Minority Policy

Minority Policy: Rethinking governance when Parliament matters had a lot of promise. It’s written by two formers staffers (one a former staffer to Xenophon, and one a former staffer to Stott Despoja and Brown). The premise is certainly a fascinating one – to examine the role of non-Minister MPs; those who are marginal within a ruling party, and the role of MPs outside the main opposition party.

Sadly, Minority Policy really doesn’t live up to that potential. It’s a boring read that feels tedious at points. It has one or two interesting ideas, but doesn’t feel like it has the meat on the bones.

It seems as well to sit in that awkward space between political-gossip, and an attempt at academic rigour, without succeeding at either. The political gossip is reflected in occasional anecdotes thrown in, which are carefully anonymised to the point of being anodyne; the most interesting pieces on that front are the extracts from articles at the time.

The academic piece seems to be Prosser’s attempt to waken the slumbering minds of political scientists, who ignore the role of marginal MPs in making policy. I don’t know that literature, so perhaps it’s an insightful thing to say in that context. To tell the general public that marginal MPs influence policy, though, seems obvious in the extreme.

There are a few minor useful pieces that are useful; they might have made a good quality blog post. They are the idea of the marginal MP and the inverse relationship between politics and evidence.

The marginal MP is defined as

… the non-ministerial member of parliament whose discretionary support is needed to turn the governments’ policy ideas into the laws of the land that shape public policy action. 

The definition of marginal MPs is a useful one, and the idea that they matter seems obvious, but perhaps may be insightful in some academic contexts. A perhaps more useful idea that they put forward is that the idea of ‘minority government’ (particularly in the Senate) as somehow unusual, could be usefully reconsidered, given that the vast majority of recent Australian Parliaments have required the government to negotiate with non-party members in the upper house.

The other useful idea is the inverse relationship between politics and evidence. There’s a chart in their book, but that’s just a visual aid to understanding, rather than representing real data. What they’re really saying is that

… .when the political significance of a policy issue is deemed low, then politicians are more likely to rely on, and accept, the full body of evidence collected and presented when proposing a policy change. However, when a parliamentarian deems a policy issue to be of high political significance … then their attitude to evidence will be more selective and their willingness to have their vote influenced by the government’s preferred evidence might be much lower. 

For the most part, though, the book feels like wading through a piece that mixes the deadening tone of academic writing, with the lack of insight of an HR pamphlet.

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