12 thoughts on “When a majority government isn’t

  1. Majority governments? Since 1962? No, no, that can’t be right. After all, Australia uses Alternative Vote….

    (If you can’t trust Niall Ferguson about history, who can you trust? After reading this http://www.blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2011/03/british-historians-condemn-australian-democracy.html I can’t wait to see his proposed Council of Historians http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/09/dont-know-much-about-history/492746/ briefing President Rubio in 2021 on the ominous parallels with the Second Romulan/ Dothraki-Babylonian War of 1837).

    • Tom, don’t be snarky. The historians signing the said letter clearly did so out of a laudable belief that all votes should be equal (“For the first time in centuries, we face the unfair idea that one citizen’s vote might be worth six times that of another”), as well as the equally laudable idea that votes for certain candidates are worthless (“As he [Churchill] argued, AV would mean that elections would be determined by ‘the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates’.”).

  2. Only tangentially related, but this is the most-recent (and relatively empty) Australia post I could find.

    The High Court yesterday ruled on the seven Members of Parliament who have had their citizenship status called into question. Of the seven, five (One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlum of the Greens, and Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce of the National Party) were ruled ineligible on the grounds of being dual citizens, while Nick Xenophon and Liberal Matt Canavan were ruled eligible. All those ineligible but Joyce were Senators, and will be replaced by a recount of Senate ballots excluding them (which will almost certainly result in the candidates next on each ticket being elected). Luckily for the Government, Joyce, a member of the House for New England, will have his seat filled in a by-election on December 2 (which he will contest).

    The impression I have received from coverage of the ruling is that it is now an absolute rule that Members of Parliament must not be dual citizens, regardless of their knowledge of their status or how they received it. Canavan and Xenophon were not found in breach of Section 44 because their statuses were found to be either not equivalent to citizenship (Xenophon) or unclear even to the High Court as to whether they were citizens (Canavan).

    Joyce losing his seat means that the Government is now technically in a minority position in the House of Representatives (74 seats on the floor to 74 for the opposition in total), but given that the government can either seek support from one member of the crossbench, encourage Speaker Tony Smith to break ties in their favour (not a hard decision for Mr Smith, a Liberal), or prorogue Parliament until Mr Joyce is re-elected (the most likely outcome, given that he won the seat easily in 2013 even against a local independent who will not run again) this would seem not to put the government in much jeopardy.

    • Thanks Henry for that excellently succinct summary. (The first seven or eight news reports I read on the case, by professional journalists, gave no indication of the Court’s legal grounds but focused only on “Mr Turnbull is/ is not happy with the outcome of the case”: the Justices may have spun the bottle to decide which parliamentarians to unseat, for all that the local media revealed).
      The fun now is in relation to the NSW joint Liberal/ National Senate ticket. Since Ms Nash is technically a failed election (discovered very belatedly) rather than a casual vacancy in a seat won fair and square, her party the Nationals do not have the right to (de jure) veto and (de facto) name her successor under Constitution sec15. Instead it will be filled by a recount, which is likely to elect the new candidate on the joint ticket. – Who, unfortunately for the Nats, is a Liberal:
      “… A recount election is likely to return Liberal Hollie Hughes, who held sixth spot on the Coalition’s New South Wales Senate ticket at the 2016 election and wants to retain the seat. While there were suggestions that Nash wished to stay in politics, and that Malcolm Turnbull could intervene on Nash’s behalf, hopes have now faded that such an intervention will take place or could succeed at persuading Hughes to relinquish the spot. […] On Sunday, the NSW Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams ruled out bringing forward his retirement to create a vacancy for Nash, telling Guardian Australia he would stay in parliament until the end of his term on 30 June 2019…”

