Politics

The view from Billinudgel

Welcome to the hung parliament
This minority government could lead to some much-needed parliamentary reform

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Welcome to the hung parliament. Prior to the result of the Wentworth by-election, our PR-obsessed prime minister warned voters that such an outcome and its attendant uncertainty and instability should not be risked; but for ordinary Australians, it might not be so bad.

After all, Julia Gillard’s minority regime managed to get quite a bit done, despite the obstructionist efforts of Tony Abbott and his cohort – including Scott Morrison. And, apart from anything else, minority government provides an opportunity for some long-needed parliamentary reform, resisted for years by majority governments on both sides.

One of these reforms has already emerged. The Greens, the crossbenchers and Labor have indicated support for a federal anti-corruption body, modelled loosely on those that operate in most states – and which were mostly instigated by minority governments.

It has not always been a smooth process, and some have questioned the way in which the anti-corruption bodies have wielded their power at various times. But the public seems to like the idea of keeping the bastards honest, or at least less tainted than they might otherwise become.

The federal Coalition has long refuted the need for a federal anti-corruption body. But, given the numbers in both houses, it may be tempted to change its mind. So our attorney-general, Christian Porter, is preparing to bow to the inevitable, and has indicated his willingness to discuss the matter.

It should be said immediately that there is little evidence of genuine corruption within the federal parliament. But that is not the point. While the laws of the land may not have been broken and the special rules designed by parliamentarians for parliamentarians can generally be interpreted to cover most behaviour, limits have been stretched to breaking point. As Barnaby Joyce has repeatedly demonstrated.

And there are probably instances that have never been publicised. A federal ICAC would at least expose much that’s ethically dubious, and have a salutary effect on other institutions under its purview. Establishing such a watchdog should be a no-brainer.

And why stop with an ICAC? The other great reform forced on many state parliaments through crossbench independents is fixed four-year terms. A cynical public tends to reject the idea – why give the bastards more time, if we want to throw them out as quickly as possible? But there is no doubt that the current system, in which governments need their first year to get established and their last to set up the next election, means that in practice they spend only about a third of their time governing. With four-year terms we could increase this to a half.

Of course this assumes that they will govern with some sort of diligence and coherence, and the hung parliament can help in that regard too; a government that needs every vote will be far less eager to embrace the crazy extremes that become tempting under a big majority.

Welcome to the hung parliament – let’s use it.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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