Same-sex Marriage and Senate Voting Reform.

Malcolm Turnbull’s position: A plebiscite for one and a vote in the Parliament for the other. Stalling on one, rushing the other one through.

028121-gay-marriage.jpg

 A gay couple discusses parliamentary reform

Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott were both  trying to stall legislation of same-sex marriage with the idea of a plebiscite in the hope that the issue would go away.

1441929078124.jpg

 Abbott and Turnbull trying to find a way out of the same-sex marriage question

While the Prime Minister insists we have a plebiscite on gay marriage when public opinion is quite clearly known, he is unwilling to allow the public to have a say on the way they elect their politicians.

Best to let the politicians decide that!

Reforming the system for voting for the Australian Senate provides an opportunity for a “conversation” on the kind of Senate we want, if we want one at all.

Changes to the system are likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime event but they are being rushed through Parliament with very little debate and public discussion.

Unfortunately, the voting public has not been invited to the table for this debate.

There is a fundamental question that has not been asked.

Do we need a Senate at all?

keating.jpg

  Paul Keating was quite clear. He called the Senators “unrepresentative swill.

The fundamental idea underlying a bicameral system such as we have in Australia and in the US is that the upper house serves as a brake on the lower house. It is designed to slow the progress of change and protect people against the excesses and vagaries of elected governments.

 In both Australia and the US, senators are elected for six years in a series of staggered elections. In the US, members of the lower house Congress are elected every two years, in Australia it’s every three. So changing the lower house is much easier than changing the upper house.

This means that bringing about change in the upper house is a much slower process. It also means that the upper house may become out of touch with the political realities of the lower house.

So the question for Australians is whether we want an upper house that has the potential to frustrate the House of Representatives.  Before the rise of the Australian Democrats, the Greens, Palmer United and a host of independent Senators, this was not normally the case.

But as disillusion and dissatisfaction with the major parties grows in Australia, minority parties and independents are gaining increasing political traction and exercising increasing influence in the upper houses of state and federal parliament.

Part of the debate on the reform of the Senate voting should include an extensive and informed public debate on whether we want a Senate at all.

After that particular question is decided, then the debate on the nature of the Senate can begin.

When it comes to reforming the Senate, it’s worth remembering that there are what are called “frozen accidents” in the system. Frozen accidents are historical events and decisions that cannot be easily changed but which have consequences that were not intended originally.

The first problem is that the Founding Fathers meant the Senate to be the “States’ House.”  It was designed to protect the previously independent states from the power of the Federal Government.

Opening_of_the_first_parliament

The opening of the Parliament of Australia, 9 May 1901, ushered in a system that has probably outlived its usefulness.

It no longer fulfils that function and is elected purely along party lines.

The second problem is that the distribution of Senate seats by state is dramatically biased towards Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Representation of the more populous main land states is biased in inverse order of population.

So the first question is: Do we want a system that is biased towards the smaller states given that the Senate’s function as the states’ house is no longer relevant?

Here of the voting figures by state for 2013 Senate election.

untitled 2.jpeg

If the fundamental principle underlying democracy is that there should be  equal representation, then this problem needs to be fixed

And then there is the question of party representation.

Here are the figures for the Senate  in the 2013 election.

untitled.jpeg

On the basis of votes cast, some parties do better than others. The ALP got its fair share in the last election. The Coalition, the Greens, Palmer United, Family First Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party all did better than their vote would justify.

The Liberal Democratic Party polled particularly well but its elected senator David Leyonhjelm admits that this is because he was first on the ballot paper and got the donkey vote and also that people thought they were voting for the Liberal party.

It is interesting that nearly 1.4 million voters (slightly over 10%) have no representation in the Senate. It is this large block of votes that the preference whisperer, Glenn Druery, is able to manipulate to elect members of minor parties.

These are the issues that are fundamental to reform of the Senate voting system. It is crucially important that the Australian electorate remains confident that its democratic system is serving the needs of the people.

The profound sense of disillusion with the political system in America, seen with the rise of the Tea Party and candidates like Donald Trump, represents a step towards political chaos that Australians need to guard against.

It is quite clear to most people that Malcolm Turnbull is rushing these changes through to improve his chances in a double dissolution election. Changes to the fundamental political structures in Australia are serious and have long-term consequences. They should be widely debated and discussed before they are implemented.

Currently, this is not happening and the Australian electorate deserves better.

 

Out of step, out of touch, should be out of parliament.

Since his ignominious demise as Prime minister, Tony Abbott has been showing his true political colours, particularly in relation to gay marriage. Remember all the talk about a referendum when he was Prime Minister? It would never have happened and if it did, and the result was favourable, the obdurate right of the Parliamentary Liberal party would have found some way of torpedoing the vote.

1987097_071113m_EricAbetz_1280x720_original

 Eric Abetz  will vote against gay marriage even if the referendum supports it

In a statement of typically overwhelming hypocrisy Abbott said: “we need less ideology and more common sense” but reaffirmed his strong opposition to same sex marriage.”

tony-abbott-onion-copy.jpg

There is apparently no truth in the rumour that Tony Abbott will increase the American Association of Onion Growers advocating eating raw onions as a cure for homosexuality.

It’s unbelievable that a man whose every action is driven by deep-seated right wing ideology should now start appealing to common sense to support his beliefs.  It’s been said that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel, perhaps that should be appeals to common sense.

 Surely, common sense would dictate that the wishes of the majority of Australian electorate (as demonstrated in numerous polls) would be respected and gay marriage legalised. But that’s not Tony Abbott’s definition of common sense. Common sense is agreeing with Tony.

