The difficult concept of a mandate

Various leaders of the government are given to claiming that they have a mandate because they have a majority in the lower house, however slender and diminished that may be.

This argument is used to support the demand that i) the opposition should automatically support all legislation presented in the lower house and that ii) the Senate should automatically pass legislation that has passed through the lower house.  The government gets noticeably peeved when it doesn’t get its way on either of these matters.

The concept of the mandate is very difficult one.

This is because it is not always the case that the party that holds the majority in the lower house also holds one in the upper house.  It is rare for a government to be reliant on cross bench support in the lower house although it is becoming increasingly frequent for it to be reliant on in the Senate.

However, the declining primary vote of both major parties and the rise of minor parties and independents may mean that the hegemony of the traditional parties may be on the wane and governments may view reliant on minor party and cross bench support in the lower house as well.

The concept of a mandate is made more difficult by the fact that the upper and lower houses are elected using different voting systems ( and also work on different electoral cycles): the lower house has a preferential system and the upper house uses an optional proportional preferential system. These two systems are highly likely to produce different results and hence confirm different mandates in the two houses, particularly after Malcolm Turnbull’s arguably ill-conceived reforms of the Senate voting system.

Hence, claiming a mandate, namely “my way or the highway” is not the way politics is going to work from now on. Minor parties like One Nation and Team Xenophon will claim that their small band of supporters has given them a particular  (and possibly peculiar) mandate to represent their views and possibly obstruct the wishes of the elected government in the lower and upper houses.

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Both One Nation and Team Xenophon will claim a particular mandate

What this means in a practical sense is that issues like the plebiscite for same-sex marriage will receive a majority vote  in the lower house but may quite possibly (and quite probably) not receive a majority vote in the Senate.

Given the vagaries of our electoral system, we can only assume that this represents the various “mandates”  bestowed by of the voting population of Australia on our various elected representatives.

Eventually, it will dawn upon this government and upon future governments that unless they hold a clear majority in both the upper and lower houses (a situation which is almost certainly unlikely to occur again), they will never actually hold a “mandate” but will have to negotiate policy with  a range of political parties in the Parliament.

This will bring about significant changes to the landscape in Australia. One of the changes will be that political parties will no longer  to go into elections making “promises”. What they will be able to do is to talk about policies that they will endeavour to negotiate through Parliament given the nature of that Parliament.

This will put an end to the ridiculous situation where the current Prime Minister is insisting that the only way that same-sex marriage will be legislated is that if his election promise for a plebiscite is passed through a Parliament that is increasingly looking as it support same-sex marriage but not the plebiscite.

So we have a ridiculous situation of Turnbull and Brandis saying, “If you don’t have a plebiscite, you can’t have same-sex marriage.”

They are two separate issues.  The arguments about same-sex marriage have been well rehearsed.

But the other argument is about whether a government should insist that it has the right to insist on a process that it took to an election where it won a majority in the lower house but not in the upper house.

Most Australians would probably agree that the situation is not as clear-cut as the government would try to make out.

All the evidence seems to suggest that most Australians want marriage equality and that the best and simplest way of doing that is through a conscience vote in the Parliament. But the government is having none of this and most Australians suspected this is purely delaying tactics on the part of the far right wing of the Coalition.

Government and Opposition continue the charade over same-sex marriage plebiscite

The Age reports that “Same-sex couples could be left waiting until the 2020s to get married if Labor blocks the plebiscite proposed for February next year, Attorney-General George Brandis says.

It’ll be three weeks before the Labor Party makes a decision on whether to hold a same sex marriage plebiscite, drawing fire from opponents.

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In a blunt warning to the federal opposition, which is all but certain to oppose the national vote, Senator Brandis suggested the political will to change the law could dissipate if the plebiscite is not held in this term of parliament and same-sex couples could be forced to wait well beyond the next election, due in 2019.”

This whole story situation represents a series of failures in a democracy.

The first failure in the same-sex marriage shemozzle belongs to Abbott; rather than letting MPs do their job and vote on legislation, the former prime minister – egged on by the conservative wing of his party – proposed an expensive plebiscite to resolve the matter.

The second failure was Malcolm Turnbull’s; rather than junking the plebiscite proposal – one he argued against while communications minister – Turnbull acquiesced to the demands of party conservatives and retained it as part of the deal struck to install him as Prime Minister.

But the third failure, now unfolding, belongs to Bill Shorten and members of the same-sex marriage lobby like Rodney Croome who used to support a plebiscite but now oppose it.

