Senate Voting Reform: Part 2 (Cowardice, Conviction, Politics & Principle)

Crikey is normally pretty good at cutting through political bluster to identify what is happening underneath. So it was disappointing to see them having a shot at the Greens for refusing to acquiesce to tactical moves by various other parties in the Senate to derail the legislation implementing improvements to Senate voting laws.  It also made me realise that there is a lack of recognition of just how important these reforms to Senate voting laws are.  They are not just a slight improvement of arguable benefit.  They are a hugely important, desperately needed reform.

Crikey’s editorial yesterday – titled “The cowardice of their conviction” – wrote about the Greens that “When it comes to getting rid of crossbenchers who stand in your party’s way, it seems politics trumps conviction every time.”

So I replied with the following (at this link, but behind a paywall unless you subscribe)

Re “The cowardice of their conviction” (yesterday). I know the concept of a political party doing something because it’s the right thing for democracy may seem implausible, but it is worth considering that it is at least possible.

Those who oppose the major improvements to democracy that will come from Senate voting reform are trying to derail it by bringing on debate on other legislation that the Greens also support. The Greens are simply choosing to prioritise one piece of legislation they support — which has a real chance of being implemented if it is voted on this week — over other legislation they support which is very unlikely to pass at the moment.

It is a total misreading of the situation to suggest that the Greens refusal to go along with this equates to “politics trumping conviction”. What is happening is precisely the opposite. The easy politics would be for the Greens to fold in the face of the massive attacks and monumental misrepresentations which have been put around on this issue by a range of people who are clearly putting short-term interests ahead of long-term opportunity. The fact that some of those people know that the Greens are the strongest defenders of the issues they care about makes the politics even more difficult for the Greens and the attacks all the more disappointing (not to mention dangerous for progressive politics). Instead the Greens are showing strong conviction by holding firm on grasping the first real opportunity to fix the Senate voting system, after 20 years of advocating for that reform.

This is not a minor matter. It is about ensuring that Senates are actually elected by the voters, thus ensuring those future Senates are able to be held accountable by the voters for the decisions they made. That affects not only the specific issues that progressive politics cares about now, but every single one of them that might come before the Parliament for decades to come.

It is unfortunate that the principle that voters should be the ones deciding who gets elected at election time has somehow become contentious. But the fact that it has makes it all the more crucial that a rare opportunity is not lost to ensure this very fundamental principle is able to apply in the future.

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