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Tag Archives: Constitution

Staindl v Frydenberg: a pyrrhic victory for Josh?

By Sandi Keane

Currently, unless he can find $410,000, Kooyong electorate local climate hero, Michael Staindl, faces bankruptcy and the loss of his house to our Treasurer after unsuccessfully challenging Frydenberg’s eligibility to sit in parliament.

That is, unless Mr Frydenberg shows clemency, forgives the debt or has the Commonwealth declare the case to be of public interest and picks up the costs – as with the other dual citizenship cases. According to Frydenberg’s Register of Public Interests, Arnold Block Leibler acted pro bono for Frydenberg. Did they in this case? Who knows but a choice of options appears to be within his power and, importantly, his own interests. To explain …


In 2017, a constitutional crisis saw 15 Federal MPs caught by Section 44 of the Constitution. Josh Frydenberg’s name was raised. With a one-seat majority and the additional prospect of having the validity of his decisions as Minister for Environment challenged under Section 64 of the Constitution, the Liberal Party set the propaganda mills in motion. On 3 November, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched forth with a thunderous barrage ‑ “lynch mob witch hunt” and “Mr Frydenberg’s mother was a Holocaust survivor who was rendered stateless in the Nazi era.” [Note: Hungary never adopted Nuremberg Law which stripped Jews of their citizenship].

A few days later, on 6 November, 2GB’s Ray Hadley was one of the first to respond with his podcast headed ‘EXCLUSIVE: Josh Frydenberg’s mother had passport on arrival in Australia’. “It appears they were not stateless,” said Hadley, on receipt of a document showing Frydenberg’s mother, Erica Strausz arrived with a valid Hungarian passport and Landing Permit signed by the Commonwealth Migration Officer. Whilst acknowledging the “Holocaust was a dreadful, dreadful piece of history”, Hadley reluctantly concluded “Mr Frydenberg has a significant problem” and called for a full audit of both sides of parliament.

But this never happened.

The race card worked for nearly two years until after the 2019 federal election when a ticking time bomb again threatened the federal Coalition’s hold on power.

Enter lawyer, anti-logging, anti duck-hunting campaigner, novelist and poet, Trevor Poulton and his Team Law website. On it, a copy of a letter dated 19 July to Prime Minister Scott Morrison stating there was a case for a Petition to the High Court backed up with an alarming array of evidence and documents. Not only did the Coalition scrape in with a one seat majority at the 2016 election with Frydenberg’s decisions as Minister challengeable but ditto for the 2019 election and his decisions as Treasurer.

The documents exploded the myth that Frydenberg’s family had “fled the Holocaust” as claimed first by PM Turnbull then by PM Morrison. The family left Budapest for Vienna in September 1949 originally en route to Israel as emigrants. They left under a communist regime which took over in 1945. The Prime Minister at that time, Mátyás Rákosi, was actually Jewish by birth.



Other documents included detailed Hungarian Citizenship Law. As mentioned, in Hungary, there was no equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship. Citizenship was inherited via jus sanguinis. (Note: Frydenberg stated his mother lost her citizenship in 1948 under the communist regime but no proof was offered.)

But here’s the irony: Poulton himself was a ticking timebomb – he’d written a book called ‘The Holocaust Denier’. Housed in the State Library, it’s about a Melbourne policeman and illuminates the danger of obsessively embracing extremist views in the search for an identity. Ends with him losing his humanity and his life. Hardly the ending an anti-Semite would concoct, one would have thought.


Playing the race card

I was editor-in-chief at Michael West Media at the time, but ours was a business focus back then. This potential scoop was not for us. I contacted Hugh Riminton at Channel 10 recommending he interview Poulton. I warned Riminton that discrediting Poulton as an “anti-Semite” would be a piece of cake thanks to ‘The Holocaust Denier‘. Unfortunately, when questioned, by Riminton on 16 July 2019, Poulton failed to get the message of the book across. Sadly, it also appeared I was the only journalist who bothered to read it.

Goaded into action, recriminations were swift. The Prime Minister responded on Channel 10 two days later about a “planned High Court challenge” calling Poulton a “Holocaust denier” and “anti-Semite”.

Just weeks later, on 31 July 2019, Kooyong climate activist, Michael Staindl, filed his Petition against Frydenberg and the destruction of the reputations and financial livelihoods of two Australian citizens who’d never been in contact but shared a mutual concern for the planet was about to begin.