Today’s editorial in The Age makes some obvious points

  •  According to pollsters, as many as seven in 10 citizens have long wanted our lawmakers to do their job and bring Australia in line on this with the rest of the Englishspeaking world.    
  • The leaders of the Coalition, Labor and the Greens all support marriage equality.    
  • The voters of all but one electorate want their political representatives to make the change.    Australians – whose collective support for ending this injustice has long-been recorded – would be forced to vote, but their decision would not be binding on lawmakers.    
  • The plebiscite – effectively an unnecessary opinion poll – would cost taxpayers perhaps more than $200 million, a waste rendered even more stupid in light of our fiscal challenges.    
  • The plebiscite could cause untold harm to same-sex couples and their families, and could be a trigger for self-harm and even worse for young LGBTI people, who, research shows, suffer heightened rates of mental ill-health because of the bullying and harassment they are subjected to because of their sexuality.    
  • There is already evidence that opponents of marriage equality will use misinformation and propaganda, even to the point of targeting children, and emotions could cloud reason on both sides of the debate.    
  • The plebiscite – designed to delay and derail marriage equality – was always a cheap ruse by Tony Abbott to shore up support from the hardline conservative fringe in his party in the dying moments of his prime ministership.

 

 

Letter to my grandson (xxviii)

Dear Winton

We went to the Aquatic Centre yesterday and as usual you had a ball.

dsc_0166Your dad took you on the waterslide again and I waited at the bottom. When you came out you were bawling your head off. What a disaster! Last time you enjoyed it so much. I reached down to pick you up but you would have none of it.

Strangely, your dad took you back up the waterslide. I didn’t think that was much of an idea, clearly you weren’t enjoying it. When you came down the result was exactly the same.

“He wants to come down on his own,” said your dad.

“Well,” I thought, “that explains everything.”

This time, you refused to be carried up two flights of stairs which slightly above knee height for you. I think you had worked out that the earlier you could get out of your dad’s grip the better your chance of getting into the water slide on your own.

“I’ll see if they will let him come down on his own,” said Simon.

“Fat chance of that,” I thought, “he’s only two.”

Anyhow, you came down the waterslide slightly ahead of your dad, grinning your head off. Mission accomplished. Probably one of the youngest kids ever to do the water slide on his own. Tick that one off.

Apparently, you had jumped into the water slide before your dad could sit down behind you and he had to scramble to catch up. Good thinking, kid.

Love

Papa

An open letter to Pauline Hanson

This letter was originally going to start out with an invitation to you to attend a two-year old swimming class on Sunday mornings at the Richmond Recreation Centre in Melbourne.

I’m sure you get lots of invitations to do lots of things like eating halal food, all of which are probably designed to broaden your mind. I know that it’s a waste of time. Your mind is not for broadening only narrowing and certainly not for changing.

So I’ve changed my mind, I’d rather you didn’t come. I’ll just tell you what goes on there.

I attend swimming lessons every Sunday with my son and my grandson, Winton, who is two and learning to swim. That’s him and his dad, Simon, at the end of the mat and that’s Mel, the  instructor, in the middle.

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First a bit of background.

The Haslett grandparents, Tim and Di, are economic and educational migrants who arrived with their first son, Andrew, from New Zealand in the early 1970s. Their next two boys, Simon and Nick, were first-generation Australians.  We are a pretty typical migrant family, although our process of assimilation was probably somewhat easier than most.

The boys are all married now. Andrew has married Ness who is from the Philippines and their son, Connor is a New Zealander. Simon has married Natasha, who is French-Burmese and their son Winton (named after the Australian author) is an Australian.

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Nick married Susie who is an Australian. So our family is very much a reflection of Australia’s melting-pot relationship with Asia and this is why I find your xenophobia so deeply insulting and repugnant.

Richmond is an inner-city suburb in Melbourne.

It has been regularly swamped by migrants, notably the Greeks after the Second World War, then the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War and now the cashed-up retirees and upwardly mobile professionals from the eastern suburbs. It also has a significant concentration of public housing so large numbers of refugees from Africa live in the suburb.

You would hate it. It typifies everything you were wrong about 18 years ago when you first appeared in Parliament.  And are wrong about now you’ve got back. But I’m going to try not to be vituperative in this letter.

But back to the swimming pool.

Parents must accompany the children in the two-year-old lesson. It’s a bit of hoot really. Some of the dads wear their glasses when they go swimming. But the interesting thing is that all of the dads in the lesson are white Aussie blokes and all of the kids are Aussie/Asians. I told you that you would hate it.