      • Correction – as Anne Twomey reminds us, the right of a political party under sec15 is not, strictly speaking, to name or even veto a State Parliament’s choice of replacement Senator, but only to expel a member who is chosen by the State Parliament. So the NSW Libs could expel (and thus, unseat) a nominal Liberal member chosen by a Labor-dominated NSW Parliament, but the NSW Libs cannot nominate or even ratify a non-member: ie, Fiona Nash cannot eb chosen to replace Hollie Hughes (even if Ms Hughes did agree to resign to make way for Ms Nash’s return) because Ms Hughes, the candidate who was rightly elected in 2016 (as we now discover 17 months later) is a member of the Liberal Party, and Ms Nash is not:
        “It has been suggested that the likely Liberal winner in a recount, Hollie Hughes, might be pressured to resign her seat, giving rise to a casual vacancy that could be filled by Nash. The constitution, however, does not work that way. It requires the casual vacancy to be filled by a person from the same party as the person who was “chosen by the people of the state”. That would not be Nash, as she was incapable of being chosen. Hughes would be the one who was technically “chosen by the people” and she was an endorsed candidate of the Liberal party at that time. So any replacement candidate, if she resigned, would have to be a Liberal party member.”

  3. Who knew that Australian politics has so much drama, what if the by election is lost? Does that mean a snap election is coming? There are no guarantees in anything. Nobody thought Brexit and Trump would win.

  4. And in a matter of days, a new controversy has popped up-Senate President Stephen Parry may be a British citizen, and may have to resign his seat.

    This case brings up a new legal question-for all the other Senate seats, the recount has delivered the same eleven non-ineligible Senators as the original election. However, Parry was elected in Tasmania, where about a quarter of voters votes below the line and where the last seat was a close race between Green Nick McKim and One Nation’s Kate McCullouch. If a recount is conducted again, excluding Parry, McCullouch beats McKim to the final seat.

    Exactly what the High Court would make of this situation is unclear. At the 2016 Melbourne City Council elections, conducted under STV, one candidate being ruled ineligible resulted in another losing their seat-it was ruled that that candidate would be removed from the Council. However, one has to consider that McCullouch may follow a similar strategy to previous One Nation High Court success stories Malcolm Roberts and Rod Culleton.

    • Wait, you mean a councillor who had nothing to do with the ineligibility also lost his/her seat? Why? And how similar is that situation to the new situation if Parry is ineligible? Is there another current Senator in danger of losing his/her seat because of the recount? Or is it just concerning the order of election (Green vs. ON)?

      • The councillor lost their seat because when the ballots were recounted excluding the ineligible candidate, one other seat changed hands, and the state Supreme Court ruled that that seat should go to the candidate elected in the recount. Provided that it is only Parry who is ineligible, the situation is identical: the count at the 2016 election, including Parry, elected McKim and did not elect McCullouch, but the recount will elect McCullouch and not elect McKim.

      • The West Australian Legislative Council uses STV countbacks to fill casual vacancies. I believe there is an overriding rule that no sitting MLC can be unseated by a countback – ie, even if at the bottom of the poll on any stage, they can’t be eliminated from the count, but are automatically re–elected.

      • I note that some of these news reports seem to distinguish “recounts” from “countbacks” – this may be a particular result of the Victorian legislation but I haven’t checked the details. Coming at it cold, I would construe “recount” as full open-slather blank slate (ie, can change a result of ABCDE on the first, invalidated count to ABCFG or even ABHIJ on a later, valid count) but “countback” as in some way preserving the seating of the non-vacating candidates (treating the first count as valid but now outdated due to a casual vacancy) and only counting the ballots that favoured the vacating MP (Tasmania, ACT) or those ballots plus any that were “wasted” on runners-up (WA). Thus a “countback” in the strict sense implies that if E vacates, A, B, C and D cannot be eliminated.But all this is subject to any special usage otherwise stipulated * by the legislation.

        * My old student union used to distinguish “office-bearers” (= elected directly by students) from “officers” (appointed by union council), but then muddied this clear if contra-usage distinguish by establishing a directly-elected position of “National Student Affairs Officer” (NSAO), presumably because “National Student Affairs Office-Bearer” (NSAOB) would be too long.

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