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March 23rd 2016 print

James Allan

It’s D-Delightful!

Thanks for those Senate reforms, Mr Prime Minister. You wouldn't believe how keen I am to mark the boxes and signal my unhappiness that the party of alleged conservatives is now led by, well, you. A Labor government would be terrible, but yours would be worse

turnbull selfie smallThe prospect of a July 2 Double Dissolution (D-D) election is one I welcome.  I will say why in a moment.  Before doing so, though, notice that it is far from certain that there will in fact be a D-D election.  Two things have to happen first.  To start, the Senate has again for a second time ‘to fail to pass’ the ABCC (Australian Building and Construction Commission) Bill that Mr. Turnbull has decided to make the centre-piece of any such election.

Now, as things stand, it is clear that Labor and the Greens, neither of which can be described as wholeheartedly in favour of bringing a bit of light and transparency to the way unions operate, will vote against this Bill.  That leaves the crossbenchers.  Mr. Turnbull needs six of eight to vote in favour for the Bill to pass.  And one delicious side-story to this saga is the extent to which self-interest is surely pushing these independents to consider voting to pass the Bill.  Cometh a D-D and goeth, for them, the big salary, the obsequious staff, the prestige, the fawning ABC interview (provided such an interview does damage to Mr. Abbott or anyone who holds a small government, Hobbesian, conservative view) and more.  The temptation to rationalise away their opposition for the perks and baubles of Senatorial life will be mighty hard to resist.

Indeed, that was what Mr. Turnbull hoped for when he made the threat.  Sure, a few of these crossbenchers will surely get re-elected under the newly enacted Senate voting system – think Nick Xenophon and probably Jackie Lambie – and so the self-interest calculations won’t affect them. But it surely will come into play with libertarian David Leyonhjelm, and with all the Palmer Disunited (and disaffected) detritus.  And the guy who likes cars.  And Family First’s Bob Day.  So will it be principle or self-interest, conceding straight off that when it comes to the powerful call of personal self-interest most people can find a way to present it as acting on principle – even to themselves.

So maybe the ABCC Bill will pass in the end.  But maybe it won’t.  You’d be brave to bet on the outcome, though as I said, the initial noises from the crossbenchers are that it won’t pass.

That throws the spotlight over to Malcolm. ‘This is the Greatest Time to Be a Prime Minister in Australia’s History’ Turnbull.  Having issued the challenge and thrown down the gantlet it would surely be politically daft to balk if the bluff were called.  Can you picture it?  The Senate fails to pass the ABCC and Mr. Turnbull says, ‘Actually, I was just kidding.  No D-D to see here folks.  Go back to what you were doing.  Just keeping all my options on the table.’  Surely the political embarrassment is too great to chance and he would have no choice but to call the D-D.

So then what?  Well, we’d be looking at a July 2 election date and an official campaign of over seven weeks — 15 weeks if you include the preliminary and unofficial de facto campaign already underway. Those sort of lengthy campaigns tend not to benefit the governments who engineered them.  Ask Mr. Hawke.  Ask Canada’s former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose recent mauling in the polls came after a near record long election campaign, with the conservative’s polls declining the longer the campaign dragged on. Extended campaigns are a big, big risk.

We will also get to try out the new Senate voting system in any July 2 election.  Personally, I think the new voting system – with the Group Voting Ticket now gone – is democratically better than what it replaced.  But I would have gone a lot further, maybe getting rid of all ‘above the line’ voting.  Or, better still, going back to the Senate voting system we had till 1949, one which hurts all small parties (most noticeably the Greens) and not just the independents.  The fact is, however, much this is a theoretical improvement as far as voting systems go, it also seems very likely to entrench the Greens in the Senate as the chamber’s veto-wielding third force.  Imagine that?  Future Labor governments will get most everything they want through the Upper House – as the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd monstrosities did under the old system – and yet future Coalition governments are likely to need the Greens. Could that be intentional?  I couldn’t possibly comment.

Why do I welcome the prospect of a vote in July?  Because I want to register my disgust with the 54 Liberal MPs who took out a first-term Prime Minister and indulged in the worst sort of Labor-style shenanigans. I want to have my say as regards the decision to put into office the most left wing Liberal Prime Minister probably ever.  I want to indicate that there are some things voters need to reject, for the long-term benefit of the party and country, even if it has pretty awful short-term consequences.

So bring it on, my crazy crossbench curmudgeons. Bring it on!

James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline

Comments [11]

  1. pgang says:

    I don’t get to have a say in any federal election. The Liberals probably won’t even run a candidate in my seat so it’s a donkey vote for me every time. And I don’t believe in non democratic government via the Senate so it’s pretty hard to take that part of the ballot seriously.

