Democracy or personal plaything?

Posted: December 6, 2015 in Ranting
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What do Ian Macfarlane, Peter Slipper, Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus have in common? Each of stood for election representing a specific party, only to later jump ship. And along the way, each of them has highlighted a significant flaw in our political system.

Australia is a democracy – a democracy based on the party system. When we go to the ballot box, we are theoretically voting for a party, not an individual except in the case of independents in which case that is usually apparent from the start. I say usually as there has been a significant exception but more on that anon. Each electorate elects which party or independent they wish to be represented by. Yet once that elected person decides to jump ship to either go independent or join another party, their electorate is suddenly no longer represented by the party of their choice, not by any democratic process but as a matter of personal choice or pique.

Other democracies do handle this situation better by popular expectation if nothing else. For example in the United Kingdom, if an elected MP decides to jump ship they are expected to resign from their party and face a by-election on behalf of their new party. And that is what happens more often than not. Yet in Australia nobody seems to so much as blink when individuals switch horses mid-race and are allowed to carry on despite no longer reflecting the will of their electorate. Surely a by-election is the answer?


Bob Katter

ian macfarlane

Ian Macfarlane

It could be argued that a by-election is a waste of time. And some instances it is hard to argue otherwise. For example when Bob Katter quit the National Party, he was always going to be re-elected as Katter the individual is as firmly dug in within that electorate as is a particularly vigorous tick behind a dog’s ear. Then there is the Macfarlane case where members of the Turnbull government, while unhappy at the defection, are arguing it doesn’t mean much in the big picture as he is still part of the Coalition. Do people in his electorate agree with that right now? We’ll never know. But what about Jacqui Lambie as another example?


Jacqui Lambie

Jacqui Lambie was elected as a Senator for Tasmania, representing the Palmer United Palmer. That is to say, bugger all people directly voted for Lambie and PUP but PUP benefited by some good preference deals. Nonetheless, Lambie was duly elected under the rules of our democratic system. But after falling out with PUP founder, and arguably ‘owner’, Clive Palmer, Lambie first jumped ship to go solo then announced formation of her own outfit. An undoubted loose and rather unpredictable cannon (how many other politicians have raised as a concern the prospect of terrorists deliberately infecting themselves with Ebola and sneaking into Australia to infect us?), if a by-election had been forced after that desertion, how well would Lambie have done on her own? Again we shall never know.

I mentioned a significant exception in independents earlier and that exception was Pauline Hanson. You see, Hanson was originally a Liberal and won preselection in her local branch. Except her branch later rued their choice and disendorsed

Pauline Hanson

Pauline Hanson

Hanson. The problem was that by then it was too close to the election date to change the ballot papers, so in the seat of Oxley loyal Liberal voters ticked the box next to Hanson, Liberal Party of Australia, not realising that they were actually not voting for the Liberal candidate at all. Hence Hanson was elected as an independent on the strength of Liberal votes. Then while in office, Hanson jumped direction by forming her One Nation party. That was twice in one term the seat of Oxley was represented by something other than what they had actually voted for. This was a ridiculous situation and that election should have been scrapped and started all over again. But sadly, as we have seen over and over again, that is not the way our system works.

Every time one of our politicians jumps ship or goes out on their own then they are guilty of no longer acting as their electorate voted. And every time these individuals treat our democracy as their personal toys, we and our entire system are failed.

Ross sig



  1. Mike .B says:

    You highlight the problems within the Australian political system well. That being that voters vote for a party rather than an individual. Party politics is the downfall of the system. A politician cann hold true to his/her electorate’s views if the party says otherwise. That’s why there are so few concience votes in parliament.
    A true democracy would have a number of individuals, each representing their electorate rather than the party. If an individual was seen to be non representative of their electorate, they would not survive the next election. Simple.

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