Much has been spoken about the ‘disproportionate power’ wielded by the cross bench MPs in the formation of the current Federal Parliament.
I feel this view devalues both the concept of the Australian Liberal Democratic System and the intelligence of those who voted for these candidates in their electorate.
The decisions made by those cross bench denizens will always be viewed through the red, blue or green filter of the political prism applied to them.
Many of these views are passed by those outside the electorates represented by them.
Judgements made because they did, or didn’t, fall the way of the party the commentator supports.
These judgements are, by definition, biased.
We all bring bias to an argument, often subconscious, always present.
The irony of the role of the cross bench Independents and minor party MP’s in this parliament, is the “dependence” both major political parties attach to their opinion, and intention in decision making.
A closer, but by no means comprehensive, look at the Independents who negotiated the flavour of the current Australian Government may provide a more measured view of the MPs who made this decision.
It is not my intention to argue for or against or promote any of the policies or various stances taken by the members of the cross bench.
That’s their job in the lead up to the 2013 election.
Now, to the players.
In particular there has been a lot made of the decision both Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott made in supporting the formation of a Labor government.
Some say that both men would be ‘expected’ by their electorates to side with the LNP.
Because both men were previously members of The Nationals?
The operative word here is previously, and in one case, technically incorrect.
A look at both men’s records show they ran as large “I” Independents.
Born in New England.
Tony Windsor has never contested an election as a National candidate.
Originally preselected as a National Party candidate, Windsor eventually stood as, and was elected as, an Independent for Tamworth in the New South Wales State Parliament in 1991.
He, along with three other Independents, supported a Greiner led Liberal government when the Liberals lost 10 seats in the 1991 election.
He held the seat of Tamworth until 2001 when he moved to Federal Parliament as an Independent in the seat of New England.
In doing so Tony Windsor beat the incumbent National Party member.
New England had been held by the Nationals since 1922.
He has held the seat ever since.
Tony Windsor’s constituents like him.
The voters of Tamworth and New England have had many opportunities to vote National throughout his career.
Tony Windsor works hard in their interests.
He is an Independent.
The following link is to Tony Windsor’s press release reply to an interview John Howard gave 60 Minutes regarding his independence.
Born in Lismore.
Elected as a National member for Port Macquarie in the New South Wales State Parliament in 1996 with 46.71% of the primary vote.
Reelected in 1999, he increased his primary vote to 56.05% of the primary vote.
Oakeshott became increasingly disenchanted with the National Party and in 2002 he left the party stating -
“On reflection, my mistake was I didn’t realise the consequence of not doing more due diligence on ideology,” he says. “I just said, ‘Oh yeah, they’re the party around here, I’m a young bloke, I need a job’. That cuts both ways. I don’t think they did enough due diligence on me.”
- Rob Oakeshott, The Daily Telegraph, 3 October 2010
He ran as an Independent in 2003, increasing his primary vote to 69.75%, against his National opponent’s primary vote of 14%.
Rob Oakeshott entered Federal politics when he won a by-election for the seat of Lyne in 2008, securing over two-thirds of the primary vote.
Reelected in 2010, he was offered, and refused, a Minister for Regional Australia portfolio in the Gillard led government, maintaining his independent role.
On the resignation of the Speaker Harry Jenkins in November 2011, Tony Abbott offered to nominate Oakeshott as Speaker in a deal designed to deliver the LNP government.
He refused, maintaining his independence.
Shortly before the Australian Labor Party leadership spill in 2012, Oakeshott stated that he would not, as a matter of course, continue to support the minority Labor Government if Labor changed leaders.
He further stated that he would be prepared to work with whomever could provide stable government, and would consider negotiating with the Liberal-National coalition to that end, although his preference would be to deal with former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull over Tony Abbott.
Once again Rob Oakeshott displayed his independent credentials.
In the event, Prime Minister Julia Gillard survived the leadership spill and Oakeshott continued his support for the minority Labor Government.
The voters of Port Macquarie and Lyne have had many opportunities to vote National throughout Rob Oakeshott’s career.
Rob Oakeshott works hard in their interests.
He is an Independent.
Both men weigh up situations in terms of what they consider will be best for their constituents and nation as a whole.
It’s why their constituents voted for them.
Born in Tamworth:
Originally a Green candidate in Tasmanian State politics, Wilkie entered Federal Parliament as an Independent in 2010 for Denison.
Andrew Wilkie supported the formation of a Labor government. He guaranteed support in matters of supply and no confidence.
He is seen as a “single issue” politician with his position on gambling reform.
Changes to pre-commitment technology and trialling has since led to Wilkie withdrawing his on-going support of the government.
However, he has stated that he will only support a motion of no confidence in a case of “serious misconduct.”
His constituents will have a chance to mark his report card in 2013.
Bob Katter, (Katter’s Australian Party), and Adam Bandt, (Australian Greens), are not Independents, (although Katter was at the time of the 2010 election).
However, as cross benchers, they had a pivotal role in the formation of the current government.
Their vote cannot be taken as given by either major party.
Born in Cloncurry.
Elected as a Country Party MLA, for Flinders, in the Queensland Parliament.
He held the position from 1974 to 1992.
Katter then moved to the Federal Parliament in 1992, winning the seat of Kennedy.
Over time he grew disillusioned with the Coalition’s agenda in government and became an Independent in 2001.
He held the seat comfortably.
Kennedy is the fourth safest seat in the nation.
His constituents like his somewhat quirky style.
He is passionate about their concerns.
In June 2011 Bob Katter formed Katter’s Australian Party.
Bob Katter eventually gave his vote to the LNP in the 2010 election.
This was not a foregone conclusion. Katter had a 20 point wish list.
Had either leader of the major parties agreed to his demands they would have secured his vote.
Neither leader met these demands.
In the end Katter decided to vote for the party with which he had more in common philosophically.
Katter still negotiates with, and often supports, ALP measures.
He has recently posited he would be prepared to give his support to the Labor Party, (in the event of a Rudd led government), if they agreed to his 20 point plan.
He negotiates independently.
The voters of Kennedy have had many opportunities to vote National throughout his career.
They believe that Bob Katter works hard in their interests.
Born in Adelaide:
Elected as a Green to the Federal seat of Melbourne in 2010.
Adam Bandt is the second Green parliamentarian in the House of Representatives.
His main platforms are human rights and environmental issues.
Bandt supported the formation of a Labor government in 2010.
His stance on environmental issues and human rights has led to various disagreements with the Labor Party since.
His constituents will have a chance to mark his report card in 2013.
These cross benchers horse traded with Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard in the days before the 2010 election was finally decided.
They looked at the policies, the plans, their negotiation skills and just as importantly, their character.
Their constituents gave them this task.
“Do what is best for us.”
The fact that it took as long as it did for these five to make a final decision demonstrates their intention to negotiate and deliver the best possible outcome for their constituents and the nation
There is a lot of pressure exerted on the cross benchers given the combative nature of the parliament.
Love them or loathe them, but don’t think you know how they will vote.
To do so is fraught with danger.
Just ask Tony Abbott and the commentators who assumed the, so called, conservatives in Windsor and Oakeshott would deliver the keys to The Lodge.
To assume is to make an ass out of u and me, (and those who based their negotiations on that premise).
Look at the cross benchers’ political history, their voting patterns, and their aspirations for the electorate and the nation.
Judge them by all means, but don’t take them for granted.