Politicians’ loyalties should be to the communities they represent over their own parties, writes Leanne Minshull
THE Jenkins Report into parliamentary workplaces released this week laid bare the toxic nature of our federal politics. For anyone who has worked in or around state or federal politics, the findings would not have been a shock. If anything, many of us expected it to be worse. But now that we have lanced the boil, how do we begin to fix the problem? The structures that support this festering sore can’t be fixed by the same politicians and political parties that created the culture in the first place. Loyalty to a political party was repeatedly cited in the report as a factor contributing to the decision of workers not to report misconduct.
Just as bishops placed the health of the Church above the behaviour of predatory priests, some politicians place the health of the party above the protection of its members and workers. I believe in collectivism and the sweet taste of solidarity.
But too often I have seen it used to excuse bad behaviour. As the power of political parties has become more entrenched, the diversity of people entering parliament has narrowed. The pathway to a seat in parliament is often built from factional deals, working as a staffer, serving as a party official or a combination of all three.
So where is the voice of the broader community and voters in this system? I previously worked for the Greens, I know what it feels like to genuinely believe that sometimes the health of the party should be prioritised over the health of individuals. I also worked for a conviction politician, who, for me, demonstrated what politics should be about. I can only imagine what it would be like working within party structures for politicians who are not of thesame ilk.
What I have come to understand is that these current party structures ultimately deliver the types of behaviour that we are seeing in our parliaments. Or let me put it another way — if it’s not the party structure then what is it? Were we just unlucky to end up with a heap of poorly behaving people running our country?
The major parties are not going anywhere, but cracks are starting to appear from both outside and within. Members of the government are starting to vote in ways that they see as aligned with their electorate, even if it doesn’t align with
their party. In Australia we call this “crossing the floor” and it makes headlines. In other similar democracies like the US, they just call it voting and nobody raises an eyebrow. External challenges to the existing party system are coming from parties like the one I helped to create, the Local Network. If you are elected as a representative for the Local Party, your bond is with your community, not the party itself.
Every member gets their own vote on every piece of legislation. We believe this is what the parliament was originally set up for — for representatives from their community to enter parliament to represent their community’s view. To be preselected for our party you need to live in the community you are seeking to represent, and commit to holding at least two citizen juries per year. Important decisions need to be made in partnership with communities, not sham consultation processes. You don’t need to bind votes to bind a collective of people with similar values into a party.
The growing “Voices For” movement is presenting a viable alternative in many mainland seats. The existential crisis it is wreaking upon the Liberal Party in particular is evidenced by the federal government’s attempt to undermine our democracy, from attempting unnecessary voter ID rules to securing the exclusive use of the word “Liberal”.
Nothing ever changes ...
until it does.
At a point in history the impossible flips over to the inevitable. We have been told for decades that it is impossible to change politics or challenge existing party structures. The moment for the flip-over is coming, eitherat this election or another one in the near future.
Leanne Minshull is party secretary of the Local Network.