FOR AS long as most people can remember, the Australian political system has been like a particularly awkward blind date. Two people are forced to sit across a table from each other for what seems like an excruciatingly long period of time, realising from the first instance that they have absolutely nothing in common.
The two-party political system typically evolves in one of two ways: the major parties will either retreat to separate extremes on the ideological spectrum or they will go to battle for the centre ground, the so-called “undecided”. Australians aren’t a group that are particularly known for their political activism, and as such the major parties naturally rejected extremism and turned their focus to gathering as many of the undecided under their banner as possible.
That is what makes the recent onslaught of minor parties that have been formed in Australia so strange. For over a century, Australians have been content to support whichever party that they thought was the ‘lesser of two evils’. Aside from the hard-core party faithful, most Australians were happy to vote for the party that were decent, rather than one that they firmly believed in.
Now it is 2013, and we can’t seem to go a single week without a new political party being launched. Katter’s Australian Party was one of the trailblazers, with the movement founded by maverick MP Bob Katter performing surprisingly well at the 2012 Queensland election. We have seen all kinds of new political entities enter the arena since then. Pastor Danny Nalliah’s conservative Christian party Rise Up Australia, rebel expat Julian Assange’s Wikileaks Party and the recently formed United Australia Party have each made a considerable impact on the voting public and will undoubtedly have a major role in how September’s federal election will play out.
The mainstream media have taken a dim view on the rise of this legion of minor parties that have sprung up in recent months. Politicians from both of the major parties have lambasted the people involved with them as eccentric and irrelevant. You would be forgiven for thinking that providing the public with a political alternative was something that was frowned upon in Australia, which is evidently a country that can only deal with two options at a time, thank you very much.
I tend to take the opposite position for one simple reason: I like choice. I definitely do not like some of the choices that I am given, but I like to know that it is up to me to decide. I want to listen if someone thinks that they have something to say. I am bored and tired with the daily tussle of politics, with the ALP and the Coalition arguing the point for weeks on end over the semantics of a bill rather than its substance. I have my own political ideology, but at the end of the day I believe in the power of ideas above all else.
The rise of the minor party in Australian politics should not be seen as an unnecessary aberration, or a trivial moment in the country’s democratic development. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to reform a stagnating electoral system. Why not support the minor parties? Look at what they have to offer, and choose the one that stands for what you believe in. Who says the ALP or the Coalition have to win the election, just because that is the way it has always been?
I would even go one step further: I suggest that it is time to change the system entirely. Take a look at Germany, for instance. A country that thrives on a system of proportional representation, wherein a party wins seats in parliament based on what percentage of the vote it receives rather than on an electorate-by-electorate basis. Has it thrown their system into chaos? No. Instead it has fostered compromise between parties — who often have to form unlikely coalition government in a system of negotiation and political debate.
We should not be afraid of new ideas, and we should not be afraid of new political parties injecting a renewed vitality into the Australian political system. It is high time that we saw these fledgling political parties for what they are: a chance to turn the awkward to-and-fro of Australian politics into a vibrant system that gives every citizen the chance to have their opinion heard.