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Enough Jumping Ship

As Rod Culleton learned the hard way, getting into parliament is not as easy as it sounds. Your past can have an impact. But once you are safely there, you can do pretty much what you like. You may get booted from a Ministry or something if you mess up badly enough, but you are still there, earning $195,000 at the bare minimum with your backside polishing a red or green leather seat. And this allows a nasty, unintended loophole in the Australia Constitution that far too many politicians have taken advantage of.

If someone decides to leave parliament for their own reasons, or worse, by death, this creates a casual vacancy which the Constitution makes allowance for. For the Senate, someone from the same party is placed into the vacant position, ensuring that the will of the electorate is continued. If voters elect a Senator from the Alliance of Lunatics United and that Senator resigns after deciding he has become too sane to continue in that role, the ALU gets to put a replacement in. In the House of Representatives, a casual vacancy is filled by a by-election. And again, the will of the electorate is respected.

Those constitutional requirements emphasise the intention of those who framed it – vacancies should reflect the will of the electorate – that is paramount.

Now we come to the nasty loophole. When you are elected, it is either as a representative of a specific party or as an independent. And that reflects what the specific electorate wanted. But once that backside has landed on that parliamentary seat, there is absolutely no requirement that they continue to represent that party or their independence. That is why we see pollies, particularly in the Senate, have dummy spits, fall out with their party, quit and go independent or worse, join another party.

Every time that happens, the electorate has just had dirt thrown in their face.

The latest such electoral backstabbing is coming courtesy of Senator Cory Bernardi. As suspected for some time, Bernardi is quitting the Liberal Party to form his own conservative party. Does it matter that he was elected for the Liberal Party by the electorate of South Australia? No. And this has a distinct impact on the conduct of government. The LNP Coalition now has one less Senate seat and one more crossbencher to have to deal with.

The intention of those who framed the Constitution of Australia is quite clear – the will of the electorate is paramount. So why is it that this nasty loophole has been allowed to remain for so long? Sure, changing the Constitution is a big deal, requiring a referendum. However, a referendum is not actually required to fix this matter. While the Constitution sets out the basics, the more detailed conduct of elections is contained within the Commonwealth Electoral Act. And a piece of legislation can be fixed by parliament.

It has been some time since there was a someone jumping ship from the Liberal or Labor ranks – other than Peter Slipper but the Libs no longer wanted him anyway, having already told him he had lost his preselection. When the Palmer United Party imploded with Jacqui Lambie and Glen Lazarus going their own ways, both major sides of the House were probably quite happy to see Clive Palmer’s hold on parliament severely cut back. But now the electoral backstabbing is coming from one of their own. Surely that is going to finally be a wakeup call?

The voters of South Australia wanted to be represented by a Liberal Senator in the position occupied by Bernardi. So why should they now suddenly be represented by the Bernardi Conservative Coalition or whatever it is going to be called? The answer is simple – they shouldn’t.

The time has come for this ship-jumping free ride to come to an end. If someone wants to quit the party that saw them elected, then they need to either face the electorate or try to get elected in their own right, or leave parliament. To continue in parliament, pocketing the big salary, benefits, expenses and support all at the tax-payer’s expense when they no longer represent what the electorate wanted, is ethical fraud.

It is all up to you, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten. Time for a bipartisan approach to ensure that the will of the electorate is finally represented properly.

Over to you – how do you think the government should deal with this?

Written by Ross Hamilton and originally published at: ROSS’S RANT

 

15 comments

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  1. Jaquix

    The matter of these people leaving the Party they entered parliament with, needs to be addressed by a sweeping review of electoral matters generally. On the other hand, the case of Glenn Lazarus leaving the Palmer Party (almost certainly with justifiable reason) needs to be taken into account too. But Bernardi is just plain opportunistic, and all for nothing, probably. He has nothing new to tempt old Lib voters. They want change, not going backwards.

  2. Johno

    Wrong picture, you have made jumping ship look like way to much fun.

  3. Vikingduk

    But, but, maligning dear Corgi Bernadi, how could you, don’t you realise he is here to save the day, to put new meaning into the body politic, to introduce truth, justice and the American way, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound . . . Hang on there, that was someone else, wasn’t it?

