Green filibuster

One US tradition I hope we don’t adopt.

Filibusters are familiar to followers of American politics. A lone senator talks into the night in order to prevent a vote on a bill. They’re not often seen in Australian houses of parliament — that’s because most houses impose limits on how long parliamentarians can speak for. Not so in NSW.

Last week, Greens MLC David Shoebridge broke a record when he addressed the NSW Legislative Council for just under six hours on the topic of Barry O’Farrell’s new industrial relations laws. All those years as a barrister came in handy. He started on Thursday evening at 6.15pm and the debate went on, carried by other windy Greens and Labor MLCs until the guillotine was dropped and debate cut on Saturday morning. Those voting for the bill didn’t have much to contribute to the debate.

Although I am pleased to note that Shoebridge had to actually talk on his feet rather than notify the leader of the government in the council that he might talk for a really, really long time if he didn’t get everything he wanted. Immediately. And a pony.

The US Senate filibuster is famous. Is there ever a democratic case for a supermajority in a legislative body? Could it be made more rational than the US filibuster in its present incarnation? Denmark lets a legislative minority impose a referendum. I am quite attracted to the ‘filibuster’ provision in the UN Charter.

Article 18

  1. Each member of the General Assembly shall have one vote.
  2. Decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. These questions shall include: recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, the election of the non-permanent members of the Security Council, the election of the members of the Economic and Social Council, the election of members of the Trusteeship Council in accordance with paragraph 1 (c) of Article 86, the admission of new Members to the United Nations, the suspension of the rights and privileges of membership, the expulsion of Members, questions relating to the operation of the trusteeship system, and budgetary questions.
  3. Decisions on other questions, including the determination of additional categories of questions to be decided by a two-thirds majority, shall be made by a majority of the members present and voting.

2 thoughts on “Green filibuster

  1. If there is a minority veto rule for an assembly, it should require the specified minority to actually turn up (or out), be present, and vote “No” (or “defer”) as many times as the “Yes” majority’s supporters have to.

    Eg, something like “a motion is deemed passed if, and only if:

    (a) more members vote for it than against it; and

    (b) at least 30% of all members vote for it; and

    (c) fewer than 30% of all members vote against it.”

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