I’ll say this from the outset: I know nothing about sport. I only know as much as I accidentally pick up when I’m not paying attention, so I will allow for the fact that some of my analogies may be invalid, but I still stand by the idea. It’s an idea that I first had close to 20 years ago and I was reminded of it by Joe Hockey this week.
Joe Hockey is a nice, decent bloke who is probably out of his depth speaking on treasury matters. His suggestion this week that government should consider regulating interest rates charged by banks is something that ought to be a bit of slam-dunk populism. However, Hockey has been mocked from all sides for it, mainly because such an idea goes against his entire party platform. And that brings me to my, admittedly ill-informed, sport analogy.
There is no assumption that a footballer will play for the same side every season. There are players that will stay with one side for their whole career and others who will play with several. Fans tend to stick with teams rather than players. If their favourite player moves to another team, they might be disappointed, but only the most one-eyed of fans would scream “traitor!” Likewise, most of the player’s former teammates will understand that these things happen.
My question is, why can’t we do the same thing with politics?
Oh sure, there has been the occasional ‘defection,’ and a few turned independent, but most people – politicians and voters alike – assume that once someone is an MP for a certain party, they will always be aligned with that particular party. I think parties should be more like football teams. At the end of the season, everyone is a free agent again and they go to the team (or party) that they think will perform the best, or makes them the best offer.
Pick any parliament in recent memory and imagine they all forgot what party they belonged to. If this were to happen, then by far the biggest voting block would be made up of the right wing of the ALP and the left wing of the Liberal party. The remainder would be split into two smaller blocks, the left wing of the ALP plus the Greens, and the right wing of the Liberal party plus the Nationals. Okay, I know that’s an oversimplification but I think it comes pretty close.
Why can’t we all be mature enough to let members choose the party that best reflects their values today rather than having to stick with who they chose in their 20s, or when they first decided to run? Why should a large section of the party, whether in government or opposition, have to hold their noses when voting? I’m not talking about some kind of Rob Oakeshott, bi-tri-poly-partisan love-in. I’m suggesting it should be more like the AFL draft – players pick their sides and side pick their players according to what suits them best at the time.
Such an arrangement may be useful in the US system as well. I've always liked the fact that members are independent and that there’s no assumption that a member will vote a certain way just because of their party. However, this can go too far in the other direction and make party platforms rather pointless. If the Republicans win control of congress and the senate as expect, I don’t think it will really make any difference. Democrats watered down legislation in order to appease the minority, which many Republicans then voted against anyway. However, that didn't stop some of them going back to their districts and bragging about the funding they had won in bills they voted against. I say if they're going to give Republicans control of congress, they might as well make them responsible for it too.
In Joe Hockey’s case, it might mean he skips over the ALP and goes straight to the Greens with his banking policy. I really have no idea what his thinking is, or if he has just spoken without thinking things through. It's certainly amusing that he’s offered a suggestion that would be pretty out-there even for the ALP, and now Tony Abbott and the banks have to deal with it, but none of that is any reason why Hockey shouldn't say what he feels either as shadow treasurer or as a representative. Perhaps the Libs are allowing this to continue as evidence that they really are a broad church, knowing they will never have to make good on it. It is heartening to know there are still some in the Liberal party who think that, at least under some circumstances, the role of government is to govern.