A deliberative Parliament

With the ebbing of Turnbull triumphalism, it’s become evident that the forthcoming election may produce, as in 2010, a House of Represenatives in which neither Labor nor the LNP has an absolute majority. Such an outcome has been common at the state level for some time, and is the norm in upper house elections based on some form of proportional representation. It has proved entirely consistent with stable governments, productive legislation and full-term Parliaments.

Yet commentators persist in calling this a “hung Parliament”, at least when it appears in the lower house. By analogy with a “hung jury” we might suppose a “hung Parliament” is one that proves incapable of reaching a verdict on who should form a government or what legislation should be passed. We have plenty of experience to show that this is not the case.

If we take the jury analogy seriously, it’s worth extending it to the case where the Parliament contains a majority committed to obeying whatever order it receives from the Prime Minister of the day (or, perhaps, the Cabinet). We have plenty of terms for juries and courts that work in this way, none of them complimentary: ‘packed jury’, ‘kangaroo court’, ‘frame up’ and so on.

Those are unduly harsh metaphors when applied to majority governments. But the experience of Queensland, the only Australian jurisdiction without an (invariably ‘hung’) upper house, suggests to me that the cause of good government is greatly enhanced when Premiers cannot rely on a pliant majority to push through whatever laws they like. Admittedly, we’ve had some really good independents, most notably Peter Wellington. But even independents I would never want in government have proved useful as a check on the overweening power of the executives.

So, in the cause of linguistic improvement, I offer the term ‘deliberative Parliament’ for a legislature that actually considers legislation rather than casting votes as ordered by the leader of the day.

17 thoughts on “A deliberative Parliament

  1. Should not “as in 2013” be “as in 2010”? Abbott got quite a big majority at the 2013 election, after all.

    Doesn’t time fly! Of course it was 2010 – corrected now – JQ

  2. There is a tradecraft aspect of setting up working coalition governments. In the French Fourth Republic, they could set up a government in a week. With the notably rare exception of Algeria (which sank the system), the country was reasonably well governed, with high and well-spread economic growth. In Spain, the parties have been unable to set up a coalition, nearly four months after the election. They have no practice; the problem is made worse by the fact that two of the parties, Ciudadanos and Podemos, are new and have little experience of anything.

  3. It’s depressing (but predictable) that so much of the professional political class are consistently enamoured with giving more leeway to the executive. The horror at ‘hung’ parliaments is a classic manifestation of this – the fetish for four year terms another.

    For the right it fits in with a worldview that sees government as the disciplinarian in chief, but it’s depressing to see so much of the ‘left’ as well.

  4. How about a “balanced Parliament”? No one understands deliberation, but everyone understands balance.

  5. No, deliberative is the exact word for this. Balanced suggests 2 major parties in a stalemate. Deliberative suggests that governments have to argue the case well enough to win over independents to pass legislation.

  6. I like it.

    My inner pedant/dad joke factory also says “it’s not hung, the correct word is hanged”. Because in all too many cases I would be quite happy to see a hanged parliament(arian).

  7. When journalists use the term “hung parliament” the subtext is that there are people around who would prefer a majority outcome regardless of whether it’s the ALP or the LNP. The only people who fall into this category are the self-deluded and lobbyists who will be getting to work on whoever wins.

  8. Belgium at times went without a (federal) parliament for years at a time owing to being unable to form a government, for one point of comparison.
    There is, however, something to be said for governments that have the power to do what they profess in their policies; they can be judged on the outcomes of those policies, rather on the quite possibly more judicious outcomes of the negotiation process. The American legislative/executive split, for an extreme example, leaves nobody able to act decisively and everybody able to pass the blame and the buck to someone else.

  9. it’s become evident that the forthcoming election may produce, as in 2010, a House of Represenatives in which neither Labor nor the LNP has an absolute majority.

    Of course ‘it’s become evident’ is a bit vague wrt probability, but I think it would be going to far to suggest that a deliberative parliament is likely. Cathy McGowan, Clive Palmer and Adam Bandt are vulnerable in their seats and Tony Windsor is more an outside chance than a favourite to win New England. Andrew Wilkie and Bob Katter will probably retain their seats, but of the other four it’s hard to imagine that they all win their seats.

    So the number of on-LNP/ALP MPs will probably be between one and five. In that case there’s a relatively narrow range of results that would produce a deliberative parliament.

  10. “Deliberative Parliament” is appropriate because it means that the government formed from such a Parliament will need to engage in serious attempts to explain its legislative proposals to other members of the parliament, to attempt to persuade them of the merits of those proposals, and to negotiate with those members about possible alterations and improvements to those proposals before they can be adopted. It is also appropriate because part of the quid pro quo for the government being able to govern will often be fair consideration of proposals from other members rather than simple dismissal. It means that it is no longer for a caucus within a caucus within a caucus to impose its will within the governing party and thereby on the Parliament as a whole. For these reason it also means that the governing party will have to frame its own proposals in such a way that they merit serious consideration by others, which will make for better policy from the outset (and also enable more deliberation within the governing party).

  11. I agree with Matt. Obviously the probability of a House of Representatives with no majority increases when the two sides receive similar amounts of votes and when it’s likely that at least some candidates belonging to neither side will win seats (when one of those conditions is not met the probability drops to something close to nil), but it doesn’t increase to over 50%. There have been lots of elections with two sides receiving shares of the vote very close to each other, and the majority of them have resulted in clear victory for one or the other, although by narrow margins. It is correct to say that the forthcoming election may produce a House of Representatives with no majority, but it is less likely than not to happen.

  12. It seems to me the notion of a ‘deliberative parliament’ is akin to the notion of ‘competiton’ in the sense of comparisons not being restricted to 3 or 4-yearly intervals but to continuous comparisons, a bit like the experience of people in workplaces.

  13. There’s an authoritarian follower personality type that likes and admires strong leaders and decisive government and hates the messy business of discussion and compromise. For them democracy means we vote once each three years, and the rest of the time we should be good little boys and girls and let the government get on with governing. Whether a decisive government is actually making *good* decisions is a second order issue.

    This personality type seems to be more common on the Right.

  14. There is now a significant body of research on what Professor Quiggin is suggesting. It’s what had been termed the “deliberative turn” in Democratic theory over the last 30 years -a change in focus from preference aggregation via voting to talk based decision making. There have been actual deliberative parliaments created and they were mostly successfully by their own standards. Have a search for the British Columbia and Ontario citizen assemblies and for a more local example theft is the Australian Citizens Parliament from 2009.

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