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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What a difference 14 days, and a hung parliament make

This post two weeks ago lamented the fact that governing differently or better hardly rated a mention in the election campaign. Here are extracts from the Prime Minister' address to the National Press Club  (posted by The Australian) today, on how improving democratic practices is now at the forefront of her thinking - although the detail of what she has in mind is yet to be revealed, beyond the independents and cross benchers. (Some emphasis added.)

"We have a larger challenge, which is also an historic opportunity. An opportunity to pause, to stand back from the entire political process and truly take stock of how the system is working. To address those things that undermine public confidence in our democratic system. To make our system more open and more transparent. And especially, to strengthen the role of the national parliament in the decisions that affect the everyday lives of Australians...

The lesson I take from (the election result) is that leadership requires boldness, patience and methodical work. That means opening up our national debates to more Australians, to build stronger understanding of and consensus for policy initiatives. I believe Australians want greater scrutiny of their government and greater accountability to parliament...

It also means making changes to how we conduct our parliament and our democratic processes and these are the issues we are now discussing with the Independents. It is clear that if we are going to deliver more successfully on the program of investment and reform that we have begun, then we will also have to renew and rebuild that wider system of governance that holds the executive accountable and creates the legitimacy we need to meet those big challenges. This is the great opportunity we now have in Australia's new political landscape. I know in some quarters there's disbelief about the prospect of genuine parliamentary and democratic reform, but the fact is that in the past three years we have already delivered important reforms to our political process:
 - the register of lobbyists;
- the Ministerial Code of Conduct;
- stronger Freedom of Information laws;
- progress towards whistleblower legislation;
- the two Green Papers on electoral reform on strengthening our democracy and tightening rules around donations, funding and expenditure which led to the Political Donations Bill, and
- reforms to parliamentary entitlements, like the restrictions on retiring members using Commonwealth resources for party political purposes.

These weren't reforms we were under any compulsion to implement. Indeed you might say they worked against our own political interests. But Labor undertook them because we believe the system is in need of reform. Of course some measures were blocked in the Senate, like the restrictions on political donations, and other measures are still in progress. But I believe we've already embarked upon more political and electoral reform than at any time since the Hawke government's parliamentary and public sector reforms a quarter of a century ago. The current situation allows us to extend and conclude the reforms we have already begun, and add some new ones as well. That is why for Labor a commitment to parliamentary and democratic reform is not one of opportunism. It actually allows us to go further down a road of reform to which we have already committed and where we have demonstrated real progress.

I believe the election outcome has given us an historic opportunity to reform and strengthen our parliamentary democracy more than any of us might have anticipated. I believe that, working with our new Parliament, Labor can deliver lasting and durable improvements to our democracy, so that we can work more effectively together on the big challenges that face Australia harnessing the talents of people on all sides of parliament. Indeed I believe the nation is demanding that we do just that. Not only so we deliver stable and effective government, which Labor can and will do. But so we also renew our century-old political system with new ideas and new approaches that can restore public trust in our democracy and find common ground where previously theres been none...

I want to renovate that Labor tradition, to deliver lasting and durable improvements to our democracy, improvements not just for this parliamentary term, but measures to permanently uplift our system of government as other reforms have done in generations past. This election is already memorable for its results. I want to make it memorable for its legacy for future parliaments, and future generations."

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