We’re in a strange new world, folks. The three independents have cut us adrift from the comfort and security of traditional politics and we’re heading for parts hitherto unnavigated. And the major parties are happy to go along for the ride, at least for the moment.

The independents have demanded the works. Just to kick negotiations off, they want an economic update, costings of Government and Opposition policies, briefings from select departments, meetings with Ministers and and shadow Ministers, advice on overhauling the Parliamentary committee system, private members’ bills, MPIs and Question Time, “consensus options” for cooperation between parties, improving relationships between the Senate and the Reps (whatever that means), commitments to a full three year term, and a “timetable and reform plan” for overhauling political donations, electoral funding and truth in advertising.

And that’s just to get them to the negotiating table at the end of next week.

Julia Gillard didn’t blink, promising to consult on the caretaker conventions about briefing, committing to Parliamentary and electoral reform (to be provided next Monday), offering her ministers for consultation, and committing to a full three-year term and a fixed date for the next election. Tony Abbott declared he’d already signed up to Parliamentary reform, was happy to commit to a full three-year term and would consider electoral funding reform as long as the issue of trade unions’ support of Labor was addressed (on which matter Abbott is absolutely correct).

Marvellous how easy reform suddenly is when politicians are motivated, isn’t it?

By the way, some context for Julia Gillard’s insistence she needs to consult with Terry Moran about providing costings of election commitments: in 2008, Treasury released most of its incoming Government “red book” brief for the 2007 election, following an FOI request by Seven’s Michael McKinnon (and some follow-up litigation), including Treasury warnings about the critical economic judgements that would have to be made following the election. Therefore there should be no basis for the withholding of similar briefing from the independents now.

The independents, and especially Rob Oakeshott, are copping plenty of grief for their “why can’t we all be friends” approach to politics. This isn’t just a Press Gallery dislocated by the events of the last few days and anxious for a return to politics as usual. There’s an element of truth in the criticism. Politics is a contest, not a love-in. And parties are a critical feature of democracy.

You can try and be George Washington and revile the mere existence of parties, but they are a core feature of functional government (as are factions within parties, whether formal or informal). The world is full of idealists who’d love to neuter the role of parties, whether by requiring secret ballots in Parliament or switching to proportional representation or banning how to vote cards and party ID on ballot papers. But parties, for the most part, work.

Where they haven’t worked here is on transparency and accountability. The Rudd Government was excellent on electoral and FOI reform and transparency mechanisms like the lobbyists’ register. It was no better than the Howard Government, or any previous Government, on Parliamentary reform and other benefits of incumbency. That extended to such election-related issues as campaign debates, the Charter of Budget Honesty and “electorate briefs”. Neither side has shown any willingness to seriously progress such matters toward genuine, equal accountability.

That within just a few days of a hung Parliament we are now seeing the major parties scrambling to offer the biggest overhaul of electoral, accountability and transparency requirements in a generation is testament to just how much the political world has suddenly changed. The independents might be unrealistic in their views about consensus across the partisan divide, and Bob Katter might look halfway to barking mad, but the independents are in serious danger of revolutionising political accountability, and that’s a splendid thing.