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The Case for a Party System

September 7, 2010

You either have legislatures made of factions or legislatures made of parties. That’s the truth. Before the party system emerged in Australia in the 1890s – early 1900s, the colonial legislatures were comprised of seething, amoebic alliances, with short term governments cobbled-together by master manipulators like Sir Henry Parkes who bribed MPs into installing his ministries in power with offers of roads and bridges for their electorates. The rise of the party system, driven by the rise of the Labor party, produced clearer, cleaner politics. It offered another advantage: it gave voters an opportunity to change government by voting for one party over another with a more or less accurate notion of what would happen if government changed.

This has always been my view – parliaments of factions or parties.

This is why I congratulate Gerard Henderson in The SMH (September 7) for taking a bludgeon to Ted Mack and Cheryl Kernot’s silly comments. Ted Mack said:

One of the problems is that, since Federation, major political parties are the only ones who can do any real reform and they will only do reform if it suits their partisan advantage.

What on earth does this statement mean? The redundant adjective “partisan” gives the game away. I noticed in the NSW parliament that Ted Mack and Clover Moore often gave expression to the view that political parties were evil in and of themselves. In fact, political parties are the bulwarks of democracy; they guarantee voters a choice; they deliver stability; they make corruption less and not more likely; and they serve Australia well. Henderson points out that they particularly served Australia well in the opening up of the Australian economy in the last 20 years.

At the 2020 Summit convened by Kevin Rudd’s government I despaired when I heard that one woman in one forum had opined, with a whinging tone: “I’m so o-v-e-r political parties!” What was that silly empty head doing there? She should have been hospitalised. Or forced to do Political Science 1 or study a little history.

2 Comments
  1. damian furlong permalink
    September 7, 2010 11:06 pm

    “You either have legislatures made of factions or legislatures made of parties”

    Please, Bob, you claim an historian’s status. Were all the whig and tory experiences just down to factional advantage?

    Wasn’t there a time you took a broader view?

    kind regards, Damian

  2. September 8, 2010 10:25 am

    Good One Bob! Erudite as usual.

    Shame your not in the Federal Parliament, it would be a more interesting place.

    Mark.

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