Doctor and activist

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Category: Direct Democracy

FB Post to School Students 4 Climate

17 November 2023

School students had a strike today and marched to Tanya Plibersek’s office to demand more action on climate.  I posted this to their Facebook page ‘School Students 4 Climate’

I note your slogan ‘Take back the power’. This is good and very important.. While 2 political parties can both be bought by vested interests we will never have the power. The Swiss constitution has citizens able to get a petition and overturn any government decision at quarterly referenda. They have 3 levels of government like us, but any level can be overturned. Politicians are part-time and limited to 2 terms so they cannot climb at party hierarchy, and they keep their original jobs while they are in Parliament and go back to them when their term expires. They also have a number of political parties so the government never has an absolute majority and has to debate and negotiate over every bill. The Swiss model was suggested in 1898, but Aust. went with the US/UK model. The Swiss model gives power to the people. We should work towards it as a better model. When Winston Churchill wrote the German constitution after WW2 he made certain that no single political party could ever have an absolute majority. Look at how polarised the US and UK are and we are going the same way. We must get power back to the people, not the political parties. To get the power back we need a change to the Australian Constitution. It is a long-term project. Can the schoolkids do it?

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Labor and Liberals Unite to Continue Opacity and Pork-Barrelling

25 May 2023

Labor has opposed a Teal move to have infrastructure proposals publically available. The lack of transparency has allowed the pork-barrelling that was rife in the Liberal administration, but it has also continued under Labor.

One would have hoped that Labor would support the move, as most of the Labor electorates, being less well-off are more likely to justify more spending.  But they have teamed up with the Liberals to defeat the move.  Very disappointing.  Labor seems happy  just to clear the Liberals very low bar.

Dutton and PM unite to block teal demands


Chief political correspondent SMH 25 May 2023

A bid to tighten safeguards on major road and rail projects has been blocked in federal parliament after Labor and the Coalition joined forces against moves by teal independents to reveal more about the $120 billion cost.

Calling for more scrutiny of the mammoth spending, the independent MPs sought changes to stamp out pork barrelling and force governments to reveal the costs and benefits of new proposals before sinking taxpayer funds into the projects.

But their bid was lost when the major parties used their numbers to defeat the moves, which included an amendment copied from a proposal from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese when he was in opposition nine years ago.

The debate heightened tensions between Labor and the crossbench over integrity in government and the priority for vast projects including the rail line to the Western Sydney Airport, the Melbourne Airport Rail, the Inland Rail and competing road-building proposals in every state.

Independent MP Allegra Spender wanted the government to accept changes that would prevent the peak agency for big projects, Infrastructure Australia, approving proposals that could not show the benefits outweighed the cost.

‘‘This is, you would think, an uncontroversial amendment, one which simply requires public money be used prudently and one which was previously proposed by the Prime Minister himself,’’ Spender said.

‘‘It is only controversial because it takes away the power of the government to make investment decisions which are positive politically but negative economically.’’

Another amendment put to parliament yesterday would require Infrastructure Australia to release its regular audits of the priority list so the public could learn more about costs and benefits of projects.

Spender gained support from Greens leader Adam Bandt and his fellow MPs as well as all other crossbenchers in the lower house

But the amendments were defeated when Infrastructure Minister Catherine King gained Coalition support, sending a signal that the government would also have the numbers in the Senate to defeat any similar amendments. The government passed its draft law in its original form.

King defended the decision to reject the amendments because some information was too sensitive to be released.

Coalition infrastructure spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie wanted an amendment to increase rural representation at the peak agency but did not support the push from the teals.

‘‘Other proposals would have increased costs, decreased investment, and reduced the ability of governments to initiate projects – which is surely fundamental to a democracy,’’ she said.

Kylea Tink, the member for North Sydney, warned that defeating the amendments would mean the Labor government was ‘‘no less likely’’ than the Coalition to engage in pork-barrelling.

Dai Le, who represents Fowler in western Sydney, said voters should not be surprised that Labor promised greater transparency before the election but voted against it after gaining power.

‘‘The two parties are the same – they go to an election, make a promise to make a change, and when they’re in government they don’t do it. They keep the status quo,’’ she said. ‘‘As a result of that, our society, our communities, pay the price for the lack of infrastructure planning.’’

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NSW Election Epilogue

I April 2023

The NSW election is over, with the result we largely expected, Labor victory, but not enough for an absolute majority.  I had hoped that they would get fewer seats so as to have more discipline from the cross bench, but they took a small target strategy and promised no privatisation and some key wage rises, so Minns did quite well.  It remains to be seen if Labor has shed the fundamental dishonesty of the Obeid era and the long history of being captured by property developers and the gambling industry.  Minns weak policy on the latter is cause for concern- the public are ready for serious action on the harms of gambling, but the chance may be squandered by Minns. The Australian  gambling lobby are our equivalent of the US gun lobby.  If Minns simply increases their taxes, it will merely increase the State’s dependence on gambling revenue and lessen the possibility of future reform.

The key structural problem of Australia’s finances remains that the States are responsible for providing the majority of services, but the Commonwealth collects the taxes and solves its own budget problems by not giving the States the money that they need, so States budgets are cobbled together with stamp duties, gambling taxes, and ‘dividends’ from State-owned enterprises like Sydney Water that have to get a profit and pay it to the government, (which boils down to water rates having a tax component).

