Queensland Election Result Analysis and By Election Discussion

I have been holding off writing on the Queensland Election as it has only been the last few days that a Labor majority was confirmed. It always looked like the Labor Party would be the larger party however Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk muddied the waters by saying she would prefer to go into opposition than to make a deal with any minor parties. Now this has become a vogue statement for Parties to make as they try to paint themselves as a party that don’t do deals and rule for themselves while labelling their opponents as desperate to rule by any means possible. What this has allowed the Labor Party to do in both WA and now in the Queensland election is to point out the squeamishness of the Liberal Party on how to deal with the One Nation Party and whether there is an official preference deal. Now in both cases the Liberal Party did not make any official deal with One Nation however they did preference One Nation over the Labor Party in many seats which Labor called out as a deal even though their decision to accept Greens preferences is apparently all above board without any need to be criticised. Now Labor will argue that no deal is present but the numbers bear it out, 80 percent of Greens preferences go back to Labor, One Nation and a lot of other right of centre Independent parties are only going back 50-55 percent to the Liberal Party so the advantage of doing an official deal to shore up that preference split is a lot greater for the LNP than with the Labor Party who get the lion share of Greens votes back regardless.

The current state of play in the Queensland Election is as followed (1). So Labor have hit the 47 seat mark projection wise to the Liberal’s 38 seats, 1 for One Nation, 2 for Katter’s Australia and one Independent with four seats in doubt. Of the four seats in doubt the Liberal Party look set to win one of the seats and Townsville if they do better in postal votes, Katter’s Australia look set to win Hinchinbrook if the preferences flow to them being in second place at the final preference break and the Greens look like winning Maiwar assuming they increase their 4 vote lead over Labor in the remaining absentee votes for second place in which case the other party will preference them over the Liberal Party winning the seat. A good summary of the in doubt seats is found here (3). On the raw percentage numbers Labor would be happy to keep their net swing loss to 2 percent picking up seats in the metropolitan areas and limiting their vote loss in the rural regions. The Liberal Party had a rough night and while their seat loss was limited a swing of 7.6% against them is not a good result, they both lost votes to Labor in the metropolitan seats and then lost votes to One Nation in the rural seats. I think that really sums up my point above that the Liberal Party do have a difficult job right now, go too far to the right and they lose votes to Labor and the Greens but ignore their more conservative base and they can lose votes to One Nation where as I said they struggle to get preferences back afterwards. On to the One Nation Party many people say the result was disappointing and on a raw seats basis they would be right, I think most people thought they’d win 5-6 seats. However that ignores that they polled 13.7% of the vote statewide and that number jumped to (3) nearly 21 percent in seats they fought and 23 percent in rural areas. Now I’m not a fan of Pauline Hanson but you can’t ignore a party picking up over 1/5 of the state vote and it shows that this is not just about “deplorables” voting for a protest candidate because they are racist or insert insult here as some will commentate but there are economic issues that they have that they don’t feel the major parties are sorting out and so they turn to the minor parties. In previous elections that has been the Katter Party and Clive Palmer’s party. The other takeaway from the election is that the Greens continue to build a base in the Capital City and that would be a worry for the current Liberal Member for Brisbane looking at the next Federal Election.

Overall would I say I’m surprised by this result, no. I thought the Labor Party while being mediocre this term had not done anything warranting losing office after one term and their pivot to focus on the metropolitan area of Queensland where 2/3rd’s of the seats were was a smart political move as there were more seats to gain there than could be lost in other parts of Queensland. I think the problem for the Liberal leader Tim Nicholls was that as treasurer of the Campbell Newman Government that got so roundly whipped in 2015 he carried too much baggage to voters to throw out a government after 1 term and as a result it would not surprise me were he to be replaced as leader.

Onto the Federal scene the first of two by elections took place last night in New England where Barnaby Joyce was comfortably returned as member and will now resume his role as Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister. It was always assumed he would win his seat once Tony Windsor said he would not re-contest the 2016 match-up but (4) shows that Barnaby had a 12 percent swing to him which is unheard of for Governments in trouble and that worked out to a very impressive 7% 2PP swing to the Nationals. I think this result shows that the main risk to most country MP’s still come from Independents rather than the Labor Party as the Labor Party continue to pivot their policies in a more metropolitan setting and I would have been intrigued to see if there would have been a more split of the conservative vote had of One Nation or the Shooters and Fishers Party ran as they have caused issues for National MPs at recent election and indeed by elections with the famous Orange bloodbath where the Nationals suffered a 30 percent 2PP loss of vote to the Shooters Party member. I think the return of Barnaby Joyce will also add some discipline to a National Party that has gone somewhat rogue in the last few months with George Christiensen threatening to walk out of the party because of his perceived vision of poor leadership by Malcolm Turnbull (5) and the National’s push for a banking royal commission (6) that Malcolm Turnbull ultimately conceded was a political necessity this week to avoid the embarrassment of losing a vote on the floor of Parliament on the issue.

