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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

minority government + the media « Previous | |Next »
September 7, 2010

I'm finding the responses by the horse race journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery's and their fellow travellers to a hung Parliament, the three regional Independents, the reforms to Parliament and the negotiations to decide a minority government increasingly obnoxious.


In defending the two party system in spite of the fracturing of the body politic they target the Independents (the "Three Amigos",m ) and consistently fail to take their policy concerns about regional Australia seriously.

The Australian's general response, for instance, is to hell with parliamentary reform, another election has be to called right now so that the people get it right this time. Getting it right means a strong executive in a conservative government to reform society so that Australia is an open, pro-business economy. Minority government is simply a recipe for reform paralysis.

Others say the decision needs to be made now. There can be no more delay--even though it is actually the two major parties who are dragging their heels on addressing the policy issues the regional Independents have raised.

One of the more vitriolic responses is Niki Savva's Shackled with a few rogue fence jumpers in The Australian. This is what Savva means by rogue fence jumpers:

There is no misty-eyed rainbow coalition in the making here but one weakened bloc relying on a bunch of misfits, oddballs, rebels, megalomaniacs and ideologues to cling to power. Take your pick which is which.The cocky independents did not care about who had the most seats, who got the most votes, who was ahead in the opinion polls or the fact most people in their electorates voted anyone but Labor. They veered from anxiety attacks to power surges as they tried to decide, and tried to decide on what would make them decide.

Her argument is that with minority government nothing will get down because the three Independents will be overwhelmed.
Every piece of legislation will have to be negotiated through the cocky independents, Andrew Wilkie and or the Greens' Adam Bandt. We could end up with better outcomes. In our dreams. More realistically, nothing much will happen because no agreement can be reached, or we will end up with an even bigger plague of camels. Everyone will have to be around and on the ball all the time, especially the three cockies.

Yet 80% of legislation is passed on a bipartisan basis. The debates and negotiations occur on the contested legislation, which has gone through the committee system that is based around public consultation. None of the regional independents, Andrew Wilkie or the Greens' Adam Bandt had a problem withe national broadband network. They were all in favour of it as they were for more renewable energy.

Bob Katter has decided to support Abbott and the Coalition. He added that if the Coalition did form government he would not be accepting any positions such as a ministry or the Deputy Speaker's position. He has indicated that he may retract his support for the Coalition should Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott decide to go with Labor. If Windsor and Oakeshott go ALP, then Katter stays as Independent in effect.

Another possibility to the one Katter mentioned is Rob Oakeshott lining up to support Gillard Labor, whilst Tony Windsor stays as an Independent supporting supply and only good confidence motions. That would make things nice and tight (75-74) with little room for slippage. Another possibility is for Windsor + Oakeshott to decide to back Gillard (76-74), which is what I reckon will happen because of the stability criteria.

Update 2
Tony Windsor goes for Gillard ALP because of the national broadband network and more renewable energy (in relation to the climate change) for regional Australia. So does Rob Oakeshott. The Gillard Government offered a better deal for regional Australia--a $10 billion regional package and the history of inequity re regional Australia was crucial for both Windsor and Oakeshott. So the national broadband network will go ahead, and we can expect substantial fibre roll-outs to occur around the country over the next 3 years.

The Independent's strategy is to leverage this political situation to address that inequity. The Independent's support is for supply and confidence motions only. Oakeshott appears to have been offered a ministry by Gillard--most likely a regional development ministry.

It is going to be a difficult three years for Gillard Labor --a minority government that is internally fractured; and squeezed between the Greens on the Left and continually firebombed from Abbott + News Ltd on the Right. The Nationals will self-destruct when it is realized that the Independents have gained more for regional Australia in two weeks than the Nationals have in a decade.

The News Ltd narrative will be that Labor will implode and they will be doing everything they can to undermine the Oakeshott and Windsor's support for a minority Labor Government. The talking point for the News Ltd hacks will be that the Greens are the problem. The News Ltd judgement would be that the Coalition would win am majority if there was an early return to the pools.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:11 AM | | Comments (21)


I thought the 3 regional Independents have done quite well. They have reformed the House of Representatives and conducted their negotiations for a better deal for regional Australia fairly.

They also examined in detail all the information that would enable them to make a carefully considered decision on which party was best placed to provide stable, competent, outcomes-focused government in the national interest.

In contrast Abbott and the Coalition did not do well in the post-election period. Abbott was too aggressive and angry, engaged in flagrant pork barreling over the Hobart Hospital, and painted scary scenarios of a coalition of Labor and Greens that would be terrible for regional Australia.

in the SMH Gerard Henderson downplays the importance of long overdue Parliamentary reform--eg., changes to question time, an independent speaker, more time for private members’ bills and reform of the committee system.

There is reason for some reform to parliamentary procedures - along the lines suggested by Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter. Tony Abbott spoke about this before the election and Julia Gillard advocated such changes in 2006.Yet this is primarily a matter of concern for the Parliament House set - politicians, staffers, public servants and the journalists who report their activities.

