How did we get a multi-party Westminster system? Part 2

[The opening of Australia’s first parliament by Tom Roberts]

Last week I gave a brief outline of how the Westminster parliamentary system evolved in England. Then came Australia which largely adopted the British parliamentary system and recognised the British monarch as head of state.

I won’t bother with the colonial era, although it doubtless had some influence, but will focus on Australia’s federation in 1901 and the foundation of our system, The Constitution, as passed by the British parliament and assented to by Queen Victoria. It drew on both the British and American systems: the Senate in particular is based on the US Senate. It seemed to be a given, following the British model, that we should have two houses of parliament but, without ‘lords’ to make an upper house, the American model was adopted to create a ‘states’ house. In reality, it was not essential to have an upper house — New Zealand is governed without one. The difference was that we were federating six separate colonies whereas New Zealand was a single colony. (Our constitution allows for New Zealand to become a state of Australia.) The smaller states supported the American concept of an upper house in which they could not be outvoted by the more populous states of NSW and Victoria. That is also reflected in the provisions for the passing of referenda to alter the constitution: that they must be supported not only by an overall majority of votes, but by a majority of votes in a majority of states — which meant the constitution could not, and cannot, be changed just by the sheer weight of numbers in NSW and Victoria.

Despite the fact that the Westminster system fuses the legislature and the executive, by selecting the ministers from the legislature, our constitution does set out the three arms of government: the parliament (legislature), the executive and the judiciary. It is important that they appear in that order: you may think that the executive should come first, being at the top of the tree, but that obviously wasn’t they way the framers of our constitution saw it — parliament is supreme, not the executive. On the other hand, the part referring to the Senate does precede that of the House of Representatives, reflecting the traditional style that the upper house is more important. It may no longer be so in practice but it does retain that final right of turning a Bill into an Act before it is presented for royal assent. And the monarch, or the Governor-General, still appears in the Senate, not the House of Representatives, when he/she attends parliament (just as the Queen attends the Lords, not the Commons, in the UK).

I won’t dwell on the chapter regarding the judiciary as that basically establishes the High Court to adjudicate on the constitution (and a few other matters), and the capacity to establish other federal courts. Like the parliament, many of the practices we attach to the judicial system are also a result of hundreds of years of evolution. Thus, although it is not spelled out in the constitution, we expect that only a court can impose punishment because only a court can rule whether or not a law has actually been breached. The constitution, however, does specify trial by jury when a commonwealth law is broken — and the case can be tried in a state court in the state in which the offence occurred.

Legally, the parliament comprises the monarch (or the Governor-General as the monarch’s appointed representative), the House of Representatives and the Senate and it is given the legislative power of the commonwealth.

The Governor-General has the power to:
… appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as he thinks fit, and may, also from time to time, by Proclamation or otherwise, prorogue the Parliament, and may in like manner dissolve the House of Representatives.
It provides that parliament must meet at least once per year: there cannot be a twelve month gap between parliamentary sessions (the 1689 requirement for ‘frequent’ meetings of parliament). Many of the provisions are the details of numbers (but also allowing for later changes by the parliament), election of the Speaker, the conduct of elections and so on but it also spells out the functions for which the commonwealth parliament is responsible and these provide the basis on which the High Court decides whether or not commonwealth legislation is valid.

In our modern economy the commonwealth’s powers have actually increased as a number of its powers are only operative when an issue goes beyond a single state’s borders: for example, banking, insurance, arbitration of industrial disputes, commerce. Now it is more often normal for those matters to operate beyond the bounds of any single state. The commonwealth can also take on or share additional powers with the agreement of the states and that has happened in regard to, for example, income tax and universities.

Our constitution sets in law that proposed laws for appropriations or taxes cannot originate in the Senate — matching Henry IV’s grant of such power to the Commons in 1407. We do not have a Standing Order 66 limiting money matters to motions of a minister (at least not that I could find) but we do have Section 56 of the constitution that states that votes on appropriation Bills can only be taken after the purpose of the appropriation has been recommended in a message from the Governor-General.

Importantly the constitution establishes the right of the people to elect the members of parliament: the phrase ‘directly chosen by the people’ is used in regard to both the Senate and House of Representatives. That gave rise to the High Court’s decision that there is an implied right of freedom of speech, at least regarding political communication, because it follows that people should make an informed vote and therefore require free expression of political ideas to inform them.

Given the people’s right to elect the members of parliament, the constitution sets out that Senators will be elected by each state voting as one electorate ‘until the Parliament otherwise provides’. So although the parliament has the power to change how the Senate is elected (perhaps by creating ‘divisions’ within a state), we have kept that system of a single electorate and used proportional representation since 1948. The States do retain many powers relating to the Senate including the right to issue the writs for Senate elections and to select replacements in the event of vacancies.

While the constitution nominated the number of members for each state in the House of Representatives for the first election, it provided that in future the number of members in each state would be determined by:

  • dividing the total population of the six states of the commonwealth by twice the number of Senators to obtain a ‘quota’ (the territories are not included in the population count, nor are their Senators included, as they did not exist at the time) and note that this is the ‘total population’ not just the number of voters
  • then dividing the population of each state by the ‘quota’ and rounding to the nearest whole number — provided that none of the original states can have fewer than five members.
That is still the way the Australian Electoral Commission calculates the number of seats to which each state is entitled and is now also applied to the NT and ACT although they are not counted in determining the ‘quota’. The proviso regarding the original states allows Tasmania to retain five seats even though by the ‘quota’ method it is currently entitled to three.

