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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Now, perhaps I overextended myself by saying that the West Wing and Ys, Minister have covered the field in terms of pre-sciently predicting the outcomes in this election campaign. Pink Floyd has that ability in spades as well:

Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before time took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river”

– High Hopes (from the Division Bell, Pink Floyd (1994))

The Division Bell having tolled, we find ourselves beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young when Keating was Prime Minister; when thought and policies flowed constantly and without boundary.

“The myriad small creatures” being of course a reference to the independents,who are trying to tie Gulliver (the major parties) after they shipwrecked in the mysterious and fantastic land of Lilliput where Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull can not only work with their own parties, but also with the opposing parties in a magical Unity government.

With this wonderful new paradigm shift in Australian democracy, the grass was greener, the light was brighter.

You have an impossible choice between two incompetent parties.

1) Family First

2) Democratic Labor party

The first is still stuck in the 1950-1980s mindset of women chained to the dishwasher (well, let’s face it, they were the dishwasher). The latter has just been teleported from the 1980s.

The former got 0.8% of the primary vote in the last election. The latter got 0.64%.

Fielding may blockade Labor bills passing through the Senate, in a refreshing switch from his old stance of supporting the ALP by blocking any Bills he thought would harm their reputations if passed.

Christ, even the Greens are a better option than this. And they want to waste money on a high speed passenger rail connection between Sydney and Melbourne.

Coalition policy is too complex for mere mortals to understand

“It’s very difficult for the public service to understand Coalition policy” – Tony Abbott

They can only understand the wishy washy fluff produced by the ALP and the Greens.

I’m beginning to like Rob Oakeshotte. From the start, he seemed elegant and eloquent than the other two independents and he seemed to garner their respect and support.

Now, he has devised an ingenious solution to a conundrum that must have been plaguing him. I have said that the policy preferences of the 3 rural independents seems more closely aligned to some of Labor’s policies than the free market Liberals. I have also said that the three also are conservative. The missing piece of that formula is that the independents themselves must come from conservative electorates. The crucial difference in phraseology is this – an independent conservative might buck ideological ties to join the ALP, but an independent from a conservative seat will be kicked out by his own electorate at the next election if he supports a left-wing government – particularly one in coalition with the Greens.

A ‘dream team’ government is an innovative solution to that problem. Oakeshott himself does not appear to fit any easy description. He is a social liberal and economic conservative. He supports an ETS, but also strongly supports farmers’ rights. He wants a broadband network but is also a fiscal conservative. Tony Windsor is a milder form of the same.

I rather like the idea of a pluralist government, with the best ministers from both sides of politics forming a government together. Not terribly practical, but I think it works.After all, if Kevin can’t be foreign ministe in an ALP government, and Malcolm can’t be shadow environment minister in a Liberal opposition, how could they hold those positions in a joint ALP/LNP Cabinet?

If it could be done, there would be great benefits – but also grave dangers. After all, the US has a system where backbenchers jump ship all the time and that path leads to chaos. Any time contentious legislation is proposed, a thousand amendments nullify any true reform. Unless of course, the name of the bill abbreviates to the word PATRIOT. Still, its worth reflecting on. I think Westminster Responsible Government could do with a dose of extra responsibility.

As any educated Australian should know, the Governor-General’s powers in appointing or dismissing a Prime Minister are completely discretionary but that discretion is bound by convention as strong as law.

So when asking the question, who can form government after this election, I think two things have to be distinguished. Firstly – distinguishing between legal considerations and between political considerations which may indirectly impact the legal considerations. Secondly, we must distinguish between short term effects and long term effects.

Anne Twomey, the god-like constitutional law scholar at the University of Sydney points out that Gillard has the advantage of incumbency, by reason of her caretaker position. This means that it is her legal “right of the incumbent to remain in office to face the parliament continues”. Twomey, omniscient as she is, cites various examples from Australia’s state parliamentary history.

