Australian Democracy and the Gang of Three

It is becoming clear that the three Independents may be suffering from delusions of grandeur. They effectively want to hold the entire nation to ransom, despite the fact that probably 98 per cent of Australians did not even vote for them. Yet here they are, strutting their stuff, enjoying all the attention, and presenting us with their list of demands.

The three Independents were formerly with the Nationals, and all their electorates made it clear that a Labor government was not their preference. Indeed, the Labor percentages were incredibly low: 20 per cent of first-preference votes in Kennedy (Bob Katter’s seat).

Only 13 per cent went for Labor in Lyne (Robert Oakeshott’s seat), and a puny 8 per cent in New England (Tony Windsor’s seat). And a recent poll found 56 per cent of the voters from these three country seats want the Independents to side with the Coalition, not Labor.

So instead of going off half-cocked, thinking they are the real kingmakers here, these three should listen more carefully to their own electorates. And they are also deluded if they think they can work as a single cohesive unit. What we have here are three rather arrogant and power-hungry mavericks who will be jostling with each other as much as with the two major parties.

Peter Smith reminds us of their many divisions: “Tony thinks the MRRT is close to a good solution, Bob doesn’t like it. Rob likes a carbon tax, Bob doesn’t. Bob wants to undo GATT; Tony and Rob maintain a stoic silence. Rob has touching faith in the Henry Tax Review and the Garnaut Report because they were put together by experts. It is not clear, but it seems doubtful, that Bob would be as impressed.

“Rob wants everyone to get on with each other and form le grande coalition. Tony and Bob maintain an indulgent silence. The rest of us rational folk are transported to the théâtre de l’absurde. Mind you, Kumbaya aside, they all think that the parliament has to be more consensual, even while themselves having different views on major issues. Why not; it seems to work for China.”

Are there areas where Parliament can be reformed? Absolutely. Things like having an independent Speaker of the House would not be amiss for starters. But some of their demands really do seem dubious, including that of election promises and costings.

Says Smith, “Exactly how will any of that take them forward to any material extent? Costings are always contentious. Department heads can’t comment on the merits of the government’s versus the opposition’s policies. Ministers and shadow ministers are going to talk their book. Will all parliamentarians be given this level of information and access to allow them to make up their mind?”

Indeed, RMIT economics professor Sinclair Davidson also queries the soundness of this proposal in today’s Australian. Says Davidson, “In the first instance, as the Coalition has made clear, Treasury has already leaked Coalition policy costings. This is an act of extraordinary bad faith and reflects poorly on what should be the premier policy department in the commonwealth public service.

“But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Treasury has become partisan. We’ve known this since Ken Henry was highly critical of Coalition policy in a leaked speech before the 2007 election. Matters were made worse during the Kevin Rudd prime ministership when cabinet was bypassed and Treasury seemingly elevated to decision-making status.

“Lenore Taylor and David Uren’s excellent account of the Rudd era, Shitstorm: Inside Labor’s Darkest Days, tells how Treasury was involved in managing Australia’s response to the global financial crisis; in particular, how Treasury had abandoned longstanding economic principles and decided it would be the first to recommend fiscal intervention in the event of an economic slowdown. Then there was its strong endorsement of pink batts and the ‘Rudd bank’, and the not-so-small matter of the mining tax.

“That last ill-fated proposal was dreamed up in Treasury and foisted on an unsuspecting public. To make matters worse, Treasury made several factual mistakes during the process, arguing, for example, that Australian mining companies paid about 17 per cent in tax and quoting an academic US working paper to that effect when, in fact, the effective rate of tax mining companies pay when you add in all taxes and royalties is about 41 per cent.

“Not to mention the kerfuffle over the amount of revenue the Resource Super-Profits Tax would raise relative to the minerals resource rent tax. Would the RSPT have raised $12 billion or $24bn? Was the revenue cost of the change to the MRRT $1.5bn or $6bn? These are large numbers to be throwing around and the differences suggest the government and Treasury were just making it up as they went along.”

It seems that Tony Abbott is quite right to balk at this demand. However, time will tell as to whether he softens his stance in the interests of forming a minority government. As things now stand, it seems that the Coalition has 73 seats, Labor 72, with one Green, 3 Independents, and one last seat still in doubt (but likely to go to the Libs).

