The first thing that everyone needs to remember is that individuals, not parties, are elected into our Parliament.
We have evolved some conventions – such as a senator, dying or retiring mid-term will be replaced by a senator of the same party – but as Joh Bjelke-Petersen showed when he appointed Albert Field, there is no Constitutional necessity to uphold these conventions.
There have been many examples of elected representatives leaving a party mid-term to become Independents, and while there have been fewer who’ve actually changed parties, it’s not without precedent.
So Senator-elect, Ricky Muir, is entirely free to join Clive and all the other Palmers.
However, it’s certainly rare – as in I can’t find a single example – that such a thing would happen BEFORE the elected candidate has even spoken to the media, let alone taken his seat in Parliament.
According to Clive Palmer, his memorandum of understanding with Ricky Muir is private and confidential.
There may be an argument for this, but we’re entering dangerous territory. Already governments avoid scrutiny by citing very dubious “commercial in confidence” reasons for not giving us the full story on many projects. The idea that political parties themselves can enter into “agreements” with other political parties without giving us the details opens the door – or should that be closes the door? – on some potentially shady dealings.
While there’s no reason to think that the deal between Palmer and Muir is based on anything other than a mutual understanding and the highest of motives, how would we feel if it were not a party run by a man of such high integrity as Clive Palmer?
For example, I’ve just formed the “Rossleigh’s I’m Awesome and I Love it When I Get Money” Party. Ok, I was a bit late to run for this year’s election but I’ve entered into an understanding with Joe Blog who won a Senate Seat. He’s agreed to support my party’s position on all legislation, and in return we have an understanding that I’ll throw my weight behind him in any way I can, including holding my wedding in a resort of his choice. Have I offered him any financial inducement? Well, that’s none of anyone’s business…
Of course, the situation with Palmer and Muir is different. As Clive said on election night, “Mate, I’ve got more money than you could ever dream of, what’s the conflict of interest? I want to get ideas going, you know … how much money could I get out of the government? You don’t need to judge people by how much money they’ve got, it’s the content of their character that matters.” So I’m sure we don’t have to worry that there’s any problem in this case.
It’s the precedent that worries me.
Particularly in a Senate where every vote is going to count. The expected makeup is 33 Coalition Senators, 26 from the ALP, nine Greens, four Palmer United Party/Ricky Muir coalition and four independents or sole representatives of minor parties. (This could change depending on the result involving The Greens Scott Ludlam).
But at least we know that Tony Abbott won’t be caving in to demands from any of these senators and making any agreements that we’re not privy to. Remember he said this before the election: ‘There’s a commitment that I want to give you … There will not be deals done with independents and minor parties under any political movement that I lead.”
Like I said before, it’s the precedent that I find disturbing!
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