Australia: Duopoly Government vs. Proportional Representation

The United States is, of course, not the only country where voters are faced with a duopolized government and forced to choose between the lesser and greater of two relative evils. In an editorial for Australia's Canberra Times, Bede Harris argues that the country would be served well by the adoption of proportional representation in a piece entitled "Our Democratic System Fails Us":
Australian parliaments are controlled by a Coalition/Labor duopoly, whose participants happily alternate in power, and whose ministers need fear no independent thinking or scrutiny from their cowed backbenchers . . .

First, in order to break the Labor/Coalition duopoly, it is necessary to adopt proportional representation for the House of Representatives. Unlike electoral systems based solely on geographic electorates, which favour parties with concentrations of support, proportional representation gives minor parties and independents a real chance of obtaining representation. This makes it far more difficult for large, monolithic parties to survive unless they act in a far more consultative way internally, because disaffected members can simply leave and form their own party.

Under proportional representation we could probably anticipate four or five parties (rumps of the current ones, plus new parties at the centre and on the radical fringes of the political spectrum) competing for votes. Furthermore, since under proportional representation parties obtain seats in parliament directly proportional to their nationwide vote, it is extremely difficult for a single party to govern on its own. Coalition governments would be the norm, and this would lead to politics based on consensus and negotiation . . .

Of course, the two major parties would make common cause to fight to the death to avoid electoral reform which is perhaps the best advertisement for the project. [Emphasis added.] Predictably, they will argue that coalition governments are unstable. This ignores the fact that it is in the interest of coalition partners to compromise with each other in order to remain in power. Germany, which has proportional representation, has had fewer post-war governments than has Britain, which does not. In New Zealand, which has used the same proportional representation system as Germany since 1996, every government has lasted its full term.

2 comments:

Dale Sheldon said...

I find it a bit frightening that an Australian feels he has to describe to other Australians what proportional representation is, when they already use it in their senate.

d.eris said...

If you think that's scary, consider the results of the recent Civics Literacy Survey in the US. Among the findings: "Less than half can name all three branches of the government."

 
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