It was a long time ago so my memories are fortunately
hazy, but I vaguely recollect a few actions during my university student days
that I am pleased were not recorded on video by amateur documentary makers.
Hence the scenes shown on Lateline earlier this week of supposed Young Liberals being boorish and bad mannered
did little for me.

Young drunks will be young drunks, and just as most of
the leftie radicals of my day who shouted down opponents changed into
respectable adults and not the Stalin they worshipped, the tasteless crew shown
by the ABC is unlikely to grow up to be some kind of fascists. Which is not
condoning the chanting of anti-Aboriginal slogans – just accepting that people
regularly do unpleasant and thoughtless things which in the end rarely amount to
much.

Lateline would have served us better not to follow up
the aspect of the previous night’s Four Corners program that dwelt
on Young Liberals being the foot soldiers of Liberal Party branch stackers but
to concentrate instead on the depressing evidence that the very method of
choosing our members of parliament leaves much to be desired.

This week it has been the turn of the Liberal Party to
have its preselection weaknesses exposed. Earlier in the year the internal
machinations of the Labor Party in Victoria were under
examination. In the future it could be any party in any state where it is shown
that candidates are chosen by a small clique of self interested partisans.

So is it time to try the American Way? In broad terms, each of Liberal/National and Labor will
win 40% of the seats on offer whichever way most overall elections go. How
people in these safe electorates vote is not the real election. The real and
important election was earlier when the party chose its
candidate.

In the 20% of seats that are marginal, the people do
have a small say. They can influence a decision between two people chosen for
them by the parties but have no say in who those two people
are.

Monday night’s Four Corners revealed the
depressing truth that not even joining a political party as an active member
gives a person a role. Factional chiefs rig the system to make voting by
rank-and-file members irrelevant.

Perhaps the answer lies in the introduction of the
United States system of primary elections where any members of the
electorate who wish to – not just members of the actual party – can vote to
decide who represents a party.

I recall that years ago a minister in a Victorian State
Labor Government, for the life of me I cannot remember who, made just this
suggestion. Nothing came of it then and it will probably take a continuation of
the swing away from major parties for the idea to be revived.

Maybe that time is not that far away, for the drip, drip,
drip of revelations about branch stacking and factional politics in both Liberal
and Labor will surely see record numbers of Australians declaring a pox on both
their parties. Only when they realise that their antics are costing them the
votes that cost them their jobs will the apparatchiks of both sides change their
ways.

Peter Fray

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