Tuesday, November 14, 2006

So what can independents offer?

The ABC reports that there are 63 independents contesting the 2006 Victorian State election, so just what can independents achieve if they do get elected? In my case, I'm hoping to bridge the gap between an arrogant Government and its better self. That means supporting a re-elected Bracks Government on issues such as their fight against John Howard's IR laws, but holding them to account where they drift too close to the Liberals and Family First. The exact effect of that aim will depend on how the numbers fall out both in the Lower and Upper House.

If the election proves close – and governments are formed in the Lower House – the prospect suddenly looms of independents figuring in the balance of power. This happened in 1999, when Russell Savage, Craig Ingram and Susan Davies reached agreement with Steve Bracks to form Government based on the trio's Independents' Charter.

While I would like to hear what these independents ultimately made of their agreement and its outcomes, such a prospect offers hope of legislative decisions that are contested, not decided by the overwhelming majority we see in the Lower House today.

But even if the Lower House numbers are still one-sided after 25 November, the electoral reforms in the Upper House won by Savage, Ingram and Davies mean that there is a real chance that, together with independents, a minor party such as the Greens will have a real say in the final form of legislation. Even if Lower House independents lack the numbers to force change, their profile and ability to achieve media focus on the issues may well influence their Upper House colleagues, or at least inform their debate.

From a local perspective, independents can shine a light both on the workings of Parliament and local Councils. This has particular relevance where, as in Northcote, Labor dominates the Council and holds the local seat in State Parliament.

Finally, just like Savage, Ingram and Davies in 1999, independent MPs have the ability to align, not on party lines, but in the interest of local communities and of Victoria as a whole. Openness and engagement of communities are keys to this idea, together with a commitment to make decisions on principle rather than engage in pragmatic deals. I encourage you to read the Independents' Charter 1999 – it still has urgent relevance today.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.