Dr Danial Kelly*
Our system of government has roots that draw on more than a thousand years of tradition. During that time the democratic system has developed with most changes benefitting the average person. But right now a giant leech has entered the system and is sucking the lifeblood out of our democratic process and is slowly poisoning our society. That leech is the modern political party.
We need a parliament that consists of people who have been genuinely democratically elected by the people to work for the people. Like it or not, we actually need a new political party to break the stranglehold the current parties have over the democratic process. But that new party must function very differently to the current parties.
It makes no difference which of the current political party we talk about because they all are guilty of the same sin. ALP, CLP, Greens, whichever… they are all hijacking legitimate authority by putting themselves between the people and the power. Let me explain.
Our tradition of government has a few key institutions that have proven to be excellent in facilitating good governance. They have been developed and refined over hundreds of years by thousands of deep thinkers and average punters who just want a fair go. Those key institutions are known as representative democracy, separation of powers and responsible government.
Representative democracy means that the people get to vote and choose one of their own to represent them in the parliament where most of the laws are made. The hope is that the people can actually be involved in making fair and just laws that genuinely reflect the community consensus.
Separation of powers means that the power of government, which is massive, is not just in the hands of a few. Power is separated out. Some power is in the parliament which makes the law. Some power is in the public service (police, teachers, health professionals, etc) who implement the law. And some power is in the courts which decide legal disputes. In this way the power is shared so that no-one has all the power.
In our system we make extra sure that the courts are very well separated from both the parliament and the public service because the last thing we want is a power-hungry joker trying to influence court decisions.
On the other hand, the separation between the parliament and the public service is not total because we want the public service to be responsible to the people who democratically voted for the parliamentarians. We get that responsibility by appointing a member of the parliament who in turn becomes a Minister – the head – over each government department – and that is what we call responsible government. The public service is responsible to the people through the Minister.
These three approaches have enabled a lot of good governance in our system and in many other government systems around the world. But as these developments became firmly established in our constitutions, political parties have increasingly hijacked the authority of parliament by exerting their influence upon who and how parliamentarians are chosen.
By focussing on who makes it into parliament, the political parties have wedged themselves between the voters and the parliament. The people still vote but they are herded into voting for a political party rather than the most competent person from amongst themselves who will represent them and pursue their goals in parliament and government. When the political-party chosen candidates become parliamentarians they can become Ministers, the public service still report to them but the responsibility is no longer directly to the people – it is first to the political party. That is how the political parties have become giant leeches on our systems of government and are sucking the life out of good governance. Representative democracy and responsible government have been white-anted by the political parties.
So, how do we fix it?
The way that the political parties have been operating needs to be pushed back. Actually the political parties have no constitutional authority whatsoever to do what they do, but their governments have passed regular legislation that says the government cannot be a group of independents. In short, that means we still need a political party to form government. That is another example of how the political parties have stolen the constitutional authority that only the parliamentarians are supposed to have. So, for now at least, a political party is needed, but we need a radically different type of political party.
We need a political party that, in its own rules, protects representative democracy and responsible government. We need a political party that, in its own rules, reinforces the legitimate constitutional authority of parliamentarians. We need a political party that has its own rules that won’t allow branch stacking. We need a new political party to arise to do these things because the existing parties have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not pursue genuine good governance for the people. We need a new political party that will not be a leech on the life-blood of the people and will give life rather than death to good government in the Northern Territory. That party is Territory Alliance.
*Lawyer and academic Dr Kelly is a co-founder of Territory Alliance.