Intelligence Squared: Both Major Parties are Failing the Australian People

Intelligence Squared: Both Major Parties are Failing the Australian People

As the old truism would have it, ‘Whoever you vote for, the Government always gets in’. By the close of 2010, the Australian electorate’s sense of fatigue and disillusionment was palpable. Differences between Labor and Liberal felt incremental, and the big stories seemed to centre on alternatives, from the Greens to the Independents. Have the old forces in Australian politics lost their way?

Arguing in favour of the proposition are, in order of appearance, Carmen Lawrence, Greg Barns and John Hewson.

Lawrence posits that the major parties are being reconfigured into corporations, with power wrested from dwindling party memberships into a small handful of powerbrokers. The clout of vested interests and fear-mongering are criticised heavily by a passionate Barns, while former Liberal Party leader Hewson laments that the lack of “real policy debate” and long-term vision amidst a media that has ceased to be “investigative and supportive.”

Meanwhile, arguing against the proposition are Helen Kroger, Shaun Carney and Penny Wong.

Disagreeing strongly with first speaker Lawrence, Kroger suggests that the Liberal Party’s power remains at the grassroots of its membership, invoking Sir Robert Menzies' “The Forgotten People” speech. Carney questions whether “room for improvement” equals “failure”, quoting strong unemployment and inflation figures comparative to other developed nations. Finally, Wong asks whether criticism of the major parties is merely a great Australian tradition wherein minor parties benefit from being ‘unburdened with the responsibilities of governing’.

Have modern Labor and Liberal governments shown themselves able to “govern for all, but also to govern for the national interest”, as Wong believes they should?


Carmen Lawrence: 0m4s
Helen Kroger: 9m20s
Greg Barns: 18m20s
Shaun Carney: 27m01s
John Hewson: 36m44s
Penny Wong: 46m06s


Portrait of Carmen Lawrence

Carmen Lawrence

Carmen Lawrence is Winthrop Professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia. She is a former Premier of Western Australia and federal government minister.

Portrait of Helen Kroger

Helen Kroger

Senator Helen Kroger has been in Federal Parliament since 2008 following an extensive career in small business, corporate fundraising and Human Resource Management.

Portrait of Greg Barns

Greg Barns

Greg Barns is a barrister and writer. He is national president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance and practices in the areas of criminal law and human rights in Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. He is a member of the Bar in each of those jurisdictions.

Portrait of Shaun Carney

Shaun Carney

Shaun Carney is a journalist and memoirist.

Portrait of John Hewson

John Hewson

John Hewson is an economic and financial expert with experience in academia, business, government and the financial system.

He has worked as an economist for the Australian Treasury, the Reserve Bank, the IMF and as an advisor to two successive federal treasurers and the prime minister. He is currently a professor at the Crawford School ANU.

Portrait of Penny Wong

Penny Wong

Penny Wong was born in Malaysia and moved to Australia when she was eight. 

Before entering Parliament, she was a barrister and solicitor in Adelaide, and worked as an adviser to the Carr Government in New South Wales. She was elected as a Labor Senator for South Australia in November 2001 and began her term in July 2002.

In Opposition, Penny held the portfolios of Employment and Workforce Participation, Corporate Governance and Responsibility and Public Administration and Accountability.

In December 2007 Penny was appointed to the Federal Cabinet in the Rudd Labor Government as the Minister for Climate Change and Water, and in March 2010 the Prime Minister added the Energy Efficiency portfolio to her responsibilities. 

In September 2010 Penny was appointed as Minister for Finance and Deregulation in the Gillard Labor Government.

After the 2013 election, Penny was appointed as Opposition Leader in the Senate and Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment.

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