Actually, even non-government MPs have a “mandate” – and it’s different from the government’s

I know it’s The Australian, and they’ll run anything that bashes the Greens, no matter how stupid, but I was a bit nonplussed to hear the published claim from some “retired professor” from South Australia that there was something wrong with them not voting for the Coalition’s legislation if it won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives.

THE Greens need a lesson in democracy, veteran political commentator Dean Jaensch fears…

Jaensch believes the Greens, unlike the Democrats, who passed Reith’s own workplace relations bills early in the Howard years, do not give much credence to the concept of a mandate.

“Environmentalism is an ideology that can be very powerful,” he explains. “I don’t think that they would recognise any mandate that had been won by the Liberal Party. It’s that ideology coupled with party politics that really defines the Greens.”

What “mandate” is he talking about? The Coalition has a “mandate” from its voters to push the policies in parliament it said it would push before the election. The ALP has a “mandate” from ITS voters to push the policies in parliament it said it would push before the election. The Greens have a “mandate” from THEIR voters to push the policies in parliament they said they would push before the election.

If the Greens have the ability to block Coalition legislation then it means, by definition, that the Coalition do not have a majority of seats. So why precisely should they get their way? Why should any party vote for legislation it told its voters it would oppose? THAT would be betraying its “mandate”.

We do not have a “winner takes all” system of government. We have a parliament. And the job of the members of that parliament is to represent the voters who entrusted them with their votes. The Coalition represents the voters who want big business to get more of its own way. The ALP represents the voters who think it doesn’t want big business to get more of its own way. And the Greens represent voters who want more economically, socially, and environmentally progressive government. It would be a betrayal of any of those voters for their representatives to suddenly, after the election, start voting for legislation they said they’d oppose.

Message to the Greens: whatever votes you’ve received, and whatever seats you’ve won (against the odds of a system stacked undemocratically in favour of the big parties), have been given to you to advocate those policies you said you’d advocate. That is your mandate. If you were to vote for legislation opposed to those principles, then you would no longer deserve our votes.

Remember what happened to the Democrats. They promised their voters they would not vote for the GST. Then they negotiated with Howard and voted for it – partly under the stupid claim that Howard had a “mandate” for the GST despite having not won enough seats to implement it without their help. And the Democrats’ politically-engaged voters, realising they could not rely on the Democrats to do what they said they’d do, abandoned them and went to the Greens.

The Oz quotes from a former senator from that failed party who seems not to have grasped that lesson:

Former Australian Democrats senator Andrew Murray remains respected on both sides of politics for his measured approach. He talks about an authoritarian streak in the Greens and a desire to impose their world view.

“Authoritarianism is characteristic of those messianically convinced of their rightness, like divine-right kings, theocrats and dictators; but political movements too can be like that,” he says.

Following what you said you’d do is “authoritarianism”? Murray just doesn’t get it. Authoritarianism is disregarding the people. Democracy is representing them. And the only way a party can represent its part of the electorate is to do what it said it would do before it was entrusted with the amount of power it received.

Any opposition party that thinks the government party’s “mandate” from the government party’s voters means that the opposition party has to abandon its responsibilities to its own voters deserves the Democrats’ oblivion.

Big parties do get away with it, true, but that appears to be mainly because they are appealing to the pool of voters who think they “must” choose one of the big two parties “that can form majority government in their own right”, even though they both regularly break promises (“That was a non-core promise!”). They also appeal to the politically-disengaged who don’t care or have any particular general view on issues. And of course they run such broad and often contradictory platforms that they don’t really stand for anything anyway.

But smaller parties, whose voters deliberately choose them FOR their specific policy stance, betray them and it at their peril.

Fortunately, unlike Mr Jaensch, the Greens don’t need a “lesson in democracy” at all. They understand that they are there to represent their voters – and that as long as they do that, their voters will continue to vote for them. And while The Australian doesn’t understand that, its relentless smears and attacks will continue to be ineffective in reducing the Greens’ support.

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6 responses to “Actually, even non-government MPs have a “mandate” – and it’s different from the government’s

  1. It seems the Oz is under the impression that because the majority of people did not vote for the Greens, they should do the opposite of what they said they’d do. Representative democracy seems beyond the scope of conservatives to understand.

    It’s also funny (not “haha” funny) that somebody would accuse the Greens of “authoritarianism” but not any of the other parties that vote against the majority. As if the Greens are the only ones who want things to be done their way. ALL political parties do their own thing, want their own way, but it’s only bad when the Greens do it.

    The special pleading is unsurprising, but still frustrating.

  2. I thought the argument was both clear and compelling: the Greens can take any policies they like to the election but once the parliament is convened, if they stick to those policies then they’re being authoritarian. What they’re obliged to do is abandon their policies when ordered to do so by the large parties and their supporters need to suck it up and do what they’re told because that isn’t authoritarian…. or something… no, wait…

  3. BTW, can I have a mandate to ban the word “mandate”? As a claim for authority, it’s become so misused to be almost meaningless. Maybe something more honest like “You have to accept this policy because… abracadabra!”

  4. Lol, yes.

    “Mandate” doesn’t mean what they think it means.

  5. People seem to have forgotten the power that the very right wing Sen Harradine had for so long. He was one man; the Greens have nine Senators and the National Party just five.

    I’d love a mandate although my partner might not be so keen.

  6. dear Jeremy Sear
    if the founders had intended a single mandate state, why’d they constitute gov’t with two houses, eh? eh?
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

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