Guest Notes

Australian notes

17 March 2016

3:00 PM

17 March 2016

3:00 PM

Malcolm Turnbull has missed the bus. Not only over economic leadership, but also on a double dissolution which is no more than an empty threat (unless, consistent with his left wing views, he has secretly formed a broad Liberal-Greens alliance to be revealed only after the election). An agile coup leader would have immediately reformed the senate voting rules and then been ready to recommend a double dissolution in February. Triggers were available and Sir Peter Cosgrove would have had no reason to say no. Turnbull, who failed in 1999 to replace the governor-general with a puppet president, still doesn’t appreciate that a significant role of the Crown is to deny absolute power to a prime minister.

The Constitution says that where a bill has been rejected twice after a three month interval, the governor-general ‘may’ grant a double dissolution. Governors-general have always granted these, although Labor had expected Sir William McKell to reject Menzies’ request. One important condition is that supply must be assured until the new Parliament meets. Sir John Kerr made this very clear to Fraser in 1975. While this was assured in February, supply runs out at the end of June. Turnbull seems to think Scott Morrison can introduce the budget on or before 10 May and the next day − constitutionally the last − Mark Fraser, the Governor-General’s Official Secretary, will come to Parliament and solemnly intone: ‘I, General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, GovernorGeneral of the Commonwealth of Australia, do by this my Proclamation dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives.’ But he won’t. Absent a secret Lib Greens alliance the Senate will refuse to rush through an interim supply bill, without which Sir Peter cannot constitutionally grant a double dissolution. He will be advised on this not only by the Attorney General but such other advisors he chooses. This may include the Chief Justice, if he is strong enough to ignore the myth that Kerr acted wrongly in seeking such advice.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister has been curiously silent on the suspension −without even a hearing −of three Liberals, who have all given so much to the party, Ross Cameron, Charlie Lynn and Juris Laucis. This was for no more than criticising the conduct of preselections . When the ABC asked me about this, I said it was more consistent with behaviour in a banana republic. Contrast this with the wide involvement of American people in the preselection of presidential candidates.

In a book written with Jai Martinkovits, Give Us Back Our Country (Connor Court), we argue that our political parties should do what is done in almost every comparable country: move into the 21st century and become open, transparent and democratic. Too many candidates are selected today not on merit, but on their allegiance to a powerbroker. When the powerbroker is also a lobbyist or an ally of one the danger to the integrity of the political process is obvious. We propose a simple solution that relates to the cornucopia of legal, branding and financial privileges which politicians enjoy. They are exempt from the privacy law so can carefully monitor you, even on your approaches to your local member, so they can tailor what they send you in electoral advertising. To support this they have special access to the electoral rolls. They have the great benefit of branding with party names, and logos on the ballot papers and elsewhere. Above all, with every compulsory vote, they collect vast sums. In return and by law they should have to do the decent thing – subscribe to democratic principles. Parties should be run by their members, not cabals of the faceless. The manipulation of preselections must stop, including those for the Senate, particularly casual vacancies. Whether the appointment of the leader should also involve the membership should be left to the membership to determine.There is a constitutional aspect to parties who gag their membership. Australians enjoy a freedom of political communication implied in the Constitution. In a 1997 case brought by former NZ PM David Lange against the ABC (I presented an amicus curiae brief there for the Press Council) the High Court decided this was not an individual right but more a restraint on legislative power. Does this extend to legislation which enriches, entrenches and advantages the duopoly of governing parties who can then blatantly abuse this freedom?

On another matter, the PM, soon after the coup and no doubt advised by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, made a captain’s pick that Australia campaign for not one but two quite useless UN seats. The last campaign by the Rudd government cost billions. Is the Foreign Minister kowtowing to the murderous mullahs in Tehran approved as yet another captain’s pick? Just because Obama, the most anti-Israeli president, rolled over and allowed the mullahs to go nuclear and get their hands on the vast sums of money frozen under fully justified sanctions, why pretend that they don’t continue to support their brand of terrorism? Why pretend that they haven’t been cheating about their warlike ambitions, both nuclear and in ICBM delivery mechanisms and that they don’t mean precisely what they preach in their mantra ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’? Surely we learned from Hitler when he wrote in Mein Kampf that the sacrifices in the First World War would have been prevented if ‘12 or 15,000 of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas.’

And why has the PM not rushed to the defence of his former Chief and Deputy Chief of staff, Peta Credlin, against highly defamatory filth published by a journalist who has openly admitted that she lied often in the exercise of her profession and who believes political journalism is a ‘protection racket’? Long ago I decided to avoid any of the decidedly unauthorised biographies by Kitty Kelley, whose practice is to collect all manner of outrageous rumour and unsupported gossip and publish these as fact. Is this insidious practice now being introduced into Australia?

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