I’m on record as opposing the domination in our parliament of the old “broad church” parties – you can’t represent both sides of an argument, and it’s an undemocratic fiction to pretend that you can. That lie underlines the claims to government of both big old parties, and it results in decisions being made based on secret internal votes, not on what the public actually wants.
So in one sense I fully support people like Malcolm Fraser leaving the Liberals, and progressives leaving the Labor Party. It weakens those parties, by decreasing their ability to trick a broad church of voters into voting for them, but it strengthens democracy. If liberals like Fraser were to start a classically liberal party, or join the libertarians or something, then such voters would have a real choice. Just like progressive voters no longer have to vote for the ALP – we can vote for the Greens and know that our votes won’t be being used to support socially conservative policies like opposing marriage equality or locking up refugees in the desert.
And I don’t want Malcolm Fraser joining the Greens just because we agree on those issues, because we fundamentally disagree on issues like public spending, taxation and unions. I want people who agree with him to have the chance to vote for his approach; and I want people who agree with me to be able to vote for my approach. And we don’t need a majority by ourselves – we can form coalitions depending on the issue, and on one issue we might agree with Malcolm’s lot, and on another we might agree with the old ALP lot. The numbers of our respective representatives will decide, entirely democratically, what gets done.
Of course, the problem with doing this is the intrinsic bias in our electoral system against new parties growing. The single-member constituency system pretty much locks in the Labor and Liberal Parties, and until that’s reformed, it is true that if liberals start leaving those major parties and leaving them in the hands of hardline rightwingers, then those hardline rightwingers will get all the benefits of incumbency and voter habit.
So I can understand their reluctance to leave. But there has to come a tipping point, a point at which you realise that the tent is so rotten there’s little to be gained by staying inside it any more. It might not make the fight easier, but it does make it more honest.