Liberal Democrat’s Senator David Leyonhjelm CIS leadership lunch speech this week revealed the challenges of life on the crossbench. He spoke of the role of minor parties, and his belief they are an important part of democracy in Australia. It was an interesting juxtaposition with the continuing difficulties within One Nation.
It’s not the first time Leyonhjelm has spoken to a CIS audience on these issues. In 2014 he and I spoke at an event titled Minor Parties, Major Impact, where we looked at the rise of minor parties at the 2013 election, which saw Clive Palmer’s motley crew and accidental politician Ricky Muir — among others — get elected.
At the time, a lot of us expressed the hope (if not unqualified) that minor parties might be a catalyst to finally bring some different policy options to Canberra. Instead, the minor party moment has come (and perhaps largely gone), in a flash of rank populism and hypocrisy.
In many ways, Leyonhjelm and the Liberal Democrats are exceptions that prove the rule on minor parties. Instead of luring voters seeking ideological and political consistency, as the Liberal Democrats have done, most minor parties have become grievance-harvesting vehicles, based around the popular appeal of one individual.
As the reality of politics intrudes on the ephemeral charm of the latest populist, the tide of voters moves on to the next demagogue.
It remains to be seen if Pauline Hanson and One Nation can withstand the internal pressures that overcame the Palmer United Party, and have seemingly overwhelmed the Nick Xenophon Team. But it is already clear that many of the same troubles have plagued all of three of their parties.
To run candidates nationally, they had to rely on inexperienced candidates and those who defected from major parties — in both cases the loyalty and appropriateness of the candidates eventually elected was always going to be questionable.
In some ways, this is even less surprising than the difficulties the minor parties have had with section 44 of the Constitution.
In response to my questions on this bleak assessment, Leyonhjelm responded that you get the politicians and minor parties you vote for. That sentiment may yet be the epitaph of this generation of politicians.
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