At this stage at least there is one other upcoming by election due to section 44 of the constitution (I believe that number may raise in coming months with a few Labor MPs and possibly Nick Xenophon Candidate Rebekah Sharkie as well as some Liberal MPs.). Now some Liberal Party MPs were quick to spin last night that Barnaby Joyce’s by election win last night would mean that John Alexander would also be ok in Bennelong. This is wishful thinking as it looks like in Kristina Keneally (7) Labor have a fierce contender who has name recognition as former Labor Premier of New South Wales and also John Alexander has had a difficult gaffe filled by election thus far. Polling (8) suggests that John Alexander has a slight lead over Kristina Keneally however from a 10 percent lead to start off with it is clear a swing is on in this seat and with the government anywhere from 53-47 to 55-45 behind in National Polls this is a dangerous election for the government to endure. Indeed in the last few weeks leadership chatter has begun regarding Malcolm Turnbull and while I think a leadership change now is pointless if John Alexander loses the By Election then it become a more serious conversation.

 

Bibliography

(1): http://www.abc.net.au/news/qld-election-2017/results/

(2): https://www.pollbludger.net/2017/12/02/queensland-election-live-week-two/

(3): https://twitter.com/AntonyGreenABC/status/934887456402325504

(4): http://www.abc.net.au/news/elections/new-england-by-election-2017/results/

(5): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/george-christensen-apologises-for-lying-over-threats-to-quit-the-lnp/news-story/bad67acbdbb962e21b0d39ac00af46da

(6): http://www.skynews.com.au/news/politics/federal/2017/11/17/push-for-banking-royal-commission.html

(7): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-14/kristina-keneally-to-run-in-bennelong-by-election/9147640

(8): https://theconversation.com/bennelong-polls-galaxy-50-50-reachtel-53-47-to-liberal-87725

 

 

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Same Sex Marriage Survey Results Analysis

As the world reacts to the ongoing issues with North Korea, the US public either celebrate or heavily commiserate a year since Donald Trump took office and Zimbabwe deal with Schrodinger’s Coup (1) Australian’s eagerly awaited the results of the SSM survey. The final results were fairly comprehensive with a 62-38% vote in favour of changing the definition of Marriage with an impressive 80% participation rate (2). Now this does not mean that Same Sex Marriage is legal yet as the Parliament now needs to introduce and pass legislation to amend the marriage act however that seems a near formality as the numbers in favour across the Senate and the Lower House are clearly in favour of change. This post will analyse some of the more interesting results and then talk about the legislation that will be introduced into the senate and then will move through the lower house.

I think the first thing to note is the participation rate being close to 80 percent and that is has been rightly viewed as an impressive thing. It has also been compared favourably to other optional votes such as Brexit which had a turnout of 72 percent (3), the US Election with a turnout of 58% (4) and even the recent New Zealand election at 79% (5). The one thing to note about this turnout compared to an election or referendum is that the survey had a longer return time for people to take part whereas an election or referendum is a one off vote that is tougher to motivate people to vote for, i.e in the Brexit vote it was quite wet in a lot of areas on the voting day and that was thought to have depressed the vote. The other key voter participation rate takeaway is that while voters did tend to engage more as they were older, indeed close to 90 percent of those aged 70-74 took part in the survey the younger people still turned out in good numbers with 72-74 percent of young adults in the 18-35 range taking part in the survey (6). This hopefully puts to rest some of the crap that was spruiked by some media outlets going into the survey that oh this survey wouldn’t be representative because young people don’t know how to use a mailbox anymore. I would comment that lazy stereotyping of age groups has become popular in the recent political discourse with young people being called lazy and not willing to play a part in the political process as a reason for low voter turnout in some elections by young people while old people were labelled as racist bigots who don’t have a heart when analysing why older people were more inclined to vote for Brexit.

I think the other interesting part of the results came from the state by state and territory by territory breakdown and the electorate breakdown. All States and Territories achieved a majority yes vote which may have surprised some, ACT being the highest yes vote was not a surprise as they have long been labelled as the progressive territory. Northern Territory had the lowest participation (not surprising as they also tend to have the lowest participation rate in the Census too) but it was NSW with the lowest Yes vote. This came as a surprise too many with Sydney being the home of Mardi Gras but what it does ignore is that some of the most migrant dwelling electorates are located in Western Sydney. Of the 17 seats that voted no 11 of those seats were in NSW and those results would have skewed the total vote. The other interesting thing from those no vote seats are that the highest no voting seats are safe Labor seats, again this reflects the high level migrants in the seat where they are economically not as well off but socially come from countries where in some case gay marriage isn’t even a question, being gay in some countries is still a death sentence. That may seem horrible to many Australian’s but it is the reality for these people and so some of the labelling of just calling no voters white homophobic bigots ignores the cultural reasoning some people are voting no for. Looking at the seats with the highest yes vote they tended to fall closer to the capital cities however they crossed party lines with seats like Melbourne held by the Greens, Sydney held by the ALP and Wentworth held by the Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull all amongst the top yes votes(7). It proves to me that trying to allocate one party as being the party that is more in favour of gay marriage is somewhat flawed as even Tony Abbott who was a prominent No campaigner ended up having his electorate vote strongly in favour of SSM. Some people might of been surprised at WA having such a strong yes vote (8) but the majority of people live in metropolitan areas and the migration that is strong in WA tends to be from the UK or more Caucasian strong areas and those cultural backgrounds tend to have a stronger view of SSM compared to some other cultures where SSM has yet to be embraced or passed into law.

