Sunday July 10 2016
In the aftermath of any election usually the first two utterances one hears from the winner is “we will govern for all the people” and unequivocally “we have a mandate”.
So here we are on Sunday with Arthur Sinodinos being interviewed by Barry Cassidy on ABC’s Insiders, claiming in the most exuberant fashion that the Coalition, after winning with the narrowest of margins, that they had a mandate.
So in denial was Sinodinos that one could be excused for thinking that the Coalition had run the most effective campaign ever. He said that the people recognised that the government had a plan for jobs and growth and had a talented group to put it into action.
He went on to say that the budget would be presented intact but conceded that they would take another look at health.
He didn’t mention that the $50 billion tax cuts for business almost certainly wouldn’t get pasted by the senate. They will probably be pleased with that because it’s a promise that was unlikely to be funded by the growth calculations in the budget.
But back to this mandate thing.
Invariably when political parties win an election they claim to have a mandate. But surely to claim that you have a policy mandate when you have won by the narrowest of margins is an absurdity.
If you campaigned in an election on one explicit policy and everyone knew that it was specifically about that policy and you won. I would say you had a mandate. However, in this election there were a multitude of policies with a distinct difference in ideology.
The Coalition will probably win by the closest of margins with the people giving them a firm kick up the backside.
People assume that elections, especially ones with a ‘large’ margin of victory, give the newly elected government or elected official an implicit mandate to put into effect certain policies.
But in essence the word ‘mandate’ is not derived from any particular institution, doctrine, law or constitution. It may have its grounding in philosophy, history or political morality.
In those rare moments where it is legitimate it is more to do with how governments govern rather than any authority to do so.
For example, it was preposterous for Prime Minister Abbott to claim a mandate in 2013 to do anything other than govern. Prior to and during that election Labor’s policies were always irresistibly popular with the electorate. Essential polls and surveys showed that major reforms like Gonski, NBN, NDIS, the carbon tax, gay marriage and others always had community support. They lost not on policy but dysfunctional leadership.
The contradiction was that people had no intention of voting Labor.
The Senate further complicates the notion of a mandate. The House of review, the Senate has never recognised so-called mandates instead usually acting in the interests of a minority party, or parties holding the balance of power.
Therefore, a mandate cannot be a mandate unless it is honoured by the Senate which is even more unlikely now.
There is also the argument that if oppositions receive a sizable vote they too have received a mandate from their electors. That would also apply to independents.
I think it is fairly conclusive that Labor did not lose this election because of policy unpopularity. On the contrary, their policies were so popular the conservatives (in the absence of policies of their own) suffered a voter backlash.
In winning the election the conservatives have the right to set the political agenda. They do not have a mandate to do any more.
The question remains: What is a mandate? Well you decide. For me it is only legitimate when all cards are on the table and the party who wins, wins with such a majority that its mandate cannot be denied. And in those rare moments where it is legitimate it is more to do with how governments govern rather than any authority to do so.
My thought for the day:
“Current experience would suggest that the Australian people need to take more care when electing its leaders”.
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