It was allowed that the members of the House of Representatives could also be elected in that first election by the state voting as one electorate if a state had not yet created ‘divisions’: the commonwealth parliament, however, had the power to determine how this would be done in the future. We basically adopted a modern system of ‘boroughs’, or ‘divisions’, or what we commonly call ‘electorates’ (the Australian Electoral Commission still calls them ‘divisions’). Although only the number of seats is specified by the constitution, the Electoral Act requires that within each State each electorate should contain approximately the same number of voters.

The most interesting part of the constitution concerns the executive: it is clearly a constitutional monarchy and legally sets that out, relying on the the conventions inherited from England to underpin it.
The Executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and the laws of the Commonwealth.
There it is — full stop! The monarch, through his or her representative, is the executive.

Now the finer detail of how that works.
There shall be a Federal Executive Council to advise the Governor-General in the government of the Commonwealth and the members of the Council shall be chosen and summoned by the Governor-General and sworn as Executive Councillors, and shall hold office during his pleasure.
That follows the ancient structure of a monarch and a group of advisers and is like an Australian version of the Privy Council: legally, there appears nothing to stop the Governor-General acting on the advice of such a council irrespective of the parliament. It is mainly the conventions (or England’s unwritten constitutional rules) that give it a modern appearance.

Then come ministers:
The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
(Although the word ‘officers’ is used, it appears under the heading ‘Ministers’ and, just so there is no confusion, I point out that there is a separate section on the appointment of civil servants to those departments of State.)

And there is a provision that ministers must be members of the parliament which, unlike the UK, actually makes that former convention law.

There is no mention of a cabinet or a prime minister, nor is it law that the Federal Executive Council must be made up of ministers, let alone members of parliament. That is where Westminster conventions come in and the history that gave rise to them. In Australia the Federal Executive Council actually comprises all ministers past and present — that allows former ministers to retain the title ‘The Honourable’ as that title relates not to their role as a minister but as a member of the Federal Executive Council. It appears that no one has ever been removed from the Federal Executive Council, although the Governor-General has that power. As in England since the 1700s, however, it is the current cabinet, as a ‘committee’ of the Federal Executive Council, that exercises the role as advisers to the Governor-General.

What helps make the system work is the provision that:
The provisions of this Constitution referring to the Governor-General in Council shall be construed as referring to the Governor-General acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council. [emphasis added]
That effectively prevents the Governor-General acting alone except for certain residual powers left over from the days of the governors of the colonies. Apparently there was discussion during the framing of the constitution about codifying those ‘reserve’ powers but it was decided that it was too difficult and best left flexible (and the British government had also advised against it which meant the constitution may not have passed the British parliament if we had persisted).

When the constitution and the Westminster conventions are put together, the Governor-General is, in most matters, effectively tied to following the advice of ‘the government of the day’ which brings us back to ‘cabinet government’ and places effective executive power with the cabinet. But that is not the law, only convention. It would theoretically be possible, and seemingly legal, to appoint non-parliamentarians to the Federal Executive Council but that would require that they are also able to have the executive decisions legislated by parliament — hence we are back to the need, first identified over 300 years ago, to have members of parliament, particularly those who can command a majority in (or have the confidence of) the parliament, as advisers (members of the council). For even longer, those advisers have been ministers responsible for the different aspects of government — the departments of State which under our constitution must be created by the Governor-General with the advice of the Federal Executive Council. Our constitution states that all ministers must be members of parliament and all those members of parliament must be ‘directly chosen by the people’. In those ways the system links the council, cabinet, ministers, the elected members and the voters by a combination of law and convention:

  • the Governor-General acts with the advice of the Federal Executive Council — law
  • the role of the Federal Executive Council is fulfilled by the cabinet — convention
  • the cabinet comprises ministers — convention
  • ministers are members of parliament — law
  • members of parliament are directly chosen by the people — law
By the time Australia federated, we already had parties in place but not as we know them today. As we were just taking the first step to become a nation, the parties generally were organised within each state. At the first federal election in 1901 the two major parties were the ‘free-traders’ (officially the Australian Free Trade and Liberal Association) centred in New South Wales and the Protectionist Party centred in Victoria. Although not nationally organised, most candidates across the country did declare themselves as either free-traders or protectionists. And each state, other than Tasmania, had its own labour party. At that first election, 31 protectionists were elected to the House of Representatives, 28 free traders, 14 state labour members, and two independents who later joined the labour party (King O’Malley had been elected in Tasmania as ‘independent labour’ and the other was, in any case, a former member of state labour). A national parliamentary labour party (Labour — it became Labor in 1912) was formed when those elected state labour members first met at the parliament in Melbourne and Chris Watson was elected as the first national leader. The first government, headed by Barton, was a protectionist minority government with Labour support and had to meet a number of Labour demands.

At the next election in 1903, 26 protectionists, 25 free traders and 23 Labour members were elected, which led in 1904 to Labour splitting from the Deakin government and forming the first Labour government. It was short-lived (only four months) but helped lead to the realignment of Australian politics.

Tariffs were the major source of revenue for the early commonwealth governments and even some free-traders supported a limited range of tariffs for that reason. With Labour and protectionists supporting tariffs, by 1906 the free-traders had basically lost the argument and renamed themselves The Anti-socialist Party.

In 1909, Andrew Fisher was leading a Labour government and pursuing a labour program of legislation:
Far more provocative was the Labor proposal for a land tax to break up large estates and promote closer settlement, and the proposal to strengthen the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904. Perhaps the most contentious Labor project was the planned ‘new protection’ referendum to amend the Constitution and give the Commonwealth government the power to tie labour protection to industry protection.

This Labor program was precisely the bonding agent needed to bring all three non-Labor groups in federal parliament — Deakin’s Liberals [formerly protectionists], the Anti–Socialists … and John Forrest’s ‘Corner’ [a WA party] — into coalition.
Those groups merged to form the “Commonwealth Liberal Party’. And that is how it has been for most of the time since, a basic division between Labor and anti-Labor forces.