Actually I’m wrong about the Aussie dad thing, there is a Chinese mum who brings her Chinese little boy and the whole family, dad and grandma included are waiting for them to finish when the whole family has a swim after the lesson.

And do you know what the Chinese family have called their little boy? Alexis! It’s a Greek name meaning “the defender”. I told you there were a lot of Greeks in Richmond. This is them after the swimming lesson.

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Oh, yes and they bring the nanny with them. She’s a young Australian girl. Amazing isn’t it, first they come and take our jobs and then they start giving them back.

And the swimming instructor. You know, I never thought about it until I started writing you this letter. He’s Asian.

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Because Simon and I have both been surf lifesavers (you know all the stereotypes bronzed Kiwis/Aussies etc)  so I think it’s an interesting commentary on how the world is changing that my grandson is being taught to swim by an Asian swimming instructor and quite a brilliant one at that. I tell him so frequently.

But there is something else that I hope you get a chance to see one day. There is a Somalian family that sometimes comes swimming and a young girl who is probably about seven who has taken quite a fancy to Winton, and he to her.

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Seeing them together is something I can only watch in complete amazement and with great pleasure. Having seen your face on Q and A when you found out that Sam Dastyari was a Muslim, I’m not certain how you would handle a situation like this. This is one of the reasons I’m not inviting you to the swimming lessons.

My grandson is growing up in a world that I never knew in white monocultural New Zealand in the 1950s.

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His world is a more vibrant and diverse one than mine ever was.  And I suspect and fear it is vibrant and diverse for more reasons that you will ever understand.

But this is what the world is like in Richmond.

The view of the world is vastly different from that from behind the counter of a fish and chip shop in Ipswich.  But then you really never did venture out, did you?

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Anti-Vaxxers and Christian Fundamentalists discover link between same-sex marriage and autism

In a surprising development in the debate on same-sex marriage an alliance of Anti-Vaxxers and Christian Fundamentalists has claimed to have discovered research that establishes a direct link between couples married under same-sex marriage legislation and children raised in those unions.

Cynthia  Wobblington-Noggs, co-chair of the South Moggienook Festival Of Light, claims the new research has uncovered evidence of a strain of autism which develops shortly after same-sex marriage ceremonies and becomes evident in children.

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“The worrying thing about this form of autism, says Ms Cynthia  Wobbllington-Noggs, “is that it is highly contagious and can be transmitted in normal playground contact. What is worse is that there is no known vaccine for it.”

South Moggienook GP Dr Angela Smith dismissed Ms Cynthia  Wobbllington-Noggs as a  “long-term loony and serial idiot”.

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Australia’s place in the world University rankings

The Times higher education world University rankings have been published.  The top 10 is unchanged except for the fact that the University of Oxford has replaced Caltech at the top.  Other than that, the top 10 is unchanged.

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The other thing is that the top universities are, for the most part, old universities. Oxford began taking students in the ninth century so they’ve had a while to get their act together.

However, The Times to note that a number of Asian universities were moving their way up the pecking order most noticeably Chinese University of Hong Kong and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)),  City University of Hong Kong, University of Science and Technology of China, Fudan University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Time will tell whether these universities can break into the really big league.

One theory has it that the elite universities that have been established for centuries the best staff and the best students and this creates a virtual cycle which makes it very difficult for newcomers to break in.

Six Australian universities finished in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education world university rankings, which were released on Thursday.

The University of Melbourne was again ranked 33rd, followed by the Australian National University (47th), the University of Queensland (equal 60th), the University of Sydney (equal 60th), Monash University (74th) and the University of New South Wales (78th).

It’s interesting to do some comparison in terms of funding, academic staff and student load. It is a crude comparison but it gives some idea of what the competition gets like the top of the league table.

Oxford’s total income  stands at £1,43b ($A2.45b) with 1800 academic staff and 22,000  students

Melbourne University by comparison a revenue of $2b with 4000 academic staff and student enrolments of 45,000.

The fabulously funded Harvard had revenue of $US4.53b and an investment and endowment base of around $US32b.

So the world best university has approximately 20% more funding, roughly the same staff student ratios but the ability to pay staff and/or fund research at twice the rate of Melbourne University.

And this is a time when the Federal Government is seeking to reduce funding to tertiary education.

Australian universities are punching above their weight in the world league but funding cuts, particularly when they occur over a long period of time, will eventually erode international competitiveness.

All the talk about agile economies, innovation, entrepreneurship et cetera needs to be taken with a very large grain of salt when the talk is not backed up by dollars.