Allegra Spender, the Federal Independent for Wentworth in Sydney’s affluent Eastern Suburbs, held a Tax Summit on 31 March as she correctly recognises that we need to address tax revenue as the Federal government seems paralysed even to get minor reforms to superannuation on people with over $3million, or cancel the silly Stage 3 tax cuts which were merely a Morrison promise to stave off election defeat, and then matched by Labor in a silly ‘race to the bottom’ for taxes, government revenue (and  services).   Meanwhile there is a housing crisis, caused by negative gearing pushing property prices up, then landlords trying to get a return as interest rates rise.  The fact that reforms on issue like this have stalled shows the extent to which the Liberals are rule from the grave by making silly promises, wedging Labor to promise to match them, then criticising ‘broken election promises’ when Labor tries to act.  Federal Labor, who lost the unlosable 2019 election to Morrison’s scare tactics are as spooked as rabbits in the headlight.  Hence the importance of Spender’s Summit.

Perrottet spruiked his government’s credentials as builders of infrastructure, though his concept of ‘recycled assets’ seemed to be borrowing using the government’s credit rating to build underground freeways to give to the private sector, so we can all drive cars and pay tolls to monopoly suppliers for years.  The whole scheme was conceptually flawed.  The money should have been used for a good underground Metro system. Now Minns want to cap tolls for citizens, which really mean just the government endless paying the monopoly companies they have given the freeways to.

Perrottet seems to have lessened what could have been a rout by drawing attention to infrastructure as if it is a long-term good no matter what it costs and no matter what sort it is. He also tapped into the gambling issue, which Minns was weak on, but did not seem to press this advantage fully. One Liberal I spoke to was very critical of Perrottet for this policy and said that it did not have widespread support among the Liberal Right. Perhaps this was why Minns was not pursued more energetically.  The general atmosphere of decadence, corruption, tiredness and the inability even to preselect candidates until the last minute seems to have less attention than might have been expected. The swing against the Liberals was 5%, but the Nationals only 0.9%.

Minns small target policy with wage increases for essential service workers, ceasing privatisations, particularly Sydney Water  and subsidies to residents for tolls seem to have helped him.  But the swing to Labor was only 3.8% while the swing away from parties to Independents was almost as large, 3.5%.

In terms of the overall percentages, using ABC News figures available today with 79% counted,  the Liberals got 27% and Nationals 8.7% for a total Coalition of 35.7%, Labor got 37.1% and the Greens 9.4% (down 0.2%).  The Shooters Farmers and Fishers got 1.5% (down 1.9), but it must be noted that two of their lower house MPs Philip Donato in Orange and Helen Dalton in Murray, left the party and were re-elected as Independents.  One Nation at 1.8% increased slightly, 0.7%.  

The major parties, the Coalition and Labor together polled 72.8% of the vote yet got 81/95 seats – 85%.  The current preferential voting system always favours the major parties and optional preferential worsens this effective gerrymander.

There are a number of seats where the optional preferential system has resulted in a major party winning when it would not have done so if preferences were compulsory.  It is because the smaller parties exhaust and the candidate with the larger primary vote wins.  In the Willoughby by-election when Gladys Berejeklian resigned a little-known Independent, Larissa Penn, would have won on preferences if the exhausted votes followed the pattern of the ones that did not exhaust.  That would have made a big difference to the minority government.  It will be interesting to analyse this whole election.  It might be noted that NSW is the only State with this inequitable system, which was introduced by Neville Wran in 1980 in reforms which otherwise allowed redistributions for equity in the size of electorates  (The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, Parliamentary Electorates and Elections (Amendment) Bill- Act 39 of 1979).

Anthony Green’s blog notes that historically the Liberals have done better than Labor under optional preferential voting, but that Independents have surprisingly done even better.  But when the Independents have won, it has often been in safe Liberal seats.  Currently with the Greens and the majority of smaller parties favouring Labor they may be willing to contemplate returning compulsory preferential voting to NSW.

The other important feature of this election was the Teals, the name the media gave to relatively conservative independents who wanted to do more for the environment and integrity in Parliament.    I have to confess to an interest here as I helped my local Teal, Victoria Davidson.  The Teals won 6 seats in the Federal Election in 2022, all with women in relatively safe Liberal seats.  It was taken to mean that the Liberals had moved too far to the Right, had moved away from a reasonable climate policy, and had not preselected enough women. 

A number of Teals ran in the November Victorian election without success.  This may have been because the Liberals in Victoria ran a very negative campaign that made the main issue the harm done to Victoria by the COVID lockdown mandated by Premier Daniel Andrews.  The election turned into a referendum of Dan Andrews’ leadership, in which he triumphed and the Teals did not take seats from the fading Liberals. It was generally assumed in the major media that the Teals would similarly fall short in NSW, particularly due to optional preferential voting.

In my Teal seat of Lane Cove, the candidate had been selected by a group that derived from the Voices of North Sydney, group pf experts who had tried to influence town planning and been heard politely and ignored by Councils. So a sub-group decided to find, select and help people who had not previously been active in politics to stand as their Independents.  This was similar to the genesis of other Teal candidates.   There was considerable energy remaining after the success of Kylea Tink in the seat of North Sydney and this spawned the candidatures of Victoria Davidson in Lane Cove and Helen Conway in North Shore. Larissa Penn, buoyed by her near-success in the by-election stood, but was not considered a Teal.

