of governors-general and Labor leaders

[This post was put up by Alan; the new site does not appear to grant credit to collaborators who posted at the old site.]

The ALP has a new leader, Bill Shorten, who trailed in the member ballot but pretty much swept the caucus ballot. Shorten has form from the Gillard coup and the Rudd coup but obviously enjoys the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues. The new electoral process, a joint ballot of party members and MPs, worked well.

A small glitch is that Shorten is married to the daughter of the governor-general who offered to resign to avoid any appearance of bias. The PM issued a statement saying that he has rejected the resignation, although that may be news to Elizabeth II.

It looks like the ALP will probably extend its democratisation experiment to internal primaries and the election of state Labor leaders.

13 thoughts on “of governors-general and Labor leaders

  1. I think Prime Minister Abbott meant to say he had “decided against advising the Queen to accept Ms Bryce’s resignation”. He of all people would be solicitous of the role of the Monarchy in Australia’s constitutional system.

    Given that hung parliaments are unlikely to arise for at least the next six years (but then, who would have predicted the August 2010 stalemate in August 2009?), Ms Bryce is probably fairly safe from being put in an invidious position where she has a genuine discretion whether to recommission Mr Abbott or to send for her son-in-law to kiss hands. (- Metaphorically speaking. I don’t think that particular British custom survived the crossing to the Antipodes. Quite certain I cannot remember, or for that matter imagine, Bob Hawke kneeling before Bill Hayden to buss the viceregal knuckle).

    Australians seem nearly as blase about these sorts of perceived conflicts of interest as Floridians are/ were about Katherine Harris. For example, Michael McHugh was appointed to the High Court by the federal Labor Government in 1989 while his wife Jeanette was a Labor MHR (and a Minister 1993-96). Curiously, while his wife’s party was in power McHugh J was a judicial activist and in favour of finding implied rights and freedoms in Australia’s largely rights-less Constitution. After Labor lost power, though, McHugh J became more judicially conservative and deferential towards the Parliament – which was now controlled by the LNC.

  2. Oddly enough both Howard and now Abbot have a history of moving into the space traditionally occupied by the monarchy.

  3. Interesting that Shorten’s victory based on caucus votes (despite losing the “popular vote”) doesn’t seem to have diminished his legitimacy. I wonder if this is because:

    (a) he is – sorry to be blunt here – highly unlikely ever to be prime minister. The first opposition leader elected after losing government is almost always a seat-warmer. Bob Carr in NSW (1988-95 as Opposition Leader) and Peter Beattie in Qld (1996-98) are the only ones I can think of in recent decades, and federally the losing party tends not only to churn through leaders in opposition but to recycle them (John Howard, Andrew Peacock, Kim Beazley… also Jeff Kennett and John Brumby in Victoria).

    (b) moving to a system where the membership has at least some influence is a move away from giving caucus 100% of the votes. It’s a shift towards greater populism even if, this time, the popular votes were so narrowly split that they didn’t elect the winner. Quaere whether it would have been accepted as readily, or at all, if the ALP had moved in the opposite direction – from a direct leadership election towards a more collegiate system.

    (Queensland Labor uses a similar dual system for preselections. A Statewide party electoral college of 40+ members casts 40 votes, and the local branch members’ ballots are converted to a total out of 60. However, if the branch ballot winner gets 60% of the branch votes, they’re automatically preselected, even though that represents only 36% of the total. By contrast, Labor in NSW uses only local members’ votes – except when State Party HQ calls in the decision as an “emergency” matter, which apparently happens a lot – while in the Victorian ALP all preselections are centralised at State level. Caveat that my info here is a few years old.)

  4. Right now, if the caucus and party membership disagree on who to select as leader, it is the candidate with a bigger proportion of the vote in the group that favours him who wins. In other words, the group with the stronger preference wins.

    As time goes by and this method is used again, I think situations like this will increasingly cause tensions in the party.

  5. @4: Sorry, JD… I’d query the assumption that, eg, a 60% majority means more intense support than a 52% win. It could be that three voters out of every five decide “Meh. Shorten. Whatever.”

    By contrast, it could be that between seven and eight voters out of every fifteen passionately admire Gough Whitlam while the others detest him intensely (that’s basically Australian electoral history between 1967 and 1977). Lyndon Johnson got one of the highest popular percentage votes in US history in 1964, but his support was thin (and much of it was “Anyone but Goldwater”) so that it was starting to melt away as early as 1966 and was nearly all gone by 1968.

    This reificatory fallacy seems to me akin to the assumption (often employed by defenders of the US Electoral College) that a candidate with, say, 47% support nationwide who carries pluralities in 30 States is “more intensely” supported than a candidate with 47% of the nationwide vote who carries pluralities in only 20 States.

    Intensity of preference can be measured by other mechanisms (determination to turn out and vote, for example, although this can be muddied by lack of time or money) but the mere fact that a lot of other people hold the same view says nothing about how intensely I hold it.

  6. … What it does mean is that if the caucus members decide (by explicit covenant, or even tacit mutual understanding) to all swing behind one candidate, individual MHRs and Senators will maximize their political clout even if occasionally they end up voting against their own first choice. US Democratic Party super-delegates (and whatever their GOP equivalents are called) provide an analogy.

  7. And needless to say, it would much harder for 2,000 anonymous branch members spread across Australia to coordinate in this way (and to extract undertakings in return for voting for their non-preferred candidate) than for a hundred or so parliamentarians who gather regularly in one room in Canberra.

  8. Sorry, Tom, my terminology wasn’t completely up to scratch there, but you certainly understood what I meant correctly.

  9. …That is, I was just trying to express a stronger number of votes in simpler terms, rather than trying to imply anything about how intense the support was.

  10. *stronger support in terms of number of votes

    I’m still getting used to not being able to amend my comments…

  11. I suspect the ALP will move quite rapidly to a simple membership ballot.

    The ALP right did itself no favours by directing tis caucus members to vote for Shorten and then subverting the secret ballot by what is known in the ALp as ‘buddy vote’ where you show your ballot to the person beside you.

    I think Shorten will be a stronger opposition leader than Albo would have been, but I also think the way he got the job will cost, and not too far down the road. A wiser faction than the ALP right might be thinking about the ICAC investigation in NSW which disclosed that the leaders of that faction engaged in corrupt conduct worth hundreds of million dollars.

    Calls for democratisation are not going to go away, and there is already a significant push to preselect candidates and determine policies by internal primary.

  12. As I’ve said, I’m not sure Australia is quite ready for Prime Minister Anthony A confronting Opposition Leader Anthony A. It would give aid and comfort to those opponents of preferential voting who seem to think it is uniquely conducive to (rather, it is unusually transparent about) donkey voting… http://tinyurl.com/mb9njqm

  13. On second thought, I think Quentin Bryce should have insisted on resigning.

    Everyone is agreed that the governor-general has some degree of discretion in accepting or rejecting advice for a double dissolution. At minimum the governor-general must satisfy themself that the constitutional requirements for a double dissolution actually exist. At maximum governor-general must satisfy themself that the parliament has become unworkable.

    Taking either view, Bryce could find herself being tendered advice that requires the exercise of discretion. Resigning at that point would not be a solution, nor would refusing the advice pending the completion of her term.

    A far better solution would have been to resign with immediate effect.

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