Words by Felix Eldridge
Nick Xenophon was elected as an independent in 1997 and has frequented the upper houses of State and Federal parliaments ever since. Originally the “no pokies” candidate, he has rebranded himself numerous times, now presenting himself as “fighting for South Australia” against parties dominated by the interests of other states. By contesting lower house seats in the upcoming state election, his aim is to gain the balance of power. He has repeatedly stated that he will not accept cabinet positions if he achieves this aim. This approach may seem harmless, but if realised would do terrible damage to the concept of accountable government.
Cabinet portfolios are coveted amongst MPs, because they symbolise a rise in personal power and prestige. To parties, especially junior coalition partners, control of important portfolios displays political clout. However, Ministerial positions also bring huge responsibilities as Ministers become the public face of their departments. In a scandal, the public will first blame the minister, and by implication their party, regardless of whether they or their department were at fault. This is the socially accepted arrangement; more power equals more responsibility. This social contract is under peril if SA-BEST gains the balance of power, because Mr. Xenophon will sit on the crossbench, extorting whatever he wants from whichever party forms government, while taking no public responsibility for any failings even if they were directly caused by his policies. This plan to quietly shirk responsibility is very clever politically, but circumvents executive accountability, the foundation of all healthy democracies.
Political parties broadly separate into two groups, those who intend to form government and those who wish to extort concessions from governments. Xenophon’s party is the latter because it does not contest all seats and attempt to win power outright. Instead, it positions itself as — well let’s be honest — a “parasite party”, created to feed from someone else’s majority because it cannot conceivably survive on its own. If Mr. Xenophon truly believes that he can bring positive change to South Australia, he should strive to form a majority government. He should be prepared to accept the responsibilities of cabinet positions and he should be eager to demonstrate if his “common-sense alternatives” work.
The sad thing is, Nick Xenophon has many admirable qualities, both personally and politically, and he has served us well in the Senate. Make no mistake though, a vote for SA-BEST is not a vote for the stable and accountable government that SA needs.