On the policy front in terms of the legislation that will be introduced to enshrine SSM into law the path appears clearer now that Dean Smith’s Bill is the only bill on the table to be discussed. Senator James Paterson had flagged introducing a seperate bill to legislate SSM (9) however he revealed later this afternoon that he would not proceed with said legislation due to a lack of support from the wider senate. Paterson’s bill seemed to introduced extra protections to protect religious and non religious people from taking part in Same Sex Marriages and also protected organisations who wished to teach traditional views on marriage and also introduce opt out clauses for parents who didn’t want to have their children take part in Safe Schools Programs. Now my read of the situation is that Safe Schools programs were going to proceed regardless of the SSM survey outcome and that any concerns or opt outs for parents should be addressed in another outlet but on the other points I think it’s important that although the Yes vote clearly prevailed it’s important to at least consider the views of those who voted No in the final legislation to ensure that everyone can be satisfied with. I think the best way to do that is to consider Senator Dean Smith’s bill and then make amendments where possible that are not at risk of offending other discrimination laws while also ensuring freedom of religion is still maintained. On the Dean Smith bill it has it’s infancy in a Parliamentary Committee so I the bill appears to have good founding in it and Attorney General’s George Brandis late deal with the Conservatives (10) appears to be the reason that the Conservatives in the Senate have backed down somewhat from their opposition to the bill. The timeline for this bill now is that it is introduced today, because it is a private members bill there then needs to be a motion to alter the Senates timeline to prioritise the bill tomorrow. Tomorrow will be spent with the second reading of the bill and that will allow some debate on the merits of the bill. The senate then rises for a week before the following week the bill moves into committee stage. This is where the bill is closely inspected and possible amendments can then be moved, once this is done it would then be voted on by the Senate. Should that pass the House would then vote on the bill and assuming that is passed the Bill would then come into law. Some people are worried about the numbers but a number of members who would be inclined to vote no have already come out and said because their electorate voted Yes at worst they would abstain if not vote yes so I think there are enough of those cases to suppress the no vote enough that it should pass both houses. For full details of the bill introduced by Senator Dean Smith see (11).

References

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/nov/15/zimbabwe-army-control-harare-coup-robert-mugabe-live

(2) http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/mediareleasesbyCatalogue/A05160B9DDD9C4BFCA2581D9000131CC?OpenDocument

(3) http://www.bbc.com/news/politics/eu_referendum/results

(4) https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/voter-turnout-2016-elections

(5) http://www.elections.org.nz/news-media/preliminary-results-2017-general-election

(6): https://marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au/results/

(7): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-15/same-sex-marriage-results-ssm/9145636

(8): https://marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au/results/wa.html

(9): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/alternative-same-sex-marriage-bill-explainer/9143578

(10): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/samesex-marriage-result-live-vote-details-news-opinion/news-story/453863f06bad272ad58b9c8c8d4a8f88

(11): http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbills%2Fs1099_first-senate%2F0000%22;rec=0

NDIS (The political topic that needs more attention)

With the recent report by the productivity commission scathing the process of the NDIS rollout so far (1) I thought it was worth sharing my thoughts on the NDIS. The NDIS is in place to provide those with disabilities, families and carers support to live a better life. This scheme for example may be used for someone who is globally delayed to access things like Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy or Physiotherapy to ensure they are better placed to transition into schooling or for Adults to transition into some form of work where applicable. There is some controversy over the government saying that the scheme will help family or carers because at this stage there is no direct for families or carers outside of respite for the person with a disability. An example of something that would be useful for families would be providing psychologists for family members/ carers to help them deal with having a family or someone they are looking after full time. What the NDIS does not cover is medical costs (2) as the thought is that medicare is still available to cover a participants medical costs. For further information on the legislation the APH explanatory of the legislation is a good read (3).

So there are a lot of concerns from the NDIS so far and I personally have seen some of these as I am both waiting for approval to the NDIS and my child is also a participant of the scheme. I think the first big problem is the approval system and then the initial planning system to allocate the first plan for a participant. Late last year there was a report out that said participants were not being accepted onto the scheme as fast as scheduled. This led to a late last year rush where staff worked late nights and weekends to approve a number of participants onto the scheme. What this led to however is some people having phone call initial meetings rather than in person meetings. One of the many criticisms of the NDIS rollout is that some NDIA workers have not been adequately trained up on relevant disabilities that they are having planning meetings for and this is leading to plans that do not adequately cover all the support that a participant needs. Indeed for a while how well you were able to get adequate planning support depended on your ability to advocate or obtain an advocate for your meeting. (4) This article probably sums up the challenges best. From a personal experience with Autism and particularly as a high functioning Aspergers sufferer I think early intervention is something that my generation or older either missed in my case or in older peoples case was not diagnosed at all. This has the side effect of when we try and go for NDIS funding it’s hard to work out coverage because on “good” days we can fit into society well however when we struggle it has a real impact on our ability to maintain relationships and work, unfortunately it appears from what I’ve seen that in an effort to lower enrolment numbers people with Aspergers seems to struggle with eligibility for the scheme. Again see (5) for a good article on Autism and the NDIS.

The next issue to address is funding. Now as the Productivity Commission suggests the NDIS has so far been under budget but that ignores a few points. Firstly I think the lower than expected acceptance of participants has meant not as much money has been spent by participants and also people who are in the scheme have not spent as much money as the plan has allocated to them. I think that second point feeds into the problem that there are currently not enough providers and workers to meet the increased demand from the NDIS, indeed many sources have suggested the disability sector needs to double the amount of workers in the sector to cover the demand. Again my personal experience is that some employment places are struggling to keep staff on with the NDIS rolling out as the sudden increased workload leads to a less than satisfactory work life balance and they can make more money from setting up a private business. The other element to funding is the continued political battle between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party on how to fund the NDIS scheme as it is fully rolled out. The Liberal Party want to raise the medicare levy for all income earners by 0.5 percent, similar to what the Labor Party did when the NDIS was first rolled out (6). The Labor Party for their part are trying to run a dual argument, firstly that the NDIS is still fully funded (7) but they also proposed in their budget in reply speech that there is an increase in the Medicare Levy for those who earn more than $87 million a year, to me this looks like wanting to have a bob each way, they still want to have a lower debt but they want to continue their equality stance by only targeting those on higher wages.