Using the race card to discredit Trevor Poulton’s damning evidence was easy. Week by week, he’d come out swinging with another bagful of what seemed unassailable facts in the form of evidence-based articles on Independent Australia which the Libs would put to fire and sword using the good old “anti-Semite” label. Staindl and Poulton were in lockstep, a tag team, they claimed as they hounded and vilified them as “anti-Semitic” and “pro-Nazi”. It sent MSM scuttling to the sidelines and cowed even the other independent media.

The “race card” worked a treat. The University of Sydney even went so far as to post the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s (ECAJ) Report on antisemitism in Australia 2019 naming not just Trevor Poulton and Michael Staindl but Kooyong candidates Oliver Yates (Independent) and Julian Burnside (Greens) who were deemed to be in league with Staindl and Poulton!

When I spoke to veteran Jewish anti duck-hunting campaigner, Laurie Levy, recently, he spoke highly of fellow wildlife lover and environmentalist, Trevor Poulton, who’d campaigned alongside him for seven years flying up to the Victorian wetlands scaring the bejeezus out of the ducks (and no doubt the shooters) at the start of each season.

Their public awareness campaign to end recreational shooting of native waterbirds resulted in a 90% reduction in the kill-rate, Levy said. As a Labor Party member, Levy believed Poulton got up the nose of Labor over its failure to ban duck-hunting. When asked about the “anti-Semitism” label, Levy was surprised. “I knew him well. I’d call him idealistic if anything.”

Yet we saw Morrison call Staindl “despicable” and an “anti-Semite” because he was falsely accused of working with Poulton, (who in turn has been falsely accused of being a “Holocaust denier”). [Updated]


Michael Staindl is a long-term local champion of action on climate change (Photo by Julian Meehan)


So much for the background. The following timeline is revealing as far as the outcome of Staindl’s case is concerned:

2 November 2017

Minister Frydenberg applies to the Hungarian Embassy in Canberra for his solicitors, Arnold, Bloch Leibler to make enquiries to clarify his citizenship status.

2 November 2017

Embassy of Hungary Canberra responds to Frydenberg attaching an Application for Verification of Citizenship to be completed and sent to the Office of Immigration and Nationality, Budapest. We can assume this never happened as we see in the timeline nearly two years later that Frydenberg asks again but avoids the recommended procedure. [Note: I interviewed 2019 Greens’ Candidate Tim Hollo – also Jewish with a parent born in Budapest who left after WW2 – who followed the correct procedure. He was issued with a citizenship certificate. He then had to officially renounce his citizenship, thus receiving a second certificate signed by the President of Hungary.]

As originally reported, I interviewed 2019 Greens’ candidate, Tim Hollo – also Jewish with a parent born in Budapest who left after WW2 – who followed the correct two-step verification procedure. He was issued with a citizenship certificate signed by the President of Hungary. He then had to officially renounce his citizenship, thus receiving a second certificate signed by the President of Hungary.

Since publishing this investigation, we have new compelling evidence that the “stateless” argument that the Strausz family left Hungary in 1949 on a one way ticket thus rendering them stateless was at odds with Hungarian law, specifically Law 55. The document below is of Tim Hollo’s grandmother. It is an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Vienna index card from 1956, on which she is identified as “stl” (stateless), former Ung.



The rules in practice in 1949 were the same as in 1957.

In an interview with the ABC back on 15 February 2019, Hollo told journalist Jake Evans:

“I had always assumed that because [the Hollos] defected, I wouldn’t be entitled to citizenship. I thought I would be struck off,” he said.

“The weird thing is in Hungary it’s kind of the opposite – they’re keen to repatriate people who fled. I automatically became Hungarian even though I didn’t know it.”

“It took me months of research to find out that I was actually automatically a Hungarian citizen, and then it took many more months, a big effort, searching for documents across the world and lawyers in Hungary to renounce that citizenship I didn’t know I had.”

We have two other similar statements. Given the popularity of EU passports, it would be safe to assume that thousands of descendants of former “stateless” Hungarian-born citizens have been taking advantage of the welcome mat proffered by the Hungarian Government. The proof is in the pudding as they say, so where does this leave Mr Frydenberg? It’s a simple task to fill in the form from the Hungarian Embassy and follow the correct procedure, is it not?

31 July 2019

Petition filed by Staindl against Frydenberg.

