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For The Sake Of Unity Why Don’t You All Agree With Me?

A couple of months ago, I read an amusing post on Facebook which basically said that the Left should stop fighting among themselves and work together to defeat the Abbott Agenda. The writer then went on to say that Bill Shorten was hopeless and the Labor was gutless for not forcing a DD.

Presuming that by “DD” he meant Double Dissolution, I calmly pointed out that there was no way that Shorten could “force” a Double Dissolution and that it seems strange that a call for unity should be followed by an attack on the Labor leader.

To which he replied that it was people like me who just posted on Facebook who were the problem and that we needed to do something instead of just talking about it. I resisted the temptation to point out that he was also posting on Facebook, and decided that I’d do my bit for unity by ending the discussion there before he ended up telling me that I was a nazi who was trying to limit his free speech by disagreeing with him.

Now, I don’t have a problem with anyone criticising any of our politicians. As far as Shorten is concerned, I think the jury is still out. As Leader of The Opposition, there’s always going to be a limit to what you can do. Some will argue that he should be making more of a fuss about this or that. Even when he’s said quite a lot about this or that, but it’s been buried on page 9 of the newspaper and not reported on the nightly news at all. Even when Labor is riding high in the polls.

Whether it’s fair or not, I think Shorten can expect to be criticised for whatever he does or doesn’t do over the next few months.

However, when people start to suggest that Labor is “gutless” for not forcing a Double Dissolution, I start to worry about the general public’s knowledge of our parliamentary system and the history of 1975.

I’ll start with the idea that Labor (with help from other parties in the Senate) could block supply. Let’s ignore the obvious hypocrisy of Labor blocking the Budget after their rhetoric when Fraser did it 1975 and argue that was a long time ago, so who cares? When it happened in 1975, it didn’t immediately force an election. Whitlam tried to tough it out, and it was only when Kerr dismissed Whitlam and appointed Fraser as caretaker PM that Fraser was able to go back to Parliament and dissolve both Houses. There is an argument that if Labor had acted quickly they could have gagged Fraser – they still had the numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives – and moved a motion of confidence in Whitlam.

At the time, the Murdoch press was pushing for an election and supporting Fraser, arguing that these were “extraordinary circumstances”. Can you imagine the media today supporting a Labor blocking of supply? Or would it be blamed for a downturn in consumer confidence or jobs, the shutting down of shops, increased obesity and any droughts or flooding rains in the weeks after?

Even if supply had been blocked by the previous Senate, Abbott would have still had the option of waiting for the Senate that took control from today. Palmer’s PUPpets and the Independents would have no wish to go to an election any time soon. After all, they do have considerable bargaining power at the moment. Would they be prepared to risk it? Can you imagine Ricky Muir giving up his moment in the spotlight? Mm, wrong example…

But even assuming that the Senate did continue to refuse supply, that alone wouldn’t force Abbott to an election. In all likelihood, he’d just blame Labor for any problems and wait for someone else to blink. The idea that Labor or any combination of the minor parties could “force” the government to the polls is just wrong.

Frustrating the government’s legislative agenda to the extent that they choose to call an election, however, is a possibility. But given the government’s standing in the opinion polls it’s fairly unlikely at the moment.

As many of you already know, a double dissolution requires a trigger. A Bill must be rejected by the Senate, then after three months rejected again. Bills that are rejected can then be used as the basis for the double dissolution, and if they are rejected again after the subsequent election, the government can call a joint sitting of parliament and try to get them through that way. (This was how Whitlam succeeded in setting up Medibank and passing a number of other things which had been blocked, until after the 1974 Double Dissolution). While there may be others in the near future, at the moment, the only trigger that I’m aware of is the Clean Energy Bill.

Abbott would only be likely to call a double dissolution under two circumstances:

  1. If there were a number of Bills he wanted passed AND he thought he was a good chance of winning the election.
  2. If Turnbull looked like getting the numbers to oust him.