The last issue with the NDIS is the follow up meetings as participants are looking to access their second year of funding. It again appears as if the general experience so far is that people are coming to their annual review of their first NDIS plan and are losing some of their initial funding. Again I think the issues for this is a workforce that is not adequately trained in all cases to deal with the complex issues that someone with a disability might face and that when a disability is lifelong it is not appropriate to suddenly lower disability funding. I also think as I said before that the lack of employees in the disability sector means that some participants have had waiting times to start accessing programs and this would naturally improve in the second year as services are now set in place and as the number of workers in the disability sector increase.

Lastly I try to stay Politically neutral on most of these articles but I really want to praise the work of the Dignity Party in the South Australian Senate. Kelly Vincent has been in the senate for 8 years nearly now and is standing for reelection in the 2018 election. She and her staff has weekly meetings with the NDIS to advocate for people who are struggling with the NDIS and she is providing a voice for people that are too often not heard in our community. See (8) for a link to their political party page.

 

References

(1): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-19/ndis-will-be-delayed-productivity-commission-report-warns/9064090

(2): https://kids-first.com.au/your-child-and-the-ndis-what-is-and-isnt-covered/

(3): https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/DisabilityInsuranceScheme

(4): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-03/ndis-enrolments-surging-despite-difficulties-accessing-plans/8321232

(5): http://www.a4.org.au/node/1314

(6): http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/ndis-funding-medicare-levy-hike-bill-introduced-to-parliament/news-story/0dd5393f4bf673fc24db771d01e17fdf

(7): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/health/ndis-underfunding-a-liberal-myth-says-chris-bowen/news-story/981dda127a0a76913d8d6b61e6d89b0b

(8): https://dignityparty.org.au

High Court Decision Analysis

With the high court making their rulings on the Citizenship 7 I have decided to share my brief thoughts on the outcomes of each senator. So the High Court made a split decision in that they didn’t rule all in or all out by ruling that 5 members namely Larissa Waters, Scott Ludlam, Macolm Roberts, Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce were ruled ineligible while Senators Matt Canavan and Nick Xenophon were ruled eligible. In making this decision as unanimous in each case it is clear that the High Court ruled in a fashion that was closer to the original Sykes vs Clearly Section 44 case than a more modern interpretation that I think the Government and the Solicitor General had hoped for.

Firstly looking at the ineligible senators:

We can group together Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam who both resigned from Parliament when it was clear to them that they had fallen foul of Section 44 of the Constitution. The Greens have tried to argue they have been the good party in all of this in that they didn’t try to fight their ineligibility but that ignores that they didn’t have the setup in the first place to avoid members standing when they were Dual Citizens and also their attack on the government in particular ignores that Matt Canavan was found to be ok. In terms of their future Scott Ludlam has had some personal issues this term and so he won’t return to Federal Politics which means his seat will most likely go to Jordan Steele-Jones the next Greens senator on the WA Greens ticket (1). Larissa Waters does appear to want to return to Parliament but not straight away so the former Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett will likely take her seat as the next ticketed Greens Senator and then Larissa Waters would seek a Parliamentary return at the next Federal Election.

Malcolm Roberts is a unique case in that he probably was the most likely to be removed under section 44 of the constitution but he tried to argue that he wasn’t a dual citizenship because he believed he was a “True Blue” Aussie. Once the High Court in it’s initial deliberations declared him to be a British Citizen it was clear he was in trouble. (2) Malcolm Roberts is now seeking to run for the Queensland state seat of Ipswich which is home to Pauline Hanson’s fish and chips store, this is despite some rumours that the replacement Fraser Anning is not One Nations ideal choice as replacement and also Fraser facing some issues with Section 44 over possible bankruptcy (3). The state seat of Ipswich is held by Labor by 16 percent but given the popularity of One Nation currently in Queensland and given Malcolm Roberts now has some recognition he will be a face to watch at the next state election.

Fiona Nash who was the Deputy leader of the National Party also was struck out today and unlike Barnaby Joyce has a lot tougher road back to Parliament, the reason for her ineligibility is that she obtain British citizen by descent of her Scottish born Father. She has been a strong Minister for the Nationals and will be sorely missed. The Liberal candidate Hollie Hughes is the next member on the NSW Liberal/ Nationals senate ticket and if she were to resign as Fiona Nash is a National the senate spot would go to another Liberal representative not National, so Fiona Nash would then have to qualify as Liberal Senator and maybe then reclassify as a National once back in Parliament and that seems messy.

