New Year’s resolutions link a calendar date with the alluring promise of leaving a disappointing past behind. But to describe the last year in Australian politics as disappointing would be an understatement, riddled as it was with sleaze, bombast and treachery on all sides.
This year, a Federal election beckons. So I asked some of Canberra’s brightest political brains how our politicians could make a better start to 2019. John Warhurst is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the ANU, and Andrew Hughes, also from the ANU, is recognised as one of Australia’s leading researchers in political marketing.
Hot on the heels of revelations that the Federal Liberal Party has pre-selected fewer women for the forthcoming election than at any time in a century, Warhurst pinpoints this as a major problem that must be fixed.
“It makes them totally unrepresentative of the Australian community and that’s hurting them electorally. It’s only stubbornness that’s stopping the Liberals from adopting targets or quotas or whatever you want to call it. They need to be big enough to admit that it’s just not working,” he says.
But Warhurst says gender is not the only issue with representation. “I think we need to allow people to join parties until the date of preselection for a bigger range of candidates,” he says, pointing to countries like Canada where there’s no requirement for long-term party membership to nominate for office.
He thinks we need a Federal ICAC with teeth and a government that’s willing to expose discussions about corruption to a public audience. On that, Professor Warhurst believes the model proposed by PM Scott Morrison doesn’t go far enough in its scope.
Federally and locally, he’d like to widen the definition of lobbyists to include government relations officers for corporations, industry associations, and interest groups. Warhurst says he was puzzled by advice given to the Legislative Assembly by ethics advisor Stephen Skehill, which argued there was no compelling reason to expand the Territory’s lobbyist register.
“I don’t think we should be put off by the difficulty of this,” Warhurst says. “It’s not a convincing argument to say that people’s roles would simply be redefined to avoid being registered.”
The much-argued provisions of Section 44 of the Constitution are also on Professor Warhurst’s wishlist. “I think we need a close look at reformulating Section 44 on citizenship but also offices of profit under the crown. There are several things wrong with it that deserve a public discussion about what sort of democracy we want, a parliamentary enquiry and perhaps a referendum.”
On personal sleaze and bad behaviour, Professor Warhurst calls out the Greens and Liberals for recent bullying allegations. And with a government under siege, Professor Warhurst says that Labor is too captivated by their prospective election win to step out of line and show real leadership.
“In all ways, political parties have to be role models rather than laggards. They are hiding behind closed doors when they should be setting an example.”
Andrew Hughes has a simple suggestion for all politicians. “Make one promise and stick to it, regardless of what that promise is,” he says. “Both parties need to restore faith they’re acting in our best interests. So, find something to agree on where the nation is crying out for change – maybe an organ donor strategy – and put a positive spin on politics after a terrible 12 months.”
Hughes also like the idea of a commitment to positive campaigning in the next election. “Put the emphasis on what the (parties) could do, not how much they hate the other side. Tell us how will you actually improve the country,” he suggests.
He concurs that ongoing perceptions of a Liberal issue with women is affecting their political brand, and warns that with likely defeat looming, the current low number of women in the Party will affect their ability to rebuild for a full election cycle. “Perception is such a big factor in politics, and the Liberals look like a party that’s out of touch and out of time,” Hughes says.
“Labor doesn’t have “It’s Time” momentum – this election is all about kicking out the government. My sense is the electorate won’t tolerate parties of either stripe getting these things wrong. The country needs good government at all levels, and they’re saying to the Liberals, you won’t be back until you’ve learned your lesson.”
What New Year’s resolutions do you think our politicians should make?