He continued by saying  “”Policymakers shouldn’t be judgmental about people’s personal choices but we can’t be indifferent to the erosion of family given its consequences for the wider community.”
Legalising gay marriage will not lead to any of social change in Australia. Most of the people who will be affected by the legislation are already living in same-sex marriages. The legislation would simply give the same legal rights to these people as are enjoyed by the rest of the population. The only consequence of this will be greater equality and equity within the Australian community and for people such as Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster.

Domino man.jpeg

In the light of Abbott’s addressed to the lunatic right in America, it’s somewhat ironic to note that The Age reports that “Same sex marriage has been legal in the US since a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June last year, but remains outlawed in Australia.”

Referendums – the rules according to Eric Abetz

Now who said this?I would need to determine whether [the plebiscite] really is an accurate reflection [of the national view], whether it is all above board or whether the question is stacked, whether all sides received public funding,” he told the Guardian Australia.” (My emphasis)

Before you answer, let me recall that the last referendum (on the republic) was whether Australians wanted a head of state elected by the parliament.

The weasel-wording of the question was the work of John Howard, well-known for his opposition to the republic.

johnhoward_wideweb__470x308,0.jpg

 John Howard and the Republican referendum: we were lucky to get a vote at all

The measure was voted down, not because people didn’t want a republic, but because they didn’t want the politicians electing head of state. This was at a time when the Australian people trusted the Wiggles more than they trusted politicians.

The referendum had two questions rolled into one whereas, it should have been two  separate questions.

(1) Do you want Australia to become a republic?

(a)  Yes

(b) No

(2) Who do you want the Head of state elected by?

(a)  the Parliament

(b) the Australian people

To summarise: The Australian people were dudded.

But to come back to my original question, this is a quote from Senator Abetz on the question of gay marriage. The senator will not be bound by the results of the plebiscite to be held after the next election.

He went on to say “It would be up to each member to decide whether the plebiscite accurately reflects the views of the Australian people, whether it reflects the views of their electorates and whether it is good or bad public policy in their view”

1987097_071113m_EricAbetz_1280x720_original

Eric Abetz: “Referendum? I don’t give a stuff about the referendum.”

This is a staggering piece of hypocrisy from a man who was only prepared to listen to the will of the people when it suits him.

When asked whether he would bind his MPs to vote ‘yes’ if that is the plebiscite result, Mr Turnbull told Parliament last year that “the consequence of a ‘yes’ vote in the plebiscite will be that same-sex marriage will be legal in Australia”.

It’s time for this dinosaur to leave our national parliament to make way for someone whose views are more in touch with ordinary Australians and who shows some respect for our democratic processes.

 

Turnbull surges in the polls

The Age reports that

Labor’s primary vote has plunged to just 30 per cent as voters flood back to a rejuvenated Coalition government under Malcolm Turnbull’s new leadership style one month after he replaced the unpopular Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. 

In what appears to be a clear vindication of that bruising leadership switch, Mr Turnbull has more than tripled Bill Shorten’s popularity as preferred prime minister at 67 per cent to Mr Shorten’s 21 – a dive of 24 points for the Opposition Leader since August, when he was up against Mr Abbott.

The hugely popular Malcolm Turnbull

The hugely popular Malcolm Turnbull

There are some caveats to the current poll.

The first is that Shorten’s popularity is travelling well behind that of  his party  (21% approval rating to 47% on a two-party preferred basis). That means that a lot of people who would vote for Labor or the Greens don’t want Bill as  Prime Minister. But we already knew this.

Shorten was elected because he had a majority in the parliament party. Anthony Albanese had a majority amongst Labor Party voters.  It probably a commentary on the inward looking nature of our political system that this kind of result can come about.  When you count the absolute numbers, Albanese had far more support than Shorten and the consequences of that decision are now being played out in the polls.

Things are only going to get worse. The Royal Commission will inflict some damage on the opposition leader, if not on the Labor Party.  With Shorten prepared to tough it out, it looks like electoral death by thousand cuts for the Labor Party.

Bill Shorten was never a good idea as Leader of the Opposition now he is turning into a liability

Bill Shorten was never a good idea as Leader of the Opposition now he is turning into a liability

The other interesting aspect of Turnbull’s surge in the polls is that he hasn’t really done anything in a legislative or policy sense.  He’s been charming, he’s been reasonable, he’s been Malcolm. And that seemed to be  an extremely successful strategy.

We can only hope that this very powerful showing in the polls will strengthen his position against a right wing of his party and lead to changes on issues such as gay marriage, refugee policy, terrorism policy, renewable energy policy, environmental policy and reconciliation.

Religious anti-gay clerk goes to jail

Last week I wrote  about Religious liberty and the rule of law in America  and a clerk in Kentucky who had refused to marry gay couples on the grounds of her religious belief. Her problem was that she was in direct contravention of the ruling of the Supreme Court of America.

And the Empire strikes back!

Clerk Kim Davis jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences for gay couples

The charge was contempt of court where the Courts issued a very clear statement about the relative importance of the rule of law and individual religious beliefs.

Naturally enough, Kim Davis is now the darling of the lunatic right and the martyr to the cause of religious freedom.

Now, clearly Kim Davis’s manager could have quietly moved  her to another job where she wasn’t required to marry gay couples.

But someone decided to have a showdown. Gunfight at the OK corral  over gay marriage!

'Gunfight at the OK Corral': Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, John Hudson, DeForest Kelley

‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’: Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, John Hudson, DeForest Kelley

Now here’s a good example of a good guy with a gun.