Rather than finishing this with the traditional TPS ‘What do you think?’, it seems more appropriate, as an information piece, to ask:
Do you have any questions?
We hope you enjoyed Ken’s two-part explanation of the complicated 800 year story that led to the parliamentary system we have (he does apologise for it being so long but suggests that it amounts to only about six words per year!). As Ken invited, we also urge you to express your thoughts on our system and ask questions. Based on the research he undertook, Ken will do his best to answer your questions.

Next week we resume normal transmission with a piece to get us in the mood for the resumption of parliament: ‘Winter winds, wind farms and hot air’ by 2353.

Rate This Post

Current rating: 0.4 / 5 | Rated 13 times

Ad astra

25/07/2015Ken Thank you for the second part of your essay on the Westminster system, which I found so interesting that I did not notice its length. You have shown that while some aspects of the system are set out in the Constitution and the Law, some are conventions. While it might seem that conventions can be changed, and broken, by and large they are honoured. There are exceptions though. Bronwyn Bishop, still so newsworthy to even the pro-Liberal media, has chosen deliberately to flaunt some well-established conventions. Even before she was appointed Speaker, she was a full bottle on the Standing Orders, quoting them often as she sought to upbraid previous Speakers with her frequent ‘Points of Order’. Her breaking of conventions then is not a product of ignorance, but of a wilful intention to do so. I refer to just two: the convention that the Speaker shall be impartial in the conduct of the business of the House, and not be a participant in political party meetings. As of the last sitting of the House, Bishop had ejected over 400 members, 393 being Labor members. Nobody, including the pro-Liberal media, regards that as even-handed, but of course Bishop does. Moreover, she has shown her partisan side overtly by attending party room meetings, and even holding party fund-raising events in her Speaker’s office. The brouhaha about her helicopter ride has focussed on the profligacy of this use of taxpayers’ money rather than on the fact that she was indulging in party politics and involving herself in fundraising, another example of how she defies conventions. Systems of government work properly only when conventions as well as laws are obeyed. Bishop has chosen to endanger the system of government that you describe, not by breaking the law (although it is still to be determined if she has actually done that), but by bringing into disrepute the high office of Speaker of the House of Representatives, which ranks just below the Governor-General and Prime Minister in order of precedence, by brazenly breaking long-established conventions of impartiality. And her leader has become complicit in her actions by declining to discipline her appropriately, preferring to ‘put her on probation’, whatever that means. Sooner or later, those who treat the Westminster system with disdain come to grief. But in the meantime the system suffers, the people become enraged, confidence in the political process is eroded, cynicism escalates, and good government is imperilled. Sadly, this is what it has come to today.


26/07/2015Ad The history of the speakership would have added another thousand words or so to this story. It is an interesting story in its own right as is the role of the 'whip'. In Australia, neither the Speaker nor the Whips have the same status as in the UK. As regards the Speaker, I have read that the Speaker in Australia was never as independent as in the UK and that was largely a result simply of numbers (we did not have enough representatives in the HoR to be too strict about a completely independent Speaker). But as you suggest, we do adopt the British system to the extent that we expect the Speaker to be impartial while in the Chair and not to take part in party politics. But they are only conventions. Some conventions are more important than others. Imagine telling Abbott that if he and Bishop don't like conventions, we can ask the G-G to appoint whomever he likes to the Federal Executive Council - not just members of the Cabinet, not even necessarily members of parliament. Without those sorts of conventions we would be back to a monarchical system. As you say at the end, people are aware of these conventions (even if just from their use in recent times rather than the full history) and become disillusioned when they are ignored. I did have anotehr point to make but after writing this far it has slipped away Hopefully it will come back to me later.

Ad astra

27/07/2015Folks The battlelines are being drawn between the Coalition and its media mouthpiece, the Murdoch press, on the one hand, and Labor and the more balanced and moderate media, on the other. The language from the latter media reads thus: Michelle Grattan in [i]The Conversation[/i] says: [i]“Bill Shorten has emerged from the ALP’s national conference looking more like an alternative prime minister than he did before…The past three days have seen Shorten enhance his position within the party and publicly. The question now is how far he can build on a successful weekend.[/i]” In [i]The Guardian[/i] Lenore Taylor heads her article: “[i]Bill Shorten has used the ALP conference to claw back some authority”[/i], and concludes: [i]”… this year’s Labor conference has shown Shorten may yet be able to shift voters’ perceptions, may really take on Abbott’s sledgehammer approach on carbon pricing, may not be as weak or as easily categorised an easybeat as the Coalition had imagined. Abbott’s confidence may have been premature.”[/i] Writing in [i]The New Daily[/i] Paul Osborne writes: [i]“The ALP national conference has delivered a boost for Bill Shorten and set the policy battleground for the 2016 election.[/i]” Contrast that language with the indignant words of Paul Kelly, writing in his customary pontifical manner in [i]The Weekend Australian[/i] well before the ALP Conference was concluded: “[i]Rather than reform itself because of the Rudd-Gillard experience, Labor has decided it was essentially right. It will ask the Australian public to think again and this time vote down Tony Abbott. “The ALP will prioritize climate change action via higher prices, operate in lock-step with the trade unions, flirt with quasi-protectionist economics, downplay market-based reforms and champion a litany of progressive causes: female equality, same-sex marriage, indigenous recognition and the republic… “It is locked into old politics and mistakes, playing to its loyalists and institutional interests. “Shorten is a weak leader trying to look strong. He is conspicuously devoid of policy strength…Nearly everything he does is about adaptation to Labor power realities, ideological orthodoxies, trade unions, and polling.”[/i] Later on, referring to Shorten’s desire to see ‘more solar panels on Australian rooftops’ and more farmers ’putting wind turbines on their land’, Kelly writes: [i]”It sounds like a joke from a satire program. Sadly it’s not. The party faithful, evidently, think this is terrific. It is the latest example of how far Labor has sunk.”[/i]. There’s much more huffing and puffing to read if you can access that pay-walled paper. In the same edition, Dennis Shanahan echoes Kelly, but is not so strident: “[i]In trying to appease both Left and Right, Bill Shorten can only weaken his party…For too long Labor has avoided hard decisions on its over-reliance on a narrow union base, its internal organization and transparency, the reality of long-term budgetary challenges and the need for real reform.”[/i] Kelly and Shanahan make no secret of their opposition to Labor and by corollary their support for the Abbott Coalition. Even before the ALP Conference was at the halfway mark, even though we are but halfway through the term of Abbott’s government, they have nailed their colours to the mast. Is there a whiff of apprehension, even panic that the success that Shorten had at the Conference as highlighted by the more balanced media, is a real threat to their man Abbott and his incompetent ragtag government? Kelly gives us an amusing example of the message in the words in Matthew 7:5: [i]"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”[/i] Let’s rephrase: [i]“Shorten is a weak leader trying to look strong. He is conspicuously devoid of policy strength…Nearly everything he does is about adaptation to Labor power realities, ideological orthodoxies, trade unions, and polling”[/i] to read: [b]“Abbott is a weak leader trying to look strong. He is conspicuously devoid of policy strength…Nearly everything he does is about adaptation to LNP power realities, ideological orthodoxies, the big end of town, and polling”.[/b] Kelly’s hypocrisy knows no bounds, but perhaps [b]he[/b] can’t see that.


