This post first appeared in the newsletter of the Australian Sensible Centre.
The disconnect between the day-to-day business of our political institutions and the long term interests of the nation is now a chasm. To any disinterested observer, the Federal Budget should have presented a prudent, staged debt management strategy for the Commonwealth’s trillion dollar debt. It did no such thing. Instead, it doubled down on borrowing and spending, deferring the problem of debt to the next generation.
Welcome to Canberra. The one, unmistakeable message arising from this year’s Federal Budget is that election-driven vote-buying and the careful orchestration of fear and panic to fit the electoral cycle are now the primary, indeed, only drivers of public decision-making. Is anyone surprised by the brazen, undisguised nature of this message?
Yes, there are some for whom this Budget was a shock – it’s self-interested character is more brutally transparent than usual. For others, this low point has been decades in the making as trust between citizens and governments has spiralled steadily downwards.
Good policy and good government are now impossible in Australia without major reform of the process by which governments are formed. If we have a rigged, corrupted and captured democratic process, we will have rigged, corrupted and captured governments. Public policy failure is the inevitable result.
Hoping for good public policy from political institutions that are unfit for purpose is the ultimate in naivete. The two institutions in Australia that have formed governments for the last 110 years (Labor and Liberal) are now unfit for purpose.
Reforming the process by which governments are formed is now the first and most important priority for the nation. Everything else is dependent on it.
Here is our plan for achieving this reform.
The core concept is a government of National Unity. We have had governments of this kind before in times of wartime crisis. They were popular with the people. The threat to national integrity does not now come from external threats, it comes from within, from a political class that has captured our institutions and corrupted them, and rendered them incapable of serving the national interest.
Following the next federal election, which will be held somewhere between November this year and May next year, we want a government of National Unity to be formed in Canberra.
This means a government which is not formed by one single party or by the traditional coalition of Liberal and National parties, but which is formed by one or other of Labor and Liberal/National in conjunction with a range of independents and others who collectively exercise sufficient leverage in the House of Representatives to achieve a negotiated agreement to form a government based on a new culture of governing.
Anything less than a new culture of governing will sell the nation short.
1. We seek a Government of National Unity in Canberra at the next federal election.
To get a government of National Unity, we will need to secure the election of at least 10 members of the House of Representatives who are community leaders with track records in bringing people together to solve problems and fix things. Twenty would be a better number, to exert the leverage necessary to force the established parties to accept a new culture of doing things.
This group of 10 may be independents of various hues, representatives of various minor parties, or members of The Sensible Centre, who together are able to impose upon one or other of the establishment parties a negotiated agreement to form a government based on a new culture of governing.
Ten members would be enough. Twenty would be better.
A majority of Australians have traditionally been reluctant for vote for Independents or non-major parties. It has been very easy for the established parties to dismiss these options as sitting outside the power to govern. This time we want voters to choose a government of National Unity over a single party-determined government.
2. To find the right community leaders we will hold a Community Preselection in each federal electorate from July 2021.
The purpose of each Community Preselection is to identify a community leader capable of winning a seat in Canberra at the expense of the old gate-keeping parties. It is an essential mechanism for replacing this gate-keeping function with community-driven and locally-formed infrastructure. Without Community Preselections, the hegemony of the establishment parties will remain intact. Information on our Community Preselection process is available at www.sensiblecentre.org.au/communitypreselections/
3. We want community leaders elected in twenty priority federal electorates.
We believe these 20 seats are winnable by a coalition of reformers that brings citizens together across traditional social and ideological boundaries. We don’t propose to limit our efforts to these 20, but these will be our priority.