1 August 2019

Michael Sukkar attack/smear/slander in Federal Parliament.

14 August 2019

Tim Smith attack/smear/slander in Victorian Parliament.

28 August 2019

Frydenberg served with Petition.

4 September 2019

Just days after Staindl’s Petition is served, former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Liberal MP Kevin Andrews visit Budapest. According to the report in The Sydney Morning Herald on 6 October 2019, Abbott gave two speeches at Danube Institute. But here’s the interesting fact: he had a private meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orban as well as the Parliamentary State Secretary, Balazs Orban (no relation).

Abbott’s cosy relationship with the Hungarian PM is well known as is the Liberal Party’s links to the Danube Institute. Mark Higgie, Abbott’s former international affairs adviser, thereafter Australia’s ambassador to Hungary, is a senior fellow at the Danube Institute and is the Europe correspondent for Spectator Australia. Brian Loughnane sits on its international advisory board. Married to Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, he directed several of Abbott’s federal election campaigns.

11 September 2019

Andrew Bragg Attack/smear/slander in Federal Parliament.

15 November 2019

Expert witness, Dr Peter Lang (legal expert from Hungary on dual citizenship and university professor) files Expert Opinion stating in his expert opinion Frydenberg was entitled to Hungarian citizenship via jus sanguinis – unless he had completed a certificate of renouncement to the President of Hungary.

23 November 2019

Just a week later, The Australian reports (paywalled) that Frydenberg had received a letter Minister Gergely Gulyas from the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office to say “Hungary rules out Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as citizen”. (See “Hungarian government letter reportedly clears Josh Frydenberg of citizenship“). Like “the dog that didn’t bark in the night,” a close reading of the letter divulges by omission that Erica Strausz was not stripped of her Hungarian citizenship. Likewise, it references no records of Erica Strausz after her departure from Hungary in 1949 so again, by omission, fails to confirm whether there were records listing her as a Hungarian citizen prior to her departure in 1949. (cf. Poulton’s response on this.)

Furthermore, we know that Frydenberg obtained advice from the Hungarian Embassy back in November 2017 on the correct procedure which was to apply to the Office of Immigration and Nationality in Budapest. Clearly, he failed to do so given he felt the need to contact the Hungarian PM directly two years later. So, given the above and the fact that the letter from Gulyas would appear to have no credence under the ‘Act LV of 1993 on Hungarian Citizenship’, was this just a politically-executed piece of hokum to breathe life into the “non-citizen” claim?

Furthermore, according to Dr Lang in his Expert Witness Statement:

“The period to be investigated for the expert is 1943 to 1971. It is irrelevant is Mrs Frydenberg lost her Hungarian citizenship in any way after 17 July 1971. If Mrs Frydenberg was not divested from her Hungarian citizenship, her Hungarian citizenship has not ceased, therefore at the time of Mr Frydenberg’s birth on 17 July, 1971, she remained a Hungarian citizen.”

Interestingly, during the court case, Frydenberg’s legal team was unable to find any concrete evidence his mother had lost her citizenship.

24 November 2019

Removal of Report on antisemitism in Australia 2019 on the ECAJ and University of Sydney Law School websites and Facebook Accounts naming Trevor Poulton, Michael Staindl, Oliver Yates and Julian Burnside following Concerns Notices pursuant to the Defamation Act (Vic) by Trevor Poulton.

23 January 2020

Star Witness, Dr Peter Lang, writes to say he cannot attend court because of a “health status”. According to Staindl:

“On 9 February, Vanessa Bleyer from Bleyer Lawyers wrote that she hadn’t heard from Dr Lang since 5 February. No answer to her emails or phone calls.”

17 March 2020

Court’s Judgement: Whereas the onus was on the other MPs to provide proof that they were NOT entitled to citizenship, Staindl was asked to provide proof that Frydenberg WAS.

As already stated, Hungary had no equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg laws, renouncing citizenship required permission from the police. The government could “divest” you of your citizenship involuntarily, but only if it published that decision. There was no record that it had re the Strauszes. But with Staindl’s expert witness in Hungarian Law, Dr Peter Lang mysteriously going missing, the court decided that:

“The niceties of proof of the production or issue of documents by the political police in a totalitarian state, possibly lost or destroyed in revolution (in 1956 in Hungary) or in travel (by the Strausz family in Hungary, or on the way to Vienna, to Paris, to Genoa, to Fremantle, and eventually to Sydney) can be put aside when one recognises the realities of 1949.”

