Leaders in Parliament

I just want to make a point about political party leaders and how important they really are, as opposed to how important the media and public (and, often, they) seem to think they are.

The answer: not so much.

You know what a parliamentary leader is? A spokesperson. Someone who represents the other MPs in public. Someone they’ve appointed to debate on their behalf. They serve at the other MPs’ pleasure, not the other way around.

You know what a parliamentary leader is not? The MPs’ boss. They can’t sack them, or hire them. The leader can’t make MPs vote a certain way, or say certain things.

A parliamentary party is not a company, and its “leader” is not a CEO.

Now, certain parties – cough, the ALP, cough – have adopted conventions in which most of the time they act as if the above was not true, as if they were a company where the MPs work for the Ministers who work for the PM. (And, because that fiction is easier to understand and more dramatic to portray, the news media go along with it.) But that system regularly breaks down, because in fact that’s neither how the parliament, nor the electoral system, nor the party branches, are actually set up.

Other parties, like the Greens, who have not adopted the ALP model – because it’s contradictory and undemocratic – are regularly attacked by journalists who don’t seem to understand what parliamentary democracy actually is. Bob Brown, for example, is excoriated for not having up-to-the-minute knowledge of what the party’s preference committee, mid-deliberations, has negotiated , as if he was their boss and they worked for him. Which he isn’t, because they don’t. The media like to speculate on who would “take over” from Brown, to the bemusement/frustration of Greens members and MPs – because although it matters to the extent that the Greens will need an effective spokesperson when Brown retires, it will make no difference to the party’s policy positions, whoever “leads” them.

I suspect the only reason the Greens even nominate a “leader” is that the collective heads of the national media would explode if they didn’t. “Does not compute! Does not compute!”

But a bit of perspective wouldn’t go astray. The issue for voters on August 21 is very simple: which candidate on your ballot paper will most consistently advocate for your views in parliament over the next three years? That’s the question we should each be tackling. All this garbage about leadership battles and leaders’ personalities is, at the end of the day, an irrelevant distraction – even if it does seem to make up most of the national coverage.

But it only does that because we let it.

25 responses to “Leaders in Parliament

  1. Good call Jeremy.

    The party system needs some work imo.

    Especially the way it focuses on 2 parties.

    The “party discipline” thing, especially in the ALP, is another.

    IMO its a hang over from the old days of Unionism, when solidarity was an important thing, the only thing workers had on their side.

    These days its metastasized into something unhealthy.

    Who has a candidates primary loyalty, their constituents or the party?

    Perhaps if the party had a core of values and policies, and allowed MPs their own conscience on everything else it might work a bit better.

  2. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy your confusion arises because you have forgotten that there are three branches of government, and that the legislature and the executive have separate functions.

    Maybe it is because in our system, where the separation of powers is not fully respected, the executive and the legislature overlap.

  3. Splatterbottom


    Bob Brown, for example, is excoriated for not having up-to-the-minute knowledge of what the party’s preference committee, mid-deliberations, has resolved

    Brown should continue to be excoriated as he has not enlightened us about the nature of the policy discussions that took place at the time of the shady preference deal. This will result in the government always having the excuse of the Green’s balance of power for compromising their election promises.

    The least Gillard and Brown could do is to tell us of the details of this bastard’s bargain they have entered into. I expected better than obfuscation from Brown – something like “In the interests of transparency I will get back to you with the details of any policy matters discussed with the ALP.”

    This is a game-changing election for the Greens. It will enhance their legitimacy as a major party. They are beginning to act like one already.

  4. Though I have no statistics on it, I’m be very surprised if more than half of all journalists actually know that the government and parliament are different institutions.

    The role of the fourth estate has gone from that of informing the public to placating the public.

  5. What are you talking about, SB? The “deal” was simply that they exchanged preferences. On what basis do you allege there was anything more than that?

    The idea that either party made unbinding policy promises in order to swap preferences is idiotic.

  6. Splatterbottom

    Brown could have said that when asked, or he could have shrugged his shoulders and said “I know nussing” . The latter response was bound to raise questions. Funnily enough Gillard gave the same response – no denial of such discussions, just feigned ignorance.



    Christ on a bike.

  8. Feigned ignorance of a deal that exists where tho?

  9. Ha just saw Jeremy’s response.

  10. Splatterbottom

    If there was no discussion of political issues (other than the allocation of preferences) it would be easy enough to say so. In fact they would be rushing to do so. Neither Gillard nor Brown is taking that option. They are both saying “someone else made the deal”. Sounds like plausible deniability to me.

