SENATE OUT OF CONTROL
...as Abbott is sounded out on a DD
Four-time Walkley Award winning political commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a partisan media.
When a political Party is swept to power, as Abbott’s Coalition was, it seems undemocratic that it is prevented from enacting its legislation, no matter how odious it may be, by a rag-tag unrepresentative Senate... half of whom were elected in another political age.
The word around the beltway is that at least two adventurous Lib MPs, in safe seats (funny that) have asked for a Party room discussion about the possibility of a double dissolution.
The subject has doubtless been brought on due to the latest in a long list of legislation being either stalled or rejected in the Senate due to an obstructionist bunch of bogans and an apparent disintegration of the Palmer United Party.
The bun fight between Cloive and Jacqui Lambie is very interesting. If Cloive can force Lambie out of her Senate seat by fair means or foul, he may not be able to replace the casual vacancy by one of his own.
Lambie is first and foremost a representative of Tasmania and, although convention requires a person prepared to toe the Party line be nominated to fill the vacancy, as Nova Peris was, it has not always been the case.
Following the death of ALP Senator Bert Milliner in June of 1975, the QLD State Labor party nominated Mal Colston to fill the vacancy.
But Queensland Premier at the time, Joh Bjelke-Petersen said he had evidence that Colston had set fire to a school or something and he deemed him unsuitable to represent Queensland. Hmmm.
After Bjelke’s legislature had twice voted down the Colston nomination, he used his majority to elect an inarticulate drongo unionist from the ALP by the name of Albert Field, who had agreed with Bjelke that he would not support Whitlam, thereby giving the Coalition a slim 30-29 Senate majority.
By the time the glacial High Court had got around to looking at the case, Whitlam had already been sacked.
So Cloive’s devious plans, and you can bet he is working on some, may come to nought and is it any wonder both combatants are furiously seeking Constitutional advice.
At the moment there is hardly a concerted push for a double dissolution but there is certainly anger on the backbenches about the Government’s inability to govern despite winning a 35 seat majority in the Lower House over the ALP’s 55, along with one Green, one Katter, one PUP and two Independents.
A double dissolution may not be as silly a prospect as it sounds, it’s been done before in similar circumstances, and successfully, when an elected government was rendered impotent due to an obstructionist Senate.
In April of 1974, Gough Whitlam, amid a torrent of outrageous scandals, took a punt on a double dissolution election, hopeful of passing six Bills that were refused Senate passage on two separate occasions. This gave him the trigger for a DD. And his judgment was proved right.
Aussie voters, above all else, believe in a fair go, and although they realised the Whitlam Government, after only two years in power, was an unmitigated disaster, they re-elected it albeit with a reduced majority.
Although the entire Senate was also up for re-election, voters decided to impose a handbrake on an out of control Whitlam and again returned an obstructionist Senate.
Whitlam then called for a joint sitting, unique in parliamentary history, where he had the numbers to pass his stalled Bills.
The following year Whitlam became the only sitting Australian Prime Minister in history to be sacked and although he tried twice to again win government, voters continued to shun him.
My point is that Aussie voters don’t like their electoral decisions overturned within the first term, no matter how bad a Government appears to be.
The question is, how bad does the Abbott Government appear to be?
Well, he is not in the same league as the diabolical Whitlam but he has certainly overdone the nasties in his first year, knowing full well a Senate was hell-bent on crippling him.
In 2010, Abbott declared he was prepared to, “sell all but my arse” to gain government, he was fully aware of Gillard’s intentions.
Instead it was Gillard who sold her arse to the Greens, gaining government in a hung Parliament.
Labor calls Abbott a cry baby, taunting him with, “Gillard governed with a hung Parliament so stop bitching and just get on with it!” But that’s simply not true, only the Lower House was hung and Gillard had no problem getting no fewer than 600 pieces of legislation to sail through the Senate.
Abbott’s predicament is entirely different.
There is no doubt the current rabble in the Senate needs a good vacuuming but could Abbott actually pull off a DD? History says he can, but there are inherent risks.
A majority of voters is already opposed to his “unfair” budget and they might feel to endorse him again could trigger an avalanche of even nastier far Right policies. And they could be right.
But he has a good story to tell, as did Whitlam: “In a landslide election you gave us the reins so for God’s sake allow us to drive the horses for at least one term”.
That sounds fair enough and the stench of the Labor government is still fresh in the noses of voters, the Royal Commission into unions is far from over and allegations against Gillard are still alive.
Rape allegations against Shorten have not gone away and voters understand the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd debt must be dealt with, but fairly.
Broken promises? Well that works against both sides and voters won’t believe either Party, so it comes down to “fairness”... not in a budget sense, but in a democratic sense.
Aussies will always opt for the “fair go” principle, just as they did in 1974.
The odds? Abbott would have a better than evens chance of gaining a majority in both Houses. But unlike Whitlam, Abbott doesn’t need to gamble, he would much prefer to tread water and to bank on his stocks rising in time for 2016 when half the Senate is up for re-election.
The only trouble with that is Cloive’s clots, including Lambie, will not be part of the half up for re-election.
Who knows, but be prepared for an interesting debate on double dissolutions anyway.
CORRECTION: Section 15 of the Constitution now states in effect that, unless a Party is unable to nominate a casual vacancy from its own ranks, then the casual vacancy must be filled from the Party represented at the time of election. This would prevent the Bjelke loophole being used unless Clive was unable to find anyone to fill the vacancy who was prepared to represent the PUP.