27/07/2015I don't understand why so many are critical of union involvement in the Labor party. After all it was created by the unions and it is meant to represent "labour". Some relaxation of the rules may be warranted (as in some jurisdictions that union membership is mandatory to join the Labor party) but it must retain some links to the unions and always put the workers first - that is its mandate.

Ad astra

27/07/2015Ken Exactly. Unions support Labor because it cares for the labourers, the workers. The Big End of Town supports the LNP because it cares for big business and big businessmen. No surprises there!

Ad astra

27/07/2015Casablanca Finally back home i have had the time to work through your links of last week. Thank you so much for compiling such an informative collection.


28/07/2015ENTITLEMENTS 1. Coalition rules out Labor's proposed changes to political donation reporting Shalailah Medhora Labor proposed reforms, which include real-time reporting of donations, fail to gain support from Coalition despite concerns about current system 2. Tony Abbott now has Bronwyn Bishop in his pocket Mark Kenny Forget about an independent chair. And forget about a system of accountability where the executive arm is subject to the scrutiny of the legislative arm. These were rarely delivered anyway, and right now, they are not even worth pretending about...The Prime Minister has made himself the Speaker by putting the titular holder of that office on notice of dismissal. 3. Federal Opposition 'very concerned' about investigation into Bronwyn Bishop's travel entitlements Eric Tlozek 4. Cloud over Bronwyn Bishop travel rorts probe after sexism claim Rob Harris THE bureaucrat tasked with probing Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s alleged travel rorts is under pressure to remove herself from the investigation over claims of bias. ALP CONFERENCE: MATTERS ARISING 5. We had this weird sense of deja vu when we heard Labor's asylum policy First Dog on the Moon The ALP conference paid no attention to the lessons of history when passing asylum policy last weekend. Why are they so bad at this? 6. The problematic 'saving lives at sea' argument Kerry Murphy When refugee advocates criticise harsh policies such as boat turnbacks, they are confronted with claims that the measures are necessary for saving lives at sea. This justification has dominated the debate to the extent that any policy which further restricts refugee rights becomes justifiable on this ground. Imagine a proposal to ban cars because there were too many people killed and injured on the roads. 7. Some thoughts on compassion Professor Emerita Marian Quartly. Our fears towards asylum seekers are unfounded, but they are enough to sway elections. Psychologists argue that the world is suffering from compassion fatigue – secondary traumatic stress caused by overexposure to suffering. That’s got to be a first world problem! ... The poor worked out long ago that compassion was an emotion enjoyed by the rich. 8. How Labor Right sneaked turnbacks through National Conference Independent Australia To save Bill Shorten's shaky leadership, the Labor Right were successful in getting refugee turnbacks through the ALP National Conference only by capitulating to the Left on a range of other policy measures.,7984 9. ALP conference: Labor's left grapples with reality Paula Matthewson As the Labor left discovered at the party's conference this weekend, it's much easier to advance progressive policies while in a successful government than it is in a barely-trusted opposition. ALP conference: Labor's left grapples with reality 10. Foreign policy and the ALP national conference Mark Beeson Foreign policy occupied a surprisingly prominent and controversial place at the ALP national conference. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the most contentious topic was asylum seeker policy – an issue that invariably serves to remind us that domestic and foreign policy cannot either be neatly compartmentalised, nor insulated, from deeply felt moral concerns within the Labor caucus. 11. Senior Catholic says on Q&A asylum seeker policies are an international disgrace Rob Harris 12. Why Labor Rolls The Left, And Probably Always Will Chris Graham Feeling frustrated by the ALP’s capitulation on key human rights issues at its national conference? You’re either new to politics, or you have a very short memory. 13. Move To Have Labor Oppose Asylum Seeker Turn Backs Fails Max Chalmers After a messy bout, the party has fallen into line with the Abbott government. 14. Labor after the National Conference: Backing turnback Bill Rodney E. Lever Australia's future looks brighter after the ALP National Conference, writes Rodney E. Lever, who defends Bill Shorten following his backflip on boat turnba [...],7990 15. Labor attacks 'unscientific' Abbott Nicole Hasham Tony Abbott claimed the party's ambitious renewable energy goal would cost consumers $60 billion. 16. Malcolm Turnbull says if an emissions trading scheme is a tax so is the renewable energy target Latika Bourke Malcolm Turnbull has spelt out some home truths to his colleagues who claim a carbon trading system is a "tax", saying all measures which reduce emissions cost the taxpayer and could be classed as a tax, including the renewable energy target which the government supports. ENVIRONMENT 17. The Government's inconsistent ethical argument for coal Andrew Hamilton The Federal Government's ethical argument for coal is that it is the most readily available and cheapest resource for generating electricity for the development of poorer countries. The structure of this argument based on our duty to the poor is significant. It assumes that governments, mining companies, banks and the people who invest in them a duty to consider the effects of their actions on people both in their own nations and in other nations. 