This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning through the election period. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
Once upon a time when politicians were willing to walk along city streets and risk having unscripted chats with everyday voters, a young woman approached the American Democrat presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson and told him: "Every thinking person will be voting for you."
"Madam," replied an earnest Stevenson. "That's not enough. I need a majority."
Majorities are not the easiest thing to come by in these fragmented times. Nor were they in Australia's first 15 years after federation when voters only ever elected minority governments. But as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese flew in from Tokyo last night still hopeful of reaching the magical number of 76 seats, enough thinking people made it clear in last Saturday's election that no matter the outcome, the old days of brawling, petty feuding and juvenile point-scoring in Parliament House must end.
Albanese agrees and says he wants to clean up politics. The growing crossbench of independents is already ahead of him. They are drawing up demands that would allow them stronger voices in a more transparent parliament, including a ban or limit on "Dorothy Dixer" questions - those rehearsed queries planted with backbenchers that allow a government minister to blow endless amounts of hot air about their achievements.
Helen Haines, the independent MP for the Victorian seat of Indi, is leading the charge. Many of the proposed changes to be pushed by the crossbench have their origins in a discussion paper recently released by the independent policy group, the Australia Institute.
The institute, which has polled voters around the country, wants an overhaul of government advertising (the Coalition spent $145 million in advertising last year - more than multinationals Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Amazon) as well as giving the parliament and not the government of the day the power to go to war. Other reforms would include governments making public the advice they receive from highly-paid consultants - and what that advice cost the taxpayer - along with a ban on fundraising events being staged within Parliament House.
Private members' bills, often consigned to gather dust if the government has no interest in them, would receive greater recognition, while a neutral Parliamentary Standards Commissioner would be given powers to investigate suspected breaches of the ministerial code of conduct and the register of interest for MPs and senators.
A four-year fixed term for parliament - a reform many Echidna readers have called for - requires changes to the constitution. But the institute says there is nothing preventing the government and opposition from agreeing to a three-year fixed term to give certainty around election dates. And if they get their house in order, the institute says there is a compelling argument - wait for it - to increase the number of parliamentarians by as much as 50 per cent to reflect our growing population.
Similar calls for reform have gone nowhere in the past but even the most tone-deaf politicians surely heard the angry shouts of the electorate last Saturday. "The Australian people have made clear they want integrity in government and the parliament itself," says Tony Burke, Labor's likely Leader of the House in the 47th parliament.
The simple message to our politicians was to show a little respect. Pull that off and Australians might start returning the favour.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What reforms would you like to see in the next parliament? Would you follow parliament and Question Time if it was less combative? And do you believe Albanese can fundamentally change the way politics is conducted? Email us: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
THEY SAID IT: "A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country." - Texas Guinan, American actress.
YOU SAID IT: "I nearly bought an electric car but found the price overwhelming. I researched, vacillated and finally settled for a petrol car with the best economy I could find. The difference in price was $30,000! In some ways I still regret that decision but I just didn't have $60,000. I'm pleased Labor got in, I'm even more pleased that the Greens should be able to make a difference." - Tony.
"My brother has a Tesla on order. He drove one from Melbourne airport to our home in Yarrawonga as part of a hire from existing owners scheme. We have solar so we could recharge it at home. The tablet-style dash and general feel of the car was wonderful and it was a joy to drive. Quiet, quick and with great acceleration. We all loved it." - George.
"I do not have an electric car, and am unlikely to get one for some years. Why should I? They are expensive and still mostly rely on electricity produced by coal-fired power stations, so they are no more environmentally friendly than petrol-powered cars." - Peter.
"The day that I shall be politically forced to purchase an electric motor car will be the day that I stop driving after 55 years. Not in a million years could an aged pensioner buy such a vehicle, let alone maintain it." - Elizabeth.
"We couldn't afford a Tesla, but were able to buy an excellent, second-hand Nissan Leaf for a much more reasonable price. We've had it for a year and are absolutely delighted - much cheaper to run and handles beautifully." - Felix.
"All I want is a country with some fairness, kindness and ability to grow into a forward looking Australia instead of riding on the mining backbone. Surely we are better than that. Take a drive through western NSW; they're clearing the bush so fast and ploughing the dry country. Same in south and central Queensland. You can drive for days and see ploughed paddocks in the dry areas. I just want to cry for the country." - Sandra.
"Australians sent the Liberal and Labor parties a big message on Saturday - 'We'll decide who sits in our parliament'. Sending last-minute text messages to the very people who decide who to grant the precious gift of a seat in 'our parliament' clearly demonstrates the Liberals' contempt for voters. Sending the parachuted Kristina Keneally back to where she came from, fittingly by a refugee from Vietnam, provides the same lesson to Labor. Will they never learn? Democracy is easy! Just shut up and listen to the people!" - Daniel.
"If ever there was a time to accept boat arrivals from anywhere, it is now. Shame on Border Force." - Margaret.
"Nothing shabby about warning Australians that the boats had started. With temporary protection visas scrapped they will keep coming. You can stick your head up your arse and pretend that it's all OK. Let's see what you all have to say when they arrive in their thousands and there are more deaths at sea." - Wayne.
"The Liberal party is still showing its inability to learn from its mistakes and treat the electorate with some respect. We are now being told that Peter Dutton is really a very nice and decent family man. His fear mongering, hard line sabre-rattling reputation was just a function of his job. Do they really think we are that stupid?" - Ian.
"Labor should have got Senator Keneally to run in the seat of Mackellar or, even better, the seat of Cook against Morrison!" - Tony.
"Australia's tough stance on illegal boats and asylum seekers (economic refugees?) should remain as part of national security and border protection. Electric vehicles are too expensive for the majority of the population. I'm still trying to find someone who can realistically explain why replacing a four-cylinder engine and transmission with some batteries and an electric motor doubles the price." - Bob.
"Your assessment of the treatment of voters by major parties in safe electorates is 100 per cent correct. The majority of the effort put in by our local member, an ex-party 'adviser', appears to be spent getting a prime spot at the parliamentary buffet. The depth of talent in our safe electorate was shallow to say the least, offering little choice or alternative. No wonder the teals, with real world credentials, experience and professional nous, appealed to many voters - as opposed to the alternate offerings of the party machines." - Mark.
"I have lived in both safe and marginal electorates. The difference between the way local members in these seats treat their constituents is like night and day. Members in safe seats often don't even bother responding to constituents. While living in a marginal electorate I have had the member contact me directly by phone within a few hours of sending an email." - David.
"It looks like the extreme right of the Liberal Party got their way and Labor won. It may become impossible for some of the Liberal elected politicians to stay in the party and we may see some of them move to the cross benches." - Barry.
"The Libs would be well advised to steer clear of Dutton for leader. The teals have sent a message that the party is now deeply fractured perhaps beyond recovery. If the Libs are capable of listening they would oust Morrison altogether, put Dutton on notice, work to re-integrate the moderates and re- engage with their philosophy. The contempt they have encouraged for considered thinking and reflection, let alone for the social contract, has resulted in their failure. Ultimately this is not good for democracy" - Christine.
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