The decision of Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to support Labor has given Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard the numbers to govern.
Their decision follows those of the sole Green Party House of Representatives MP Adam Bandt and former Tasmanian Green Andrew Wilkie (who was elected as an independent) to also support Labor forming a government.
It was always going to be a no-brainer, because under the peculiarities of Australian electoral law, the election resulted in sufficient Green Senators being elected – the election to the Senate is under the somewhat more proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) system – take office next July that a Liberal-National Coalition Government would have been incredibly unstable and unlikely to pass any controversial legislation.
There are a few lessons to be learned from the recent Australian and UK elections though. Despite the claims of their supporters, non-proportional systems such as the Australian Preferential Vote (PV) and the UK’s First Past the Post (FPP) don’t necessarily deliver decisive and stable Government. And non-proportional systems can give completely excessive bargaining power to a few renegade electorate MPs when there is a close result between the bigger parties.
Some in the UK want to move to the Australian PV electoral system. But the Australian election results show that doesn’t necessarily deliver any more representative democracy than the UK’s horrendously undemocratic FPP.
Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, we have MMP – a proportional electoral system that has led to stable government for the last 14 years. It could do with a tweak or two, considering that NZ First got more votes at the last election than ACT, but NZ First got no MPs and ACT got five. That doesn’t seem fair (despite my disgust for the appeal to bigotry that underpins NZ First).
Australia and the UK could well look to New Zealand as a model for an electoral system. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than they have, and it is flexible enough that we can still improve on it. Maybe the Aussies and thePoms ned to look to how we do it.