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Barry O’Farrell promised, before the last election, to examine a recall election process for NSW. That way, incompetent governments could be removed from government.

The only precedents that I’m aware of are California and British Columbia. In CA, the recall election sits within a wider direct democracy constitutional structure which simply does not work. British Columbia’s recall provisions have never been exercised.

The choice of George Williams is an interesting choice. He tends not to be as involved in substantive constitutional law as with philosophy. Anne Twomey, the leading expert on State Constitutional law and who has studied the recall issue, would be a better pick if you wanted a truly expert panel. On the other hand, I doubt Twomey would support a recall election procedure. I wonder how serious BOF is about this recall procedure.

The crucial issue is how many petitions are required to trigger the recall election. If the number is too low, it will make difficult issues impossible to solve. Governments will become even more poll-driven, incompetent and unable to make difficult decisions than they are now. California is proof of that. The British Columbia solution was to make the number of petitions required very high. Thus, it provides an incentive not to be incompetent without requiring any actual recall elections.

The other difficult issue is the potential for abuse. If about 20% of the population are rusted-on supporters of one party or the other, then a party could easily get a very large number of petitions (no matter how high the barrier is) and force a recall election.

A question Barry O’Farrell should be asking himself is this. Could he push through his changes to the public sector without facing a recall election? The unions could easily gain enough petitions to overthrow him. Could he then win an election fought primarily on such a controversial issue? Perhaps, but it would be quite risky for him. It would be tightly fought. He would no doubt  lose his massive majority.


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