18. Abbott’s $60 billion cost for Labor’s renewables goal came from ‘back of envelope’ July 27, 2015 9.07pm AEST 19. Malcolm Turnbull undermines Abbott's 'electricity tax scam' claim over ETS Lenore Taylor As the PM ramps up attack on Labor’s promised emissions trading scheme, the communications minister admits all emission reduction policies come at a cost DOMESTIC VIOLENCE 20. Rosie Batty calls former Labor leader “uninformed, ignorant” and “misogynistic” Karen Middleton. Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has fired back at former Labor leader Mark Latham over a recent newspaper column on family violence. Ms Batty said Mr Latham’s view “shames all men” but did not reflect most men’s attitudes. She urged them to speak out.... “Don’t just wait for female journalists to pounce on him,” she said. “Men, step up… If men are responding in an informed way, it is so powerful.” 21. Lean in and die trying. A lesson in how to obscure instead of solve a problem Ralf Wetzel Today’s chauvinists live in difficult times. Waving the flag of equality, women successfully conquered most domains of modern life decades ago, with no regard for the consequences for their poor male counterparts. That’s nothing new. They found ways to adapt, in the worst case by resorting to cynicism. POLICY + PHILOSOPHY 22. The public has an appetite for policy debate. Do politicians? Patricia Karvelas It's far too simplistic to say the 24-hour news cycle has crippled genuine policy reform. So instead of focussing on the negatives, politicians should realise how this new media landscape can be used to progress the debate 23. “There is such confusion in my powers.” Clive Hamilton Here is a definition in search of a term: what do we call a calculated political strategy to confuse the citizenry in order to gain an electoral advantage? For anyone who thinks clearly, and wants to minimize ambiguity in their communication, definitions matter...Paying the government for a permit to be able to engage in a certain activity does not qualify as being taxed. If it were then buying a fishing permit would be paying a tax, perhaps “a great big fish tax”.. BUDGET & REVENUE 24. Hockey needs to redo his growth numbers - pronto Ian Verrender The last budget was built on the assumption that growth would magically rise. But that's looking increasingly unlikely, and Joe Hockey can't bury his head in the sand and ignore this any longer 25. Six simple tax reforms plagued by politics The Conversation Business and community groups are urging the country's leaders to put aside party politics at this week's National Reform Summit and look [...],7973

Ad astra

28/07/2015Folks Tony Abbott must be asking himself how smart it was to ban his frontbenchers from appearing on Q&A after Ron Boswell, now a retired Senator, enlisted as the LNP voice, made a fool of himself last night, as well as the LNP, of which he is a member. Boswell behaved as a foot soldier of the climate denialists and the coal lobby. A frontbencher might have been more discrete and less bull-in-a-china-shop. Boswell’s bloopers were many, but none as foolish as his admission that while he had not read the Pope’s encyclical he disagreed with it, his appraisal being based on a three minute TV clip. Judging from the level of applause during the debate on climate change, I gained the impression that the audience was in favour of renewables and taking serious action on climate change. I believe that climate change and the actions to combat it offered by the two main parties will be a key factor in the 2016 election. Tony Abbott may find that stoking up his 2013 ‘Great Big New Tax’ campaign will no longer resonate with the public, as opinion swings towards strong action on climate change and the use of renewables. Members of the public are voting with their wallets by installing rooftop solar at a rapid rate, many now prepared to pay whatever it takes to contribute to a slowing of global warming. The public mood is changing and leaving Abbott, Hunt and Co. way behind. Soon their scaremongering words will be inaudible. And with Malcolm Turnbull now belling the cat by pointing out that any power source that costs more than cheap dirty coal, be it an ETS, a RET, renewables, or any other measure, including LNP measures, will increase power prices, at least initially. So all measures can be called a ‘tax’ if prices go up. Abbott has not awoken to the fact that increasingly the public is saying: Even if it does cost more, so be it, because something must be done about global warming. Abbott is backing the wrong horse.


28/07/2015Direct current Like your idea for Labor to publish the travel claims. Yes, genuine transparency is the key. I agree that people seem to have overblown the boats turn back issue. All Shorten was arguing was that the ALP platform be left as it is (silent on the issue, which means it is neither ruled in or out - just as Shorten said, an option). The Left was bringing forward a motion that would specifically rule out 'turnbacks' and it was that that was defeated. So the final outcome was actually that the ALP's policy didn't change. But, politically, by leaving that option on the table it reduces Abbott's ability to wedge Labor on the issue. I was listening to someone this morning pointing out that new renewable sources of energy will produce at $80-100 per megawatt hour. Current coal fired stations can produce power as low as $40 per megawatt hour but, as he said, that is because many of them are quite old and capital costs have already been amortised. A new coal-fired power station would also need to charge $80-100 per megawatt hour (not that he expected any new coal-fired power stations). I might add my own view that if they try to build new coal fired power stations with fancy carbon capture tenchology then the cost is likely to be higher. It is the cost of renewable power generation that is coming down, not the cost of new technology coal-fired power stations.

