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Coalitions

In Australia we are about to have a federal election, so we inevitably have a lot of stupid commentary and propaganda about politics.

One thing that always annoys me is the claim that we shouldn’t have small parties. We have two large parties, Liberal (right-wing, somewhat between the Democrats and Republicans in the US) and Labor which is somewhat similar to Democrats in the US. In the US the first past the post voting system means that votes for smaller parties usually don’t affect the outcome. In Australia we have Instant Runoff Voting (sometimes known as “The Australian Ballot”) which has the side effect of encouraging votes for small parties.

The Liberal party almost never wins enough seats to make government on it’s own, it forms a coalition with the National party. Election campaigns are often based on the term “The Coalition” being used to describe a Liberal-National coalition and the expected result if “The Coalition” wins the election is that the leader of the Liberal party will be Prime Minister and the leader of the National party will be the Deputy Prime Minister. Liberal party representatives and supporters often try to convince people that they shouldn’t vote for small parties and that small parties are somehow “undemocratic”, seemingly unaware of the irony of advocating for “The Coalition” but opposing the idea of a coalition.

If the Liberal and Labor parties wanted to form a coalition they could do so in any election where no party has a clear majority, and do it without even needing the National party. Some people claim that it’s best to have the major parties take turns in having full control of the government without having to make a deal with smaller parties and independent candidates but that’s obviously a bogus claim. The reason we have Labor allying with the Greens and independents is that the Liberal party opposes them at every turn and the Liberal party has a lot of unpalatable policies that make alliances difficult.

One thing that would be a good development in Australian politics is to have the National party actually represent rural voters rather than big corporations. Liberal policies on mining are always opposed to the best interests of farmers and the Liberal policies on trade aren’t much better. If “The Coalition” wins the election then the National party could insist on a better deal for farmers in exchange for their continued support of Liberal policies.

If Labor wins more seats than “The Coalition” but not enough to win government directly then a National-Labor coalition is something that could work. I think that the traditional interest of Labor in representing workers and the National party in representing farmers have significant overlap. The people who whinge about a possible Green-Labor alliance should explain why they aren’t advocating a National-Labor alliance. I think that the Labor party would rather make a deal with the National party, it’s just a question of whether the National party is going to do what it takes to help farmers. They could make the position of Deputy Prime Minister part of the deal so the leader of the National party won’t miss out.

2 comments to Coalitions

  • Glenn

    The National party might talk a lot about ‘farming’, but their constituents are largely people living in rural townships, not directly on farms. In their strongest states they have already merged with the Liberal party. They have often represented mining interests, and been anti-union, so there are only two chances of them ever forming an alliance with the Labor party. Buckley’s and none.

  • Glenn: By the standards of the 1950’s the idea of the Democrats getting the vast majority of the Afro-American vote and the Republicans being endorsed by the KKK would be much less likely. So the National party doing a backflip on mining would hardly rate as strange by political standards.

    I believe that the fact that the National party talks about farming is significant. They might feel inclined to act on those ideals at some future time.