It’s Time - to scrap three year terms
We’re now entering a Twilight Zone on our electoral calendar.
The bizarre formulation of federal three year terms will force the Federal Government go to the polls before the NSW Iemma/Rees/Keneally Governments, despite the fact this triumvirate have given the people of NSW one of the worst governments in the state’s history.
Kevin Rudd was elected six months after Morris Iemma and will have to face the electorate at least six months before Kristina Keneally, despite being a federal government with greater responsibility and a more complex agenda, the black comedy of Macquarie Street has been heritage listed till next March.
In the terms of constitutional and political debates in this country the three year federal term has become the poor cousin to the republic, and that’s saying something given, after years of committed service, the republic has been moved to a far corner office to work on a series of “long-term research projects” with no foreseeable deadline. We just have to take it out to lunch once in a while.
I can’t help but think what we’ve recently witnessed in the UK has something to do with its four year terms, a time period that allows for more long-term change in government and opposition. Regardless it’s about time we made the switch from three year to four year terms, and preferably those terms would be fixed.
So much of politics in Australia is dogged by the constant electioneering that Governments are forced to embark upon.
This is reflected not only in political rhetoric but in policy as well, the two cross pollinating into a weird half breed that can take on the worst characteristics of both.
That’s not to say that we don’t share many characteristics of comparable democracies in this sense, but the less time a Government has seems to make matters worse, and you don’t need to look any further than our current Government and our Opposition.
The CPRS is a good case in point. In the lead up to the last federal election Kevin Rudd called climate change “the greatest moral challenge of our time” and then failed to either implement the CPRS or call an election once it was defeated in the Senate.
But rather than thinking about Rudd’s decision as not wanting to go a double dissolution election too early on the ETS, what about thinking about it in terms of not wanting to go to an election too close to a normal half senate election?
Rudd was spooked by Abbott’s “great big new tax campaign” on the issue and shelved the policy so an election wouldn’t be fought on it. But what if Rudd had more time to sell it? And, more importantly, what if Abbott had to defend his position for longer rather than just vote it down and wait till an impending election and point to a Government that can’t get anything done. This scenario can be rerun in a series of failed Rudd Government policy.
You can make a federal government look extremely ineffective by continually voting down legislation and wait for an election to roll around.
This is not to let the Rudd Government off lightly in its failure with the CPRS and he could simply have put an election where his mouth was.
First term Government’s are able to successfully force their agenda. In Howard’s first term he was able to introduce welfare, gun and waterfront reform, sold Telstra, overhauled HECS and went to an election with the GST.
But rarely do Government’s possess such a margin for error that Howard’s 96 landslide gave him, and despite overcoming 11 years of Coalition rule Rudd doesn’t have the same advantage in the amount of seats he could lose at his first election.
The role of the 24-hour news cycle is also important to consider when talking about three year terms.
The proliferation of news and opinion websites (such as this one) and 24 hour TV news means that Government’s (and Oppositions) live hand to mouth trying to manage the intensity of the daily news cycle.
Whilst it is true that a week is a long time in politics, when you have to feed the beast day in day out three years can go by pretty quickly without effecting much long-term change.
Of course the Government has to buy into this as well, and once you set a precedent of being so reactive to media like Rudd has, you can’t very well turn around and say go away.
There’s some great research into why scrapping three year terms is a good idea (this done a few years ago by the Parliamentary Library is worth a read), personally my preference is for four year fixed terms.
It’s not an original proposal, nor one that will solve a lot of the problems in our system, but it’s worth tossing around next time you take the republic out to lunch.
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