Andrew Lynch of the Gin&Tonic Centre for Public Law at UNSW on ABC News this morning stated that the longest a Prime Minister would be able to wait before making the drive to Government House to inform the Governor General that s/he can form government is a week. He cited two UK examples, including Gordon Brown. Lynch omits to mention that this is based on political considerations. Yes – there is only so long the public will wait, but in exceptional circumstances such as these, I think the public is happy to remain in caretaker mode.

As Twomey points out, the Prime Minister is only obliged to resign if a motion of no confidence is moved against her by the House.

The second question on everyone’s minds is whether another election will be called. Twomey says that, in the immediate term, there is a single scenario in which this can happen. The problem is that the coalition with the most seats must nominate a Speaker, thus depriving it of a vital vote such that it cannot defeat vital motions. If the numbers fall 76:74, this does not pose a problem. If however, both sides garner 75:75 votes and if both sides refuse to nominate a Speaker, then another election will be called. As Twomey points out, this is wildly unlikely to happen because “the pressure to avoid another election and to ensure stable government is likely to be so great that one or more of the independents is likely to change sides to ensure that a stable government is formed”. I would add that a 75:75 figure is unlikely on the current seat count unless the rural independents fail to vote as a block. And if they don’t vote as a block, its in their own best interests to reform a block (as Twomey said, for one to switch sides).

Lynch, inferior mind that he is, points out that minority governments are unstable and likely to survive for the full term. He predicts that there is likely to be another election in a few months. Again, this is based on political considerations. And, there being no precedent in the last 70 years, he can hardly cite international examples because the Parliamentary and political context is so different. I would imagine that the first step, in the case of a breakdown in the ruling coalition, would be to try to negotiate a new coalition. Again, unless the Prime Minister loses the confidence of the House (as expressed by a motion of no confidence) s/he does not need to resign or hold an election. The Governor General, I think, in these circumstances would not exercise the power to call an election until the House had concluded negotiations or reached an impasse.

So even though the legal criterion are twofold – firstly, who has the most seats, and secondly, who can defeat no confidence motions,  there are many political considerations that play into this.

Who has the highest two-party preferred vote etc – these statistics are only useful insofar as they allow the parties to convince the independents that they have the democratic mandate (and hence the independents should side with them). The far more important criterion is who can form the most stable government. Although, apparently, some have suggested that this is a criterion for the GG, it is not.

People should really learn to read the Constitution. It may not mention the Prime Minister by title or office, but it can tell you who will become Prime Minister.

Bernard Keane makes the point more clearly than I did last night:

But the Greens are also working hard to develop a regional presence. The Greens’ second-biggest Senate swing, 5.5%, and biggest Reps swing, 5.15%, was in Queensland. Rachel Siewert and Christine Milne have been working hard on rural issues. On a number of issues like food security and coal mining in agricultural areas, the Greens have strong appeal to rural communities. Only on water is there still an ideological divide, although the complexities of water mean the Greens have common cause with some in the MDB.

He omits to mention the ETS (but, so did I last night, only thought of it this morning).

So, I just watched another Bob Katter interview – it looks as though the three rural independents in the House (and Nick Xenophon in the Senate) had met prior to the election to discuss the election.

Listening to that interview, it seems that Rob Oakeshott has some influence over the other two other independents. But there isn’t any convergence in their message lines. Tony Windsor pre-election had been saying he would give it to the one with the highest popular vote. Nonetheless, I am confident that they will vote as a block given that this is their best chance of securing their common goal of protecting the country.

Interestingly, Bob Katter he would be fighting not just for farmers (where the Coalition has a mild advantage) but also for workers and pensioners (where the ALP has a strong and mild advantage respectively, in terms of recent policy).

The commentator also noted that Katter has previously called himself the most anti-Green person in the Senate.

So in summary here is the state of play:

The rural independents have enough seats to bring the Coalition over the line but not the ALP – they will need to bring one Green on board. This gives them weaker bargaining power with respect to the ALP (obviously), but also in terms of what they can extract from the LNP.

The (2) Greens cannot give either party government on their own but they have strong bargaining power over both parties because firstly, they control the Senate. Secondly, they can (combined with the rurrals) give the ALP Parliament again.