The last member to be struck out today and the granddaddy of them all is Barnaby Joyce the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Nationals leader. He shocked the Parliament when he revealed he was a New Zealand Citizen and his resignations means an untimely by-election for an unpopular government. Now I think Barnaby Joyce will comfortably win his seat and that is particularly the case with Tony Windsor choosing not to stand for election who was the former independent member for New England and kingmaker of the Julia Gillard Government from 2010-2013. What Joyce’s exit means is that the government enters a period of minority government although the state of the Parliament is currently 74 Liberals, 69 Labor, 5 Independents and then Tony Smith the Liberal Speaker who can break any tied votes. So the government won’t fall in the next few months before the December 2nd Election and then the post election before the Election results are officially declared but Labor could move a Inquiry into banks for example and 1 Liberal/National Crossing the floor could cause that to happen. For what it’s worth Cathy McGowan the Independent MP from Indi has also promised to support the government against any No Confidence Motion (5).

As I alluded to earlier two Senators survived their challenges to the Section 44 cases. Nick Xenophon it was determined had a form of citizenship that did not give him enough rights to classify as having allegiance to another nation. This is a bit of a moot point as he plans to resign from Parliament anyway and go and contest the SA lower house seat of Hartley. What it does mean is that rather than the vote going to a recount the Nick Xenophon Party can determine who replaces him and that is then okayed by SA Parliament. It appears that replacement is likely to be a staffer. Matt Canavan the Nationals Senator also is allowed to stay in Parliament and was immediately re sworn in as Resources Minister. It appears and this article explains it well (6) that even though he was an Italian Citizen by one list to be properly eligible for Italian Citizenship Matt Canavan would have had to have actively taken steps to obtain citizenship which according to his story was not the case.  This is one piece of good news for the Government as Matt Canavan is a promising young Senator who has a lot to give to Parliament still.

References

(1): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-21/jordon-steele-john-ready-to-take-scott-ludlam-senate-spot/8729536

(2): https://sslcam.news.com.au/cam/authorise?channel=pc&url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.couriermail.com.au%2fnews%2fqueensland%2fqueensland-government%2fhigh-court-citizenship-ineligible-one-nation-senator-malcolm-roberts-to-run-for-queensland-state-seat-of-ipswich%2fnews-story%2f2789bbb510a6f8c705defc1d9e392512

(3): https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/malcolm-roberts-to-run-for-queensland-seat-as-one-nation-tensions-boil-over-20171027-gz9ste.html

(4): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/nationals-deputy-leader-fiona-nashs-australian-citizenship-called-into-question-20170817-gxysrc.html

(5): http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/independent-mp-cathy-mcgowan-says-she-wont-bring-down-prime-minister/news-story/19a784e0fdbe7cbac41aabe5f11f8543

(6): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/high-court-citizenship-verdict-nationals-deputy-fiona-nash-falls-but-matt-canavan-clings-on-20171026-gz9aqh.html

Suspension of Standing orders and Quorums: A look into Political Skullduggery

In Parliament today the Labor Party moved for another suspension of standing orders, the 8th straight Question time interrupted by a call to Suspend Standing Orders. Along with an increased amount of calls for Quorums in the House of Representatives these Parliamentary tactics have again come into question as to how valid these tactics are. First of all it is worth giving a definition of both tactics.

A quorum (1) dictates that at any time in Parliament one fifth of the members must be present within the chamber, in the current Parliament of 150 members this means that 30 members should be present at any moment. Similarly in the senate (2) there are rules for a Quorum that require a quarter of senators present which in the current senate is 19 of the 76 members. The suspension of standing orders (3) is when the House or Senate has a member who seeks to alter the current order of business in order to debate an issue that is of national significance, be that a policy or political point. These are often moved by Opposition Parties to interrupt the government order of business of a sitting day to make a political or policy point that they feel is important. A more cynical person however would suggest that appearance of chaos in Parliament tends to hurt the Governing Party more and so suspending the order of the House leads to an appearance of chaos that reflects badly on the Government.

A lot of the public probably would not have heard about quorums as Question Time which is the main Parliamentary Debate followed by the public will be attended by most members of Parliament. However as members of Parliament MPs have a lot of work they are required to do outside of the House during sitting days and so it is usual procedure for MPs to let it slide if Quorum is not present. However an Opposition that wants to cause Skullduggery can move for a Quorum to be counted which then forces 30 Government MPs to get back to Parliament within 4 minutes. If Quorum is then not reached the Speaker can suspend the sitting of Parliament from anywhere up until the next sitting day which is an embarrassing look to any government. The Labor Party have carried out this technique at an increasing rate over the last few Parliament sitting fortnights especially on the Welfare Debate yesterday and it has the effect of ensuring the Government have to ensure MPs are able to quickly return to Parliament for counting. Now Labor Party followers would rightfully point to examples like the following (4) where the Liberal Party during the hung Parliament called two successive Quorums to catch out the Labor Party as revenge for Anthony Albanese using another political technique, namely moving a member be no longer heard. Now as I will say in the next section that’s a reasonable argument but it also is the sort of stunt that makes the general public continue to lose respect in Parliament and that is something that all politicians should be trying to respect.

The Labor Party on Wednesday moved their seventh straight suspension of standing orders during Question Time and then today moved their eighth straight suspension of standing order breaking Tony Abbott’s record of six straight suspensions of standing orders in the Hung Parliament period between 2010-2013 (5). All of Labor’s motions to suspend standing orders in the last fortnight have related to Barnaby Joyce and his citizenship status. Now this is an important issue but Question Time is an important opportunity for the opposition to hold the government to account and every suspension of standing orders cuts into Question Time and is less opportunity for the Government to be questioned on different policy issues. This is Particularly the case when the Labor Party focus on just one topic for now 2 weeks of question time straight exclusively and off and on in previous sitting weeks before that. At a time when we have North Korea possibly about to start World War 3, Power Prices being at punishing rates for families to contend with and an ongoing argument on the merits of economic policy direction, be it a more Social or Capitalist approach and marriage equality. It just beggars belief to me the Labor Party think that Citizenship is the only issue worth pursuing in Question Time.

