Is Tony Abbott out for the count?

He’s been  punch-drunk for some time but the same-sex marriage vote has probably put him on the canvas.  He’s taken a compulsory eight count which, in boxing terms, means you’re  probably not going to last much longer.

He will probably stagger to his feet and continue for a few more rounds, flailing wildly at opponents who are no longer in the ring.  The fans have long ago gone home.

He has probably fought his last bout. The promoters (the preselection committee of the Warringah) won’t be giving him another fight.  There are younger fighters, quicker on their feet and with a better range of punches. The day of the old time sluggers is over.

Rocky Marciano, world heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956

The pity is, unlike Marcianohe won’t be remembered with much affection.

See also

 in the Australian  Tony Abbott’s vacillations leave him at risk of permanent irrelevance

Mark Kenny in SMH ‘He is now irrelevant’: Does Tony Abbott’s defeat on marriage mark his final decline in Canberra

Why did Malcolm Turnbull really cancel Parliament?

We were given an explanation on 7.30 last night by Scott Morrison.And not a very good one at that.


It was so that the Senate could consider the same-sex marriage legislation.

That was Morrison’s best shot and in a pretty ill-humoured interview, Leigh Sales did not press him.

So here’s the argument. We suspend the lower house so that the upper house can get  on with its work. But surely both  Houses of Parliament can sit together at the same time and still function efficiently.

Isn’t that what they normally do?

Clearly Turnbull is concerned that all hell will break loose with the government being two seats down with the absence of Joyce and Alexander. But suspending Parliament should not be because you’ve lost your majority. That doesn’t seem like the way democracy should be functioning.

There is also a very nice analysis in The Age by Tony Wright this morning which details the likely outcome of various scenarios, one of which is that Turnbull is desperately worried that an audit of dual citizenship will devastate his Parliamentary numbers.


And trigger a general election which, if the polls are right consider coalition losing up to 20 seats in the lower house.

Nobody liked the postal vote but it mayhold some important ideas for reforming our political system

Political and International Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher poses the question in The Age: How can we do democracy better?


He also  highlights the ironic situation namely that with the same-sex marriage postal vote having worked so well, no one wants to see it used like this again.

Now, there are very good reasons for this.

Firstly, the issue that was involved and the campaign that followed, has been deeply damaging to the LGBTIQ community.

Secondly, the postal vote was prohibitively expensive.

Thirdly, the sophisticated pollsters already knew the answer.

Nonetheless, it did make the will of the people clear to politicians in an emphatically clear way, one which only the foolhardy or the about-to-retire would ignore,

Hartcher sees that part of the answer to bringing about improvements in the way our democracy works lies in the way question of marriage equality was resolved: through some form of plebiscite/referendum.

The issue was not that the will of the people was unclear.

The problem was that our democratically elected representatives were hamstrung when it came to legislating what was clearly the preferred option of more than 60% of the population. In other words, our democracy had effectively failed its constituency.

That was because  the issue was being hijacked by a small group of right wing conservatives within the Liberal party.   When this happens it has a slow corrosive effect on our democracy.

Hartcher quotes the keeper of the Australian Electoral Study, ANU’s Ian McAllister, “Trust in politicians is at its lowest at any time since we started surveying it, all the way back to 1969… falling from 51 per cent to 26%.”

Hartcher goes on to argue that methods such as the postal vote are very effective way of assessing public opinion, a far more effective way than electing a group of politicians every three or four years and letting them make up their minds on every issue that comes up, such as funding the Adani coal mine.


He then goes on to draw on the work of John Keane, professor of politics at Sydney University,  who outlines the arguments for and against using referenda as a way of assessing public opinion on important legislative issues. It’s an interesting argument and worth reading.

In the case of the Adani coal mine, which appears to have very little public support nationally and very little economic and environmental rationale,  there would appear to be a good argument for canvassing public opinion before the Federal government approves project, let alone puts close to $1 billion dollars into the project.

It is possible to conduct large-scale plebiscites electronically even allowing for the fact that a proportion of the population is not connected to, or cannot use, the Internet.

It is also clear that modern sampling techniques are statistically accurate enough to give accurate indications of much larger population samples.


Such techniques gave fairly accurate indications of the likely outcome of the postal vote on same-sex marriage. However, sampling may not be an adequate substitute for large-scale surveys given the requirements of democratic society.