The key feature of these campaigns that did not get much a run in the major media was the degree of enthusiasm and organisation that they generated.  Victoria Davidson had 250 volunteers and door-knocked over 6000 households. A large number of homes displaying corflutes and a new publicity technique of  waving corflutes at suburban intersections helped name recognition to be built quickly and with the low budget imposed by the NSW legislation. The Liberals could not hope to match the number and energy of the Independent campaigns. What they did was claim that Simon Holmes a Court was funding it all and the Independents were either crook or dupes. They used the incumbents electoral and postage allowance at the last moment they were allowed to, just before the polls were declared, and they put up many signs saying the ‘You only have to Vote 1’, which looked like electoral messages, though they had a small Liberal logo in the bottom corner. 

The major media merely noted that no Teals were elected and went on about the progressive count to see if Labor could get an absolute majority.  Ross Gittins in the SMH of 29 March however commented that it was ‘Voting out our political duopoly’. He recognised what many commentators have not, that a large chunk of the population have lost faith in the major political parties, which is why so many volunteers can be found for Teals and other Independents in upper middle class electorates.  The figures in the 3 State seats which are part of the North Sydney Federal electorate are illustrative.  The Liberals won all three.

Sarah GriffinLabor19.7
Edmund McGrathGreens7.51
Larissa PennIndependent27.15
Michael WantSustainable Aust.1.73
Tim JamesLiberal43.91
Lane Cove
Victoria DavidsonIndependent20.88
Anthony RobertsLiberal45.43
Penny PedersenLabor23.68
Heather ArmstrongGreens7.85
Ben WiseSustainable Aust.2.16
North  Shore
Michael AntaresIMOP1.61
Helen ConwayIndependent22.48
Geoff SanterLabor16.8
Lachlan ComminsSustainable Aust.1.78
James MullanGreens10.53
Felicity WilsonLiberal44.66
Victoria WalkerIndependent2.14

 As can be seen, the combined primary vote of the Independent, Labor and the Greens can be compared with the Liberal primary votes as follows:

Willoughby (27.51 + 19.7 + 7.51) = 54.71 v. Liberals 43.91

Lane Cove (20.88 + 23.68 + 7.85) = 52.41 v Liberals 45.43

North Shore (22.48 + 16.8 + 10.53) = 49.81 v Liberals 44.66

It might be noted that in Willoughby and Lane Cove there were quite enough preferences to have changed the results, and in North Shore it may have needed the small parties and the other Independent, but preferences that did not exhaust could easily have changed that result also. 

It is important that the Independents and Greens try to influence the Minns government to improve the voting system by introducing compulsory preferential voting in NSW.

The idea that a political duopoly is needed for stability in government is complete nonsense. The NZ electoral system was changed to ‘top up’ Parliamentary seats so that any party that gets over 4% of the vote gets extra seats so that the percentage of seats reflects as accurately as possible the percentage of votes that they got.  The German parliament has a system where no party can get an absolute majority, so there is a period of negotiation after each election as coalitions are put together.  The German constitution was deliberately written by Winston Churchill so that a single party could never get an absolute majority and Hitler could never rise again.

The Swiss government has 3 levels, similar to ours, and tries to make decisions at the lowest level possible (unlike Australia).  They also have their politicians part-time and limited to 2 terms so that they retain good connections with the ordinary people and their superannuation is to return to their pre-Parliament job. They have a number of parties and the Parliament’s decisions can be overturned by a plebiscite with vote held every 3 months. 

There are plenty of alternatives to the duopoly system that is not working very well in Australia, the US or the UK, and the success of the Teals and Independents suggest that there is a nascent move for change in Australia.  The alternatives need to be publicised so a serious discussion can begin. 

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Liberals Still Need 20 State Election Candidates:  Incredible arrogance from Headless Chooks!

25 February 2023

It is mind boggling that 4 weeks out from the NSW State election the Liberals still have not selected candidates in 20 seats.  There are 93 lower house seats in the State.

The idea that a candidate comes from his/her electorate, knows it and is trusted by it seems a distant memory, perhaps a dream.  From the tiny numbers left in the major parties, a candidate will be selected by the factions, presumably depending on Party loyalty and their not having rocked the boat.  The voters are supposed to be pathetically grateful and vote them in with a rousing cheer about ‘stable’, (i.e. win every parliamentary vote) government.

Let us hope that the Teals change this script.

Liberals still need 20 candidates a month before poll

Alexandra Smith, Tom Rabe  SMH 25/2/23

The Liberal Party is scrambling to finalise candidates to run in almost 20 seats across NSW just a month out from the state election, including in the independent-held electorate of Kiama.

While Labor has a handful of electorates without a candidate, among the many seats the Liberals are yet to fill is the one held by former government minister-turned independent Gareth Ward.

Ward, a long-time powerbroker in his area, was suspended from the parliament and the Liberal Party after he was charged with sexual assault. He has denied any wrongdoing and remains before the court, where the matter is scheduled to be heard after the election. Ward is recontesting his seat.

The NSW division of the Liberal Party came under fire during the federal election campaign for delays in selecting candidates.

Premier Dominic Perrottet vowed that he would not allow similar delays to plague his campaign, but the party has struggled to find suitable candidates for many seats.

Labor wants to finish pre-selections for all 93 lower house seats by Monday, ahead of nominations closing on March 8. The Liberals, however, are yet to field candidates in a host of seats, including Auburn, Bankstown, Granville, Port Stephens, Rockdale, Strathfield, Wyong and Blue Mountains.

The Liberals hope to finalise some seats this weekend but will still have more than a dozen outstanding. Their Coalition partners, the Nationals, have had all candidates in place for some time.

Meanwhile, NSW Labor leader Chris Minns is backing a push to run former state cabinet minister Steve Whan in the southern electorate of Monaro, held by the Nationals.

