June 21, 2006 | Graham

A new political party?

I’ve been a bit neglectful of this blog for a couple of weeks. It’s not atypical of the “blogosphere” – the infatuation is definitely wearing off for many of the bloggers we feature in The Domain, at least measured by volume of postings.
So, I think it’s about time that this blog became a bit more multi-author – which is where it started. Anyone wanting to volunteer can email me at editor@onlineopinion.com.au.
The prompt to muse on this was this offering from Liberal Party rebel, Jim Nicholls. I’m offering it up as a basis for starting debate. Jim’s not the first to suggest this to me, and while I don’t think it’s a goer at the moment, anything is possible when John Howard eventually falls off his pedestal and the Liberal Party loses a federal election.
So here’s Jim’s piece:

Present day concern over state’s rights and the future of federalism is helping foster renewed calls for the formation of a new state based political party, one that is neither left nor right but for Queensland and for Queenslanders. These calls have taken on additional urgency following the recent convergence of non-Labor politics in Queensland in a strengthened Coalition.
To makes sense of these growing concerns with the current state of political affairs we need first to understand why the current political set up is perceived to be failing Queenslanders. In order to generate answers we need to approach the subject from different but complementary perspectives. These are firstly constitutional, secondly ideological and thirdly practical in nature.

Constitutional Limitations:

In the first instance we need to scope how effectively existing constitutional arrangements provide for the effective political representation of Queenslanders.
In 1901, the Founding Fathers of our nation devised a Federal Constitution that incorporated a theoretical system of checks and balances. These were intended to protect against the potential for the abuse of power by the Commonwealth. Firstly, federal power was to be subjected to the scrutiny and veto of a state orientated senate free of party ties. Secondly, the Commonwealth’s powers were to be limited in scope and balanced by the powers of state parliaments. Queensland, signed up to the new Federation in the belief that its interests would be protected through these constitutional safeguards.
In practice however, power has been systematically taken from the states and concentrated in the hands of the Federal Government and the two major federally based parties that dominate it. There is a growing sense in our state that the combination of a vaguely drafted Federal Constitution [which fails to take into account the existence of political parties] and the increasing concentration of power in the Federal Government are conspiring to deny Queenslanders of any real democratic control over their own destinies.

Ideological Limitations:

The flaws that beset the Constitution are reflected in Queensland politics. The concentration of power among a handful of globally orientated parties has all but ended the opportunity for homegrown Queensland-centric policies to emerge, especially when Queensland politics is at odds with federal or global interests.
Queensland politics has become increasingly bi-partisan since the end of the Joh era. More noticeably following the recent convergence of non-Labor politics in Queensland in the form of a strengthened Coalition. This transition has seen the National Party conceding their traditional ground, in their bid to achieve Coalition unity. Probably the most notable concession is in terms of the National’s tacit endorsement of the Liberal’s laissez-faire approach to economic management. The major parties, including Labor, all now offer a variation on a common global economic rationalist theme. In so doing, they are adopting a dominant global perspective that is seemingly accepted at a federal level but is increasingly at odds with populist sentiment here in Queensland.

Practical Limitations:

Both the constitutional and ideological limitations on effective state centric political representation are further reinforced by a set of more down to earth practical limitations. These have their origins in factionalism and its outward manifestations in terms of cronyism, rorting, corruption and sleaze that have tarnished some of the major political parties in recent times. Consequently, those most affected are losing members in droves. Meanwhile voters are feeling increasingly cynical as is evidenced in the increasing number of people who claim to have no party identification.


When Queenslanders understand the full extent of these limitations, they will look to alternatives. In this regard they will be more likely to start looking when there livelihoods, incomes and homes are threatened. A situation that may not be far away as the economic cycle turns and the country confronts large debts coinciding with a period of oil price driven stagflation and its corollary of high interest rates.
The trigger for change could be a build up of resentment such that a critical mass is achieved, a failed policy such as health or a policy too far such as the privatisation of Telstra. Change may also be precipitated by the emergence of a charismatic authority figure in the style of Pauline Hanson agitating for state rights.
Overall, the situation appears to auger well for the emergence of a new Queensland centric party that is prepared to break with the past and appeal directly to hearts and minds of Queenslanders. One thing is for certain, Queensland politics looks set for a big shake up and possibly a shake out!
Jim Nicholls

Jim Nicholls is a former UK Political Advisor, Director of Development of the European Movement, Chief Executive of the English Hill Farming Initiative and Political Consultant to Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

Posted by Graham at 9:33 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. A third party cannot compete against an established heads-up environment. The best example of this is the US which has fair greater economies of scale which one would think would be able to support minority parties.
    Voters like a bit of choice but cannot handle too much – it just gets too confusing. While highly intelligent and sophisticated political junkies like your correspondent can advocate for an extra major party in the mix, the voters cannot handle it and are confortable with the idea of a simple choice. Polling has demonstrated in the current Queensland political environment.
    As was demonstrated by One Nation with its sectional interests, a party which does not have comprehensive policy across issues such as international relations and finance lacks credibility and if they gain any popularity will be shortlived once the weakness in their policy is exposed to external events.
    Furthermore, the harsh discipline of the Golden Straight Jacket (to borrow Thomas Friedman’s terminology) shows that governments which deviate from the expectations of the global market (such as Russia, Indonesia and Argentina) are promptly punished through the devaluation of their currency, increase in interest rates and inflation and the drying up of international lending for economic development.
    A Queensland Party would never work because how would it fit into the Federal puzzle? The Federal system devised in 1901 while noble in its intentions would always be doomed because power by its very nature concentrates into “factions” or “parties” and does not operate long in isolation.