He adds that out in the electorate, few care all that much if the prime minister has just delivered a 12 minute answer to a Dorothy Dix question or if the opposition leader has described a minister as a fool or fraud. Such behaviour may well get a run in the evening news bulletins and it may be less than edifying.

Parliamentary reform in the House of Representatives is a matter for us citizens because it will produce better legislation. The House will now function more like the Senate--compromise, negotiation, debate on contentious issues.

However, there was no mention of reforming the Senate to make it function better as a House of Review and to strengthen it as a bulwark against the excesses of a dominant executive.

Bob Katter has said that has decided to side with the Coalition. He said that the Coalition had done better on eight of the 20 points he had listed to swing his vote - nominating ethanol policy and indigenous affairs (housing) and the wild rivers legislation in Queensland as the major differences. Surely the mining tax would be another major difference. He didn't like the execution of Rudd.

Katter remains an Independent, but appeared to suggest he would not back motions of no-confidence in a Gillard Government without reason.He may even retract his support should Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott decide to go with Labor.

So its 74 all now. Will the 3 Independents stick together as a bloc or split? Will Windsor and Oakeshott go with Labor? Katter going early suggests that the 3 have split and Windsor and Oakeshott supporting Gillard Labor. But who knows.

I think it was Windsor who pointed out that the independents did not create the impasse nor did they particularly like it. In fact it puts them in a very invidious position where if they are perceived to be aligning with one of the major parties, they lose a lot of the appeal that got them elected in the first place.

I still believe we will be back to the polling booths sooner rather than later. Each side will be trying to manufacture a 'crisis' that can only be resolved by the people's voice. Sadly, given their past record, I'd back the Libs to be the first to do it with the MSM in full-throated support, and it won't be a crisis about policy. It will be some carefully orchestrated 'scandal', possibly generated by an incoming Liberal state government post-March 2011.

they--Oakeshott and Windsor----need to stay as Independent as much as possible in order to protect themselves. So it is minimal support for a minority Labor government (re supply and confidence motions) with no support for policy. Gillard will have to argue for her policies.

Supporting a Gillard Government was a bridge too far for Katter---eg., he couldn't support an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax and he was opposed to a mining tax.

I'm happy. The Greens progressed & have real power. Labor were taught a lesson & ultimately Abbott did not win. Hopefully Labor lift their game because they sure look to be running on empty.

I think the cartoon would be more ironic and accurate if the only caption was:
"How dare you try to effect the democratic process".

And have all the journos' mouths wide open.

Abbott came real close to gaining power and defeating Gillard Labor--those two seats hung in the balance until the end. He could almost touch the prime ministership thanks to a compliant media. In Opposition he'll return to the "oppose everything, suggest nothing, and turf the government out" talking points.

News Limited wants a Coalition Government so it will paint everything the Government does as bad or useless.

On cue Paul Kelly returns to The Australian's favourite theme ---policy paralysis:

As far as the parliament is concerned I think there is now a real risk of a weak government delivering poor policy or not too much policy, because all Julia Gillard has got is the commitment of the independents when it comes to confidence and supply, but she has to negotiate every bill item by item.So I think that suggests that it will be difficult to build a consensus, I don't think this will be a significant reforming Parliament.

The solution is another election:
What's so bad about a new election sometime over the next three years?What's so wrong about giving the Australian people another chance rather than saying we have to have stable government for another three years?The task is not just stable government - it's also effective government.

That an effective government is an Abbott government, goes without saying.

Peter Hartcher continues his attack on the Independents in the SMH.

Referring to Windsor's statement that the Coalition, was more likely to run to a new election as soon as possible because he thought they would be more likely to win Hartcher says:

In other words, Windsor has chosen deliberately to side with the party that he thinks is less likely to win the support of the Australian people at another election... This lays bare the calculus of self-interest...On his own confession, Windsor is prepared to deny the Australian people the government of their choice so long as he can prolong his own position of extraordinary leverage in holding the balance of power.

Windsor is denying the Australian people the government of their choice?--What was their choice? It was a hung Parliament! What is wrong with Windsor using his power to get a better deal for regional and rural Australia?

What is this, with the press gallery?
The one group in society who are never accountable and never prepared to consider the public interest.
Who is the chief De Maistrean?
Kelly? Shannahan?
Then there are poison dwarfs like Savva and Milne, unrepentant liars like Stutchbury and his IPA mates, and bestride the spectacle like cholesterol-laden colossii are Ackerman and Oakes.
Mean while Fran Kelly, Lee Sales, Fanny-bel Crabbe, and a million snotty blondes and cloned Uetrichtz drones shove microphones into people's faces while Grattan does her Miss Havisham thing with Ewart and Middleton in tow, presiding over the whole debacle.
Lo and behold, this is the motley crew that so congratulates itself on its wit in its descriptions of politicians, but these would get a green needle long before even the worst politician, if I had my way.

"The one group in society who are never accountable and never prepared to consider the public interest..."

