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:
- If there were a number of Bills he wanted passed AND he thought he was a good chance of winning the election.
- 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.