    Comment by R — June 21, 2006 @ 10:34 am

  2. I think that a state based party that looks after states rights is exactly what the doctor ordered. We need a group that can and will do what they are supposed to.. that is look after the people that voted for them.. we need to change, we need to get more pride, we need to respect the people that we elect, we need to look after ourselves get back into manufacturing , eat locally grown fruit and locally caught fish, we need to have locally refined petrol or ethanol if we don’t do it and don’t have a voice for it what future can we possibly have.

    Comment by Adolf — June 21, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

  3. OK. I’d buy that. There is no doubt in my mind that each of our two major parties is awash with whacko policies – and I’m happy to argue that for either party in a separate debate. So, if voters really can’t “handle too much choice” I’m not sure I’d care which of those 2 parties declined and died. Both are already brain-dead.
    Nor do I accept that such a party is incapable of offering a range of policies across all policy areas including foreign affairs and finance.
    Finally, what is needed to escape this dread of the “Golden Straitjacket” is, of course, a debate about what constitutes quality of life versus standard of living. Can’t be done? Bob Hawk managed to do it very well with his concept of a “social wage”. I bet I could find a lot of local manufacturers and farmers who would love the idea of a devalued currency. There are natural economic limits to the level to which it can be devalued and with the resources and export potential we have, any devaluation is going to be limited and minor.
    Nobody wants to “operate … in isolation”. What we want is a better means of developing national policies than a winner takes all basis.

    Comment by Kevin — June 22, 2006 @ 4:53 pm

  4. Comments of R June21stare about right.The reason why what has now become totally corrupt parties including the homoswxual Democrats party is that there are new parties continually springing up. How in the hell can we get rid of the corrupt establishment when voters (even ifthey are intelligentand shrewd voters) are totally confused when there is such an array of parties. It is time all those who think they have the right answers got together and gave voters a simple choice against the crooks who control us now.A meeting of all the “chiefs” should take place and do something constructive and give voters a chance.

    Comment by Nick MaineJ.P. — June 22, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

  5. If you look at the federal system the lesson has to be elect Independants, a few more in the lower house would not go astray either.

    Comment by John Ryan — June 23, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

  6. First, I’m a human being. Further down, I’m an Englishman and an Australian citizen. Way down the scale, I’m a Queenslander, a member of a very parochial and often ignorant state society. Any Queensland-centric party (like the Beattie ALP) and the current opposition parties will perpetuate ignorant policies, typically denying the nature of the changing world and promoting ineffective change-denying policies. No thank you, I’ll take my chances with the feds.

    Comment by Faustino — June 26, 2006 @ 12:43 pm

  7. In the light of Queensland’s success over NSW in the footie and the consequent resurgence of state spirit, this seems as good a time as any to pick up on the responses to my article.
    I have considered R’s comments and feel some clarification is necessary. To take first R’s point about voters inability to cope with anything beyond a simple two option choice. R cites America as a case in point. However, consider that the American party two party system is a factor of historical polarisation between north and south, rich and poor, white and black. The same conditions, or for that matter any condition, favouring a two party dominant system is not applicable here in Queensland.
    There is another contradiction. If R is correct that the voters cannot cope with more than two choices on the ballot paper, then it seems to be stretching the point to say that voters would be disinclined to vote for a party because it did not have a detailed position statement on policy minutiae covering some say a New Caledonian claim over disputed Vanuatuan territory. It is not reasonable to condemn voters for being incapable of handling choice and in the same breath suggest that they would be sufficiently informed to make judgements of the basis of external policy affairs! You cannot have it both ways R!
    The success of a party like One Nation can be put down to its populist appeal, a simple straightforward choice between “charismatic” candidates and comprehensible populist policies. Given the choice people voted in their droves for this formula. Indeed One Nation secured so many seats in the Queensland Parliament that for a time it looked like it would displace the official Opposition!
    Again, supposing R is correct in his/her assessment that Queensland electors cannot handle a third choice. What is to say that a new party would not build on One Nation’s short-lived achievements and squeeze out one or other of the existing ascendant parties? This is what happened to the “Whig” or Liberal Party in the United Kingdom, which very quickly conceded ground and was replaced by the Labour Party in a matter of a few years.
    The challenge is for a new party to get the coverage in the media needed to fuel its rise. With such concentrated media ownership that we have here in Queensland that is always going to be a problem. To break into the headlines and to stay there is an uphill task. Coverage is not likely to be conceded unless the new party is seen to be fundamental to the main political debate. Maybe Treasurer, Peter Costello recent broadside against the principle of states rights will be the catalyst. I wonder whether Costello’s elevation to the Lodge will translate into a mandate for the destruction of Queensland’s constitutional autonomy. Will this with be the catalyst required for a new party to emerge or will Labor divest itself of its federal obligations and metamorphosise into a statist party to better capitalise on the polarisation between Canberra and State?
    Jim Nicholls

    Comment by Jim Nicholls — July 7, 2006 @ 12:04 pm

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