Whan, who held Monaro from 2003 until Labor lost in a landslide in 2011, is seen by the party as its best chance to win the seat following former NRL Canberra Raiders player Terry Campese’s shock withdrawal as the ALP candidate. Campese quit after it emerged that he had attended a risque party while scantily clad.

The Nationals had identified Monaro, once held by former deputy premier John Barilaro, as one of its most at risk seats when Campese was running, and Labor is desperate to win it.

A captain’s pick is also likely in the safe Labor seat of Fairfield, as federal energy minister Chris Bowen moves to install his preferred candidate, former Australian Federal Police agent David Saliba.

A senior Labor source confirmed Whan and Saliba ‘‘both enjoy the support of Minns’’.

Asked when the Liberals would announce a candidate for Kiama, Perrottet said it was a matter for the party and refused to rule out preferencing Ward.

‘‘There’s obviously 93 seats to fill, so my expectation is as soon as possible,’’ Perrottet said. ‘‘I don’t set those arrangements, that’s a matter for the organisation. Obviously, the Liberals intend on running in all the seats that we have in the past.’’ He said both parties were working through their preselection processes and pointed out that the Labor Party had not yet selected a candidate to contest his electorate.

‘‘I am the member for Epping, Labor doesn’t have a candidate in Epping,’’ he said.

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Flaws in Constitutions

3 January 2023

The US Constitution has many flaws. The most conspicuous being the ‘right to bear arms’ which is taken as the right for every citizen to carry guns around the place, with predictable consequences. There is also state controlled voting rights, which get fiddled and the right of elected governments to draw the electoral boundaries, a sure-fire recipe for dodgy electoral system.  It seems the US Supreme Court has managed to give itself a privileged position and now precedent cements this.

Of course the major problem is that the US Constitution  was made to be almost impossible to change so all these flaws are perpetuated, the latest problem being that Presidents can appoint Supreme Court judges for life and these judges now override the legislatures by saying the law is against the Constitution, as in the case of abortion.

How the US will fix this is not of academic interest. The Australian Constitution was not some document of all wisdom for all time; it was made with the overriding imperative to get the 6 colonies into one country.  All the power except marriage, tax and foreign policy was given to the States.  Looking at how Australia works in practice, one would not even guess this. We have uniform laws only because the state Ministers work out ‘template legislation’ and all State Parliaments pass it unamended.  About a third of all State legislation and certainly the most important stuff it this, with the States Parliaments serving as very expensive rubber stamps.

Now we have major constitutional changes suggested, a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal people and removing the English monarch of head of State and creation of a Republic.

It would be better if there were some other changes also.  My favourite would be to move towards proportional representation and to allow citizens referenda to override Parliaments, and to limit the terms of Parliament so that political party hierarchies could not have such significance. This would be a move to more of Swiss-style constitution, as was suggested but discarded as it was not Anglo in 1899 at the Constitutional discussions then. The German constitution, which was written by Winston Churchill to ensure that no single party could ever have a majority, or even the changes in the NZ voting system which made it unlikely could, also be considered.  We have to recognise that we have the same problem as the USA, a fossilised constitution that needs significant change. It is ridiculous that we do not have the confidence even to talk about this. Change is not easy, but that is hardly the point.  Are we inferior to our great- or great-great-grandfathers that we cannot plan our future?   

US Constitution’s flaws on show

Nick Bryant SMH Columnist, 3 January 2023

A plan by the probable next US House Speaker to read the Constitution aloud could have unforeseen consequences.

For more than a quarter of a century, American politics has doubled as a civics lesson from hell. The Clinton years introduced us to the impeachment process, something not witnessed since the mid-19th century. The disputed 2000 election reminded us of the vagaries of the Electoral College and revealed how the Supreme Court could intervene to determine the outcome of a presidential election – who knew? The January 6 hearings, which culminated in the first-ever referral of a former president to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, served both as a primetime crime drama and a tutorial in constitutional law.

To mark the opening of the 118th Congress today, the Republican Party intends to conduct its own teachable moment. If he wins the House Speakership – a contest that looks like it will provide a lesson in the chaotic state of the modern-day GOP – the Republican leader Kevin McCarthy intends to read in its entirety the US Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives.

This ritual will border on the liturgical. The Constitution, despite Donald Trump’s recent threat to terminate it, has taken on a near Biblical status. Its framers are regarded as patron saints. Yet Americans who listen in may well be shocked to hear these portions of scripture take on a different meaning when placed in their rightful context.

No passage has been more misappropriated than the Second Amendment, which notes that ‘‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’’. As people will hear, however, the primary focus of the founding fathers was the creation of a ‘‘well-regulated militia’’ rather than the firearms they would carry. The intention was to guard against a standing army, which in post-revolutionary America was seen as a tyrannical throwback to the days of British rule.

For almost 200 years, then, the Second Amendment was often referred to as the ‘‘lost amendment’’ because in an America that ended up creating a professional fighting force, the US military, it was considered obsolete. Not until 2008, following a decades-long propaganda campaign by the National Rifle Association to twist and falsify its meaning, did the conservative-leaning Supreme Court make the Second Amendment the constitutional basis for individual gun ownership.

Those who listen in might be surprised to hear how little the Constitution says about the Supreme Court, despite its omnipresence in modern politics. Nowhere does it state that the court should be the final arbiter of whether laws passed by Congress are legal. Judicial review, the ability to declare an act of Congress or presidential executive action unconstitutional, is a power that the Supreme Court granted itself in the early 19th century.