Ad astra

29/07/2015Folks Further to my comment about Abbott backing the wrong horse on climate change, do read the link in Casablanca’s Cache to an article in [i]The Conversation[/i] by Michelle Grattan: [i]Abbott’s $60 billion cost for Labor’s renewables goal came from ‘back of envelope’[/i]: The comments too are fascinating; they almost universally ridicule Abbott (and Boswell) and the LNP approach to climate change. Note too the link to the latest Roy Morgan poll, which looks ugly for Abbott and the LNP: I continue to be impressed with the change in the public’s attitude towards taking strong action on climate change, and its embrace of renewables. I predict the debate on climate change will be a winner for Labor and a calamity for Abbott.


29/07/2015Here's something for our political and cricket fans. It is a review of a film that exposes how neo-liberal economics is destroying cricket. I, for one, will be watching out to see when and where that film might appear. I imagine it will fairly quickly show up on television.


30/07/2015Greetings Comrades First let me say Ken what a splendid wrap of the development of our version of the Westminster System you have done in these last two articles. Reading it feels like putting on my glasses to look at that history of which hitherto I had only the dimmest idea. I know that in Australia the mood around Federation was very much egalitarian, paralleling the development of Australian Rules Football rules. Issues of fairness and respect were fought out with passion. Today we have Abborrtt, and we have the disgrace of racist football crowds not just booing Adam Goodes but insulting him in every way as in "Go back to the Zoo" which when he objects they are all hurt and say This is Political Correctness gone mad! Abborrrtt, and racist crowds at Australian Rules Football matches. Very bad. Anyway: I have not been far away from the keyboard but I have had nothing to say of any interest to anyone. Only on Twitter where I screech a lot about matters of the minute. (Sometimes I say nice things too.)The political landscape has been so universally dreary, yet so outrageous, that I haven't had the heart. We have been progressively so desensitised by the very volume of Abbortt's outrages that it's hard to feel anything but a dull ache where our bright hope under *J*UL*I*A* used to be. One main reason for this feeling has been that Labor under Shorten has seemed as if half asleep, walking obediently with Abborrt with a tie even bluer than his, while every major reform of the Rudd-Gillard years has been being trashed and with very little passion being shown in argument against this Government. We have longed for the Opposition to oppose, to show some fight. Until now, there has been very little evidence of the vituperative tone that Abborrrtt and his thugs inject into every utterance. We need to fight fire with fire. Someone on this very site called Shorten a 'dud' very early on, and to all intents and purposes that is how he has appeared hitherto. I (and I suspect many) have always hoped that there will turn out to be more to the man than we were seeing. Well, I must say it does seem that things have changed in the last few weeks. Some because of Shorten's showing at the ALP conference last week, from which he emerged looking stronger by far than ever before, but some like manna from heaven in the form of a hag in a helicopter - a hag who has been Abborrrtt's most important minion of all, and whose fate is inextricably linked with his, and with their whole corrupt Party. It's a delicious situation. In Chess we call it a Fork, where a choice is available but both options have equally bad outcomes. King Abborrrtt can choose to defend Queen Bishop ( ! ) in which case he loses many pawns and key pieces and his game ends up in tatters, or he can sacrifice her to save them, in which case his game is in tatters ! In ten days they'll be meeting in Canberra. Will Bishop have resigned by then? I do so hope not, because the fireworks will be Spec-TAC-U- Lar my Friends, when she takes the Chair! Picture the scenes: Andrew Wilke (Ind) in the Reps and Clive Palmer in the Senate are both prepared to move against her. Motions of No Confidence, which of course will fail, but be telling too. Day after day demands by Labor on the PM et al for answers re her secret rorts. But the cherry on the top is that she will have to sit through humiliation every minute, target of the Media, and costing Abborrrtt and his mob of loonies vast amounts of support every day. If she goes, who might replace her? (What a disgraceful situation, the Liberal Speaker, ousted for rorting.) If it were a Labor MP she would end up behind bars for her repeated frauds. Does anybody think this will happen to Bronnie? But Comrades, for the first time in a long time, I can really feel it when I yell VENCEREMOS! Cheers.


