Political lessons from Alfred Deakin’s Parliaments

Discussion of the emerging era of  minority government has ignored the 1901-10 period when neither of three parties: Labor, Free Traders and Protectionists (sometimes almost 4 parties when the conservative protectionists acted independently) had a majority and when Alfred Deakin, as Prime Minister three times, dominated Australian politics.Interesting discussion by former Liberal Party advisor Ian Marsh in the official history of the federal Liberals . Nine governments in ten years but major policy creativity in a social liberal mode. How comparable the Labor-Green nexus today with the Labor-protectionist alliance of 1910-10? During this period as Labor rose to major party status its voting became notably more disciplined. Government defeats were a regular feature of parliamentary life. This period saw the only occasion when a non-Labor MP, H. B. Higgins,  served in a federal Labor government an idea recently revived. Select committees played a major role in policy making and were on occasion transformed into Royal Commissions, some lessons here perhaps for the parliamentary climate change commission proposal which has been condemned by some as a threat to the integrity of the parliamentary process. Worth also reading is Marsh’s 1995 Beyond the Two Party System. However Marsh’s work is inspired by particular policy sympathies to maintain the Deakinite hopes of ‘fairness, tolerance and liberty’ in an outward looking economy, can we add sustainable to this as well? Deakin’s legacy has been evoked by many such as Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Research Institute but his parliaments may provide unexpected current lessons.

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