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Former Liberal minister: here's how Xenophon could get my vote

Opinion

Former Liberal minister Mark Brindal says it’s possible he could vote for the X factor – but only if he can be shown that the still mysterious equation equals a positive value.

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X is an enigma. Turn it upside down, overturn it, stand it on its side, its appearance never varies. It’s inscrutable.

“X” leads few words in English. In mathematics, it’s used to represent unknown values. Many would remember equations in which you couldn’t find the value of “X” without knowing “Y”.

The “Y” of South Australia’s next election is understood. InDaily’s Tom Richardson writes that the mood is “Trump-esque”; that there is “a howl of disquiet from a jaded electorate”.

With major parties prevaricating, deceiving and lying for decades, they have lost credibility. Policies are no longer trusted: they have become part of the marketing and brand rather than the blueprint. Richardson describes them as  “virtue-signals, symbols”.

It is not surprising that the tide has ebbed for both major parties and that find themselves mired in cloying mud. Their shallows have created a bigger wave elsewhere.

Holding the centre has always been key to political success in Australia. Mr X has always managed to get noticed. The political genius of his perseverance, consistency and integrity as a consummate politician and his positioning as a voice of the sensible centre leave him, increasingly, as the only surfer thought capable of riding the wave. That’s the “Y”.

The question remains: do we need to understand the value of “X” before we commit ourselves to a decision, which might either re-invent our political landscape or throw the baby out with the bath water?

I think Shakespeare foresaw the stranglehold of Australia’s political duopoly in his characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Their softly, softly approaches, smirking and bowing, assenting, wheedling, wagging of their tails, allness and emptiness, legal knavery, ineptitude and insipidity sum their abandonment of the principled ground occupied by their founding fathers.

Yet, without understanding the value of “X” how can we know whether our hero will turn out to be Macbeth, Julius Caesar, or Hamlet when we need Henry Vth?

Mr X has the confidence of many South Australians and, to maintain both his integrity and flexibility, he asks us to trust him. Trusting him is one thing. Buying a pig in a poke is another.

Mr X wants to avoid becoming a Peter Lewis, who promised one thing to get elected then did exactly the opposite when he was. Instead, Nick asks us to elevate him to a political papacy complete with the concept of his own infallibility if/when he anoints HIS choice as OUR government.

Since, in his own words, his will be “the awful choice between a government that deserves to lose, and an opposition that doesn’t deserve to win,” he should respect the electorate enough to clearly espouse the principles on which he will make his decision.

Many Liberal and Labor voters, who might vote SA Best, will not do so if they feel that that will ensconce the government they least want on the Treasury benches.

Mr X presents SA Best as unshackled by blind ideology, political factions or vested interests. That’s true. However, SA Best’s constitution is more dogmatic and restrictive than either of the major parties. Its rules and its name – Nick Xenophon’s SA Best – could be viewed as autocratic. Dictatorships have a habit of falling apart even more quickly than tired political parties. While there is an “I” in Nick, there isn’t one in “team.”

Mr X promises to be relentless in delivering practical solutions to our state’s many problems. He intends doing this by supporting the party which can best deliver the SA Best agenda. What does that mean? Will he support them on the condition that they introduce and pass his legislative reform program according to a pre-agreed timetable and withdraw his support if they fail to do so? Or will he accept mealy worded guarantees that promise much but deliver little?

Mr X wants to focus on responsible, transparent and accountable government, removing the cloak of secrecy. He wants to reform the processes of Parliament. However, transparency and accountability depend on the impartiality of the Speaker and the chairpersons of the Parliamentary committees. If SA Best hold the balance of power will he ensure impartiality by insisting that members of his party provide the Speaker and chair for all important committees? Given that Kris Hanna, if elected, will be the only member with any House of Assembly experience, such a goal may well have to be progressively implemented

Mr X wants to reduce the number of MPs. Fewer members is a populist exercise in cost-cutting that will provide little meaningful reform. The stranglehold of the two major parties derives from two bases, single-member electorates and compulsory preferential voting. Arguments about the “fairness clause” and “one vote, one value” window-dress a flawed and unfair system. Both of the major parties will not countenance multi-member electorates since it removes their “if it’s not me then it must be you” arrangement. It allows the unthinkable – the possibility of either more independents or a third party in the Lower House. Where is Mr X on real reform?

Mr X has stated that he doesn’t envisage SA Best forming a government. However, he is running sufficient candidates to either constitute a government or to be the biggest single party. In either of these cases, electors deserve to be informed of his contingency plans.

Our system is unlike the USA. Having chosen a non-politician as head of state, the President can choose the brightest and the best to form his executive government. Here the Premier and his cabinet must be elected members of the Parliament. Is it realistic to expect that he could find even eight of his team (the current Cabinet numbers 15) who could become both effective ministers and members of parliament instantaneously?

Tom Richardson described the SA election as “chaos”. Chaos theory has two elements that are germane. It is the nature of chaos to seek order and a butterfly flapping its wings in Tasmania can cause a cyclone in Darwin.

I applaud Nick’s courage and foresight. I am grateful that he is offering a different choice. I acknowledge that, if this proves a case of “cometh the hour, cometh the man,” he is a political superman.

All that said, would I vote for him? It’s possible, but only if I can be more confident that “X” has a real and positive value for South Australia.

Mark Brindal was a Liberal member of the South Australian Parliament from 1989 to 2006, and was Minister for Water Resources, Local Government, Youth and Employment and Training during the Olsen and Kerin governments.

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