30/07/2015ON INCREASING FEMALE NUMBERS IN PARLIAMENT + 'UNCONSCIOUS BIAS' 1. Liberal Party Commits To Having 50% Women In Seats Shown On Camera By 2025 The Shovel Tony Abbott says his party is serious about the advancement of women, and has set an ambitious target to have half of all seats shown on TV filled by women within five years. “We are deeply committed to giving the impression that a high proportion of Liberal MPs are women,” Mr Abbott said. 2. Get rid of 'rubbish' question time to boost number of women MPs: Sharman Stone Stephanie Peatling, Judith Ireland A government MP says the aggressive nature of Parliament, including the "rubbish" of question time, is a disincentive to women wanting to enter politics. 3. Australia has gone backwards in political gender gap Julia Gillard. Former prime minister says Australia has slid in global rankings ‘as other nations have gone ahead’ and both major parties need to boost women in their ranks 4. Julia Gillard says 'unconscious bias' against women must be tackled Ruth Liew #CHOPPERGATE; 5. Bronwyn Bishop must show proof she did not misuse travel entitlements to attend wedding, Eric Tlozek Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis was also on the committee and said there was no record of any business in Albury that weekend. "I struggle to think of any reason why the chair of the committee Bronwyn Bishop would be there on committee business," she said. Ms Ellis said Mrs Bishop would have had to ask the committee for permission to travel individually, and that would have been recorded. "Of course we've seen her press conferences, we've seen the ducking and weaving, but what we haven't seen is the black and white proof," she said. "It should exist." 6. 'The Speaker is not resigning': Bronwyn Bishop digs in over expenses scandal Shalailah Medhora Speaker defiant despite facing growing pressure for her resignation over travel claims and looming no-confidence motion when parliament resumes. 7. Labor will disrespect Bronwyn Bishop if she remains Speaker when Parliament resumes.. Eric Tlozek The Federal Opposition says it will show its lack of respect for Bronwyn Bishop if she is still Speaker when Parliament resumes in less than two weeks. 8. Bronwyn Bishop under pressure over expense claim for Mirabella wedding Bridie Jabour Labor calls on the Speaker or Tony Abbott to produce documentation proving that Bishop was in Albury on parliamentary business 9. Why, among so many issues, Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter trip gets our attention Peter West, University of Technology, Sydney To last a long time, issues need to provide a vivid image. The image of a woman dressed up to the nines with a bouffant hairdo riding in a helicopter is a very vivid one. 10. Can Bronwyn Bishop learn anything from the UK expenses scandal? 11. Maria Miller’s downfall shows how personal British politics has become James Newell So, what is the substance of the controversy? What is its significance for Miller and the government? And what does it tell us about the importance of public probity in today’s politics?... In today’s extremely personalised and mediated politics, parties increasingly attempt to compete with each other by throwing mud and attempting to damage each other by fomenting scandal – a phenomenon that Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter have called “politics by other means”. And arising as it did from a complaint by an opposition MP, the Miller affair is a classic example. 12. Bronwyn Bishop under scrutiny over expenses for flight to another wedding Speaker’s spokesman says she met an unnamed academic on official business on the Monday after the wedding of colleague Teresa Gambaro 13. The dog ate Bronwyn Bishop's travel expenses homework – twice Lenore Taylor The Speaker’s position on claims made for private travel is clearly untenable and her colleagues see it. The only question now is whether Tony Abbott does 14. No choppers here: Malcolm Turnbull takes the train to Geelong Tom Cowie How many train fares to Geelong can you get for a $5000 helicopter ride? More than 300 return trips, if you're travelling off peak. 15. Kate Ellis challenges Bronwyn Bishop to prove travel to Sophie Mirabella's wedding was 'official business' James Robertson ASYLUM POLICY 16. Safer pathways for refugees Monday, Jul 27th, 2015 Turning back the boats does not save lives. It simply condemns people to die elsewhere. 17. With all that is wrong with Australia, all we hear about is boats Michael Taylor I truly detest how this country is treating asylum seekers and I detest the policies of both the Coalition and Labor – none of which remotely consider the onshore processing of refugees who arrive or attempt to arrive by boat. 18. The ALP and the asylum seekers John Passant The decision by Labor’s National Conference on Saturday not to ban turning back asylum seeker boats has shocked, outraged and upset many [...],7995 ANTI-DISCRIMINATION + DEMONISATION 19. France wants to outlaw discrimination against the poor.. In France, denying jobs, healthcare or housing to people in poverty is well on the way to becoming illegal. The UK could learn from such a crackdown on demonisation 20. As it happened: Senators Cory Bernardi and Penny Wong debate same-sex marriage Cory Bernardi and Penny Wong have gone head-to-head at the National Press Club in a highly anticipated debate on same-sex marriage. 21. 'Avoid John Lloyd': More public service leakers to hit media after commissioner's comments Phillip Thomson Whistleblowers Australia president Cynthia Kardell says she is telling people who contact her to avoid taking their sensitive disclosures to Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd. It comes after Mr Lloyd launched a failed $9200 investigation into a leaker in his own office. MSM 22. Which newspapers most influence public opinion? Andrew Catsaras There's no doubt newspapers influence public opinion, but by how much? Andrew Catsaras has crunched the data and ranked the "influence index" of Australia's major newspapers. To determine this I've developed the following equation: I = A x T (Influence = audience size x trust quotient). ARTS POLICY 23. Writers and publishers are all at sea under Brandis and the NPEA Stuart Glover George Brandis’ last 12 months as arts minister have turned the nation’s arts funding on its head.... FACT CHECKS 24. FactCheck: is 50% of all income tax in Australia paid by 10% of the working population? Ben Phillips, University of Canberra Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey told the ABC this week that 50% of all income tax in Australia is paid by 10% of the working population. Is that statement supported by the data? 25. FactCheck: has Australia met its climate goals, while other nations make ‘airy-fairy promises’? The difference between Australia and a lot of other countries … is when we make commitments to reduce emissions we keep them. Other countries make all these airy fairy promises, that in the end never come to … anything. – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, July 13, 2015. ENERGY ISSUES 26. Power corrupts How network companies lined their pockets and drove electricity prices through the roof Jess Hill In the past few years, our electricity prices have doubled. While the media has feasted on the likes of pink batts, Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, the astonishing story behind these price hikes has been all but ignored. And yet, it may be one of the greatest rorts in Australia’s history. 27. Norway aims to become the 'green battery of Europe' Climate News Network Ingenious hydraulic engineers in Norway aim to use surplus power from wind and sun [...],7987 OTHER - NES 28. Psychopaths versus sociopaths: what is the difference? Xanthe Mallett, University of New England Psychopaths and sociopaths have similar characteristics, lacking remorse or empathy for others. And they can both be violent, deceitful and manipulative. But what are the differences between the two? Sound like someone you know?...You do know one; at least one. Prevalence rates come in somewhere between 0.2% and 3.3% of the population. 29. Searching for intelligent life in space ... or Canberra Peter Lewis So if we have a public prepared to believe in aliens but not in their leaders, what does this mean for the body politic? 30. Cultural Marxism and our current culture wars: Part 1 Russell Blackford