    • Ken Harris says:

      pgang: I know how you feel about casting a vote that will have no impact in your electorate.
      Nevertheless, it is important that the Liberals be punished for their crime. Vote Labor: that’s what I’ll be doing. Your vote won’t be wasted if it contributes to an overall swing against Turnbull.

  2. ianl says:

    > Could that be intentional? I couldn’t possibly comment

    Well, unlike Francis Urquhart, I can.

    Yes. Waffle’s ego, his vanity is such that like Rudderless, he wants to remake the country in his image.

  3. Bran Dee says:

    Hopefully the D-D election will enable success for the new Australian Liberty Alliance contesting for Senate representation. This political party that has grown out of the Q Society of Australia has taken inspiration from Geert Wilders the founder and leader of the large Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. Imagine the benefit to the Australian Parliament when the ALA holds the balance between Labor-Greens and Liberal Coalition.

    Conservatives frustrated with Malcolm T don’t have to scourge themselves by putting the Socialists into office. They have Christian Democrats and others in the Representatives for which they can vote but for the Senate it is vote 1 ALA. The recognition of the value of the ALA is often voiced on QOL and needs also to be heard on Talk-back radio, on TV, and everywhere in the market place. The post D-D possibilities are exciting me Mr T.

    • 10416 says:

      ALA has had their advertising rejected by News Limited. News must consider them a real threat to their man Turnbull to forgo revenue.

      • psstevo says:

        All the more reason to support ALA and Family First in both House and Senate! In particular we need to use Senate leverage with conservative senators to keep the b….’s honest, whatever shade of pink/green/red is in the House.

  4. What a bloody choice – having the Australian economy and our standard of living murdered by Shorten and the LABOR/GREEN axis and the CMFEU, or having the Australian economy commit slow painful suicide with Malcolm Turnbull’s dulcet urgings.
    Despite that as Napoleon was reputed to have said – ‘more battles are lost from no decisions being made rather than bad decisions being made’. It applies also to politics. I am now more likely to vote for Malcolm now that he has made a decision – whether it be good or bad with regards to the Bills before parliament and being potential DD trigger. His mania with ‘clean energy’ and hence reviving a new waste of taxpayer monies is definitely a wrong decision for me but is outweighed by his actions to curb the CMFEU thuggery.

    • Ken Harris says:

      The dilemma set out in your first paragraph leaves us with no hope; no matter what we do we’ll end up with a socialist government now or later.
      Won’t we, our children and grandchildren be better off with a conservative choice? The only way this will happen is to get the Liberals back on track. The only way they will get back on track is to punish them at the polls. The only way to punish them at the polls is to vote against them. QED.
      This has nothing to do with wanting Abbott back. I just want the Liberal Party back.
      Regrettably, Turnbull’s decision to give the ABCC the kiss of life has nothing to do with curbing union thuggery. He needed to thump his chest about something and the ABCC was at hand. It could have been anything, really; the actual policy involved is secondary to Turnbull’s lust for power, for his place in the history books.
      It is unlikely that Turnbull has found salvation in industrial relations reform. Time and time again we have seen policies introduced by politicians whose heart isn’t in it. The outcome is always disappointing. It will be no different this time.

  5. Ian Matthews says:

    Shorten and his bunch of no-hopers are our penance. We must accept it for the greater long term good. Come the next election, the forces of righteousness must rise up and smite Lord Lachrymose and the Vile 54. My disdain for my local member John Alexander, knows no bounds. I pray that he or one of his minions door-knocks my street in the electorate of Bennelong. I have a foul temper and 3 dogs.

    • padraic says:

      Phew! Pretty heavy stuff. But I am with denandsel on this one. A bit like Napoleon’s expression, GK Chesterton once said “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”, and I’ll be voting for the present government. I couldn’t bear the dysfunctional Labor Party winning. It has been taken over by the Marxist totalitarians and bikie thugs and thrives on victimhood. I don’t think putting them in power because of disappointment at the change of PM is a good call for the country. Look how all the ALP parliamentary members with traditional values are leaving. I believe Malcolm is keeping the media in its place. The ABC and others have become players in their own right in the political system and are interfering with the democratic process. They are not content to report on politics, they want to manipulate the system for their own ends. Malcolm seems to work things out and release information when appropriate and this has upset the journos who want instant answers, so he is copping a pasting, but not as bad as Tony did. The electorate is sick of this constant 24 hour “he said/she said” journalism and just want a stable government so they can get on with their lives and leave the government to govern, based on the policies they take to the election.

  6. en passant says:

    Professor James,
    You demonstrate the benefits of a good education and legal training – and a divorce from real life politics.
    Of course we will have a D-D election even if all eight ‘independents’ vote FOR the Bill.
    If I were Malevolent I would have lined up TEN illiberal psychophants from his Ministry of the Damned and Damnable (I could name them) to cross the floor to ensure it is rejected.

    Do NOT play chess with me for money … You cannot afford it.