As Jeremy Gans reported in Inside Story:

“Staindl’s problem was that he never had the opportunity to put his “shell” theory [i.e. citizenship rights revivified with the fall of Communism in 1989] to any expert in Hungarian law.”

Well, yes, Jeremy… that’s because the expert in Hungarian law, had vanished and was uncontactable!

Fortunately, I was able to locate Dr Peter Lang last week. He doubled down on his original opinion:

“I uphold my legal opinion and claim that no evidence was available based on which Mrs. Erica Strausz had been stripped of her Hungarian citizenship,”


“allow me to note that I find $410,000 in legal expenses awarded to the plaintiff as unproportionate,”

but he refused to respond to my question his health status, saying: “I have no intention to give you more details.”

Without the expert witness, it’s hard to see how Staindl could have won the case.


Kay and Michael Staindl

To conclude:

Was the loss of the case for Staindl a pyrrhic victory for Frydenberg? Should he quit while he’s ahead and forgive the debt? What do you, the reader, or more to the point – the voter – think? Having stood back and watched a much-loved climate hero’s reputation destroyed; labelled anti-Semitic in Federal and Victorian parliament, vilified in Newscorp media, attacked by the Prime Minister and even outed by Sydney University in its Report on antisemitism in Australia 2019 (thankfully now removed after Poulton’s defo threat), should Mr Frydenberg show the same compassion others granted him? After all, the case cannot be appealed. Michael’s was not a quixotic quest. Surely, the law is the law – a higher bar?

The latest poll results show Voices’ “Integrity and Climate” campaigner, Monique Ryan, a genuine prospect for Kooyong. Even Murdoch media’s headlines (paywalled) are warning ‘Kooyong isn’t safe anymore’. For someone with leadership ambitions, we know what happened to the last “mean and tricky” Liberal PM when Howard lost his seat to a first-time female candidate.

Furthermore, according to Dr Lang in his Expert Opinion (please also refer to update below):

“The period to be investigated for the expert is 1943 to 1971. It is irrelevant is Mrs Frydenberg lost her Hungarian citizenship in any way after 17 July 1971. If Mrs Frydenberg was not divested from her Hungarian citizenship, her Hungarian citizenship has not ceased, therefore at the time of Mr Frydenberg’s birth on 17 July, 1971, she remained a Hungarian citizen.” (Click here to upload Dr Lang’s full Expert Opinion.)


Want to get an EU passport and have parent/s born in Hungary? Couldn’t be easier than with the Hungarian Government. See “All You Need to Know About Hungarian Citizenship by Descent.”

As Dr Lang points out in his Expert Opinion, Law 55 of the 1993 legislation on Hungarian Citizenship means that even those declared stateless qualify since that date for citizenship as do their children. Mr Frydenberg, don’t take their house! Pease sign the petition!

Note: This petition is going to be presented to Frydenberg’s office at 10.30am this Friday. Let’s get as many signatures on this petition as we can. Frydenberg’s Future – a citizenship challenge. Donations gratefully accepted.

Sandi was a former editor Michael West Media, and prior to that was editor at Independent Australia. Before that she ran a highly successful business which landed her on the front cover of Personal Investment magazine. Sandi has conducted corporate investigations, principally into the CSG and media sectors. Her investigation into the anti-wind lobby and Waubra Foundation was used to support Labor’s Clean Energy Bill, thus, making it into Hansard. One of Sandi’s investigations into the CSG industry saw Santos forced to pull its TV advertising. Sandi holds a Masters degree in Journalism from the University of Melbourne. You can follow Sandi on Twitter @jarrapin. Email her at

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Government of the people, by the powerbrokers, for the mates

Ted Mack is credited by Wikipedia as “the only person ever to have been elected and re-elected as an independent to local, state and federal government in Australia”. While Mayor of North Sydney (1980-88) Mack sold the mayoral car and set out to improve accountability. In 1981 he was elected to the seat of North Sydney in the NSW Legislative Assembly. He served until 1988 retiring days before he would have qualified for a parliamentary pension, as a statement against the excesses of public political office. In 1990 he won the federal seat of North Sydney defeating the Liberal party incumbent. As an independent he opposed the Gulf war, the sale of Qantas and the nuclear industry.

This is an excerpt from a speech he presented in October last year titled The State of the Federation. It’s long but worth it. In fact, I would highly recommend reading the whole speech.