Oh yes indeed! Bravo!

Even if a handful of pollies TRIED to grow a backbone, those tossers in the press gallery would ensure it passed without comment.

The meeja has become an integral part of the circus. And I don't see them getting serious any time soon.

We need to get ready for three years of negotiated legislation, private members' bills, intense committee discussion.

On the other hand get ready for Abbott to take advantage of a parliament that is shaky, vulnerable and full of unpredictability to create chaos and instability in order to tear the Gillard Government down.

The vein of poison that is circulating in public commentary--the Independents should get off their high horses and stop grand-standing--- is increasingly being directed at Rob Oakeshott. The subtext of that poison is that Oakeshott should ‘get back in his box’ and let the ‘real’ politicians get on with the business of government.

Yep, just as I suspected! The sun came up this morning and Armageddon hasn't arrived.

It surely is going to be an interesting 3 years anyway. Not the norm which is a good thing. As usual though some things will get done and some things wont. The media will play every angle to create news and stories and the cartoonist will make us laugh. Leaders will come and go on both sides maybe and we will all go Oooooo! Aagggghhh! in the right places just like when we hold a little baby for the first time even if the baby does look a bit like Bob Brown.
But lets not forget the most important thing.

Peter Hartcher's argument is that

Windsor is prepared to support the weaker party so long as he can prolong his own position of extraordinary leverage in holding the balance of power.

Windsor is doing that to ensure that regional Australia is getting a better deal, which it deserves.

What is wrong with that?

The Labor Right factional powerbrokers look like big losers in this deal, which may make it even more unstable than it looks. They certainly don't want the Parliamentary party in a postition of increased independence based on their exclusive ability to contact and negotiate with the independent MPs.

One doubts whether Tony Windsor would even bother to return a phone call from Sussex St.

I wonder if frustrated powerbrokers would actually prefer a controllable Parliamentary party in opposition over an out-of-control one in Government.

I'm not convinced meeja will get what most of them want out of this. They've been relentlessly anti-Labor since Rudd took over in 2006, yet they haven't managed a coalition win. The independents and Bob Brown, whose got a higher profile now, are less intimidated by media and happy to name The Australian particularly. Katter, Windsor and Oakshott all made their announcements directly, rather than through channels that would normally allow the media (and parties) to distort their message.

It wasn't clear where it came from, but Windsor seemed to be saying that he heard about the coalition pushing for a new election, which he didn't want, from media. If it's true that Abbott didn't want a new election, like Windsor said, then media hasn't done the coalition any favours either.

re your comment: "The Labor Right factional powerbrokers look like big losers in this deal, which may make it even more unstable than it looks."

They are already making noises in Victoria, where the state ALP stands to lose some of its inner city seats (4?) to the Greens.

Will Gillard use the new situation to cut down on the power and influence of Sussex Street over policy making?

the Canberra Press Gallery is starting to acknowledge their contribution to the narrowing of public debate and to take some responsibility. Annabel Crabb at The Drum says in Never mind the conflict, let's report the Parliament that:

I instinctively defend the press gallery against the sort of shellacking it collectively receives in the blogosphere and elsewhere, because I know how hard people there work and how extreme the differences of opinion and approach are within its ranks, making a myth of the "pack mentality" theory so casually invoked by critics.
But all of us are kidding ourselves if we pretend we don't bear some responsibility for the narrowing of public debate to a series of "he said, she said" exchanges.
Conflict is quicker and easier to report; it makes a simple headline and the requirement for even-handedness can be satisfied by including quotes from both sides of the argument.Most of us are aware, I think, of the unsatisfactoriness of this format even as we reinforce it, but time, competition and the need to be first with news provides a compelling disincentive against change.

So they know what they have been doing and the effect it has. Things will change because of the new political landscape she says.

Michelle Grattan in The Age has another go at spelling out her reservations of minority government and her defence of two party system.

The sudden unfashionability of adversarial politics forgets some of its stronger points. A sharp debate, an open clash of ideas and argument can also bring ''sunshine''. Adversarial politics at its best can hold government to account, give voters welcome choice, force politicians to clear their heads and justify their policies. And, while minority rights can be squashed by a majority domination, it is also true that a healthy majority can help a government get things done. If it gets it wrong, there is always judgment on election day, let alone in the media after the other side points out the mistakes.

That ignores the debates are pretty cliched because it is a charade.The executive controls the House so the debates have little meaning. Grattan adds that:
Some of adversarial politics's bad name is not because the system is so wrong but because the players often practise it appallingly. When robust argument and the confrontation of ideas turn into an imitation of a bunch of kids in the throes of the ''terrible twos'', it's no wonder the adversarial system turns off ordinary people who wouldn't dream of treating their neighbours or employees like that.

That is right, but it is the system that it is a problem.

Grattan says that the Senate is a useful check - not least because it requires the participants to negotiate. So why cannot the House require the participants to negotiate?

That can only comes from a hung parliament or a proportional representation ---a check on the executive.