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