Independents day approaches

THE face of WA politics may be permanently altered by the expected emergence of single-issue independents and small parties in the coming State election. At a time when close elections and big swings seem to be the order of the day, this poll may well be the first in half a century to leave both Labor and the Coalition without a majority in the WA Legislative Assembly - perhaps in both houses!

Recently I chaired the Curtin Business School seminar The Role of Independents, Aspiring Independents and Small Parties in State Parliament at Curtin University of Technology. This was the latest event in the CBS Executive Dean Lunchtime Seminar series and provided key insights into the thinking of independent politicians and candidates.

Speakers included Liberals for Forests candidate and spokesman Dr Keith Woollard, Independent member for South Perth Phillip Pendal MLA, Greens WA - Member for the SW Region, Dr Christine Sharp MLC, NSW Independent MP Dr Peter Macdonald and Curtin Associate Professor David Black.

Professor Black said independents will be an on-going force to be reckoned with and, if elected to the WA Legislative Assembly, they could well hold the balance of power. He said the number of votes that go to Independents and minor parties and where the subsequent preferences are directed, are of considerable interest and importance.

Dr Woollard argued that the Australia’s two party dominated system greatly limits the people’s choice and ability to influence policy. He said the media helps independents and small parties survive, because of its bias towards the new, the novel and the different.

Drawing on his NSW experience, Dr Peter McDonald said that WA has nothing to fear from the rise of the power of independents. Dr McDonald argued that the fine political balance in the NSW Parliament from 1991 to 1995 brought an era of accountability, openness and decentralised power. Debate was meaningful, negotiation prevailed, the Opposition spoke to Government and certain powers were returned to the floor of the house – all because no one party dominated.

Mr Pendal gave an address on How Independents are Unclogging the System and said having points of view outside the traditional two-party system, was assisting with more balanced Parliamentary decision-making.

The point was also made that while independents are often blamed for slowing down parliamentary business, data from both NSW and WA refute this view. In fact, the passage of legislation is at much the same level as before.

We are at a very interesting time in WA politics and the feedback that Curtin Business School is getting from the business community is that issues such as sustainable development are very high in peoples’ minds and will be a major consideration when people vote.

* Professor Allan Peachment, is Curtin Business School’s Dean of Academic Development.

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