“In 1992 the former secretary to the Office of Governor-General, Sir David Smith, wrote: There is much that is wrong with the way this nation is governed and administered: never before have we had so many Royal Commissions and other inquiries; never before have we had so many office-holders and other figures in, or facing the prospect of prison; never before have the electors registered their dissatisfaction with the political process by returning so many independent and minor party candidates to Parliament.

In the Mackay Report of July 2001, social researcher Hugh Mackay stated: Australia’s contempt for federal politics and its leaders has plumbed new depths. If it (the Mackay Report) was a family newspaper, we would scarcely be able to print the things Australian’s are saying about their politicians … In the 22 year history of the Mackay Report political attitudes have never been quite as negative as this.

On 16 June 2013 in The Australian newspaper Tony Fitzgerald QC (who chaired the 1987 Queensland Royal Commission) wrote an article The Body Politic is Rotten. He stated: There are about 800 politicians in Australia’s parliaments. According to their assessments of each other, that quite small group includes role models for lying, cheating, deceiving, “rorting”, bullying, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, slander, “leaking”, “dog-whistling”, nepotism and corruption.”

He states in effect, that the dominance of the major parties by little known and unimpressive faction leaders who have effective control of Australia’s democracy and destiny… might be tolerable if the major parties acted with integrity but they do not. Their constant battles for power are venal, vicious and vulgar.

Over the last 30 years there has been a plethora of minor and major scandals, misuse of most forms of parliamentary allowances, interstate travel, overseas travel, telephone allowances, comcars, taxis, air charters and stamp allowances in addition to the revelations of major Royal Commissions. It seems that almost anything can and has been rorted. The number of resignations of ministers of state and federal parliaments shows that something is wrong with the selection process or the talent pool. One problem is that the ability to become a cabinet minister has often nothing to do with ability to be a minister.

The 2010-13 Federal Parliament saw the major parties virtually eliminate any real form of democratic debate substituting little but character assassination of opponents. It was a three-year election campaign of personal abuse and fear mongering. It was debased even further with aggressive bullying by the media and special interests at unprecedented levels.

The same period saw both state and federal governments pandering to special interests allowing massive increases in the promotion of gambling and alcohol. Pandering to the development and mining industries and the seemingly endless privatisation of public assets often creating private monopolies, continued irrespective of public opinion

The last decade has also seen a substantial escalation in the endless commonwealth-state “turf wars”. This seems to bedevil almost all main areas of government activities such as health, education, transport, agriculture and water policy. This massive overlap of functions results in huge increases in bureaucracy. The expansion of government, particularly the costs of expanding political staff and salaries, seems to be in inverse proportion to the levels of public satisfaction.

Recent increases bring the basic salary of the Prime Minister to $507,000 compared to the American President at $400,000, and the English Prime Minister at 142,000 pounds. Salary packages for MPs have escalated at federal level with steady creation of new positions and extensions of fringe benefits. So much so that only a handful of backbench members of the government receive the lowest salary package. State governments have followed suit.

Salary packages for Federal government members now range from around $325,000 to some $475,000/annum for ministers. However extremely generous superannuation schemes can effectively double that depending on age at retirement. For example, recently retired after nine years in the NSW Upper House, Eric Roozendaal aged 51 receives a pension of $120,000. This is indexed to future politicians’ salaries. Given his life expectancy, this works out at around $500,000/year for his nine years of office. Together with his annual salary he was rewarded with almost $1,000,000 for each year in parliament. This is for a job that the officials of political parties can bestow on people with no experience or qualification.

The ten ex-Prime Ministers and Governors-General each averaged around $500,000 a year in public costs for 2010-11 or around $10,000 per week in retirement but the annual appropriation available for the current Governor-Generals’ office is approaching $13 million.

Over the last 30 years politicians’ staff has increased dramatically. At federal level there are now some 17 hundred personal staff to ministers and members. The states probably account for over two thousand more. Add to this the direct political infiltration of federal-state public services and quangos with hundreds more jobs for the boys and girls, there is now a well-established political class.

This has provided the political parties with a career path for members. In many cases it often produces skilled, partisan, “whatever it takes” warriors with a richly rewarded life through local state and federal governments to a well-funded retirement. Unfortunately while this career path, as Tony Fitzgerald states, does include principled well-motivated people … it also attracts professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.