So Abbott will have to be making a number of deals with these new power-brokers. How far he can go is a good question. What is worse: making all sorts of rash compromises of principle in order to form government, or staying true to some core values, and lose out on the chance of forming government?

Bear in mind, Victorian opposition leader Ted Baillieu is already talking about doing a dirty deal with the Greens to knock off Labor in the November state election. In politics nowadays it seems that even cutting a deal with the devil is not off limits.

And if you think all this is bad right now, just wait till next July when nine Green Senators hold the Australian people to ransom. Things will get really ugly then.

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25 Replies to “Australian Democracy and the Gang of Three”

  1. Eh. They have to make hay while the sun shines. It was the same here at the last WA election when Brenden Grylls was “wavering” between the Coalition and Labor. If this was my only guaranteed shot at getting my ideas through to the ultimate power-brokers, I would probably do the same. After all, they are Independent, not one of the major parties.
    Lance Macormic

  2. Let’s just pray that it comes down to going back to the polls. The people in the electorates of these independents won’t be so ignorant to vote them in again. They are likely to then support the Coalition.
    Mario Del Giudice

  3. Thanks Lance

    Sure, one can understand their grandstanding. But there still remains a big difference between highlighting one’s agenda, and holding a nation to ransom, and effectively undermining the democratic process.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Thanks Mario

    While another election would be a tremendous expense and in many ways a huge waste, I think you are right. Voters hopefully will have gotten a bit wiser here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Bill, The antics of the three amigos are closely connected with Australia’s economic circumstances and the issue of which party has the correct economic judgement. I recommend your readers watch the latest 4 Corners program: ‘The story of the greatest financial crisis you will ever see… the one that is on its way.’ If economists in this program are right, then the world is in for a severe economic reckoning. If they are right, Tony Abbott’s analysis of the Labor Party’s economic management is spot on. Pass this link on for people to judge for themselves.
    Gerard Wilson

  6. Bill, it would still be cheaper than another few years under Labor.
    Mario Del Giudice

  7. Talk around town is that one of these Independents is starting to get ‘on the nose’. The noise from the electorate is clear. This person faces losing his title in the next election if he doesn’t side with the Coalition.
    Jane Petridge

  8. Now Senator Fielding (Mr 2% according to his electoral support!) threatens to single-handedly scuttle a Labor coalition, should it form. Is it just because I am a native-born American that I think the arrangement for selecting Senators is strange in this country?
    Steve Swartz

  9. I’m beginning to think we would get better governments if we picked 150 random names of over-35s from the phone book every 3 or 4 years and attach the economic outcomes of their policies to their pensions and/or superannuation.
    Mark Rabich

  10. Yes quite right Mark. And you are in good company. William F. Buckley said much the same many years ago: “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. There are 2 possible moral solutions to this problem …

    1. – The independents pick the coalition or the ALP depending on whom they had higher on their own How-To-Vote cards – easy.
    2. – The independents pick the coalition or the ALP depending on who got the higher votes in their electorate other than themselves, including the preferences on the votes that went to themselves – more difficult, but it’s “just a count.”

    I cannot think of any other solution reflecting the will of the electorate. The only problem would be if 1. & 2. gave different answers, theoretically possible but unlikely.

    Graeme Cumming

  12. Steve Swartz,

    Before you refer to Senator Fielding as Mr 2%, ask yourself this. Who would you have given his seat to? Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. less-than-2%?

    Graeme Cumming

  13. Bill, I have had this thought for a while, but have never thought it through & I would be interested in your comments (or scathing rejection if need be).

    What if voting in Parliament was by secret ballot. Every vote would be a conscious vote & every member would effectively be an independent & could vote the way they thought was right without fear of losing endorsement etc.

    David Williams

  14. Steve S, Sen Fielding was on radio this morning explaining his stance. You appear to have been the victim of the Sub-Editor’s Headline Craft. The Senator had to emphasise that he and his fellow Senators had to take cognizance of the election, and remember that they are a house of review.

    The electors were underwhelmed by the big spending plans of the government (eg. the National Broadband Network at 43Billion as compared to the Opposition’s more modest plan $6-7Billion [still larger than what we spent on our biggest road project at $4billion for Eastlink, opened 2 years ago]) and did not deliver a clear mandate to the incumbent.

