02/09/2010 - 00:00

It’s a bit early to be giving the game away

02/09/2010 - 00:00


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Those suggesting we’ve entered a new era in Australian politics seem to be forgetting the strengths inherent in the current system.

It’s a bit early to be giving the game away

WHENEVER anything out of the ordinary happens people want to spruik a ‘new paradigm’.

The global financial crisis is a very good example. Somehow capitalism is to blame and the free market is a villain that must be quelled by new regulation.

The GFC is what happens when everyone believes the same thing without checking their facts. The market can’t be blamed for that, it is simply the mechanism through which we finally returned to reality.

The same thing has been occurring this past week as a handful of independents have been opening discussion on the future of not just the next federal government, but the way parliament might operate in the future.

Somehow, just because people voted equally (roughly) for both major parties, that represents a situation where people couldn’t make up their minds and therefore the system is broken.

Some of these voices, led by the independent member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, suggest we should look to the European system of coalition governments for a lead to fix our problems.

“There is some sentiment for exploring creative options where this is about not political parties, not a red team or a blue team …,” he reportedly told the collective media.

Please, can we stop this nonsense. The last thing we want is what so many of the European nations have, coalitions of the unwilling clubbed together simply to have power and almost never agreeing on anything useful.

Bipartisan consensus is useful only when everyone is sure that whatever is agreed on is the least-worst option.

Like capitalism, democracy and bicameral systems of government, nothing is perfect but these are proven thus far to be better than anything else. Places such as Australia, Canada, the UK and the US all seem to practice these things and, oddly enough, that is where all the people from places that don’t practice them want to be. Most of these places tend to have the red team-blue team thing, though the UK is exploring a coalition set-up.

Not many Canadian boat people fleeing to Burma, from what I can see. So to suggest our system is broken is wrong.

Imperfection is present in every institution. Taking the opportunity to review that and iron out wrinkles is fine, and I am all for the need to get rid of the Dorothy Dix rubbish that hijacks question time.

But let’s just hold our horses on having Liberals serving in Labor governments and vice versa. I want my chance to vote for what I think is right, not get inertia from coalitions that think holding power is more important than making decisions.

A good example was that curious idea of having Malcolm Turnbull serve in a government led by Julia Gillard.

Mr Turnbull has come out of this election looking very credible, no doubt. That is remarkable, especially when you look at how poorly that other recently deposed leader, Kevin Rudd, fared by comparison.

But last year Mr Turnbull, as Liberal leader, was almost becoming Mr Rudd’s climate change minister. There was bipartisanship at its worst.

Like many Australians Mr Turnbull believes that climate change is important, that we ought to be prepared for it, and that there’s a need to show leadership. But he was wrong to let Labor hurry Australia into an expensive, untried system just because Mr Rudd wanted a triumph at Copenhagen.

Labor blames Tony Abbott for spoiling that bipartisan support for the emissions trading scheme, but he was doing a better job of leading the opposition, which had a considerable number of people opposed to the rush towards an ETS.

Mr Turnbull may well belong in Mr Abbott’s cabinet as climate change minister.

He might even be a sensible replacement as opposition leader if Mr Abbott fails to win government, but I don’t want to see him in bed with his enemy. I want him watching out for the nation’s interest from the other side of parliament.

Dare I use another example that I have been following for the past year, that of the proposed mutualisation of GESB.

Here is a good example of bipartisanship gone wrong.

It is hard to blame the politicians for what happened – the near handover of perhaps $500 million to a private entity, the actual cost that has run into tens of millions of dollars and the fact that public servants have been denied choice for their superannuation for as much as five years.

The mutualisation of GESB was put forward by the former Labor state government as a way of offering superannuation choice to as many as 300,000 public servants who are currently unable to combine their savings to get a cost effective outcome. About 100,000 people have less than $1,000 stuck with GESB and they can’t move it.

Rather than just offering them choice, Labor, led by then treasurer Eric Ripper, agreed to the idea of mutualisation.

Handing over the fund to its members is another form of privatisation, which won approval of the conservative side of politics, represented at the time by opposition treasury spokesman Troy Buswell.

Apart from a few warnings from old hands such as Max Trenorden and George Cash, the GESB plan was accepted and legislation passed.

But despite the legislation passing there were concerns in the public service about the cost.

A confidential document obtained by WA Business News shows that state Treasury became increasingly worried about what was happening.

Fortunately for the state, in my view, Treasury warned Mr Ripper, who stopped the whole thing. Mr Buswell then canned the mutualisation when he became treasurer. Both treasurers took the hard decisions, which is admirable.

The evidence before me suggests that the GESB debacle may have been avoided if the parliament had a little less agreement on both sides.

Had Mr Ripper chosen a path that Mr Buswell disliked, his proposal would have been picked apart more ruthlessly and subjected to a higher level of scrutiny.

There is some value in points scoring. Occasional observers see this as childish, but debate and disagreement are the way nations like Australia have made more good decisions than bad ones in more than 100 years of democracy.

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au



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