Since the 1990s there have been endless calls by federal and state government for increased efficiency, no wage increases unless matched with productivity, for restructuring, downsizing and deregulation all in the name of increased competitiveness and facing the international community in the 21st century. Many thousands of jobs have disappeared particularly those in federal and state bureaucracies at middle and lower incomes and in the general workforce.

Now there is little doubt some restructuring of the country is necessary but it is strange that the political-administrative structure and the legal system are somehow excluded from any need for reform. Given both the massive costs and level of public dissatisfaction. It is surprising that while the media regularly exposes major and minor political misdemeanours, it rarely proposes any serious need for reform let alone suggests possible solutions.

Our many publicly funded schools of Government and Politics also seem to be largely silent on the need for political or constitutional reform with some individual honourable exceptions.

In an effort to increase public confidence in the political system a huge amount of legislation has been passed over recent years to ostensibly promote such things as open government, public participation and reduced reliance on private donations. Effectively the open government legislation has mainly meant freedom from information. Even this year the Labor government and the then opposition quietly combined to sneak through legislation that completely exempted the three government departments that supervise the running of the Federal Parliament from answering Freedom of Information requests.

As for public participation, virtually all government decisions are made in private by small groups of people who are in many cases not in parliament. Public funding of elections was first introduced into NSW in 1981 and federally in 1984 on the basis that it would reduce private donations. Neville Wran presented the Bill and concluded his speech by saying this Bill will remove the risk of parties selling political favours and declares to the world that the great political parties of New South Wales are not up for sale.

Since then an escalating “arms war” of election spending has developed with public funding steadily increasing and private funding increasing even faster.

The taxpayer cost of federal elections has increased from $38 million in 1984 to $161 million in 2010. Of the latter $53 million was public funding to parties and candidates. Currently, in spite of massive increases, public funding is less than 20 per cent of about $350 million total election spending. We are now effectively the second best democracy money can buy.

There is an overwhelming need to reduce overall election spending. The United States democracy has been largely destroyed by the huge amount of money dedicated to this purpose and Australia is accelerating down the same tollway. Maximum spending limits must be applied to all elections. At present freedom of speech is only effectively available to the rich and those using other people’s money. The Electoral Commission should produce booklets setting out candidates’ biographies and policies as was done for the 1999 Constitutional Convention elections with all advertising banned.

Political parties as they have developed over the last century seem like two mafia families seeking control of the public purse for distribution to themselves, supporters, the special interests who fund them and for buying votes at the next election. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. They are effectively unregulated private organisations but they now control government treasuries.

When they unite with common interests, for example funding themselves, the public are mostly powerless except on the rare occasions when public outrage is too great. For example the attempted 60 million dollar virtually secret increase in public funding for the parties earlier this year.

Both parties have rightly suffered huge reductions in membership over the last few years almost in direct proportion to the centralisation of power in their organisations. Public election funding and huge allowances have reduced the party’s need for workers for elections. Candidates now can rely on direct mail, general advertising and paid help.

By centralising power as Tony Fitzgerald puts it: The public interest is subordinated to the pursuit of power, party objectives and personal ambitions, sometimes including the corrupt acquisition of financial benefit. Branch stacking has become endemic and as Fitzgerald says “The parties gift electorates to family connections, malleable party hacks and mediocre apparatchiks”.

The views of people like retired judge Tony Fitzgerald QC, Hugh Mackay, possibly Australia’s leading social researcher and Sir David Smith, Official Secretary to five Governor-Generals, should be taken seriously. They have a long and rare experience of government in Australia. Their views are considered and well founded. They demand examination of the many problems of our system of government in order to establish directions for reform.

Today the Constitution is not only obsolete but is an expensive handicap to the wellbeing of Australian society. In essence it was a parochial compromise between the States based on an amalgamation of the British system and the American Constitution. We followed English parliamentary practice but without accepting English traditional restraints. For example in Westminster the Speaker is fair, in Australia fair Speakers are quickly dispensed with. The Government must always win. This is why Question Time in Australia often descends to a schoolboy rabble. We have a system where the opposition almost always loses and has virtually no role in legislation. This forces members to extremes to magnify differences – often reaching levels of mindless partisanship only seen at football matches.

The two-party system of government and opposition where the “winner-takes-all” has inevitably resulted in mutual denigration with little or no sensible parliamentary debate. Frankly, in Australian parliaments opposition is a form of political death. The thought of it colours all decision-making. It entrenches the philosophy of “whatever it takes”. It even means less salary for the members of the opposition – shock, horror.

