University of Tasmania
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Strategies for minority government formation: legacies and learning in Australia

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posted on 2023-05-28, 12:34 authored by Lester, MJ
As support for established political parties wane and the electorate becomes more volatile, minority governments have become more common both in Australia and in many other parliamentary democracies. In Australia since 1989 there have been 23 minority governments at the national and subnational level, yet there remains a public aversion towards them. This aversion to minority government, how it is managed and how past experiences of minority government influence both the formation and nature of subsequent minority governments warrants closer examination to enhance our understanding of how to translate inconclusive election results into legitimate and effective governments. Whilst there is a growing body of research on minority government in Australia, the way in which the legacies of past minority governments influence both formation processes and the structure of future minority governments is comparatively under-examined. This thesis advances the literature on minority government in Australia by examining how past experiences of minority government in one jurisdiction influence subsequent attitudes to minority government in other jurisdictions and how parties and their leaders benefit from temporal and cross-jurisdictional learning and implement new or changed political strategies, policies, and institutions to try to manage future minority government formation with a view to minimise negative political consequences. Given the historical dimension of the study and its emphasis on evolution and learning over time it is argued that historical institutionalism and associated theories of policy transfer provide an ideal framework for the thesis. The detailed empirical analysis presented in this thesis focuses on five subnational minority government case studies from two Australian states with recent experiences of minority government. Three of the cases are from Tasmanian (1989, 1996, 2010) and two from Queensland (1998 and 2015), which collectively represent all models of minority government found in Australia over the study period and allow a comparison of jurisdictions with different institutional and political contexts. Recognising the important role of political leaders as key 'agents' in minority government formation, a mixed-method approach combines interviews of 21 leaders and senior advisors with direct experience of minority government formation with data from other primary and secondary sources including the broader scholarly literature. The thesis argues minority government formation in Australia is shaped by past patterns of politics and policy learning from other relevant jurisdictions. Examples of such learning include the universal take up of pledges to govern alone or not at all and the adoption from Canada and subsequent institutionalisation of accords, agreements and memorandums of understanding, of which there are three main variants. Past patterns of politics and prevailing institutions may influence the formation of minority government, but they are not deterministic. Indeed, the study identifies significant political, institutional and policy changes in all jurisdictions in part because political leaders have choices about how they confront the uncertainty associated with an inconclusive election result. These include fundamental changes to electoral systems, parliamentary committees, procedures and rules and to the long-held convention of joint ministerial solidarity and responsibility. A high level of trust and a close working relationship between those sharing power emerged as vitally important to the stability and longevity of minority governments. While past experience has resulted in a much greater understanding of the constitutional requirements and constraints on minority government formation, negative attitudes among Australian towards minority government remain.


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