So, by all means, criticise Bill Shorten and the Labor Party for their policies, for their lack of cut-through, for their hairstyles, for their poor behaviour in Parliament (they’ve been thrown out a hundred times more often), or their factions.

But please don’t criticise them for not calling a double dissolution. It’s just not something that’s in their control.

16 comments

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  1. Ian

    Bills that are rejected can then be used as the basis for the double dissolution, and if they are rejected again after the subsequent election, the government can call a joint sitting of parliament and try to get them through that way. (This was how Whitlam succeeded in setting up Medibank and passing a number of other things which had been blocked after the 1974 Double Dissolution).

    Wasn’t that the DD called by Whitlam whilst still PM? And didn’t Labor win it (the dismissal came later)? Otherwise I can’t see how the above makes sense.

    The mistaken beliefs you cite above are the same ones that had the knuckledraggers screaming for a DD when Gillard was PM. There was no way she would do that, given her precarious position. Didn’t stop the RWNJs though…

  2. Rossleighbrisbane

    Thanks, Ian – have since corrected post so it’s less ambiguous.

  3. Fred Martin

    I think you will find that some of the calls for a DD and the whines that Shorten is not doing enough are coming from people who are finally waking up to what they have done by putting this cruel, uncaring, hard-nosed mob of idiots in charge.

    They say the “grown-ups” are now in charge, I think it is more like a bunch of rabid dogs let loose butcher shop. They are so intent on ripping out their pound of flesh (instituting their neo-Liberal philosophy) that they are blind to the damage they are doing to the shop (our country and our Aussie way of life).

    If they can do this much damage and cause this much division in our society in just 9 months then what can they achieve in another 2+ years?

    Under the constitution I think the only way we can be rid of them is if we get a sufficient number of signatures on a petition from every state calling on the Governor General to sack them.
    Using the social media channels this may even be possible but probably unlikely.

  4. Dan Rowden

    For the sake of unity I shall agree with this article in its entirety. Also because I agree with this article in its entirety. I think it could also be argued that the current calls for a DD are disturbingly anti-democratic.

  5. geoffreyengland

    Thanks Ross. I lived through the Fraser/Whitlam/Kerr crisis in 75. It was a Constitutional Crisis that tore the nation apart. It would be unwise to put Australia through that again given the polarization of the electorate in the last decade and the rise in invective from both sides.
    Add to that mix a DD and I fear the social fabric would completely disintegrate.
    I’m so glad you have correctly set out the incidents of 75 and clarified it for those younger than us, who may think it’s a simple matter to go to a DD on a whim.

  6. H13

    Rossleigh, many thanks for another lucid and cogent column. Coincidently, ABC News reports that the Abbott govt. might attempt to bypass Senate and “introduce some of the changes by regulation, which does not require a majority vote in parliament.”

    As for the critical need for unity, today’s Newspoll shows an encouraging 2PP for Labor of 55 to 45 mostly due to the flow on from Green Party’s primary vote increasing 3% to 13% (2013 Fed. election it was 9%). Labor’s primary also went up a point to 37% (2013 election was 33.3). Yet the progressive folks posting at Pollbludger blog spent this entire morning indulging their umpteenth Labor/Green flame-war. They also conduct weekly Rudd/Gillard blame-wars.

    As a long-time Labor Party member, it drives me to despair that so many progressive voters waste invaluable time and energy attacking each other when Australia is at the tipping point of losing our Fair Go society forever.

    If this egregiously fanatical Coalition/Murdochian government wins another election, they’ll have the green light to go the mongrel with trickle-down economics, shred the safety nets and pay back Murdoch with obliteration of the few remaining restrictions preventing his gaining significantly greater domination of our media markets.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-01/budget-hole-as-savings-measures-delayed-by-senate/5561118

  7. Tracie Carvin

    Actually, many wanted supply blocked so Abbott would be forced to call an election OR the GG would be forced to dissolve parliament.

    I am bemused that some consider this undemocratic, when the LIES AND DECEIT than won the LNP the election, and consequent SILENCE on this from practically everybody, is the biggest assault on democratic integrity in this country to date.

