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An interesting point – I wonder if the Liberals can realistically push bills through Parliament to pass legislation whilst in Opposition – and secondly if they want to.

I think everyone realises the Coalition only needs to gain the votes of two of the four independents (and the Speaker) in order to pass legislation through the lower house. But it is equally possible for them to pass legislation through the Senate – the Liberals have more seats in the Senate (34 to the AlP’s 31). However, to gain a majority they must gain the support of either the Greens or 4 ALP members.

So on those dynamics, it’s difficult for the Coalition to pass any legislation that would give them any electoral advantage because it’s difficult to envisage a bill that both the rural independents and the Greens would embrace but which the ALP would not. Sure, they could try to pass legislation to “govern” Australia which the ALP would also support – but try to get a first mover advantage. But practically, it would be quite difficult without the full resources of the public service to draft that legislation for them. It would give the appearance of an ineffectual government, but it could equally seem like Abbott was deliberately destabilising government a la Malcolm Fraser v Gough Whitlam. That said – it worked for Malcolm!

The foregoing analysis sort of assumes that the Liberals need to have drafted the legislation in full and to have passed it.

The Coalition doesn’t need to actually pass the legislation through the Senate to give the appearance of an ineffectual government. Passing a bill through the lower house with the support of 2 independents (most likely Andrew Wilkie and Bob Katter, since Oakeshott and Windsor have vested interests in supporting the stability of a Gillard government against Liberal legislation) then having it rejected in the Senate by what they would call obstructionist and radical Greens wouldn’t harm the Liberal’s reputation. But it would give an excellent impression of a Gillard government who firstly – cannot control the lower House, which is beholden to the Greens and unwilling to commit to action on whatever it is that the Liberals are pushing for action on.

Alternatively, they can pass amendments are really influence the legislative process by refusing to pass any legislation unless amended a certain way. That could also radically alter the dynamics of Parliament.

That said, if either of these approaches are taken, it alters the electoral dynamics in that the Opposition will be equally held to account for what it has done and what it has not done (just like a Government). Typically, an Opposition can say “look at the failure of the government to tackle the GFC” without being asked “why didn’t you do anything” or “your policy wouldn’t have worked either”. That would not be the case if they adopted a pro-active legislative agenda. So, perhaps even if the Liberals could pass or amend legislation, it might not be in their interests to adopt a new style of political strategy. I think the Abbott approach has worked excellently in the last campaign and it would be more effective at destabilising a Gillard government within the next 3 years.

Edit: So, it turns out there is at least one policy area the Liberals and Greens agree – paid parental leave.

However, Anne Twomey in the SMH points out that s 56 prevents an Opposition from recommending bills to the House which require the appropriation of money unless they have the support of the Government.

And Twomey, being Twomey, is always right.

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2 Comments

  1. Stability is the key for Gillard. If the next parliament goes close to full term Abbott won’t last.

  2. How so? Abbott is a very effective campaigner and the Liberal Party (sans Malcolm) is wholly behind him. I can hardly see the party toppling him for Malcolm when he’s performing so strongly and I don’t see why its immediately obvious that Abbott will lose the next election.


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