The irony is that the court’s hardline conservative justices are driven by a philosophy of jurisprudence known as originalism, which determines controversial rulings, such as the overturning of Roe v Wade, based on their interpretation of the original intent of the Constitution. Yet the founding fathers never intended the Supreme Court to hold such sway. ‘‘The judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power,’’ wrote Alexander Hamilton. Thus this right-wing philosophy falls at the first historical hurdle. Originalism is the enemy of originalism.

Defenders of American democracy may also be disappointed by what they hear, for nowhere in the Constitution is there a positive assertion of the right to vote. The original intent of the founding fathers was that only white men of property should be enfranchised, although they left it for the states to decide.

Over the years, as the electorate expanded, voting rights came to be framed in a negative way. The 15th Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 after the Civil War, stated voting rights ‘‘shall not be denied’’ on account of ‘‘race, colour, or previous condition of servitude’’.

In the 1930s, the 19th Amendment finally decreed that women ‘‘shall not be denied’’ the vote. But voting has sometimes been called ‘‘the missing right’’ because the Constitution does not explicitly and positively spell it out.

‘‘We the People,’’ the rousing words in the preamble of the Constitution, were certainly never intended as a statement of great participatory or populist intent. Indeed, the whole point of the Constitution was to guard against the tyranny of the majority and what its aristocratic authors called an ‘‘excess of democracy’’.

Following the American Revolution, the Constitution was designed to be a counterrevolutionary text; what the Harvard historian Jill Lepore has called ‘‘a check on the revolution, a halt to its radicalism’’. Maybe that explains why Kevin McCarthy is so keen to read it out. The Republicans are a minority party increasingly reliant on the founding fathers’ minoritarian model of democracy.

They have lost the nationwide vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections, but the Electoral College gives them a shot at the White House. The power granted by the framers to small states, which were allotted just as many senators as the most populous states, artificially inflates the Republican Party’s influence in the Senate. The original decision to allow states to determine voting qualifications has enabled Republican-controlled state legislatures to suppress the vote.

Hopefully, the reading of the Constitution will remind citizens of its flaws and how this American gospel is in desperate need of revision. But therein lies the constitutional catch-22. The founding fathers made it fiendishly difficult to amend.

Dr Nick Bryant is the author of When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present. Peter Hartcher is on leave.

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Morrison’s Minister for Everything’ Antics show Constitution is deficient

27 November 2022

When Prime Minister Morrison gave himself 5 ministries without even bothering to tell the ministers who he was over-riding, the Governor-General merely allowed him to do so.

Whether this was due to the fuss that was made when Kerr dismissed Whitlam and the upshot is that Governors-General believe that they have no right to countermand Prime Ministers I am unsure. Perhaps G-G David Hurley thought this; perhaps he wanted the PM’s support for his $18million ‘leadership’ scheme , or perhaps being military, he did not rock the hierarchical boat.

But some of us assumed that the Governor-General is head of State in order to stop political antics which are not in the interest of the Australian people. Naturally all the possible types of antics are not defined, nor presumably can anyone craft a law which bans any possible eventuality.

One is reminded of the aging President Hindenburg, who after the Reichstag fire made Hitler Chancellor and put out the Reichstag Fire Decree which Hitler used to suppress his opponents and get absolute power, even though Hitler did not have a clear majority on the floor of the Reichstag. The fire created an ‘emergency’ which was blamed on the Communists, but it is quite possible that the Nazis did it to create a crisis and enable them to take extra-judicial actions.

It is quite simply not acceptable to have a Prime Minster able to over-ride the Cabinet and take whatever powers he likes. The fact that Morrison only used this to stop a fracking project in the NT that he knew would be unpopular with the elections coming is not relevant. He could have done anything, and Hurley did not stop him.

If there is a censure motion against Morrison, this is also irrelevant. Morrison may be embarrassed and may or may not resign, but this will not stop it happening again a few years ahead. Even if Albanese arranges a law to prohibit multiple ministries, this may not help- any law can be reversed by a new government. It might also be noted that immediately after the 1972 election Prime Minister Whitlam and his Deputy Lance Barnard divided all the ministries between them and started enacting the programme that the ALP had taken to the election, merely to save time until his full Cabinet was appointed. This was consistent with the election result and seemed not to arouse any constitutional issues.

If we are to continue with a head of State who is ‘above politics’ he or she needs to be able and willing to stop political excesses. We need to know that there is some mechanism to stop an individual Prime Minster giving himself or herself whatever powers he or she likes. If you think, ‘it could not happen here’ you are wrong. It just has. The powers of the Governor-General were either inadequate or unclear and were certainly not used when they should have been. I cannot see that anything other than a clarification of the Constitution will resolve the matter. It seems that Justice Bell has overlooked this issue.

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Liberal Preselection problems are significant in a Binary System

10 April 2022

Now that the election is called, progressives might delight in the bad publicity associated with the Liberals pre-selection battle.

The Saturday Paper had 3 articles yesterday, a front page about Morrison’s personal pre-selection scheming double-cross, an article about ‘How Morrison became a tin-pot dictator’, by Stephen Mutch, a moderate Liberal who was a NSW State MLC and briefly member for Cook, and a comment by ex-Federal leader John Hewson saying that Morrison’s willingness to ride roughshod over constituent processes shows total disregard for rank and file members.

