Message is clear: Australian voters want their sovereignty back

Message is clear: Australian voters want their sovereignty back

The message is loud and clear: The Australian people want their sovereignty back.

There are two pieces of fresh evidence. First, it's the message from today's Fairfax-Ipsos poll.

Asked whether the party in government should change leaders between elections or whether they should be allowed to serve full term, an overwhelming 71 per cent said they should go full term.

Even though Malcolm Turnbull is no longer a popular leader. Even though more voters said they'd prefer Julie Bishop as Liberal leader.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In other words, even when it would suit their personal preference to have a different leader, Australians want their politicians to respect the democratic outcome. They respect the rules and they want their politicians to, as well.

We shouldn't need an opinion poll to tell us this, but the political class will believe nothing less. It's common sense that the people would want the parties to respect the result of a federal election.

Each time a political party removes an elected prime minister, it disenfranchises the people. And indulges its own internal power struggles and egos.

The parties have always been quick to quibble on this point. They say that the people elect the MPs and senators, and they, in turn, vote for party leaders. This is technically true but, to the electorate, irrelevant.

Since the political parties started routinely knifing serving prime ministers, their primary votes have fallen dramatically, trust in democracy has fallen continuously, and minor parties have flourished.

Frustration is high. Four Australians out of ten say that the system of government needs "major change" or "should be replaced", according to last week's poll by the Scanlon Foundation.

Most alarmingly, a quarter of Australians are ready to embrace a dictatorship, according to that poll.

The parties have broken the social compact underlying Australian democracy, and the people want it restored.

The second piece of evidence is Saturday's by-election in New England. Rather than use the opportunity to lash out at an unpopular government by sacking the deputy prime minister, the voters restored Barnaby Joyce to the parliament with an even bigger majority.

Joyce won a primary vote of 52 per cent at the general election last year. On Saturday he won 65 per cent of the primary vote. This is remarkable.

In spite of the government's travails, in spite of his own incompetence in failing to make sure he was eligible for parliament, the people have given him a ringing endorsement.

It's true that he didn't have to face the popular local independent Tony Windsor this time around. That factor no doubt helped Joyce.

But it was a competitive ballot, nevertheless, and voters had 16 other candidates to choose from ranging from the Greens at one end of the spectrum to the racist Rise Up Australia at the other with Labor and a swag of independents in between.

If the people of New England had wanted to damage the government, to act on the anti-incumbent sentiment that is supposedly sweeping the democratic world, they had every opportunity.

Instead they told the High Court and the rest of the country that they wanted their choice respected. Even by people who hadn't voted for Joyce last year.

The Australian people respect the outcome of democratic elections more than the political parties. The people are more principled and loyal than the political class.

If the government, the Parliament and the political parties want to recover some respect, the people's advice is emphatic. No more coups. If you want some respect, show us some.

Peter Hartcher is the political editor and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He is a Gold Walkley award winner, a former foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Washington, and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

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