Now again similar to the last paragraph the Labor Party will point to the Liberal Party moving such motions in the hung parliament of the 2010-2013 government and they are right to do so, but just because it gave the Liberal Party Electoral Success in the 2013 Election it then meant there was no Political free will given by the Labor Party when they hit opposition. With this cycle in mind there is a real concern that a Liberal Opposition Party in 2019 may try the same Parliamentary tactic. No one has yet to convince me while this following exchange makes good Parliamentary debate:

Tony Bourke: “I move that so much of standing orders be suspended such that the Manager of Opposition move the following motion forthwith. That the House censures the Prime Minister for continuing to accept the vote of Barnaby Joyce and keeping him in Parliament”. End Motion, start to debate motion and Suddenly:

Chris Pyne Leader of the House: “I move the member be no further heard”

Tony Smith Speaker: “All those in favour say I” I “Opposed say No” No; “the I’s have it” No “Is division required, ring the bells for four minutes”

Cue 10 minutes to divide and count the votes

Back to Tony Smith: “Is the motion seconded”

Joel Fitzgibbon: “I second the motion”,Shouting Barnaby Joyce should not be in….

Chris Pyne Leader of the House: “I move the member be no further heard”

Tony Smith Speaker: “All those in favour say I” I “Opposed say No” No; “the I’s have it” No “Is division required, ring the bells for one minute”

A few minutes later Chris Pyne moves the motion be put and the Speaker then repeats the procedure to eventually have the motion defeated. This is the procedure that has taken place at 2:50PM Eastern Time just as the main ABC channel is about to end their Parliamentary Feed and go to regular programming. Again Politically a valuable tactic but I will leave it to the reader to decide whether it’s a great showing of our democracy.

Lastly I just want to say that I hope that wiser heads can prevail with North Korea because I think we are nearly at the point where the best course of action to prevent extra casualties will be to take military action to avoid more civilian casualties from a North Korean Military test that if went wrong could cause a large amount of casualties.

 

References

(1) https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2004A03790

(2) http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/aso/so051

(3) https://questions.peo.gov.au/questions/under-what-circumstances-would-standing-orders-be-suspended-and-for-what-purpose/22

(4) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/coalition-catches-labor-short-in-parliament/news-story/0b3cbd139d36edb0a7a7bc728fbd9197

(5) https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/parliamentary-chaos-labors-enthusiastic-embrace-of-tony-abbotts-destruction-political-playbook-20170906-gybuq5.html

Marriage Equality – The Political Take on a social issue

Marriage Equality has been a policy topic that has been in the news for a while now and I’ve been reluctant to cover it due to the divisiveness of the issue with proponents on both sides of the debate taking stances that cross the line of civil debate. However with the move of several Liberal backbenchers moving to support a private members bill and before that a suspension of standing orders to bring on discussion on the issue I think it’s worth discussing the political manoeuvrings behind this issue.

In 2004 John Howard changed the marriage act to ensure that the definition of marriage was between 1 man and 1 woman. This was moved through Parliament in order to ensure that if a debate was to be had in the future on whether Gay marriage should be allowed then it would have to involve a law change. Now in a way that fact has been used by many to advocate Parliament being the vehicle to bring in marriage equality. Indeed that is the view of John Howard (1) who believes it should be the Parliament and not the public who changes a law like this. Now I will elaborate below the political issues with that but (2) shows that since the 2004 marriage definition change there have been 22 bills introduced into Parliament debating changes to the marriage act and none of them have even passed through the lower house let alone reach the upper house. This then acts as a big reasoning for a Plebiscite, if the Parliament can’t reach an agreement on the issue but the public want action on the issue then a Plebiscite can be used to vote on the issue and assuming it passes it would be a brave Parliament that rejects the voice of the public especially with the cost involved in running a Plebiscite.

I think the first point to make is where the major parties stand on the issue. The Greens and the Democrats Party when they were in Parliament are known supporters of Gay marriage and indeed a lot of earlier post 2004 moves for marriage equality have come from these members. The Labor Party are an interesting case for marriage equality because they have flown the Political stances on the issue. Before 2010 the Labor Parties stance on marriage equality was to oppose any bill that came into Parliament which ensured that any bill by the cross bench had no chance of passing. As of 2010 Julia Gillard announced that she would allow a conscious vote in Parliament on the matter despite personally being against the issue. Now she has changed her mind on the issue of Gay marriage since then but the number one argument I hear on Gay marriage is that only Christians and people of religion disagree with marriage equality and that clearly isn’t the case. (3) I think Julia Gillard and other people’s argument on marriage is that the act of two people getting married has a symbolic meaning to it that doesn’t blend with modern society as much, indeed there are a lot of Atheists who are moving away from being married and are instead opting for civil services outside of the church setting. It is with these positions and in attacking the Coalition’s policy on a forced vote that I found their conference position (4) reached in their 2015 Labor conference perplexing. Until the end of the current term of Parliament the Labor Party advocate a conscious vote on the issue but from next term onwards any MP or Senator must vote in favour of Marriage Equality, a rather hypocritical position if they continue to attack the Liberal Party on not having a free vote. Indeed this change in policy has already seen a Western Australian Labor Senator resign due to the policy position change (5).