In the immediate term of this election, it may hurt the Liberals, though 6 weeks is long time in politics so many people will forget. In my own experience door-knocking in the North Sydney by-election when Treasurer Joe Hockey resigned to go to New York, a Liberal told me that the local branch had pre-selected a candidate with 36 votes out of 40, and Trent Zimmerman had 2.  But Head office and the branch both had 40 votes, and put in Zimmerman with all their votes, giving him 42.  The local branch members were disgusted and did not help hand out.  Liberals came from other areas to staff the booth; it was a blue ribbon seat and a predictable victory.  Zimmerman is a moderate and the branch had a harder Right candidate, so head office favoured the moderate, who is now asking us to vote for him so that there are some moderates left in the Liberal party.

Similarly, Felicity Wilson, a moderate was parachuted into the State seat of North Sydney against the branch’s desire and against the branch’s more Right-wing candidate. 

Craig Kelly was kept in his seat when the branch wanted to dis-endorse him before last election, but were over-ruled by Morrison’s intervention.  What a success he turned out to be; anti-climate change, and then an anti-vaxxer.  The Libs stuck with him as they needed his vote only to be rewarded as he became an independent and now fronts Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.

According to Mutch a ‘troika’ determines pre-selections in NSW; Morrison, Perrottet and he does not name the third person.  The question must be asked, what would happen if the troika did not control the numbers.  Who controls the branches and who would control the pre-selections if it were democratic?

Morrison has claimed to be a moderate, but Alex Hawke, Morrison’s hatchet man as the minder of David Campbell an evangelical Liberal right-wing numbers man in the NSW Upper house in the early 2000s, and was then given a safe seat.   The Right are in control.

The US Republican Party is completely out of touch with the common person in the US and acts in the interests of banks, big business, the gun lobby, fossil fuels, voter restriction and gerrymandering to maintain power.  They seem totally beholden to Donald Trump.  This has happened in about 15 years.  In their campaigning and some of the philosophy the Liberals follow the Republicans closely.  We must ask, ‘Who is joining the Liberal party?’  Fewer and fewer people join political parties, so they are correspondingly easier to stack or influence.  Lobby groups work on politicians, but if they can have members beholden to them for their pre-selections, it would make their lobbying much easier.  The Liberals are perceived as very right wing and very influenced by the right-wing Christian lobby.  Why would anyone else join?  And if they don’t, who will be left to control the grass roots?

In an article in the Sun Herald today (‘Infighting could cost seats: top Liberals) Liberal Federal Vice President Teena McQueen said that sitting members like Trent Zimmerman and Katie Allen could lose their seats but ‘with a couple of lefties gone we can get back to our core philosophy’.

This may not matter for 6 years if Labor wins and gets a second term, or even 9 years if they get a rare third term, but in a binary system the Libs will win eventually, which is why the nature of a major party membership and their pre-selection processes are of interest.  If the Liberals go the way of the US Republicans we are in danger.

Australians generally are sick of the two major parties and their capture by their lobby groups.  The High Court declining to intervene to support the branches was on the ground that political parties are Private entities.  They are not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution so have become almost privatised lobbies.  Labor have declined to release many policies to remain a small target because negative campaigning is more cost-effective than positive ideas. The question is whether Labor will actually do the right thing when they get in, or will they be conservative, do very little and leave things as the Liberals have made them in order to stay in power?  Pundits have described the ‘right-wing ratchet’ where the Conservative parties privatise and increase social inequality and the Progressive parties make noise and minor changes, but never actually undo what the Right has done.

The Independents are a fresh start, and the negative campaigning does not work as well against them.  There is a website ‘’ that is owned by the Liberals asking which party the independent will support? This of course tries to turn the whole thing into a binary contest again and the Independent effectively into a major party backbencher.  They also want the Independents to have a comprehensive set of policies, as if the Liberals do!

In the medium term, it may be reassuring to think that if a tradition of Independents can be established the major parties will not have it all their way, but this does not solve the problem of a Republican-like Liberal Party.

My own answer is a major change to the constitution with citizen-initiated referenda at 3 levels of government able to overturn Parliamentary decisions, part-time politicians limited to 2 terms so that politics is not a career and there are no significant party hierarchies to climb, multiple political parties so that no single one ever has an absolute majority and the members’ retirement plan is their current job.  This will take years of campaigning to achieve, so we’d better get on with it, or the increasing power and vulnerability of a private political party will have us following the US model, just a few years behind.

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Optional Preferential Voting Won Willoughby for the Liberals

4 March 2022

In the recent by-election in Willoughby one aspect that has escaped notice is that the optional preferential voting system delivered the seat to the Liberals because of the number of people who just voted 1, then exhausted their votes.

Liberal Tim James won the two-party preferred against the Independent Larissa Penn by 2,465 votes. But apart from the LDP (2.5%), the preferences of the other candidates strongly favoured the Independent. If there had been compulsory preferential and the exhausted preferences of each group were the same as those who gave preferences, the Independent would have won by 342 votes. This has huge implications for NSW as the Parliament is delicately balanced.

Optional preferential favours those with high primary votes and adds to the duopoly power of the major parties.

I have included the working of the preferences to justify this conclusion and make it easy for fact-checkers. Skip this part if you are not interested.

Here are the candidates in ascending order of their primary vote:

Gunning LDP 2.5% (44% gave preferences),

Bourke Sustainable Australia 5.1% (50% preferenced);

Hackett, Reason Party (Formerly Voluntary Euthanasia) 5.9% (68% preferenced because she numbered her first two squares),

Saville Greens 13.5% (52% preferenced- though she asked them to choose their own and did not number the squares),

Penn Independent 29.7%;

James Liberal 43.5%

.Looking at where the preferences of each candidate went:

Gunning’s Liberal Democrat voters gave 52% to the Libs, 24% to Penn.

Bourke’s Sustainable Australia gave 13% to the Libs, and 29% to Penn.

