Utterly spot on Crikey editorial re political reform

The single most witless piece of commentary on the outcome of the election is to be found on the front page of today’sFinancial Review.

Business leaders warned against a drawn-out process to decide the next government and also aired concerns a hung Parliament would create a weak executive that was unable to act on Australia’s economic challenges.

Rich indeed coming from the corporate sector, which stood by and said nothing while the Rudd Government was mugged by rentseekers while trying to pursue two substantive economic reforms, its CPRS and the mining super-profits tax. You had your chance, fellas. It’s a bit late for warnings now.

Behind the complaints of the business sector is a political paradigm that developed in the 1980s: an aggressive reforming government, bold political leaders, politicians who understood, and were able to embody, the idea that good policy is good politics.

That paradigm is dead. It didn’t expire on Saturday night, it died before that, sometime in the last three years, when the last of the reform generation of politicians, Peter Costello, left Parliament. And it hadn’t exactly been in rude health during the Howard Government’s final years, except on industrial relations, which was driven more by the Liberals’ deep-seated hatred of the union movement than by a genuine need for reform.

The major parties have sought to replace that paradigm with a new one: risk-averse, focus-grouped, talking-point politics, which favours easy, enemy-less reforms, unless the enemies are by common agreement popular targets.  In doing so, the major political parties have treated the electorate with contempt, pitching their campaigns at the lowest common electoral denominator, offering little in the way of quality policy and serving up leaders who only showed inspiration in their efforts to run away from key reforms they had previously enthusiastically backed.

But the electorate has responded by giving neither party a mandate, requiring them to negotiate, compromise and innovate. It is, by accident and coincidence perhaps, the best possible response to what the parties offered. Magically, reforms like greater accountability and improved Parliamentary standards are suddenly possible. And for all the assumptions that a minority government would be hamstrung, a carbon price – which business desperately wants – is back on the agenda despite both sides wanting to ignore it.

It is unlikely that minority governments are an ideal outcome in every political circumstance. But as a circuit-breaker for the visionless, risk-averse politics both sides have tried to foist on the electorate, it is already proving valuable. Even the business community should be able to understand that the cause of reform might yet be served by a switch from business-as-usual politics.

(Subscribe for daily Crikey at www.crikey.com.au)

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