Fred Chaney was deputy leader of the Liberal Party from 1989 to 1990 and served as a minister in the Fraser government. Independent Kate Chaney, who is running for the WA seat of Curtin, is his niece.
I was federal deputy leader of the Liberal Party. But this time, I’ll be voting for an independent.
Until 1995 I was a member of the Liberal Party, and for 16 years a serving Liberal senator. I was a member of the front bench for the majority of my years in parliament and federal deputy leader in 1989-90 . The party I joined in 1958 proudly proclaimed that one of the distinctions between it and the Labor Party was that the primary obligation of a member of parliament was to the electorate, and that to cross the floor, unlike the tightly caucused Labor Party, was permitted on conscience issues.
However, the party I served has lost its way. Members are no longer able to successfully execute what the electorate demands and it is now in the sad position of being held hostage by its extremes and those of its Coalition partner.
My concerns today are about Australian democracy. They relate to the lack of accountability in the government, the blatant pork barrelling, the use of public monies for party electoral advantage rather than the public interest, the pursuit of immediate political advantage rather than the longterm interests of the country, the daily focus on politics rather than good government, and the way the government is reactive rather than forward-looking .
This government appears to be dragged kicking and screaming to policy positions that most sensible Australians would support – including on climate change. Does anyone really think the government is as serious about carbon reduction as the community or the business community? Add to this the cruelty shown to people who have established that they are refugees yet are incarcerated and condemned to hopelessness at great public expense.
After nearly 20 years representing the Liberal Party, it is a serious matter to support an independent candidate in a federal election. I have only done so twice in the nearly 30 years since I left the parliament. In both times it was in the Western Australian blue-ribbon Liberal electorate of Curtin.
The first time, in 1995, I supported a disendorsed Liberal, Allan Rocher. I did so over long-held concerns about manipulation of branches and preselections by powerbrokers which had occurred over most of my time in parliament. I thought the party processes had been corrupted and from recent revelations in NSW, it would appear this corruption has continued.
This time in Curtin, I will vote for Climate 200-supported independent Kate Chaney, who is also my niece. I admire Kate for her commitment to public interest, her seeking better approaches to issues including climate change, social welfare and Aboriginal employment, and her commitment to accountability. Australia needs members of parliament with those convictions and that resolve.
I suspect there are good people in parliament who feel as I do. But they are trapped by the system into supporting what should be unsupportable. Parliament after parliament has shown there is no capacity to reform from within. The system needs to be changed by us, the electorate. The game of politics has overtaken the primary task of providing good, acceptable government.
Electing centrist independents would deliver the message that politics as usual is no longer acceptable. That the electorate wants a return to good government rather than endless spin and politics. That coalitions dictated to by their most extreme elements are not working. A government that must deal with sensible independent centrists is better than a government that must rely on the support of the most eccentric ends of its party spectrum.
Centrists and right-of-centre voters are being told not to vote for independents as that would assist Labor. It is argued that losing moderate Liberals in formerly safe seats will drive the Liberal Party further right. But those candidates have been unable to arrest the party’s drift away from good government. The moderate Liberals can point to getting a reluctant government to agree to a new target for emissions reduction, but how can we believe the government is genuinely committed when its candidates, including the influential Matt Canavan, openly promise the opposite?
And how can the supposedly moderate Liberals justify supporting the government’s billion-dollar robodebt debacle, which was only rectified when a court found it to be illegal? It should not have required a judge to identify as illegal what was so obviously wrong. The policy showed no respect for the Liberal commitment to the individual and a lack of resolve to stand for the citizen against the all powerful state.
The Liberal Party is in coalition with the Nationals. If it wins the election it will be in the same coalition. Can it be trusted to do any more on climate change than prevaricate, obfuscate and avoid meaningful action, as it has done for years? If it requires the support of the centrist independents to govern it will have to change. It will have to take climate change seriously, it will have to honour its discarded commitment to have a corruption commission with teeth, it will have to restore accountability because it will be demanded as the price of being in government. It will have to be in a new parliamentary arrangement with people who are not forced into policy positions against the national interest by the most reactionary elements of the Liberal and National parties.
Don’t expect the government to undergo a spiritual or moral conversion to the need for accountability, the need to use borrowed and taxpayer funds for public rather than party interest as shown by the absurd levels of pork barrelling, the need to repair the aged care system, the need to end the use of cruelty in our refugee policies and obscenities like the robo-debt approach that unlawfully pitted a bullying government against those least able to resist.
The government will only change its approach if the parliament does not tolerate these things. The moderate Liberals have shown they do tolerate these things by supporting the government in doing them. Neither major party should be trusted with absolute power.