Peter Smith

Sniffing for a quisling

Sniff – sniff, sniff – sniff, I smell the blood of a quisling. What a deal I have for you. Sell your soul to me I will offer you the world. Well, if not your soul, your vote will do and, if not the world, the deputy speakership’s for you.

Gillard and Albanese are beside themselves with righteous anger that Abbott and Pyne have walked away from the deal brokered by the three regional MPs who, lest we think they are country bumpkins, dabble in parliamentary standing orders and constitutional law in their spare time.

The truth of the matter is that we have had a farce of enormous proportions going on in our midst without anybody really calling it out. Both Gillard and Abbott should have had the courage to tell the three of them, plus Wilkie, to get nicked and the gumption to get together to do it. The lust for power proved too strong in both cases. We had a disreputable auction for the affection of the disaffected. It was against the national interest, as is usually the case when well-considered decision making is replaced with pandering to special interests. Both Gillard and Abbott should be ashamed of so recklessly ‘dispensing [taxpayers’] treasure and holding kingly sway’, but don’t hold your breath waiting for their remorse, they have crocodile hides.

While you might say that Abbott is remiss in reneging on his agreement to pair the Speaker, it should never have been agreed in the first place by Albanese and Pyne. I am not a lawyer, but you don’t have to be to apply commonsense. Commonsense also has the advantage of being one among fair-minded people, unlike the number of different legal opinions you can get on any matter.

Commonsense tells you that pairing effectively gives the Speaker a deliberative vote; unless, somehow, you pretend that the reason one parliamentarian is studiously not voting has nothing to do with balancing a deliberative vote that would otherwise be cast by an unencumbered Speaker. It is a patent fraud and surely contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. Quite outside of this, as a practical matter, what exactly happens if the parliament is tied, courtesy of the parliamentary pair not voting? Can the Speaker then come in with an affirmative casting vote? The fact is, in this situation, the elected parliamentarians are split 50-50. Any resolution should fail. But it would pass. How democratic is that? The option is for pairing to be combined with the Speaker giving up a casting vote. Is that the intention? Or hasn’t it been thought through – which, unfortunately, is the more likely pathetic explanation.

Why weren’t these things thought through more thoroughly by Albanese and Pyne? Again, we have to fall back on the awful reality that they would have agreed to anything to win over the three who held the keys to the palace of privilege, power, patronage and perquisites. The situation might have still been salvageable, if any of the three had been equipped with commonsense and some modesty about their own abilities. Heck, gee whiz, that’s a tall order.

Tony Windsor was interviewed by Tony Jones on Lateline about Tony Abbott’s reneging on the Speaker deal. Leaving aside the obvious delight both Tonys felt about Tony’s predicament, Windsor proffered the view that parliamentarians pair all the time so there was clearly no problem. He just didn’t get it. That’s okay so long as he is mowing his grass at home. It is not when his intellectual capacity is given rein to contort public policy to serve Gillard’s and Abbott’s ambitions.

The right solution now is for both Gillard and Abbott to concede they were wrong. Admittedly that would be tougher on Gillard because she has more to lose. She wants a majority of two rather than one and she can point to Abbott as being untrustworthy. So the search for a quisling goes on I suppose. Abbott can do something to remedy the situation by taking voters into his confidence. Tell us what we already know; that he participated in a wretched process. That he would not do it again; and that the pairing agreement was one of many egregious parts of that process. Pigs might fly.

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