Former two-time Labor Premier of Tasmania Michael Field speaks here ( see below for details of the Samuel Griffith Society conference I’m attending in Hobart ) about hung parliaments – of which Tasmania with its system of proportional representation has had more experience than other Australian parliaments.
On the way through he makes a valid point about Andrew Wilkie and his stand for poker machine reform. He referred to Wilkie’s position that he would withdraw support from the Gillard government if the reform legislation does not pass – as a result of not getting support from the other independents. But Gillard cannot be held responsible for Windsor and Oakshott. The Wilkie position would probably be unique in Australian hung parliaments: even if the government votes for my legislation, says Wilkie, I will still pull out my support if, through no fault of Gillard and her troops, it fails.
This is unfair and illogical, an abuse of the power a hung parliament confers. You cannot say that if your legislation fails – even if the government supports it – you will bring that government down. This is petulant and egotistical to an extreme degree. It is blackmail, says Field.
Rounding back to the unhappy Tasmanian experience one member of the audience asks the tough question: why not do away with the Hare-Clark system that is unique to the state and give it single member constituencies with preferential voting? Michael replies by referring to the diversity of modern society etc.
He doesn’t convince me.
I think Tasmania needs a burst of majority government.
Among the Federalists: a Weekend in Hobart
August 27, 2011
by Bob Carr
No soft sand running at Maroubra this weekend, or reading the Russians. I am in Hobart attending a conference of the Samuel Griffith Society, named after Australia’s first chief justice. Strange? Let me report as it goes.
Right now listening to Paul Pirani, a legal officer of the Australian Electoral Commission. I am reminded of how superior Australia’s system is from that of a comparable federal democracy, that of the USA. On these enlightened shores an independent body over which the relevant minister has no control supervises elections. Not so in America where a state cabinet member – that is, either a Democrat or Republican – will make decisions about allocation of voting machines or validity of ballot papers. Here in Australia
these decisions are the responsibility of an independent commission.
Even more important is the redistribution process, or reapportionment as it is called in the US. Every 10 years, armed with the latest census data, it is the state legislatures which determine the boundaries for House of Representative, or Congressional, districts. So there are partisan squabbles on the floor of state legislatures as politicians draw federal boundaries. That is, Democrat and Republican politicians draw the boundaries. They have been making seats safer for their federal colleagues. Fewer contestable seats, less need to appeal to the centre, more need to appeal your own base.
In Australia you don’t have state MPs draw federal boundaries.Instead the process is run by the Australian Electoral Commission with transparency and independence. Arms length from government.
The most useful democratization of the US electoral system would be a replication there of our own commission. And wrenching the right to draw Congressional boundaries off state legislatures.
Former Treasury secretary John Stone has just risen to say that my comments along these lines are irrelevant. What matters is the possibility of fraud here in Australia. In replying to this staple argument of the far-right, Pirani points out that interestingly the 2010 federal election which produced a hung parliament produced no close results. There is, in addition, no evidence of fraud.
The Australian electoral system is one of our nation’s proudest attainments.
Now Professor James Allan is slamming Australian High Court activism on electoral laws. The court is not interpreting the law but stating its own preference in respect of prisoner voting rights and other matters. Very amusing. He is one of my mob – an opponent of imposing a charter of rights and more judge-made law on Australian parliamentary democracy.
James Allan refers to the game-playing, second-guessing, supervisory role that judges assert for themselves when they move into activist mode.
One judge at this forum – not one of the two High Court members who is present – told me he is an opponent of a charter of rights precisely because he knows what judges would do. What they would get up to.
Charter of Rights: A Matter of Fashion
August 27, 2011
by Bob Carr
This is the view of Dr Margaret Kelly of Macquarie University speaking at the Samuel Griffith Society conference ( see below ). Her focus is the Victorian Charter of Rights which the Liberal government has the opportunity to repeal.
There is a review of the charter currently taking place.
I agree with her remark about fashion. I also think the tide is running against judge-made law through charters. Apart from plucky little Tasmania no other state is remotely interested in striking out in this direction. Federal Labor came down against a charter even when Father Brennan’s inquiry recommended one.
I spoke to one former Victorian public servant here, a former Labor adviser, who told me of the waste of resources involved as Victorian public servants exhaustively seek to satisfy the process of establishing compatibility with the charter. “Better if the resources went into increased child protection,” was her view.
Here’s an observation from me on this: we were told by Geoffrey Robertson and others that rights in Australia were insufficiently protected compared with those in the UK which is covered by the European charter. Our police, argued Robertson, are not being educated in human rights as they are under the much more enlightened human rights regime in the UK.
I wonder how much of this stacks up after recent revelations about UK policing?
If any of the abuses that preceded the riots in the UK had occurred in Australia Robertson and others would have been saying they were proof positive of the need for Australia to get itself a charter quick smart.
If Australia had experienced riots like those of the UK then you can bet that Michael Kirby would have argued they showed the need for a charter to elevate social and economic rights. But they occurred in a jurisdiction covered by what Michael Kirby has argued is an exemplary charter of rights.
The Victorian government could peel their charter off the statute books without any serious criticism given the skepticism about a charter – even outright opposition – that resides in the ALP, even in Victoria.