Given the three-headed dog that is Australian politics these days, it doesn’t seem to matter much whether people choose the restrained, the ravenous or the rabid head to be ‘top dog’ for the next period. I’ve not seen a greater degree of antipathy or confusion about the choices available in an election than in the one we currently have on. This prompts me to wonder about the basis of government; what are we missing, what we need, why we need it.
There is not a huge difference between the two major parties in Australia, and I expect that should the Greens wish to grow further, that their differentiations will also reduce. There is a simple reason for this; when you are trying to split a population by ‘closest representation’, two parties will naturally approach the centre.
Think about it like this. If two people are trying to guess an unknown number, the best choices are obvious. The first person will choose the middle number, and the second will choose a number immediately above or below the first.
This allows them to be the closest option for half the population. The major parties do the same thing. If they drift away from the optimum, the other party will naturally drift towards them, picking up more than half the vote. So the game of politics becomes one of trying to get the opposition to move toward their side, so that you can steal their voters.
The problem with this is that the best positioning for winning government does not provide the best representation for the most people. That would require greater separation between the two parties, but to achieve that both parties have to open themselves up to the near certainty of their opposition moving in to the centre and seeing that vote stolen. Case in point: Work Choices. Work choices represented the attitudes of Liberal voters very well, but allowed Labor to retake ‘Howard’s Battlers’, winning them the election.
So the question arises – how can we achieve better representation, in a reasonable period of time, starting from where we are?
Smaller parties struggle in Australia, due to our representational system. They need a real base of power and a lot of time to grow. So any new parties, or growth in extant minor parties will take a long time.
The other option for a new party is a split in a major party. The Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Democrats are both examples of this. However these tend to be short term, doing well for a period before becoming irrelevant or losing their way.
I believe the only way for improved representation to occur in the short term is to see one or both the major parties break into three or four organised, aligned, factions. I’m not suggesting that this would be at all easy, or without risk for the party involved. But it would allow better representation, and present a massive advantage over the opposition.
So, taking the Liberal Party as an example, let’s say they create 3 offshoot parties. One is a small government, low tax, socially conservative party, sort of everything the Liberal party wishes it could be, but can’t because it needs to win elections. Another is a small ‘l’ liberal party, given over to economic and social freedoms. Another might be a more socially conservative, big government party. Each would be able to represent a group far more effectively and closely, sorting out the details in government.
Same thing could of course be done on the Labour side, with the advantage that it would remove the stigma of ‘factions’ and allow them to put the greens back in their box.
So, something in it for everyone.