INTERVIEW Toby Hemmings WORDS Anna Glen
Australia’s political system is dominated by essentially two parties. This situation developed during the late 1800s, with important events, namely the merging of the Protectionists and the Free Traders in 1902 and the creation of the modern Liberal Party by Robert Menzies in 1946, cementing the two-party system as a political given. Since then, Australians have become accustomed to the battle between Labor and Liberal when election time arrives. For many, this political pattern is somewhat nauseating, especially as the election draws closer and the trite advertising campaigns emerge.
However, everyone has the constitutional right to create a political party. Though the Liberal/Labor dichotomy remains potent in the Australian political psyche, there are a variety of parties that stand in opposition to the existing major parties, presenting diverse policies that may be more aligned to your political beliefs. In 2013, there have been 14 new additions to the electoral commission’s register of political parties. The list indicates that many small political parties engage with niche issues that impact a particular group in society. This can be seen in the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, Drug Law Reform Australia Party and the Bullet Train for Australia Party. They may also spring from well-known political figures, for instance Wikileaks and their eminent figurehead Julian Assange or the Palmer United Party and their leader Clive Palmer.
The presence of illustrious figures in the latter group means the media will usually give time to their plight. Generally though, minor parties are overlooked and are only properly recognised at the polling booth. Barriers include the fact that you need 500 members to be registered and that getting the word out can be difficult. There is little funding at hand and no incentive for media outlets to give attention to the political agenda of minority groups. This is exacerbated by the significant funding given to the major political parties (any party that gets over four per cent of the vote automatically qualifies for this), which serves to saturate the market and perpetuate Australia’s rigid two-party system that has, in recent years, been considered dysfunctional and conducive to vitriolic conditions.
Future Party was officially registered by the electoral commission in of June this year. Party leader James Jansson described himself as “politically involved” for the most part of his life. He said the main reason he developed the party was because Australia has “reached a point in politics where there’s no vision anymore”. The constant quarreling by the major parties means that we don’t know what either party stands for. Jansson’s sentiment reflects disillusionment with the two-party system. On what his party stood for, Jansson said “the Future Party is a group of people who think that quality of life is improved primarily through technological development… We see [that] investing in education, investing in science and technology research and making small changes to the economic system to make it more efficient will achieve the best outcome for Australia”. Universities such as Macquarie, which is technologically and research focused, would certainly benefit from this political ideology, with the current Labor government proposing $2.3 billion funding cuts to tertiary education.
[pullquote_left]We see [that] investing in education, investing in science and technology research and making small changes to the economic system to make it more efficient will achieve the best outcome for Australia.[/pullquote_left]
Jansson is also not afraid of big ideas for the nation. He believes that the Labor Party’s success in 2007 was driven by visionary policies to improve education by putting a ‘laptop in the hands of every child’ and that the public is growing tired of “short term promises that are handed out before elections”. By contrast, Jansson suggests that the Future Party offers “something new, something visionary, something that will stand out from the other parties”. This visionary fervor is well illustrated by their audacious policy for a charter city called ‘Turing’ between Sydney and Canberra, which would be linked by a high-speed train and developed around a university.
For those that aren’t familiar with the concept of a charter city, it is the idea that a metropolitan area can be created and governed by its own charter rather than by national laws. The title ‘Turing’ relates to the technological focus of the party with its name coming from a mathematician who worked with the British government in WWII and helped crack the enigma code, which gave the British and Americans an advantage in terms of intelligence to win the war.
Jansson attempts to create a party with aspirational objectives against the backdrop of two major parties that have been criticised for ‘losing their way’ or having no policies at all, but which still gain a majority of the vote. The Australian public has, perhaps, become too comfortable with this set up. Though some may be overly aspirational, minor parties are an important aspect of a healthy democracy and warrant greater attention than is currently given. It would be beneficial for democracy if a little time were given to consider the other parties out there, rather than seeing them for the first time on the ballot paper.