They've got a mandate

You’ve probably heard politicians and commentators suggest that various acts should be undertaken because ‘they’ve got a mandate’. One of the recent examples is new Environment Minister Angus Taylor claiming there is now a ‘mandate’ for a lack of any meaningful action on managing climate change in Australia.

You can read the full definitions of a mandate here but if Taylor is claiming
a command or authorization to act in a particular way on public issue given by the electorate to its representative:
he is sadly deluded. If, as the definition suggests, the command must be given by the electorate the assumption would be that the majority of the electorate would have to give the command.

But, you say, the Coalition were given the majority of votes in the recent election. According to the Australian Electoral Commission’s website (at the time of writing — not all seats had been declared) the two-party preferred result is Coalition 6,552,111 and the ALP 6,137,087 you are correct. But it’s not that clear cut. A quick scan of the results in the table below shows that the ALP got more direct votes that the Liberal Party. In fact you have to add the Liberal Party, LNP and Nationals (all different political parties when it suits them) together to beat the ALP figure. Clicking this link will take you to the up to date figures at the time you are reading.

Party 2019 Vote
Liberal Party 3,943,957
Liberal National Party (Queensland) 1,230,442
The Nationals 639,412
Country Liberals (NT) 38,557
Australian Labor Party 4,669,111
The Greens 1,456,890
United Australia Party 483,713
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation 435,037
Animal Justice Party 115,474
Independents 475,399
Informal 822,819
All other political groupings received under 100,000 votes.

In a great case of product differentiation, the Liberal Party and National Parties market themselves as the protectors of small to medium business and the ‘aspirational’ in the case of the Liberal Party and the protectors of those in the regional Australia in the case of the Nationals. Interestingly, they then divvy up the spoils of victory and attempt to enact policies that are diametrically opposed to the interests of the those that rely on being able to continue to grow crops and run livestock (as Taylor’s claimed mandate for lack of meaningful action on climate change attests) and small to medium business such as having to be dragged kicking and screaming to consider the Royal Commission into Banking and Finance — which exposed considerable disregard for the ‘aspirational’ and small business — unless you were also a banking executive.

As a consequence of their agreement, the two parties do not generally compete against each other. This maximises the vote for the National Party so they can target message and funding where it does the most ‘good’. It’s probably also the reason that the Nationals get a number of seats in Parliament when they receive less direct votes than the Greens, who contest most if not all seats regardless of the representation or candidature of political parties with similar ideals and policies in those seats.

Australia generally operates under a ‘two party preferred’ preferential voting system, where candidates with the lesser number of direct votes are gradually eliminated from the counting until one candidate has 50% +1 of the total vote. The Australian Electoral Commission’s website advises
To vote for a Member of the House of Representatives, a voter is required to write the number '1' in the box next to the candidate who is their first choice, and the numbers '2', '3' and so on against all the other candidates until all the boxes have been numbered, in order of the voter's preference.
By inference, the numbers 2 and higher on your ballot paper are given to candidates that you believe to be not as close to your requirements for a representative in Parliament as your first choice. It also stands to reason that you haven’t given the lesser preferred political party a mandate to introduce their policies without opposition. If you wanted all of their policies without review or discussion, you would have given the candidate your first preference.

Most also get to a position where they have two or three individuals they absolutely don’t want in Parliament, which logically you would give your lowest preferences (or higher numbers) to. However, due to the ‘two-candidate preferred’ system, your vote may filter down to one of these candidates through the elimination process. This means although you abhor the candidate and their political party — and all they stand for — you are probably helping them get an office in that large building built into a hill on the big roundabout in South Canberra.

A mandate is a direction from the voters to do a particular thing. You would be looking for an overwhelming mandate to be able to state with certainty that the government is following the will of the people. The Coalition in its various guises certainly didn’t get the 6,000,000 or so votes prior to preference allocations they needed to be able to say that more than half of the eligible voters actually voted for them (neither did anyone else). So nobody has a ‘mandate’ to force their policies onto Australia without discussion.

To get a policy through the Parliament will require consensus, probably as a result of negotiation with people from the other political parties that are represented in the Parliament. The people that voted for ‘the other guys’ did so because, in their view, ‘the other guy’ had a better policy mix. Accordingly, the Coalition should be discussing any and every piece of legislation and direction given to the Public Service with representatives from other political parties to come up with an agreed position from a majority of the representatives of the Australian population. And that is what Parliament is for — not for ramming unpopular and unnecessarily divisive conservative ‘matters of faith’ such as no real environmental protection, tax cuts for seven years into the future or ‘religious freedom’ provisions into legislation. Because at the end of the day the Coalition had well under half the population vote for them — they haven’t got a majority of Australians supporting their ‘mandate’, neither do ‘the other guys’.

What do you think?

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