Hackett’s Reason Party voters gave 10% to the Libs and 69% to Penn.

Saville’s Green voters gave 12% to the Libs and 88% to Penn.

If there had been compulsory preferential voting and those who did not give preferences followed the people who did in their party there would have been an extra 890 votes for the Liberal (317+151+80+342 from the 4 candidates respectively), but an extra 3517 for Penn (146+331+562+2478). So Penn would have won by 162 votes, 20,938 (17,421 + 3517) to the Libs 20,776 (19,886 +890).

Note that given these assumptions about voting, the Greens would have contributed 2,478 of the extra preferences. This would not have been enough to give victory to the Libs, because the Greens had 12% or 347 votes preferencing the Liberal, so my accusation that the Greens gave the seat to the Libs was not quite correct; another 334 preferences were needed from the other candidates, but the significance was that they were 2478 of the 2812 (88%) that Penn needed to win.

The Greens by deciding not to number all squares made it very unlikely that the Independent could win. If they are concerned about who is in Parliament, and not merely their position vis a vis the major parties this is a major strategic mistake, and it is not the first time that they have done this- it is common in their HTVs. They should be a major voice for compulsory preferential voting in all Australian elections; they are anything but.All the figures I have given are from or can be derived from the State Electoral office results:

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NSW By-Elections:- Greens Hand Willoughby and NSW Parliament to the Libs

13 February 2022

There were 4 by-elections on Saturday. The Liberal vote fell, which is normal in by-elections, especially with a Federal government as hopeless as this one and the NSW pork-barreling reports, iCare incompetence and dodgy rail entities to dress up the books.

In Willoughby the Liberal primary vote fell 14.65%, from 57.03% to 42.38% (in the count so far). But what is interesting is that the Greens have given the seat to the Liberals by not allocating preferences. At the latest count, the Libs got 42.38%, Larissa Penn, a credible independent got 31.36% (up from 9.91% when she stood last time) and the Greens 11.64%.

Note the maths: Independent + Greens = 43.0%. Libs= 42.38%

Larissa Penn, the leading independent has stood before and would appear to be a considerable improvement on a right-wing Liberal who also ensures continuing Liberal dominance in the Parliament. A lot of votes are still not counted and it is not certain that she would have won even with Green preferences, but it certainly would have been a line ball. The other candidates who together got 14.62% may well have favoured a progressive independent over the status quo. William Bourke of Sustainable Australia got 3.44%, Penny Hackett of the Reason Party (previously called Voluntary Euthanasia Party) got 5.97% and even the LibDems at 2.67% may well have favoured an independent over a Lib. This is what preferential voting is for. I do know that a bigger cross bench makes for better legislation.

The major parties introduced optional preferential supposedly to make it easier for voters who didn’t know about those little parties and were in danger of voting informal. In reality they did it because if preferences exhaust it becomes ‘first past the post’ which favours those with big primaries. The big parties can (and have) put in a few dodgy independents to soak up the primaries of other independents and win even though a majority of people did not want them. Minor parties should stick together and allocate preferences. It is most irresponsible of the Greens not to do this. I wonder if they are scared of ‘like-minded independents’ and would rather have just the major parties and themselves than more diversity in Parliament Their long-term voting strategy of frequently exhausting their preferences rather than numbering all squares would support this proposition. In this case they numbered no squares themselves but put ‘VOTE 1’ then the lame recommendation ‘then number the other squares in order of your preferences’. Perhaps this was a sop from head office to the candidate, and perhaps the swing was bigger than anticipated and if they thought the Liberals were beatable they may have done differently. Perhaps, perhaps, but the Libs will keep a seat that may have changed hands, sent a big symbolic message and changed the parliament significantly. Silly Greens. The Libs should be very grateful to the Greens but will hope that no one will notice that the anti-democratic fiddle of optional preferential has really helped them this time.

In Bega the Liberals had a 13.46% swing against them (48.91 to 35.45%) and Labor picked up 11.93% (30.59 to 42.52%) and gained the seat. The Greens dropped 2% and the Shooters entered the fray and picked up 5.47%. We may have had a COVID and pork-barrel election up here, but down there where the bushfires wiped out whole towns and numbers of people were huddled on the beaches and rescued by the navy the government may have been in trouble for different reasons. But the swing was still very similar to Willoughby.

In Strathfield, Labor held on, but did not look too flash considering the mess the Liberals are in. Their primary vote fell from 44.30 to 40.07% (4.23%). The Liberal vote fell from 38.89 to 37.24% (only 1.65%). The combined major party vote fell from 83.19 to 77.28% (5.91%), and the Greens fell from 8.79 to 5.94% (2.85%). This was probably due to Elizabeth Farrelly, the well-known SMH journalist who is stridently in favour of better town planning and was sacked by the SMH when it was revealed that she was a member of the ALP. She stood as an independent, got 9.28% and did not direct preferences, giving her almost no chance. The Labor candidate Jason Sun-Yat Li is a good person, but did not live in the electorate, which is a bad look. He will, however, be an asset to the somewhat talent-poor NSW Labor Parliamentarians.

In Monaro, which the Nationals retained after the retirement of leader John Barilaro is likely to get little attention. The National’s primary vote fell from 52.31 to 45.48% (6.83%) which was similar to what Labor gained 27.16 to 33.04% (5.88%). The Shooters did not stand in the by-election adding their 7.78% to the pool, but an Independent who got 5.93% took up much of this and the combined major party votes only fell from 79.47 to 78.52% (0.95%).As the percentage of postal and early votes continues to rise the margin of error of these figures is increased but the sample size is large enough for the results to probably stand, (unlike in the Hunters Hill local elections where the pre-poll and postal vote varied significantly from the polling days votes, probably influenced by an anonymous defamatory leaflet which was miraculously delivered to the whole electorate on the Wednesday night, favouring the Liberals. The change in the voting pattern gave them the mayoral election.)