Although, numerically, it would be easier to assume that the rural independents will align with the LNP to win government because they only need to negotiate with one party, I think that doesn’t take into account the human factors (like sheer desperation on the ALP’s part) or the relative strength in bargaining power.

Although, I continue to believe that the LNP has the strongest chances, here is an almost equally likely scenario. The Greens (behind closed doors) threatens to veto any crucial bills the Liberals pass in the Senate – including supply bills which under-spend on infrastructure and pet issue X, Y and Z. Perhaps, they may even hint at this publicly. The LNP has the “confidence of the lower house” but the Whitlam affair shows that the Senate is also relevant to the Constitutional conventions surrounding the appointment and dismissal of Prime Ministers.

The ALP offers the Greens a Ministerial position (for a Senator), and perhaps the rural independents a seat in the greater Cabinet or a minor Ministerial position. A rough agreement is fleshed out where the Greens agree not to make hay on certain key environmental issues (environmental flows in the Murray Darling, certain sustainabikity issues) in exchange for support on issues of agreement, such as sustainable population, salinity/water table issues. The ETS, if one isput in place, will almost certainly have giant concessions to the farmers.

It will not be an easy alliance. In all likelihood, the rurals will have a secondary say in the running of the country vis a vis the Greens. However, they will have secured several key concessions – probabily in terms of certain infrastructure projects and a commitment by the Greens not to push those issues outlined.

I am no longer sure whether I would prefer to see a ALP-Green-rural alliance or a LNP-Green alliance. The former is most likely to go down a protectionist path because that is the area where the rurals and the Greens have the most in common. The latter will hopefully moderate itself in terms of economic policy. However, it is very worrying that the Liberals will control the Executive again and all the power that entails to make administrative decisions and to write regulations.

Edit: Just watching Insiders – Chris Uhlmann points out that the party with the confidence of the lower house must nominate a Speaker – who has a casting vote. He points out, and I agree, that the Speaker will be given to one of the rural independents.

Annabel Crabb points out that the WA National who ousted WWilson Tuckey also wants to join the cross-benches. Good point.

Andrew Bolt thinks the independent rurals may split down the middle, offering a 75:75 tie. I’m not sure I agree – those rurals will vote as a block. He does point out that personality will play a key role and those former Nationals have been treated badly by the National Party.

The other very, very important factor is that Adam Bandt, the Green member for Melbourne has said he will always support the ALP government.

Edit 2: Annabel Crabb has said that Kevin Rudd has been very keen to praise the independents whilst in the House, always prefacing any answer to their questions with lengthy praise of their independence.

Bill Shorten, correctly, points out that Julia is a skilled negotiaor.

The situation is very fascinating.

The ALP has 69 seats, the Coalition has 70 seats, there are 3 ‘conservative’ independents (two of whom are former National Party members), one Green and one Green-leaning independent. Six seats (Boothby, Canning, Corangamite, Greenway, Hasluck, Lindsay) are in doubt.

76 seats are required to form a majority government. Currently the 6 seats in doubt are splitting 3:3 between Liberal and Labor. That means that no major party can govern in its own right.

The media (or at least the ABC) has been focussing on the headline figures – which factor is going to persuade the independents more? The national primary vote? The national two-party preferred vote? The party with the most seats? (Democratic legitimacy) Does the incumbent government get the first chance to form government? (Stable representation)

In practice, I think that it is all going to come down to bargaining power and arguments of democratic legitimacy or stable representation are only relevant insofar as the winners will use them to justify their backroom deal.

The 3 rural independents have continually been adamant that they will not automatically fall in line with the Coalition – they are adamant that the Nationals have abandoned the country. My prediction is that they will vote in a block and favour the party that provides the best policies for the rural vote.

