Party identity in coalition

An Australian Green senator, Richard Di Natale (Victoria) has spoken of the importance of the smaller party maintaining its identity if it enters coalition. The remarks were made at the New Zealand Greens’ conference in Christchurch (NZ Herald).

Sen. Di Natale spoke of changes to the current Labor Party minority cabinet’s program that his party could claim credit for–putting a price on pollution, a new $10 billion investment in renewable energy, and free dental care for children–but also of the fear of the credit not being noted. “The key issue is knowing when not to compromise,” Dr Di Natale said. Moreover,

Maintaining your identity when there is a perception that you are part of the government is a huge challenge.

Such are the perils for small parties. However, based on polling in the run-up to this year’s Australian election, claiming credit for policy seems like the least of the Greens’ current concerns. Rather, they need to be more worried about keeping enough senators after the coming debacle for Labor to protect the few policy gains they’ve managed since 2010.

4 thoughts on “Party identity in coalition

  1. Rather grim pollingfor both the Greens and Labor. The grimmer fact is that the swing to the LNP was consistently understated by polls taken before the NSW and Queensland landslides to the LNP.

  2. Ironic in the extreme that a Greens politician would appear in the encyclopaedia almost immediately before the entry on “natalism”.

    (assuming one uses the Italian rules for alphabetising surnames beginning with possessive articles… when editing, I learned that the Spanish and French rules differ. It’s a headache…)

  3. Don Aitkin, a venerable Australian political scientist, noted in 1984 (a column in the now-defunct Bulletin, which as recently as the early 1990s was this country’s magazine of record) that the National Party, formerly the Country Party, had an identity problem due to their membership in the coalition. Prof Aitkin surveyed a number of rural voters and found that a surprisingly high proportion didn’t say they “voted National”, but “voted for the Liberals” (even in districts where the Liberals did not run a three-cornered contest) or “for the Government” (during the Coalition’s 1949-72 dominance) or “for Menzies” (during Sir Robert’s 16-year tenure as PrM).
    More recently, the emergence of high-profile right-wing Independents (Hanson in 1998 and Katter more recently) and their associated parties (invariably incorporating the Leader’s name into its own) has been attributed to the Nationals’ role in the Coalition. As the Liberals adopted more economically deregulationist policies, the Nationals went along in the interests of Coalition unity, thus angering their rural supporters with the abolition of (eg) wheat, sugar and milk market stabilization schemes and tariff protections. The Nationals’ problem is that they are always going to be outvoted in the party room whenever the Coalition wins government. If the two parties have an equal veto (as “Black Jack” McEwan was seen to do, 1949-72), the Liberal backbenchers get annoyed (and in situations where the Liberals have an absolute majority in their own right – not uncommon, eg federally in 1975 – the Liberals can override the Nationals, as PrM Fraser did by continuing a number of reforms commenced by Whitlam Labor). The Nats can never outvote the Liberals, unless they go nuclear – either allying with Labor (anathema to their voters on most culture-wars grounds) or simply withdrawing from the coalition and sitting on the cross-benches (mutually assured destruction).

  4. Tom, that’s a great case! I would say that, in general, the identity problems for smaller parties are even greater when, as with National and Liberal parties in Australia, the coalition is pre-electoral rather than post-electoral. Greater still if said coalition is more or less permanent.

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