past. Is it too much to hope for? Politicians taking decisions on their merits, rather than to get re-elected? Acting with integrity rather than blindly towing the party line? Speaking their mind in order to genuinely enrich and widen the public debate on issues that matter? Are we all going to wake up soon and realize it was all nothing more than a dream?
Already, we see some promising signs. The independents have already been responsible for bringing forward important issues that have not been addressed by the major parties because they saw so few votes in them. If our governments were to prioritise issues according to their moral value, surely the plight of indigenous Australians would be right up near the top of the list. And yet, for decades, our governments have given only glancing attention to this serious problem because it is not a vote winner. Full marks to the independents for putting it on their wish list.
You always wonder how much better governments might govern if that party political factor were removed. Of course, it will not go away completely, but it might be tamed a little. And then as well, there is a strong motivation for the big parties to manoeuvre matters so that they embarrass the independents and then go to the polls – after all, neither of them really wants a minority government. On the other hand, if the independents do a visibly good job, both for their own electorates and for the nation as a whole, who’s to say that we don’t find the next election producing 20 independent members (something the major parties will no doubt fight tooth and claw)? Then, things might get really interesting…