The Greens will be seeking to capitalise on their massive nation-wide primary votes for democratic legitimacy but ultimately this will fall down to the fact that they hold the balance of power in the Senate. Without a compliant Greens-controlled Senate, a Liberal and independent House of Representatives cannot govern effectively and they will push this point. After all, if the rural independents want to pass a bill that hurts the environment but benefits the farmers, they have a buckley’s chance of passing it if they piss off the Greens now.

A Greens and rural independent coalition sounds unlikely. Their values seem totally dissonant, particularly on social issues. But these are seasoned professionals who can agree to disagree on issues like gay marriage – at least for a week whilst they nut out an agreement. The only issue that I can see blocking a Green/rural coalition is the fact actually the environment (in certain issues). The Greens have been arguing all of tonight that they have earned a higher primary vote than the Nationals in many rural areas, but ultimately land-clearning, water usage and other issues directly clash.

This will be a maturing issue for the Greens – can they stomach abandoning parts of their environmental policy and spin it to their own members? Sure, they can say that proper landcare management (preventing salinity and other issues) are both environmental and rural areas, but these are not minor issues they are throwing away. They will need to cut environmental flows in the Murray-Darling basin. A huge issue.

But on to the most important issue – who will the independents align with? ALP or LNP?

The ALP may actually be ahead of the LNP in terms of telecommunications (the NBN project, privatisation of Telstra) as well as certain other issues. Again, their recent Murray-Darling water policy may be harmful. But I can’t think of any solidly pro-rural policies on the part of the LNP that would convince the rural independents.

My prediction is that the LNP will ultimately win more seats, and (as an unrelated question) convince the rural independents as well as the Greens to form a coalition. But I am utterly unconfident of this prediction.

In a brief respite from election-related blogging, I am reinvigorating my campaign to protect and preserve marriage. Following on from my campaign to give corporate persons the same right to marriage as “natural” persons and to protect marriage from blacks, asians and gays, I am now asking it to be protected from marriage celebrants including priests and bishops.

The Attorney General’s Department has examined many marriages and found that they do not comply with the strict laws protecting marriage. Protecting marriage against specious wedding vows. An informative DVD quite informatively informs us that the proper wedding vow is “‘I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, AB (or CD), take thee, CD (or AB) to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband).”

It would be improper to say “I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, AB (or CD), take thee, CD (or AB) to be my wife (or husband)” however it would be sufficiently appropriate to say “I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, AB (or CD), take thee, CD (or AB) to be my lawful wife (or husband)” or to say ‘I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, AB (or CD), take thee, CD (or AB) to be my wedded wife (or husband).” As you can clearly see, the former completely undermines the sanctity of marriage, whereas the latter preserves it in all its dignity and grace.

Even more importantly, traditional marriage must be protected from the failure to recite s 46 of the Marriage Act, introduced by the Marriage Act Amendment Act 2004 (Cth). This includes the words “‘marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. Because, watching all those old-school wedding vows, that was the part that stuck out to me most of all – the “exclusion of all others”.

Now, as strident and as ardent a defender of marriage as I am, I must disagree with one thing. The article notes:

‘Words to that effect” once gave celebrants leeway but since 2006-07 the Department [ has imposed a narrow legal interpretation….Since Parliament defined marriage narrowly in 2004 to rule out the possibility of gay unions, the department has disallowed the use of substitute words. ”You could reverse the order of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, but that is all,” the DVD says.

And

”The vows used in a marriage ceremony are legally crucial. Not following the requirements of section 45 in the vows can result in a void or invalid marriage. There are no exceptions to this.”

Did anyone else realise that the Department cannot interpret statutes? Has not Attorney General’s Department not read Chapter III of the Constitution? It is not up to the executive branch of the Commonwealth Government to interpret and apply the laws passed by Federal Parliament or to render marriage invalid under the law. That is emphatically the province of the judiciary. Dumbasses.

(From my facebook note)

Why the Greens haven’t earned your vote

I was looking at some polling numbers the other day for the WA Senate seats. They really hate the Labor Party over there because of the mining tax so the Labor primary vote has plummeted, whilst the Green and Liberal votes have soared. In fact, the Greens vote is at 18% – the highest of any State in Australia. But, if people are flocking away from Labor because of the mining tax, why are they flocking to the Greens? The Greens want to actually increase the mining tax and remove any benefits the miners are getting from the mining tax (such as exploration incentives). Voting against Labor but voting for the Greens made no sense for those WA voters.