30/07/2015TT Thanks for your comment and it's good to see you feeling some optimism again. Shorten may not be the 'great orator' but he is managing to hold the party together something which, unfortunately, was not possible while Rudd was white-anting. The party platform is looking pretty good as well and they will need to develop some good, short sharp messages around key elements of it. The Abbott government is self-destructive - in BB's case (and others) by being too greedy and superior by half. And I think people are not missing the hypocrisy in the way Slipper was treated and the way BB is being treated. All in all Shorten doesn't have to do a lot other than put up some reasonable policies and make sure the ALP is united and appears capable of governing and Abbott and his ilk will do the rest.


30/07/2015BREAKING NEWS: BUT TOO LITTLE TOO LATE. Bronwyn Bishop apologises, says she will repay all money spent on weddings but won't stand down as Speaker Anna Henderson 30 July, 2015. Updated 19 minutes ago Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has delivered an apology to the Australian public over her travel expenses claims, but says she will not bow to pressure to resign...This morning, she said would repay all the money she spent attending weddings even though she maintained it was within the rules.


30/07/2015MORE BREAKING NEWS: GOOD CHOICE Nick McKim confirmed as Senate successor to former Greens leader Christine Milne Stephen Smiley 15 minutes ago Tasmanian Greens MP Nick McKim has been confirmed as Christine Milne's Senate successor in Hobart.


1/08/2015I am just adding a few more comments clarifying aspects of this piece. It is important that our Constitution places the parliament above the executive. That is a reflection of the fact that the executive cannot act without having its legislation passed. And we do express concern when too many powers are granted to ministers that bypass either the courts or the parliament. (The outcry when it was first proposed that people could lose their citizenship merely by a decision of a minister.) Look at America where the President has full executive power within a system of checks and balances. We know US Presidents can sometimes have trouble getting their legislation passed and they can also veto legislation that is passed by the Congress — that doesn’t happen under the Westminster system, although the G-G does have a ‘reserve’ power to “question” legislation before he signs it into law but whether that includes actually rejecting a piece of legislation has never been tested in our 114 years of federation. It is the Governor-General who determines when an election is held and that right is his/hers alone — not with the advice of the Federal Executive Council. The G-G is obviously required to act when a parliament is nearing the end if its term or when a double dissolution is requested (because legislation has been rejected which can be taken as an indication that the government is unable to govern). But if a prime minister requests an election merely to take advantage of a favourable electoral position, the G-G does not have to grant it — without good reason. When Gillard went slightly early after ousting Rudd, I have no doubt she was able to argue that she was seeking an electoral mandate for her prime ministership — although it was also nearing the end of the parliamentary term and was probably only a few months earlier than the election might otherwise have been. Unless there are High Court decisions to the contrary (which I did not have time to check) there appears no legal reason why non-parliamentarians cannot be appointed to the Federal Executive Council. The G-G could appoint, or a PM could even recommend, a small number of ‘experts’ to help council deliberations. The main aspect that works against that is the concept that parliament is above the executive, implied by the placement that way in the constitution. Giving the council the right to deliberate on matters would reduce the power of parliament as the centre for deliberation and debate and deliberations taking place there would be less transparent (just as Cabinet is already). And there would also be the argument that persons not elected by the people are involved in making executive decisions (as in America). That would seem to be one of the bases of the Westminster system: while we retain a non-elected executive (the monarch or G-G), we have a system where effective executive power rests with people who have been elected. The American executive is elected but, as mentioned in my comment to Part 1, that leads to tension and one elected person being over-ruled by, or over-ruling, another elected group of people. In that regard the debate to be had is about ‘checks and balances’ and ‘stable government’: whether our system needs more checks and balances to counter the power of the executive (the cabinet) or whether that would lead to less stable government, and whether our strict party system undermines the checks and balances we do have.


1/08/2015Just testing whether a new gravatar on a different e-mail account is showing up as yet. If not I'll be back later.

Ad astra

1/08/2015Casablanca What an interesting collection of links you have offered us, all interesting and informative. The article in [i]The Monthly[/i] starkly shows what a bunch of exploiters are the transmission companies. The increase in costs they have inflicted on us make the 'carbon tax' look quite minor compared with the passed-on cost of unnecessary poles and wires. How many people realise how grossly they are being ripped off? Do they know that the carbon tax resulted in such a minor increase in costs - just 5%?

Ad astra

1/08/2015TT How good to see you back and firing! As you will see when you read 2353's next piece that will appear tomorrow at 6.30 pm, Abbott is backing the wrong horse in many political races, and is looking more and more like a loser. Morgan has the TPP at 54/46 this week. If there is a Newspoll next week, I wonder what it will show? We shout with you: VENCEREMOS!!!

Ad astra

2/08/2015Folks The Bronwyn Bishop saga gathers even more momentum. Now that the Murdoch press has taken up the pursuit with 'Driving Miss Bronny' mock-ups of Tony chauffeuring Ms Bishop in several of its papers, the end for her must be nigh. But knowing her stubbornness and arrogance and Tony's subservience to his political 'mother', don't be surprised if she's still in place when the House of Representatives resumes on August 10. The longer she stays, the worse it is for her, and for Abbott and his ministers, who cannot get clear air for important announcements. It was the only question journalists asked of Joe Hockey after he made an announcement on the membership of the 'Takeovers Panel' last week. Abbott is in real trouble, but does he know it?
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?