The Liberal Party until 2015 had a straight binding vote on Marriage Equality that said they had to vote down any attempts to introduce legislation on Marriage Equality. Now in the Liberal Party there are supposed leniencies to voting against party policy so there has been the odd senator who has crossed the floor on marriage equality but not enough to influence any results. Now I’ll come back to the specifics on crossing the floor for Liberal Parties members on any upcoming policy but 2015 saw an important policy shift on marriage equality. In 2015 to placate more moderate Liberal MPS Tony Abbott suggested a Plebiscite(6). The idea behind a plebiscite was for the Liberal Party to hold their policy line on marriage equality until the 2016 election and then push for a public vote on Marriage Equality post election. If as many polls suggested the plebiscite passed then MPS would vote in the lower house and senate to pass a marriage equality act into law and as I commented above a free vote for both parties would ensure that marriage equality passed into law as I don’t believe enough members would want to vote against public opinion. When Malcolm Turnbull took the role of PM from Tony Abbott in 2015 this remained the policy much to the disappointment of some in the community who had hoped Malcolm Turnbull’s personal view of support would see a change in policy. This simple narrative that gets parroted a lot by supporters of marriage equality ignores two basic realities that I will touch on now and elaborate further later on. If Malcolm Turnbull changed policy then conservative would pull support from Turnbull and seek Peter Dutton out as leader in a leadership spill. Alternatively if as is widely reported Turnbull made a pledge to keep a plebiscite as party policy in part of the deal with the National Party to maintain their support post leadership change then them pulling their support would also see the Liberal Party lose the balance of power on the floor of the house which would lead them open to a vote of No Confidence.

So with the policy positions now established I will return to the issues of the last week. Gay Liberal MPs and Senators as well as Warren Entsch have looked to resolve the issue of marriage equality before the next election (7). In their views the Plebiscite is a failed policy that will not pass the Parliament and so isn’t a viable solution to resolve the matter, with that in mind a free vote where members can vote on their conscious is the only way to get marriage equality through. In their minds and it’s a sound argument marriage equality is clearly going to eventually pass into law and while it’s not the most important issue to most people it’s an issue that generates a lot of public debate and so it distracts from other issues being discussed. A clear example of this came this week when Tim Wilson was questioned on the marriage equality debate and when he tried to sidestep to another issue the interview was promptly ended. As a result of this renewed push Conservative MPs have tried to seek another vote in Parliament on the issue of a Plebiscite and in the case of that failing again they would then seek to have a postal vote on the issue (8). There are many issues with a postal vote and indeed the strongest argument against postal plebiscites came from Malcolm Turnbull when he was leading the case for the country to become a Republic. A postal plebiscite can be held with Parliamentary approval because it can use money set aside for Government assigned surveying, however it is not binding so MPS can vote against the result and it is not compulsory which I believe would mean it would be voted down as the largest demographic in favour of marriage equality tend to be the most disengaged in voting in elections. It would also be up for legal challenges about appropriate use of Government money akin to what occurred when a parent challenged the Government funding of chaplains in public schools. So that leaves the prospects of either staying put or having a vote on marriage equality in the Parliament however that has it’s own wrinkles. Firstly the Leader of the House is in control of what legislation goes before the house and so they can effectively push any marriage equality to the bottom of Government Business where it would then expire at the end of the current term of Parliament. The way around that is to suspend standing orders which then allows government business to be suspended in order to debate a motion that is not currently next on the notice paper. For instance parliament is flowing with it’s usual robustness and then at 2:45 AEST Bill Shorten gets up and goes I seek to suspend the standing orders to censure the PM for being a Toffee Nosed Tory (not far off an actual suspension order :P). The problem with this passing the Parliament is an unknown constitutional section. (9) suggests that a lost vote on the floor of Parliament could be considered as a vote in loss of confidence in the Parliament. This would then lead to the government potentially resigning and if Labor then couldn’t elect a speaker an election to resolve the impasse. Now the wording suggests that it has to be considered an important issue and the Government could spin that it isn’t, indeed both the Labor Party in minority and the Liberal Party already in this term have lost votes on the floor of the house and that hasn’t led to a change of Government, it does however mark a significant dent on the standing of the Liberal Parties grasp of Parliament and that could lead to recriminations against those who crossed the floor. Now that last part might cause confusion because didn’t you say that the Liberal Party allowed members to cross the floor. Well the truth appears to be mixed, certainly (10) suggests that because this issue is so divisive crossing the floor on this issue seems to be no go with threats of challenges to the preselections of said members at the next election. The other issue is would a vote on marriage equality then pass the lower house and senate? The analysis on the impact of a passing of the policy on Turnbull’s leadership has already been largely commented on and there appears to be an assumption the policy would pass both houses with a passing of the suspension orders. However even if no Labor MP in the lower house voted against marriage equality the Senate appears to be a different can of worms. Indeed (11) shows that both in the Lower and Upper House there are members of the Labor Party opposed to marriage equality and when combined with Jacquie Lambie, Pauline Hanson and One Nation and Bob Katter in the lower house it cannot be assumed that marriage equality would just seemingly pass if the rest of the Liberal Party vote against marriage equality.