The problem is, people don’t want to vote for the ALP then they jump automatically to the conclusion that the best party to vote for is the Greens. They don’t stop to ask themselves, if the ALP and Liberals are a policy void, what policies are the Greens offering me? Think to yourself – what Greens policies do you know, aside from the fact they support gay marriage, support the environment and want to impose a carbon tax? Do you think their policies are practical, as well as socially conscious? I’m going to argue that the Greens fail severely not only because they have no policies, but if they hold the balance of power in the Senate that it will be very bad for Australia and it won’t help advance those liberal causes like gay marriage and the environment. But before I do that, I want to tell you how to effectively protest against both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party.

How to Protest Against Labor and Liberal – Vote Green in the lower house, Vote Australian Sex Party in the Senate

Firstly, you should vote for the Greens in the lower house, the House of Representatives. Unless you live in the electorate of Melbourne, there is no chance that they will win a lower house seat. And if the Labor and Liberal primary votes plummet, then (perhaps) it will encourage the Labor party to vote for the left. Right now, the reason both parties are focussing on illegal immigration and the debt and all those unimportant issues is because that is what the swing voters in the marginal seats care about.

Secondly, you should NOT vote for the Greens in the upper house, the Senate. In every State, the Greens have a chance to win one Senate seat without the sort of scrutiny expected of a major party. If you don’t think they have won your vote, but just want to protest against the Labor/Liberal parties, then you should vote for another party. If you think the Greens have earned it, then by all means vote for them.

My suggestions for a good protest vote in the Senate are the Australian Sex Party (Group Q), Cheryl Kernot (Group AE), the Secular Party of Australia (Group N) and perhaps the Democrats. These are all good protest votes because they have socially liberal policies. If you are protesting against the ALP because of their inhumane treatment of refugees, because of internet censorship, their discriminatory approach to gay marriage, then I suggest you vote for the Australian Sex Party. They support all these things without the additional baggage of utterly incompetent policies in economics, health and defence like the Greens. And ultimately, the preferences will flow back to the Greens or the Labor Party (depending on which of those groups you picked).

Why the Greens haven’t earned your vote

The Greens are just like the Labor and Liberal parties – they are a cynical, vote-grabbing political party. Their strategy is firstly to deceive young voters, like yourselves, into thinking they have a modern outlook on life and that they will fight for those causes you care about. But when they get into power, they know that if they make unpopular decisions their primary vote will drop. That is why you hear Bob Brown continually emphasising how “small business” owners everywhere are voting for the Greens.

Let me give you a good example. The Greens have the balance of power in the upper house in the NSW Parliament. If the Labor Party and the Greens voted as a block, they could pass whatever legislation they wanted during the Iemma/Rees/Keneally years. They did not hold the balance of power during the Bob Carr years. So which years were better for the environment? Bob Carr himself passionately believed in protecting the environment. Many more natural areas were designated as protected areas under his government. The planning laws took environmental considerations into account. But when the Greens took control of the upper house, they refused to co-operate with the Labor Party. So then, the Labor Party was forced to negotiate with the Christian Democrats and with the Shooters’ Party. Do you remember when the State government almost passed a bill to allow shooters into wildlife reserves? That was because the government was forced to negotiate with the Shooters’ Party. Do you remember any of the ridiculously pro-Christian things the State government has done, like World Youth Day? That was because the government was forced to negotiate with the Christian Democrats. That is why there has been no progress on environmental issues or social issues. The Greens had a golden opportunity to use their balance of power to force the government to negotiate. They failed us all.