  11. I haven’t heard Gillard deny that aliens landed at Pine Gap, either. Must be true until she does, eh SB?

  12. baldrickjones


    An assumption, not fact. No body does nothing for free.

  13. They didn’t. They gave up their preferences in exchange for the other mob’s preferences. That’s the deal.

    Can you give me any examples of the ALP and Greens ever making policy concessions for a preference deal?

  14. Splatterbottom

    Call me cynical, but the fact remains that both Gillard and Brown shrugged and pled ignorance of a matter which is vital to both parties. If they say anything further, it will be some carefully crafted language which sounds benign and tells us nothing.

    These ugly bedfellows, a new twist on the green-red alliance, may possibly say that no “formal” agreement was reached, but they will not tell us if policy, as opposed to merely preferences, was discussed at all, and they will not disclose the content of those discussions.

    No doubt there are some frantic back-channel discussions as they try to get their ducks in a row. The Greens are growing up fast as political players.

  15. “Ugly bedfellows”? What are you talking about? It’s not like the Greens made a deal with the Liberals, which would really have been a problem for Greens voters – the vast majority of Greens would prefer their preferences to go to Labor above the Coalition, and the vast majority of Labor voters would prefer their preferences to go to the Greens above the Coalition. Just as this “deal” arranges.

    Tricky this isn’t. This is what most of their voters would expect.

    What their voters WOULDN’T expect would be something like the ALP directing their votes to Fundamentalists First as they did in 2004. Thankfully, it seems they’ve learned from that mistake.

    I’m not giving any more space to your wild conspiracy theories, SB. If you’ve got evidence of some secret policy concession, give it. Otherwise, move on.

    And thanks for dragging this thread WAAAAY off topic.

    Back to the subject, folks, which was the exaggerated focus on “leaders” in our election campaigns.

  16. As Jeremy says, neither Bob nor Julia would have been involved in the negotiations. It probably would not have been their staff either.

    Given how trustworthy the publicly stated election promises are, why would you put any trust in anything stated in “back-channel discussions” which Labor (or the Coalition) will likely deny even happened. Such discussions would be a complete waste of time.

  17. Splatterbottom

    And thanks for dragging this thread WAAAAY off topic.

    1. You raised this issue in your post.

    2. All I want is a clear answer. If Brown had said “No deal was discussed” from the get-go, no suspicions would have been aroused.

  18. “No body does nothing for free.”

    I do.

  19. “1. You raised this issue in your post.”

    No, I raised the point that bashing Brown for not being on the preference committee was stupid because IT’S NOT HIS JOB.

    You’ve entirely ignored the issue of the post, which is the misrepresentation of leaders’ roles.

    “2. All I want is a clear answer. If Brown had said “No deal was discussed” from the get-go, no suspicions would have been aroused.”

    You’ve got a clear answer from Brown – he discussed no such deal with anyone.

    It’s not his job to go around answering every other wacky conspiracy theory you can invent.

  20. Splatterbottom

    You’ve entirely ignored the issue of the post, which is the misrepresentation of leaders’ roles.

    Wrong. See my first comment in this thread. No one replied to it, so I didn’t need to elaborate.

    “You’ve got a clear answer from Brown – he discussed no such deal with anyone.”

    And now the parsing starts, with the emphasis on “he”, which doesn’t really tell us what, if any, policy discussions were held when the preference deal was struck. Take your Green hat off for a minute and think about it.

  21. You’re right. Until Bob Brown confirms that the Greens haven’t promised to literally slaughter every mining executive in the country, we must keep asking the question: HAVE THE GREENS MADE A DEAL WITH THE ALP TO LITERALLY SLAUGHTER EVERY MINING EXECUTIVE IN THE COUNTRY?

    You know, while you’re reaching.

  22. like Jeremy said, this preference deals discussion is only framed in terms of what the Greens/Labor are doing..

    perhaps attention might be turned to the parties that gave the deciding preferences to One Nation, or Family First

    will Mr Abbott rule out secret swap deals with religious nutjobs/rascists again?

    or are we above asking loaded, rhetorical Laurie Oakes questions

  23. Splatterbottom

    It is a very simple process – the question has been raised by the synchronous and evasive answers given to the initial inquiry. It can be answered shortly to kill this issue stone dead – “There were no discussions of policy at the time of the preference deal”. Let’s see if they do.

  24. "All we’ve done is negotiate preferences for preferences, there’s been no policy arrangement at all," Ms Rhiannon said.


  25. Pingback: Kevin could still be Labor’s – could be Julia’s – saviour « An Onymous Lefty

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