A SURPRISING POLL for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph finds that an astonishing 67% of voters want a fresh federal election — a double dissolution — to clear the Senate of obstructive minor parties and “Independents” and get a workable Parliament; the legalities of such an election are unclear , and in any case the move is unlikely based on the behaviour of the ALP. A push to reform the Senate — in good faith — is a potentially more fruitful idea.
The vagaries of daily life have meant that the reform series I promised at the start of the month has largely been subsumed; today, however, comes an opportunity to revisit the theme, and I will aim to do this tonight or (I promise) in the next couple of days.
But Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is carrying an article today, reporting poll findings by Galaxy that purport to show some 67% of NSW voters are in favour of a snap double dissolution election, to clean out the raft of minor party influences in the Senate and make federal Parliament more workable than it is now.
The poll — which shows 67% of respondents favouring such an election, with 25% opposed — represents the kind of thing that was probably always going to turn up at some point this parliamentary term, given the deadlocked shambles the Senate has mostly become.
And it is a fair bet to say it belies the ignorance of most voters when it comes to the constitutional factors governing elections for the Senate, although on this occasion they are probably aligned with each other.
I am not averse to the idea of a double dissolution election, although I would hasten to add that with the farcical Gillard government now consigned to the dustbin of history — where it belongs — extreme caution should be used in agitating for an early election, be it for both Houses of Parliament or otherwise.
For one thing, the Abbott government is unlikely to call one until or unless it can be reasonably confident of re-election in the lower house: and hard, cold political reality suggests that as of today’s date, it can’t be.
For another, there is little point in throwing both Houses open to the electorate when there is no guarantee anyone would co-operate with a Coalition attempt to cut the number of non-major party influences that are elected in the upper House: Labor, under Bill Shorten, exhibits a distinct penchant for causing as much disruption and chaos for the Abbott government as it can.
If it believed, heading into such an election, that the government was likely to be returned, it would move heaven and Earth to increase the size of the crossbench — not trim it.
And if Labor thought it might win, it might do the same thing anyway; after all, the kinds of entities the Senate voting system elevates to its crossbench are, on the whole, far friendlier to the ALP than to the Coalition, and this political truism is so pronounced that there is little point wasting column space recounting sufficient historical examples to bear it out.
Even so, most of those who would bleat the loudest of being able to “work with” the Coalition — the
Communist Party Greens and the Palmer United Party being the chief culprits — are also those who most regularly vote in the Senate to obstruct it.
Both have gone well out of their way to cause maximum political damage to the government, and both have occasionally thrown the government a (heavily conditional and qualified) bone to allow themselves to claim the mantra of a “balanced” approach to their activities, which is patent rubbish.
And as I said, these types — along with some of the other undeserving types thrown up by the undemocratic system used to elect the Senate — generally find themselves able to live in harmony with Labor governments, which was the whole point of Senate changes made by the Hawke government in 1984: securing upper houses that are mostly friendly to the Left, with the Howard Senate majority won in 2004 relegated to the realm of the exception.
I’m not surprised the Tele has found frustration — even hostility — with the Senate and its antics, nor that people are already clamouring for something to be done about it.
But a snap poll would, in all likelihood, exacerbate the problem.
My remarks this morning are deliberately brief, and I will return (hopefully) this evening to thrash out a better idea: reforming the Senate altogether, with a plan that does not exclude the minor parties by any stretch, but which means that securing election really would be contingent on securing a reasonable stipend of electoral support.
That would mean no Ricky Muir with his 1,700 votes in Victoria, or the Greens holding the country to ransom with 10 Senators — 6 of whom were elected more than four years ago.
But even then, I know it will be a big ask, for no matter what is placed on the table, there will always be someone happy to play the wrecker in the name of short-term political expediency than in the national interest in the longer run.
And yes, Bill Shorten, I’m looking at you.