Why Lee Rhiannon, Greens’ NSW Senate candidate is rotten

Now, you might say, John – that’s a NSW issue, a State issue. It has nothing to do with the Federal Greens. But it does. The Greens’ Senate candidate for NSW is Lee Rhiannon, who was leader of the Greens in NSW’s upper house right up until the Federal election was called. She is the one, who instead of fighting passionately for what she claims to believe in, blocked crucial legislation. She is the one who decided to navel-gaze by requesting thousands of documents under Freedom of Information laws and then never actually inspected those documents once.

Lee Rhiannon has instead focussed on campaigning for “accountability” in NSW (and failing miserably). But, like the Labor Party, she has been using taxpayer funds to pay for her election campaign. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/browns-regret-at-candidate-mistake/1880172.aspx She used her Parliamentary office to fund a lettering campaign – an issue on which she has been hammering the major parties with. She refused to resign from State Parliament until the last moment so she could use these resources. She refused to resign despite Bob Brown telling her that she should. Lee Rhiannon is widely rumoured to want to challenge Bob Brown for the Greens’ leadership once she becomes a Federal Senator. And the voters of NSW have a chance to stop that happening.

Why the Greens are just another political party

What proof do I have that the Greens are a cynical political force? Their own internal emails (see http://www.smh.com.au/federal-election/greens-fury-at-labor-vote-deals-20100812-121hz.html?autostart=1). The Greens now have an “attack response group” based in Bob Brown’s office. This attack group uses legal threats to frighten off critics. Just like the Labor Party, the Greens’ head office ignores its candidates. They set preference deals for individual seats without telling the candidates for those seats. The emails show that the Greens have their own internal polling and that they change their policies to suit that polling data.

And you can see that change in the Greens’ policies. They no longer support drug legalisation (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/greens-find-growing-up-is-hard-to-do-20100807-11pig.html#). They want to continue funding private schools with government money (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-election/school-policy-fractures-greens-20100814-1247z.html). They are doing this for the same reasons they failed to do anything in the NSW Parliament. Because if they actually stood up for what they believed in, their primary vote would plummet back down to 7%.

The only policy area the Greens would be willing to actually stand up and fight for is on economic issues. And in this area, the Greens have shown that they still believe in stone age economic theories. They want to increase the mining tax from its current 60% marginal rate (which is already incredibly high) and calculated on top of the corporate tax rate. They then want to use the money from that tax for at least 3 different things – an infrastructure fund, cutting the corporate tax rate and general revenues. Simple arithmetic shows that the mining tax only gives enough money to fund one of those things. The Greens want to cut skilled migration to preserve Australian wage conditions. This is a policy so barbaric that even One Nation agrees with them.

Conclusion

I believe strongly in many of the social issues that the Greens do. We should take a more compassionate approach to refugees. We should place a cap on carbon, and we should do it sooner rather than later. We should fund hospitals better. But I also strongly believe in well-crafted policies and on this criteria the Greens fail miserably. They want to cut overall migration levels by replacing skilled migrants (who fuel economic growth) with refugees. They want to process refugees in the community giving fake refugees the chance to flee from detention whilst giving genuine refugees a bad name.

Whilst I have been strongly critical of many aspects of the ALP’s policies, I believe on the whole they are better than any of the alternatives. The NBN is more costly than necessary, but it will upgrade crucial infrastructure. Their health care reform is bad for States’ rights but best for patient’s rights. And, as flawed as they are, even the Liberal’s policies are better than the Greens, and even in terms of social welfare. Abbott has a $1.5bn mental health funding plan and a $2bn fund to fight climate change. He has a very generous paid maternity leave scheme. On the other hand, the Green’s unfunded policies amount to nothing more than a collection of press releases and media statements made by Bob Brown. They are utterly incompetent at governing.

The Greens have done absolutely nothing to earn your vote, aside from not being the Labor or Liberal parties. So, I say, a pox on all three of their houses. Don’t vote for the Greens in the Senate. Vote for them in the House of Representatives where they can’t do any damage to our economy.

Disclaimer: I shall be voting for the ALP in the House (since I live in a safe Liberal seat, voting Green is pointless). And I will be voting for the Australian Secular Party in the Senate.