Power sharing in Australian parliament

Why the hang up about hung parliaments?
by Bill Browne and Richard Denniss

Parliaments exist to share power, and power sharing has been a feature of Australian parliaments for as long as they have existed: between different interest groups, different communities and different political movements; across the upper and lower houses; within parties (via factions); and between parties (including coalition agreements like those between the Liberals and the Nationals).

Seen in this context, the growth in minor party and independent representation is just the latest example of power sharing.

The likelihood of shared power in the Commonwealth parliament has increased as the major party vote has declined significantly since the end of World War 2, and the 2022 election marked the lowest combined vote for the two largest parties since the Great Depression. It also yielded the largest House of Representatives crossbench ever.

Despite occasional fearmongering about ‘hung’ parliaments, minority government and “coalitions of chaos”, the reality is that power sharing governments are common in Australia. Governments often need to secure the support of other parliamentarians, whether through the formal, albeit secret, coalition agreements between the Liberal and National parties or various arrangements with independents and minor party MPs.

Independents and minor parties upend the old certainties of political life. Predictive tools like the Mackerras pendulum do not capture contests outside of the two major parties, and
what is a “safe” or “marginal” seat seems to be inverted for independents and crossbenchers.

This necessitates a more mature and nuanced analysis of both electoral outcomes and the contribution of crossbenchers and their roles, just as the electoral success of the Labor Party
in the 1890s and 1900s forced the political class to reckon with the political labour movement. Power sharing has always been a feature of parliamentary democracy, but the details are always changing.

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