The election of governments by parliamentary members in the absence of fixed terms, means a rigid parliamentary discipline must be enforced to achieve stability. Extreme partisanship takes over and the public interest is irrelevant. Parliament can never be a check on executive government except in rare situations. The domination of parliament by Executive Government effectively means it is an “elected dictatorship”, except in the rare cases of hung parliaments.

The two-party system stifles ideas, debate and decision-making within the parties. The faction system often ensures minority views triumph within both party rooms. In the case of the government, the minority view will then be taken into parliament and become an even greater minority law. Hence the shocking derailing of democratic government in NSW in 2007-11. Voting within parties is often based on what faction members belong to, who wants to become or stay a minister or who wants to be party leader. What the electors think is at best a secondary consideration. Party members almost always follow the party line and are often voting against what they really believe or what their electorates would want

After 112 years the functions of commonwealth and state governments as well as the financial arrangements are in chaos. It has resulted in endless dispute, waste and inefficiency between state and federal governments and their bureaucracies. A century of debate and confusion over these issues shows that these problems are impossible to resolve without a rewrite of the constitution.

Electing parliaments by voting for single members then have the elected members elect a government is a democratic travesty kept alive by politicians, academia and the press. The single-member electorate system results in only accidental relationship between seats won and the total actual votes. For example, the 2012 election in Queensland produced the bizarre result that the state government won 88 per cent of seats with 49.7 per cent of the vote. The other 50.3 per cent of voters were rewarded with 12 per cent of the seats.

This system also largely eliminates minorities unless their vote is concentrated in particular electorates. That is why such parties as the Australian Democrats and Greens get almost no lower house seats with often twice the vote of the National Party, while the latter generally receives around ten members and three or four ministers and Deputy Prime Minister.

So why do we keep the single-member electorate system – because only the major parties can change it. But why should they? It helps preserve the two-party duopoly. It largely prevents the election of third party candidates. An incumbent lower house federal candidate today has effectively $400,000 worth of facilities and money to ward off challengers. Major parties can transfer a million or so extra dollars from safe seats if they really want to stop an outsider. It also enables the government parties to “pork barrel” specific seats. It is hardly an equal opportunity for challengers whether they are individuals or new parties.

The Senate is also fundamentally flawed as a democratic organisation. In each election 42.3 per cent of the vote will elect 50 per cent of senators in each state for a start. Then there is the voting system that allows parties to transfer preferences effectively without the voters’ knowledge. We now have some five senators with no democratic legitimacy all because the major parties are so venal and are prepared to treat voters as mushrooms to obtain power. It is to Australia’s shame that at least 99 per cent of voters at the recent elections had no idea where their Senate vote really went.

The unequal state and arbitrary territory representation is fundamentally undemocratic. It cannot be democratically acceptable to have for example, one Hobart vote to be equal to 14 Tenterfield votes or one Darwin vote worth almost three Bendigo votes when voting on issues that affect all Australians equally.

As things stand Australian democracy consists of voting in a rigged system every few years to elect others to make decisions for us. The voters mostly know little or nothing about most candidates after the “faceless men” and “branch stackers” have had their way. We are rarely permitted to have any say on policies. Cabinet ministers, premiers and prime ministers come and go without reference to us. We go to war and sign treaties without even our parliament having a say let alone the public. When the major parties agree, as they do when funding themselves, and their mutual friends, we have no say whatsoever. It is a pretty minimalist democracy and a long way from Abraham Lincoln’s Government of the people, BY the people, for the people.

We seem to have achieved “Government of the people, by the powerbrokers, for the mates.”


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Andrew Bolt and Cane Toads, Both As Indigenous As Each Other!


Compilation by author

A few days ago, Andrew Bolt shared a rather strange idea:

“I AM an indigenous Australian, like millions of other people here, black or white. Take note, Tony Abbott. Think again, you new dividers, before we are on the path to apartheid with your change to our Constitution.

I was born here, I live here and I call no other country home. I am therefore indigenous to this land and have as much right as anyone to it.”

Of course, that caused a bit of a controversy. And, I am aware that Bolt thrives on controversy and does so deliberately – because let’s face it when it comes to his place in the media, it’s really all he has. Yes, I’m sure that some of you will say that if you just ignore him, then he’ll go away. While I can see some merit in that argument, I also think that lies and misinformation need to be challenged. Otherwise, we end up with things like Jon Faine telling a talkback caller that the Liberals took the sale of Australia Post to the election as one of their policies. Does anyone remember that? The sale of Medibank Private was tucked away in their fine print, but I can find nothing nor can I remember anything about it.