Nonetheless, given that our Parliamentary processes are becoming confounded by inertia imposed by the vagaries of the electoral system, it is well worth considering a process whereby electronic and binding referenda are conducted on major policy issues.

For such referenda to be binding they would need a participation rate of, say, 70%+ etc.

The difficulty of such a system is that it would need to be legislated and would need to be legislated by politicians who would effectively be giving up some of their power.

But it is clear that democratic processes around the world are failing.

There has been a general wringing of hands at the  process that led to the election of Donald Trump and the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicated in the electoral process  may have been deeply flawed and corrupt as well.

However, despite controlling both the Senate and the Congress, Trump has been unable to pass any major legislation.

The process of Britain’s exit from Europe appears to have be heading towards an  economic disaster that  political system was unable to control.

In Australia, as in Britain and the US,  the influence of small fringe groups such as the Tea Party, UKIP,  and One Nation is disproportionate to their support  in the electorate.

All of this is a manifestation of the system that needs to be overhauled and it needs to be overhauled to make it more responsive and  more reactive to public opinion.

This is happens the disillusion that Ian McAllister speaks will only deepen.






A cautionary thought about the No voters

Some members of the LGBTIQ community would probably like to give some of the opponents of same-sex marriage a good whacking, given the results.  And who more than Tony Abbott, whose electorate Warringah, returned a whopping 75% Yes vote. This must make Tony a little bit nervous about preselection.


It’s also understandable that the members of the LGBTIQ community would feel that they have been attacked by the political and social equivalent of some kind of freak show and feel inclined to lump all the proponents of the opposing view together in a group (which they are not) and hand out a few more well-deserved biffs.

This is particularly so when homosexuality has been linked to paedophilia and beastiality by some of the leading opponents of same-sex marriage and there has been general denigration of anyone whose sexuality falls outside the norm.  Things like this tend to make feelings run pretty high.

At a broader level, the ability of same-sex couples to raise children has been questioned by the opponents of marriage equality.

In such a situation, it is often difficult to separate out the often rabid views of some of the leaders of the movement from the people who voted No in the postal vote.

It is very important to remember that the 5 million people, who voted against legalising same-sex marriage probably don’t hold the extreme views of the leadership of the opposition to marriage equality.

It is also very easy for those of us who voted Yes to see the results as a victory of fairness over bigotry. However, whether we like it or not, there is a significant proportion of the population of Australia who probably see things quite differently.  They see it as more important to protect the institution of marriage as they defined it, than to be fair.

It has become clear that there was a very strong No vote in the western suburbs of Sydney where the “No” vote was as high as 74%.

While it is difficult to draw conclusions from the data, there are some correlational factors

These areas are traditional Federal Labor electorates with strong and diverse ethnic and religious populations.   They are characterised by low educational standards and poor English-language skills.  They are predominantly working class and suffer high levels of unemployment. This is the traditional economic and political analysis

ABC election analyst Antony Green pointed to the high proportion of the population in NSW born in non-English-speaking countries as an indication of the cultural differences.


“Gay marriage doesn’t fit into the Australian political structure very well, because it’s not a class-based issue,” he said.”It cuts across party lines, which is why the parties themselves have struggled to deal with the issue in recent years.

So, has the Marriage Equality postal vote merely done what many predicted? Simply highlighted some deep divisions within Australian society?

The initial evidence would be that this has been the case.  But it would also appear to be the case that these divisions do not appear to have emerged along the normal fault lines of traditional politics.

Pauline Hanson has risen to power, well relative power, because of a vacuum on the right of Australian politics. But her party is a disorganised shambles as has been demonstrated by the events of the last week. It lacks the infrastructure and organisation to be a serious political force. Its lack of political sophistication means that it will never have anything other than nuisance value.

Cory Bernardi may be totally different proposition. He is smarter, more articulate and more politically astute. Whether he can  build a political machine that can challenge Hanson’s remains to be seen.

After these results,  Bernardi must be pondering whether he can craft a political message that will appeal to the deeply conservative voters of Western Sydney.

He is a Machiavellian populist. His actions in the Senate yesterday proved him to be capable of doing anything just to  gain political traction so the ex-Liberal Senator will surely be looking at the potential to pick up votes of the Conservative Left as well as the Conservative Right.