    Enjoy living in a ‘Banana Republic’ then?

    “BS” Shorton SUPPORTS the LNP agenda to CUT welfare rather than ACTUALLY cut/stop corporate welfare, tax freeloading and, of COURSE politicians lavish ‘entitlements’. He and the RW ALP get a neoliberal agenda delivered and Abbott wears the political pain: win/win.

    Unless you are one of those who will be forced into destitution while yhe muppets play their pllitical games 🙁

  8. Tracie Carvin

    H13, Roy Morgan poll (link above via Ian) shows primary support for both ALP & LNP DOWN 1.5%, GREENS unchanged, PUP UP 1.5%, and OTH/IND UP 1.5.

    Public disillusioned with ALP too I guess.

  9. Dan Rowden

    Tracie,

    Actually, many wanted supply blocked so Abbott would be forced to call an election OR the GG would be forced to dissolve parliament.

    I think it’s been explained above why it doesn’t work like that.

    I am bemused that some consider this undemocratic, when the LIES AND DECEIT than won the LNP the election

    That is, ultimately, a political opinion; it’s hardly an argument you can take to a Governor General to get a Parliament dissolved. As leftists we may hate what the Government is doing, but that in itself is not a remotely sufficient reason to block supply in the hope of forcing an election. Can you imagine what would happen to politics in this country if Opposition parties started to routinely act like that?

    A Double Dissolution election is a very, very big deal; it’s not something you whip up in a Facebook Frenzy.

  10. H13

    Tracie,

    Greatly appreciate your responding to my thoughts. I have always given the lions’ share of credit for the Coalition’s post-election lowering in polls to the Greens, who will vote in Senate to stop the Coalition passing worst of their iniquitous budget, even the Petrol excise bill which Greens would like to see if the extra funds went directly into increased public transport.

    Hopefully, the policies that motivate Labor and Green parties to vote the same way in the Senate are far more numerous than ones in which either Labor or Greens would vote to pass Coalition legislation. Please note, that as a disabled Vietnam Vet, I do not engage in online disputations and, moreover, genuinely laud the passion with which you are battling for a caring, equitable and peace-loving society. I migrated here long, long ago from a warmongering Reaganomic country which has nearly forgotten such values exist. And, of course, it is saddening that many in the Labor Party are of the incoming Senator Bullock and outgoing Mark Arbib sort of LINO’s.

  11. charybds

    Quite simply the Abbott govt. deceived the electorate to seize power, and has not acted in the national interest since forming government.

    Shorten, Milne (et.al) collectively have the power to force this situation to be corrected.

    If there was an ounce of spine among the opposition leaders, they would put aside their own differences, for as long as it actually took to delay all bills this govt. tries to pass (including appropriations). This would force the government to new polls, where an election based on the knowledge of what their real platforms are, can be held .. if they are still in government after that, then we can all go eat our hats.

    Until they do this, they deserve every ounce of criticism and bilious bagging they attract.

    To my mind, not correcting this political atrocity is as good as complicity.

  12. Trevor

    Great article Rossleigh
    The level of ignorance in Ozland regard thr political process isore than alarming and an indictment on the 2 party monoply.

    DD’s and elections and lying politicians and house of reps and senate practices. Very arcane stuff and one day Ozland may benefit from a participatory Parlimentary Democracy( see Ted Mack speeches via Kaye Lee). Until then were are stuck with this stillborn Democracy.

    The shitstem derides the majority of its power from the negative energy created thru conflict

    Export Abbott not Refugees.

  13. wam moir

    The problem I have is labor’s acceptance of the media simply repeating ther rabbott’s slogans and lies. Gillard was unlucky in that she could not shut down the pain of ‘I agree with joe’ rudd on sunrise and richo on 9 but shorten has no such millstones(kennett and latham??) and has a free run when the rabbott and his merry men have stayed silent but he is unable to take advantage. Why????

  14. Dame-Alison White

    We are just desperately clutching at any straws mate…this mob are so much worse than many of us could predict.

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