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Aug 29, 2010

Mating dance of the independents.

Cartoon; By Bill Leak.

After a week of waiting for a decision on who is going to form the next government we are still watching Julia fluttering her eyelashes at Bob Katter, and vice versa, while Abbott and Barnaby peruse the internet for pheromones that might do the trick. It’s a bit like the mating dance of death, well for the country at least.

The independents will probably will back the Liberals, as will the WA National who defeated longtime Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey in a three cornered contest and now wants to be seen as independent. (There is no love lost between the WA Libs and Nats.)

One of the reasons for them acting all coy and demure apart from getting their wish list granted is that from now on they are unable to hide behind their irrelevance making self righteous populist platitudes. Now horror of horror, they are relevant for the first time, and may be coming to realize that the eyes of the nation are on them, and their decisions will be remembered.

While Gillard will pay any price for what they are selling Abbott to his credit, is negotiating and not giving in to all demands. Their demand for a commitment to a three-year term is irrational given the instability resulting from a minority government with a hostile Greens controlled Senate. The best thing would be for a party to form a government, see if it can be made to work, and when it fails, go to a new election.

I have a feeling that in the long run, Abbott might be better off to tell them to go, jump and let Gillard form a government which will be forced back to the polls fairly quickly and be smashed in the process.

 Minority governments are inherently unstable in their own right. Trying to hold one together with the aid of a bunch of guys who have never had to take responsibility because they can always blame the other parties will be impossible.

The Senators who were elected this time do not actually take their seats until next July as the Senate is term limited. When this happens the Greens get control with the balance of power which raises the possibility of two elections in the near future. The House of representatives can be put up for election again if it becomes unworkable, but for the Senate to go to the polls requires a double dissolution which needs to be triggered by refusal to pass vital legislation.

This may not be all bad news; if the government is unworkable and cannot get its legislation passed, they can't do anything to us, can they?


  1. Jim, I'm still learning my way round some of Australia's constitutional quirks and I'm curious about the possibility of a new election. If Abbott tells the new independents to go deal with Julia and the resulting wobbly government lasts 'til, oooh, with luck about next Friday week before hitting the buffers and being forced to call another election, what happens with the Senate. We've just elected a bunch of new Senators and majorities in the upper house aren't relevant to forming the government, so presumably they stay put, and the other half are only halfway through their terms, right? So would a fresh election be HoR only?

  2. Good question Angry. The Senate is on fixed terms, that is why the elections are so out of whack with the end of the Senate term. The current crop that faced election this time remain in place until July 1 next year. The ones who didn't have to stand are in place until July 1 2014, and those just elected serve from July 2011, to 2017. Those terms are set by the Constitution.

    This being the case an election can only be held for the House of Representatives, but not the Senate.

    Antony Green is probably one of the most clued up people on electoral matters and seems to be of the opinion that a double dissolution cannot be held until the new Senators take their place and a trigger is provided for this. The trigger is normally the rejection of a critical bill on two occasions, or supply.

    I am not sure why it can't happen before the new Senators are in place. There is also the possibility that the GG could step in and dissolve parliament and call for new elections, although there may be impediments to this since Whitlam was sacked.

    The water is very muddy for those of us who are not constitutional lawyers, so I am really not too sure. As I said we may be looking down the barrel of two elections, the first, House of Representatives, the second a double dissolution.

    I hope this clears it up for you, me, I'm still confused.

  3. Sounds about what I imagined apart from the thing about a double dissolution not being possible until the new Senators have actually taken their seats. That makes a certain amount of sense to me since it would be a bit odd to go through the process again with people who in fairness haven't even had a chance to stuff anything up yet. On the other hand that's 9 months away and it would also be a bit odd if the PM (whoever it is) is unable to exercise that power if a double dissolution trigger happens much earlier. I wonder if Australia has ever found itself in this exact position before. Time for some self taught Aussie history lessons for me.

  4. Its really hard to work out how this one will play out. The Labor deal with the Greens is going to make it really difficult for Abbott to do too much if they decide to make it unworkable.

    Green tends to know the system pretty well, he's been doing it for a long time. It probably has to do with the need to test whether the new Senate is workable or not.

    I guess we will have to wait and see. One interesting comment from Antony Green was:

    Mr Green said if smaller conservative parties had done a preference deal in NSW, they would have blocked the run of the Greens candidate Lee Rhiannon. ''If the Christian Democrats and Family First had done a deal with the Liberal Democrats in NSW then they could have prevented the Greens winning a spot,'' Mr Green said. ''But they didn't do the preference swap in the end.''

    The Shooters stayed out as well and Rhiannon appears likely to get in on LNP preferences.