Senator Cory Bernardi  looking pleased with himself during a division on Thursday.  Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In a move simply designed to delay debate on the  Same-sex marriage bill  the Australian Conservatives senator moved a series of motions in the Senate attacking abortion, communism, progressive activists GetUp! and White Ribbon Australia, which works to stop violence against women.

The danger of people like Bernardi and Hanson is that they never have the responsibility of government and are able to act without restraint, particularly in the types of positions they take on public policy promises and election issues. Given the fragmented state of Australian politics, such politicians often come to hold the balance of power and are able to exert influence beyond their electoral support or political acumen.

Nonetheless, the postal vote and current opinion polls indicate that is, in Australia, around 30% of the electorate that is disenfranchised with the major parties. This 30% does not constitute a unified voting block in the work that the support for the Liberal Labor Parties does.

However, it  could come to represent a bloc voters that could be exploited by a demagogue, probably not Cory Bernardi because he is inherently so unlikeable, who could exert considerable influence on democratic processes.


This is not balance, this is nonsense, and The Age should know better

Why does The Age print articles like this from Karina Okotel, the federal Liberal vice-president under the banner.

‘Yes’ campaign must keep its promises after 5 million people voted ‘No’ in same-sex-marriage ballot.

Karina Okotel with her children Hannah, 3, David 2, and baby Grace.  Photo: Jason South

To start with, the people who voted Yes, and I was one of them, didn’t make any promises to the people who voted No.

We also voted about the rights of all people to get married, not on the rights of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to deny services to various customers. We don’t expect that to be incorporated into Dean Smith’s bill which we do expect to be passed before Christmas

She goes on to write: “Senator Dean Smith’s bill provides protections only around a wedding ceremony and to religious clerics, but does not encompass protections for speech, religious beliefs more broadly, or to children being exposed to radical gender theory against a parent’s wishes.”

I still find it incomprehensible to understand how someone can get themselves worked up into an intellectual lather that allows them to  think that gay couples getting married will mean that radical gender theory will be taught in classrooms.

I know a number of gay couples, all of whom will certainly get married once legislation is passed, but best of my knowledge none of them will be storming into the classrooms of Victoria to teach radical gender theory. They will just be living happily ever after.

A bit like the fairy story.

She also writes about  Felix Ngole who posted some biblical passages on Facebook to support his religious beliefs and got tossed out of Sheffield University which regarded him as being unfit to be a social worker. The High Court later upheld the University’s decision. Without making the point, presumably Okotel sees this as an indication of the kind of discrimination that will arise from the legislation of same-sex marriage. No, the High Court, not normally given to exaggerated utterances, saw the posts as ” judgmental, incompatible with service ethos, or suggestive of discriminatory intent”. This means that Felix is not really a poster boy for a tolerant society.

Okotel’s article is absolute nonsense and the editors of The Age should have recognised it as such and should not have printed it.

The “No” vote  campaigners had their chance to mount this argument in the run-up to the postal vote. It was comprehensively rejected because it was a spurious argument. Now Okotel’s having another bite at the apple courtesy of The Age.

Is it because The Age ran a heartfelt article by Penny Wong Why all Australians had a stake in the postal vote on same-sex marriage that it felt it should have some “balance” by printing an article by Karina Okotel?


If it did, running the article by Okotel didn’t achieve that.

It is time to move on. A highly divisive and expensive postal vote has now been concluded. Malcolm Turnbull must ensure that the legislation is passed by Christmas and  the responsible media must ensure that the divisive voices such as Karina Okotel are no longer given access to “balanced coverage”.

A face to remember next time we vote.

Writing in The Age Mark Kenny says: The great betrayal: Coalition hardliners throw democracy overboard to resist same-sex marriage

According to Kenny, the definition of marriage would not be altered in Patterson’s rule that would be put before Parliament. In other words, if the result is a Yes vote and Kenny is right then Patterson is giving the Australian voting public the bird.

Senator Paterson’s bill also establishes what he calls a “relevant belief” about homosexuality itself, protecting anyone who expresses a belief that same-sex relationships are unholy or immoral, or that “the normative state of gender is binary”.

Just in case you had any doubts about what this man actually thinks.