Traditionally, Australian federal politics has been shaped by the rivalry of two core political groups, the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia and The Nationals.
Our electoral history shows a yoyo-ing of power between these major parties and thus it is understandable that Australians would believe that our Parliament must be ruled by one of them.
Afterall, that's how it's been for over a century.
But that's not actually the case.
With almost one in three Australians allocating their primary vote to someone not in the major parties at the last election, it seems that the issues with party politics are coming to the fore and a growing number of us have had enough.
Democracy is meant to be a system of government that is an "ongoing conversation that needs everyone's voices to work." The democratic state power should be vested in the people of the state, with the UN declaring that democracy "provides an environment that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in which the freely expressed will of people is exercised."
Note the palpable absence of any mention of political parties.
George Washington certainly wasn't a fan of the system. He "'lambasted" political parties for allowing "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" to "subvert the power of the people". Our own system has certainly demonstrated this in practice having recently recorded the worst ever score on the Corruption Perceptions Index.
The biggest issue that we face with the focus on party politics is that our representatives must represent their party first. This means that democracy in our country is not so much about the people, but about the political elites and their corporate sponsors. In an electorate like mine, Farrer, where the MP is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, we are even more invisible, as her responsibility to her party is greater than that of a member without such internal leadership responsibilities.
In June of this year, the joint standing committee on electoral matters released the interim report on the conduct of the 2022 federal election and other matters. Triggered by Labor's Special Minister of State, Don Farrell, this most recent review asked the committee to inquire into and report on all aspects of the 2022 election.
Few understand the impact of political defeat and the loss of power more than Senator Farrell, having suffered the loss of his Senate seat in the 2013 election, despite having reportedly controlled the "most powerful faction in the South Australian ALP." Entrenched in the union movement, Farrell has touted its structure as "... an ideal structure - a high churn rate in membership and an untouchable executive."
Two years after his crushing defeat, he returned to the Senate in South Australia as a Labor senator, and to the frontbench by October of that year. Now, it seems that this "ideal structure" with the "untouchable executive" is a key part of his negotiations with Liberal MP Jane Hume, regarding the implementation of the recommendations that came out of that interim report.
One of the key goals of the reforms under current negotiation is reducing the covert influence of "big money" on elections. However, with rising community candidates' lack of access to public funds for election campaigns, donation caps cannot be generalised - they can't be set too low and they must be intelligently implemented to prevent the perpetuation of the two-party duopoly. Simon Holmes à Court has claimed that if this is not achieved, democracy could be weakened by such caps, drawing on the outcomes in Victoria and NSW, seeing the return of power to the major parties following such reforms rolling out. Holmes à Court further pointed out that for the Libs to get back in, in the independents' climate du jour, they either need to change their culture or change the rules, and we all know which option there is easier for them.
Both the ALP and the Coalition share the same issue: the increasing power of independents. Farrell's intimate acquaintance with the experience of power loss provides a powerful motivator to safeguard the future of party power in Australian politics. By joining bipartisan forces, they have the ability to make the election of these community candidates next to impossible.
And in doing so, he would cement the representation of party power ahead of the people they are elected to represent, allowing the curtain to fall on the illusion of true democratic representation in Australia.
- Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au, and a regular columnist for ACM.