Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cliffhanger election a democracy scare for Tanner

The looming cliffhanger in the State election shows a big opportunity for strengthening democracy in Victoria, despite fears of a minority government voiced by former federal finance minister and Melbourne MP, Lindsay Tanner, at a forum held yesterday at Victoria University.

As Tim Colebatch noted in a report for The Age the same day, a swing against Labor of 3.7 per cent will see it lose its majority and be forced to form a minority government. Yet the Coalition requires a swing of 6.5 per cent to win in its own right.

This gap is big enough for voters to send a message to Premier Brumby by voting for a candidate outside the major parties - such as this independent - without any big risk of voting in the Coalition.

As Professor John Zeleznikow pointed out in his opinion piece in the same edition foreshadowing the forum later that day, the minority government that could then result might well offer not only stability, but the increased accountability we are already seeing at the federal level.

In my view, the inclusion of broader political perspectives within such a government can only improve the policy debate.
The forum - on the merits of a hung Parliament - included presentations from Professor Zeleznikow, VECCI's Wayne Kayler-Thomson, Gippsland East State independent, Craig Ingram, and, of course, Tanner himself.

Today The Age reported Tanner's forum claims that the more Labor loses left-leaning MPs in elections, the more "advocates for progressive change are taken out of Labor". Translation: the more Labor moves to the right, the more seats it will lose to voters seeking progressive alternatives.

On Tanner's logic, voters should pull out all stops to save the endangered Labor progressives, and reward the right-wing Labor Unity faction that dominates the party and the Brumby Government. Is he kidding? Apparently not.

Tanner's attack on the Greens aside, and more pertinently for this candidate, Craig Ingram presented a cracking defence of the benefits independents can bring to Parliament - greater accountability and more effective policy debate among them.

As Professor Zeleznikow also noted in his presentation, the instability of minority governments is a myth, with the government led by Steve Bracks after the 1999 election in the professor's opinion one of the best for Labor, which was forced to work constructively with three independents - including Craig Ingram.

More on the forum to follow.

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