The NSW Parliament will have one less Liberal, so the numbers will be Liberals 33, Nationals 12 (=Coalition 45), Labor 37, Greens 3, Shooters 3 and Independents 5. With a total of 93, it takes 47 votes for a majority, but the Coalition 45 can still rely on two of the independents, John Sidoti and Gareth Ward as these two were elected as Liberals. They both resigned from the Liberal party but not the Parliament after allegations were made against them, Sidoti from ICAC re property development in Fivedock and Ward after allegations of sexual violence. It is interesting that both our Federal and NSW state governments rely on people who left their party for embarrassing reasons to survive.

Business as usual. Thanks Greens.

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Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame at the National Press Club

February 10 2022

They were riveting watching on 9 February.

Brittany Higgins talked about a toxic culture in Parliament House with sexual harassment, and Grace Tame was careful to define her area of activism as action to stop paedophiles.  Grace was quite insistent that this was not a gender war as she said that most of the people she met until relatively late in her journey of discovery were men, as it seems that more males had come out to discuss their grooming process than females.  It is about the behaviour, not about gender, though she conceded that most perpetrators were male.  She noted that her perpetrator had a known history (covered up) of abusing students and she was only one of his many victims.  Grace made no secret of her view that Morrison had done as little as possible, but when a question from a Murdoch journalist tried to get her to support Labor against the Liberals she declined to be drawn.  She said that the existing power structures of the Parliament, the law and the media protected paedophiles.  She also said that when she criticised the Prime Minister there was an inquiry as to the funding of the Council that awarded the Australian of the Year honour.  She took this to be a hint that they had to find one who was not critical of the government. She also described a caller who was “asking for my word that I would not say anything damning about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year awards”.

“‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said. What kind of fear, I asked myself?”

“And then I heard the words ‘with an election coming soon’.

“And it crystallised — a fear for himself and no-one else, a fear that he might lose his position or, more to the point, his power.”

Grace did not say who it was that called her, and declined to answer a question on the subject.  Now the Prime Minister himself wants to know.  Ho hum.  Obviously someone was trying to protect him.  Is this person to be hung out?

Brittany Higgins was unimpressed by the Parliamentary apology for the sexual harassment except as a first step and commented that the plan to deal with sexual harassment has a great statement of intentions, but these are so vague as to be able to be accepted by everyone, but not actually to specify any action, much less a time frame for such action. Another highly relevant comment she made in terms of the working of Parliament was the relationship between the minders and the public service, with a huge increase in the power of the minders despite their lack of worldly experience or knowledge and the corresponding downgrading of the influence of the public service, who of course should be a big reservoir of politically unbiased expertise.  She said that the public were unaware of the power relationships of minders and this was a problem. She was speaking more broadly than merely of sexual relationships.

As a person particularly interested in prevention, I think that the environment and pressures on individuals makes a huge difference to their decisions.  I first figured this out in boarding school where behaviour options were decidedly constrained, then observed it as people were pressured to take up smoking.  Social disadvantage and crime also stand out.

My state government minder gave me his opinion that if you went to Canberra it took about 18 months to lose all contact with real people and their issues as the Canberra bubble of politicians and the media were so isolated and both used each other as reality contact.  He went on to prove his own theory, as he went to Canberra to work with Meg Lees, Democrat leader, was there about 18 months and believed that she would beat Natasha Stott-Despoja in the leadership spill after Lees had enabled Howard to pass the GST.  Natasha won with 76% of the vote.  As an MP I went to a Young Democrats Conference in Canberra and was invited to a party that they were all going to with some of their friends who happened to be young Liberal staffers.  No one took much notice of the old guy in the corner, but I could not help but overhear the stories of their tactical victories over Labor.  Everything was entirely binary. The object was to win, which was to get ‘our’ agenda passed.  It was exciting, a chess game, and at no stage was there the slightest discussion of any policy or the need for discussion or compromise.  My overwhelming impression was that these folk had far too much power and far too little knowledge for the national good.  I think there are 3 stages of knowledge; those that know, those that don’t know, and those that don’t know that they don’t know; those kids were in a last stage.  (Later I added a 4th category, those who do not want to know and will actively resist knowing; this class being such as anti-vaxxers, religious folk and political ideologues).

I am also of the view that structure governs function.  If you wanted a Parliament that was out of touch, you would put it in a place isolated from the people (say Canberra), in a very secure building (say Parliament House) with excellent facilities in each room so that you did not need to meet anyone but your own. You would isolate them from their families, have unusual domestic arrangements, then have pressure situations where they worked long and emotionally exhausting hours so that they relied very much on their work colleagues.  Added to this there are male/female, age and power imbalances.  All this leads to a situation conducive to frenetic relationships with sexual harassment and marriage breakdowns.  Add a hierarchical binary system with winner takes all with a surfeit of powerful lobby groups and you get bad political decisions as well.

You may be able to fix one aspect of a dysfunctional system if you try very hard, but my view is that a Swiss-style democracy with multiple parties that have to compromise, part-time politicians limited to two terms so that they are not in a personal hierarchy and referenda where citizens can overrule the Parliament with plebiscites would seem to be likely to fix sexual harassment as well as a lot of other things.

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