Originally published in the Huffington Post, 21 January 2015
As we enter 2015, the UK general election is now just a few months away. Meanwhile here in Australia the Government is facing another year of dealing with what some have described as a hostile Senate to deliver on its priorities and election promises.
Having had the benefit of a Christmas break and enjoyed time in the Australian summer with family and friends, there is a clear lesson from the current Australian political environment to inform all current and potential political leaders in the UK and more broadly: show leadership and get on with the job.
Lately I have noticed an increasing trend by our elected leaders to blame the system, minor parties, the media cycle and/or their advisors when they don't get their way in parliament. Just as shareholders don't allow this sort of blame shifting from business leaders, as citizens we should also expect more from our elected representatives.
We need greater accountability, and for those charged and entrusted with doing a job, they need to deliver. These are our elected officials and they should be doing what is best for our country and collectively for all of our citizens, not what they're 'advised' to do by their aides and private office staff. Here I feel there's an overreliance on advice, where too many leaders are outsourcing their instinct for the right course of action.
Let me go back a step. At the last Australian federal election, several minority parties were elected to the Upper House, which has meant that the current Abbott Government has faced a small, but highly influential, group of independent Senators who can determine if legislation is passed, rejected or modified. Essentially this has given this group of eight the power to make or break the Government's ability to progress the policy agenda it was elected to implement.
Over the last year a number of major policy initiatives have failed to be passed through the Senate including an ambitious Paid Parental Leave Scheme, a new co-payment for seeing a doctor and higher education reforms. As a reaction, many in government and in business have called for the Australian electoral system to be changed to stop this situation from occurring again and remove the likelihood that independents and smaller party members are elected.
In the lead up to the May elections in the UK, I cannot help but see the similarities in our systems when the UK commentators have already begun talking about 'wasted' votes for the minor parties and independents.
The fact that seems to be missing from this debate is that in Australia, as is the case elsewhere in the world, around a third or more of voters don't actually vote for the major parties. While the make-up of parliaments is frequently complex, it is always a manifestation of a democracy. It strikes me that complaining about 'obstructionist' minor parties may be an excuse for not engaging in the consultation necessary for leaders to bring people along with their vision.
I for one believe that it is not the system that needs reform, rather it is the ability of parliamentarians to show leadership and demonstrate their ability to develop and negotiate good policy outcomes for all citizens. Better collaboration, conciliation and achieving consensus in the national interest is the pathway to good policy - and good policy is good politics.
Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia
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