Christopher Pyne: If You Think This Will Be The Election Of Minor Parties And Independents, Think Again

Australia is one of the most stable, if not the most stable, democracies in the world.

It has been since the two non-Labor political parties merged in the early 20th century to create the Fusion (of liberals and conservatives). The Fusion was the father of the major non-Labor parties -- the longest running of which has been the modern Liberal Party since it was formed in 1944.

On the other side of the ledger has been the Australian Labor Party.

The ALP has had its splits over the years (1916 and 1955) but has trundled along nonetheless as the major party of Opposition. It has formed government for about 35 of the last 119 years. The non-Labor parties have governed for almost all of the rest of the time (albeit in some odd alliances and circumstances).

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This stability is always under threat from so called ‘minor parties’.

Where minor parties go, chaos ensues.  (Image: AAP)

Most minor parties are really a collection of independents who couldn’t make it in one of the majors. There are always the odd exception to that rule -- the Greens are as close to a third party as they come.

But almost all of the others are made up of candidates, volunteers and party apparatchiks that used to be in a political party of some kind. (They might claim to be loyal to their new vehicle for election but the evidence is to the contrary -- how many United Australia Party or One Nation MPs and Senators get elected and remain with the party that nurtured them? The answer is very few.)

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We are also routinely told that ‘it’s the year of the independents’.

Similarly, most independents started in a major party and either lost their endorsement, didn’t get what they wanted in a major party or lost the faith and quit. Cathy McGowan, the retiring Member for Indi, is one of the few real independents in my experience.

A genuine independent is a rare find. (Image: AAP)

Despite the chaos of minor parties and independents, our political system has been remarkably stable. There is a very good reason for this -- for which we should be lighting a candle of appreciation to our forebears in Australian politics.

It is the compulsory, preferential voting system.

“What’s that?” I hear you ask. It's the system of voting in Australian national elections that requires every citizen aged 18 and above to cast a vote either on election day, by post or at a pre poll booth.

Even if you protest by spoiling the ballot paper or blessing the scrutineers with your infinite wit rather than putting numbers in the boxes, if you don’t vote, you break the law and get penalised.

It has led to well over 90 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in national elections. It means everyone gets a say. It means you can’t avoid taking part and that means, we are all responsible for the outcome.

But the second part of the formula is even more gripping. We have a full preferential system of voting. Eligible voters need to number every box according to their preference -- from the person they most want to see successful to the person they definitely don’t want elected.

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The combination of these two factors has made the outcome of elections very stable -- almost uniquely so across the democracies of the world. Because even if you are really unhappy with the party that you regularly support and you want to register a protest vote for whatever reason, most supporters of one of the major political parties will usually vote for every other candidate before their historical party of choice rather than vote for the other major party.

That’s the ‘secret sauce’. That’s why very few minor party candidates and independents get elected.

It’s a good thing.

Imagine a House of Representatives with a majority of Clive Palmers, Pauline Hansons, Greens, Bob Katters, Andrew Wilkies or Cory Bernardis! Nothing would ever get decided. There would be so much posturing and horse trading that sensible proposals would become a complicated mishmash of unaffordable and dangerous measures.

Just imagine if the minor parties held the majority.  Katter, Katter, Katter! (Image: AAP)

Fortunately, our forebears created a system that builds in stability. Whether we prefer the Liberal and National Parties or Labor, at least we know they have an experience of governing (for better in the case of the Liberal and National Parties and for worse in the case of the Labor Party).

So, I predict that despite all the hoopla about this election being ‘the year of independents’, it won’t amount to much.

The system will go on despite the money of Palmer and the campaigning of GetUp and the Australian people will maintain their attachment to the stability of the two-party system.

Listen to Hugh Riminton and Peter Van Onselen in The Professor and The Hack discuss all things #Auspol. 

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