And so to the word “indigenous”. People are arguing. Some are saying that “technically” he’s right. However, I can find no definition to support even a technical argument to enable someone to argue that he or she is indigenous, simply by virtue of being born in a place.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it:

originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native:

the indigenous peoples of Siberia

coriander is indigenous to southern Europe

If someone can find a definition that includes zoo animals which are born here, then I’ll be willing to concede that Bolt is as indigenous as a cane toad. (Or almost, cane toads have been here for several generations now).

But Bolt is not content with manglng the word indigenous in order to inflame and insult. He goes on to quote Tony Abbott, before twisting history:

“If we had known in 1901 what we know now, if our hearts had been as big then as now, we would have acknowledged indigenous people in the Constitution back then,’’ he said this week.

This is nonsense. The writers of our Constitution no more lacked heart than do people today. The difference is they were inspired by the creed that all citizens — those, at least, we admitted — are as one before the law.

True, they did not always live up to that ideal (although, contrary to popular myth, they granted Aborigines the vote in all states where they had the franchise).

But even if we don’t always follow our moral compass, the answer never is to break it. Changing the Constitution to divide Australians between the “first” and the rest — on the basis of the “race” of our ancestors — is not just immoral and an insult to our individuality.

There is much in this that’s highly questionable, but his assertion that “although, contrary to popular myth, they granted Aborigines the vote in all states where they had the franchise)” can’t be allowed to go unchallenged.

Section 41 of the Constitution ensured that people who already had the right to vote weren’t disenfranchised by the new Federal Parliament.

‘No adult person who has or acquires a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State, shall, while the right continues, be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either House of Parliament of the Commonwealth.’

Its main impetus was to protect the rights of women in South Australia who had already gained the vote. As a by-product it gave rights to a number of others, including “non-white” migrants who had arrived before the “White Australia” policy and Indigenous Australians if they already had voting rights.

While two states specifically excluded Aborigines from voting – Queensland and Western Australia, others did little to make them aware of their rights or to encourage them to enrol.

The initial interpretation of Section 41, by the first Solicitor General was that franchise rights only included those who were on the role at the time of Federation, meaning that no new Aboriginal voters could be enrolled. While this was challenged successfully in 1924 by an Indian man who’d been rejected as a Commonwealth voter in spite of being enrolled at State Level, the history of the voting rights of Aboriginal people is not as simple as Andrew Bolt implies with his throwaway line about “popular myth”. It wasn’t until the 1967 Referendum that the voting rights were ensured; to suggest otherwise, is to be mischievous.

But Bolt has always been one for contradictions. He suggests that he just wants us to be all one, but points out that both the judge and the prosecutor at his trial were Jewish. Not that he has a problem with that – it’s just that he thought that such people would understand the dangers of an oppressive government trying to shut down free speech. However, a media organisation should never use its free speech to “aid the enemy” by publishing allegations about who’s being spied on – even if it’s us – or which suggest that our navy has treated people roughly when turning their boats around. In the case of the ABC, the whole organisation should be shut down or sold off for daring to publish that which the public has no right to know. A celebrity’s hacked phone records, however, are no reason to launch an inquiry which may inhibit the media from doing its job.

However, the thing I find worrying is not the fact that Bolt has made a fool of himself with his inaccurate and inflammatory use of language. It’s that – for just a millisecond – he’s made Tony Abbott look good. Oh, I know that some of you will question Abbott’s motives about the constitutional addition, but that’s not the point. When Bolt starts criticising Abbott as being too trendy and left wing, it almost makes Abbott sound like he’s mainstream. (No, of course, not to you died in the wool Left wing socialist, latte-sippers who lap up sites like this 🙂 ). While we’re making effigies of Bolt to throw on the bonfire, we can be distracted from the fact that he’s not the one in government. In the end, Bolt is an irrelevant errand boy who’ll write what he’s told.

And yes, I am aware of the irony of spending an entire blog only to say that Bolt doesn’t matter. However, I make the simple defence that one can’t allow misinformation to spread, no matter who’s spreading it.

“Much has been accomplished when one man says ‘No’!” Bertold Brecht