 

I have gotten to the end of this post and my final thought is that marriage equality is still a way off because as I have mentioned above there are still a lot of hurdles to climb. To those who want to use this as a stick to smack the Liberal Party sure go ahead however as I’ve elaborated above it ignores a lot of grey areas on this political issue and also ignores that other parties are also divided on this issue. In my mind that’s normal with social issues, I think we need to be more ok with disagreeing on some issues and not be so quick to bash those who don’t agree with them on everything.

 

References

(1): http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/former-prime-minister-john-howard-says-politicians-in-fear-of-marriage-equality/news-story/d000c28a0d79c6e443353ef1ee73283b

(2): http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/SSMarriageBills

(3): http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/love-isnt-all-about-marriage-says-pm-julia-gillard-as-she-defends-her-same-sex-marriage-stan/news-story/2c2909cad241e29da5c17d1707bc832a

(4): https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/26/alp-conference-backs-binding-vote-on-same-sex-marriage-after-two-terms

(5): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-01/labor-senator-joe-bullock-quits/7212324

(6): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-flags-plebiscite-on-samesex-marriage-in-bid-to-defuse-anger-20150811-giwyg1.html

(7) http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2017/07/31/liberal-mp-to-bring-on-same-sex-marriage-vote.html

(8) http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2017/08/02/conservative-liberals-push-for-plebiscite.html

(9): https://www.buzzfeed.com/markdistefano/rules-glorious-rules?utm_term=.ey66M0MDW#.gfMNpxp45

(10): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/all-im-asking-for-is-to-have-a-bloody-vote-liberal-mp-warren-entsch-20170802-gxnomk.html

(11): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/the-labor-mps-who-could-blow-up-rebel-liberals-samesex-marriage-plans-20170802-gxnkp7.html

South Australian Politics – Are we about to go to an election?

My home state managed to break into the political news this week as a blocked budget measure by the Liberal’s and the Senate cross bench has left the budget potentially in danger of not passing. This would have significant impact as any public service worker is then in danger of not being paid. As a result of this breakdown in Parliament Jay Weatherill the premier has a few options (1). Option 1 is for the Labor party to do what they did in 2014 and scrap the bank levy; this would cost the budget 370 million dollars that would then have to be replaced in some form by another measure. The second option is to try and reintroduce the bill in the upper house and hope that they can convince the cross bench of the merits of passing the budget as a whole and not putting at risk the whole budget to oppose one measure. The last option is to declare the bill is a special measure and call something akin to a double dissolution election on the matter. This would then allow the Labor Party to try and get the measure through a special sitting post an election, this is a risky move given that the Weatherill Government has been on the nose increasingly in the last 12 months and there is no guarantee they would win the election leaving the comparisons to Theresa May or Malcolm Turnbull calling an early election. This option allows me to discuss below the recent poll that has come out.

(2) Suggests a very tight election race with a 50-50 2PP vote and when you consider that the Liberal Party lost the 2014 election with a 53 percent 2 Party Preferred vote one might assume that the Liberal Party are in some trouble. The elephant in the room however continues to be the Nick Xenophon SA Best Party. They are polling at 21 percent and so they will be in a position to determine the party that wins the election. The other interesting change from the last election is a large seat redistribution that has changed the landscape of the state. (3) Now has the Liberal Party with an election winning 27 seats as opposed to 20 notional seats for the Labor Party. Four Labor seats are notionally Liberal namely being Newland, Mawson, Colton and Elder. Now these seats are held by long term Labor MPs so incumbency will help those members out except in Colton where the member has announced they are retiring which probably makes that an easier seat for the Liberal Party to win. The Labor party have 7 seats under 5 percent including some in the North East of Adelaide and given the prosperity of these areas relative to most of metropolitan Adelaide is a concern for the Liberal Parties prospects of winning an election if they can’t grab a seat or two there. The Xenophon Party rather than the Labor Party might also make life difficult because as was seen in the federal election his vote travelled better in the country and the hills than the metropolitan area. Where his vote was in the mid teens for metropolitan areas, that vote increased to 30 percent in the country and hills areas and saw his party take the Federal seat of Mayo. This hurts the Liberal Party as most of their seats are concentrated in the country and hills areas. Indeed for all of the complaints I have heard about the Labor party winning the election unfairly and that the party who gets the highest 2PP should win the election they miss this basic point! South Australia has around 1.7 million people (4) of which 1.3 million people live in Adelaide and in metropolitan Adelaide the Labor Party won the 2PP vote 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. That is the figure that the Liberal Party will have to improve on in the next election and with the Xenophon party polling at 20 percent if those numbers flow back more to the Labor Party then they may still hold on in a similar setup to the current Parliament.

The other important issue from this week is the official announcement of the Tesla company ran by Elon Musk to build a lithium ion battery to connect with a wind farm currently being constructed (5).  The battery is being made to try and ease the issues of blackouts and power shedding that have been prevalent in SA over the last 12 months. In the event of a significant outage the hope is that the battery would allow for backup power to avoid long lasting blackouts. The added bonus for the SA government is the announcement of Musk that if the battery is not built within 100 days then the cost would be free to the government. If this 3 months build target is met then the government might be able to avoid a repeat of the power losses that impacted the state over the last summer which would be a large political boost to the re election chances of the Weatherill Government.

 

 

References

(1) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-04/sa-bank-levy-budget-bill-explainer/8676140

(2) http://www.galaxyresearch.com.au/polling/

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Australian_state_election,_2018

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Australian_state_election,_2014

(5) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-07/what-is-tesla-big-sa-battery-and-how-will-it-work/8688992