    Neither did they give a clear mandate to the Opposition with their alternatives, so if the present state does not deliver stable workable governance, then the proper and historically valid solution is to return to the polling booth.

    As some commentators have already pointed out, the second round will be on a much more even footing, as the government has exhausted its warchest, and has been exposed as plundering public funds for their campaign – a trick they probably won’t be able to repeat. The Opposition managed to gain 11-12 seats from the government despite spending a lot less on its campaign.

    John Angelico

  15. Thanks David

    Given how Labor especially allows so very few conscience votes (less than the Coalition), and MPs must follow the Party line, there might be some merit to your suggestion!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. I love the idea of a secret ballot when our representatives vote in Parliament. We believe in secret ballots in the workplace, in Union meetings, in State elections, in Federal elections. Keep coming with the good ideas David Williams.
    Ian Brearley

  17. Dear Bill

    Don’t worry about secret ballots. In the interests of accountability it is important to see who actually votes for you, and for those of us who try to keep our politicians accountable we need to monitor how they vote on various issues.

    Yes, the three independents are enjoying their moment of glory, but I’m pleased that they are not former Greens. There is an interesting article in today’s (Saturday) Canberra times (page 27) by Philip Dorling titled: Deep irony in the rise of Wilkie. Although he was once a Green, he has also held membership of the Liberal Party. He seems to be a person of deep convictions and had the courage to stand up against coercive authorities. I commend the article to you and your readers.

    Eric Frith

  18. What fools we must appear on the world stage!! God help us as we prepare to be governed by people engaged in a totally undignified scramble for the independents’ nod. Personal integrity seems to be an early sacrifice in all this, for all those involved. I don’t want to be governed by people who’ve sold their souls to get in to power. Lets go back to the polls, hopefully sadder and wiser.
    Anna Cook

  19. The “Three Stooges” hey??
    2 Peter 2:10b-11
    “They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, 11 whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.” Be careful…..they are duly elected officials and should not and need not be referred to in this manner. A definite ad hominem, if I’ve ever heard one……

    Also, Bill, regarding a recent article, what in your mind is the difference between a “conservative” and a Christian?
    And going on from that, is it a logical or defensible position to be a “conservative” but not a Christian. Is such a thing possible?

    Robert Phillips

  20. Thanks Robert

    As to 2 Pet 3:10b-11, you are simply incorrect to associate the term ‘dignitaries’ with earthly rulers. The Greek word doxas means literally ‘glories’, and has rightly been translated as celestial beings, glorious ones, angels, majestic ones, or angelic powers. The parallel passage in Jude 8-9 makes this quite clear as well. Indeed, Jude uses the term to refer to Satan. So you will need another passage to make your point I am afraid.

    And recall that Hitler and the Nazis were “duly elected officials”. I could use even worse words to describe them. We are called to respect the office which God has ordained, but we need not respect those holding the office when they do evil (as did Hitler) or when they want to push their own selfish ego trips (as these three seem to be doing).

    As to your second concern, I have addressed this far too many times on this site to have to repeat it all over again. The short answer, as I have said repeatedly, is that ultimately Christianity transcends any one political ideology or party. Yet, there may be, in a fallen world, one side of the political spectrum that can better represent biblical ideals than the other.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Robert,
    So any use of disdainful language or sarcasm against earthly rulers, politicians etc. is off limits, in your view?
    Please explain why our Lord referred to Herod Antipas as “That fox” (Luke 13:32), clearly a somewhat sardonic metaphor.
    Why did Elijah hold up the Baal priests, then in the government’s pay (1 Kings 18:19), to such ridicule, even to the extent of suggesting that their deity had gone to the toilet (1 Kings 18:27)?
    Why does God Himself laugh and scoff at the politicians and world rulers? (Psalm 2:4) If He does, why can’t we?
    Politicians, rulers, so-called authorities are but men, and therefore not above criticism and even ridicule. Romans 13, or for that matter 1 Tim.2:2, are not the be-all and end-all of the Biblical teaching on civil government. The orderly government of Romans 13 can become the demonic government of Revelation 13! All too often throughout history this has happened. Hence your protest, and (mis)use of 2 Peter 2:10-11 is off target. It has a ring of piety, but it is an exceedingly hollow ring.
    Murray R Adamthwaite

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