    Nevertheless, I’m sure that (alleged) fan of bestiality, that was him wasn’t it, or am I confused again? Will lead us back to the correct path of righteousness. Perhaps him and poorline could join forces, become the Beast Nation Party.

  4. ausross

    I am looking forward to seeing him face the electorate. He only picked up just over 2,000 votes in 2016. That will be just enough to make him a laughing stock.

  5. brickbob

    I would’nt vote Liberal if they tied me up and let loose rats to chew my intestines out, but for genuine Liberal voters who thought they were voting for their man in Bernardi, they have every right to feel cheated,lied to and conned.
    Oh talking about rats that is exactly what Bernardi is, he should have stood in front of his voters before the election and said he was’nt happy and was going to start his own party but he did’nt,he led them to believe he was going to stay in the Liberal party,which makes him an un-principled unmitigated bloody self serving liar……………..

  6. Johno

    Or are there genetically modified sharks swimming below the jumpers. That would make them think twice before jumping.

  7. kerri

    Completely agree Ross! Have never understood the way an elected person can be so easily replaced by and unelected person.

  8. helvityni

    …maybe the boat is sinking…?

  9. Zathras

    If someone stands for election as a representative of a political party (rather than the independent representative of an electorate) and thus willingly avails him-or-herself of all the financial and media support that party provides to help them become elected but then “change their mind” that person should be obliged to leave the Parliament as well as the party and re-contest the seat.

    They should also bear the cost of the resulting by-election (perhaps all politicians should pay into some sort of mutual insurance fund to cover this).

    It’s quite straightforward and ethical but since politicians display neither trait, it won’t ever happen.

    Are politicians also losing faith in the political system like the rest of us?

  10. amethyst3009

    Oh Brickbob, ‘I would’nt vote Liberal if they tied me up and let loose rats to chew my intestines out’ this is the BEST ‘. I seriously can not stop laughing – so good, just sums up my feelings entirely.

    ‘It’s quite straightforward and ethical but since politicians display neither trait, it won’t ever happen.’ Thank you Zathras this is right there with Brickbob’s comment.

    I love AIMN (It has now become my daily go-to for current affairs,)

  11. roma guerin

    Thank you for explaining what I suspected was, or should have been, the case. I should have come here first. I keep looking for a politician to make a big decision ethically but it never happens. Zathras said it for me, first paragraph.

  12. king1394

    .The fault lies with the South Australian Liberal Party who selected Bernardi for a winnable place on their Senate ticket. Did they not know enough about Bernardi’s propensity to be a loose cannon six months ago? The South Australian Libs were quite happy to put him there and people jut want to do as little as possible with their vote it seems and so he was elected.

    We have handed over the Senate to the parties and we, and they, deserve what we get. We need to return to ‘under the line’ voting in the Senate preferably with candidates placed in random order.

  13. jim

    “LABOR IN COMPLETE DISARRAY” the headlines would be screaming with “INCOMPETENTS AT THE WHEEL,WHILE AUSTRALIA GOES BACKWARDS” AND “KICK THIS MOB OUT NOW!” or “BURN THE WITCH”.

  14. Dean McIntosh

    I might still be a hopeless idealist after all. But I personally believe the concept of parties should be abolished. If a “representative” cannot stand out there and say “this is what I believe, this is what I will do, please vote for me”, then he has no business being in parliament. If I were to run, for example, I would say, “I believe disabled people have been shat on by this institution for too long, I believe we should stop focusing on ‘jobs and growth’ and instead think about raising our living standards”. And so on. That way, when people are elected, it is clear that the electorate has elected them on the basis of what they say they will do.

    Voting for a party is like holding a shotgun over your shoulder, turning your back to the wild animal, and hoping the shot will hit when you pull the trigger.

  15. ausross

    king1394 – there is an element of randomness of a sort. The full process for establishing the order in which candidates appear on the Senate paper, below the line, can be found here: http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/ballot-draw.htm.

    In short, there are two draws. One draw is for what order grouped, ie party, candidates appear. Then a separate draw for the ungrouped ie independent. That played a big part in how David Leyonhjelm was first elected to the Senate. By that random-ish draw, the Liberal Democratic Party with Leyonhjelm as its primary candidate, scored first place on the list. Between that position and the ludicrous similarity of party name to the Liberal Party of Australia, Leyonhjelm snuck into the Senate.

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