Here’s a question for all you readers. Of course I don’t expect anyone who’s gone through an Australian high school in the last decade to be able to answer it, as it involves simple maths. Too many of our recent high school leavers are more at home regurgitating politically correct ‘feelings’ about how men have oppressed women or the rich haven’t been fair to the poor or how Captain Cook and the boys supposedly invaded Australia. No time for that sort of virtue signalling AND learning basic grammar and a bit of maths.
For the rest of you, which do you think is easier to achieve. Hitting six targets out of eight, or nine out of 11? Passing six exams out of eight, or nine out of 11? Convincing six doubters to join your cause out of eight, or nine out of 11? Pretty simple isn’t it? Six of eight is 75 percent. Nine of eleven is just shy of 82 percent. So in any sort of test at all it’s noticeably easier to achieve the result you want if you’re asked to get six of eight (75 per cent of them) rather than nine of 11 (82 percent of them).
And that brings me to our recent double dissolution election called by Mr. Turnbull. Before heading down the old section 57 double dissolution path he first did a little deal with the Greens to change the voting system used to elect Upper House Senators. The PM couldn’t get anyone else to agree to his proposed changes, only the Greens and yes Nick Xenophon. But heck, with them on board Turnbull had a majority in the then Senate and could bring in this new ‘innovative’, ‘best time ever to be a Senator’ voting system change.
Now I know that a fair few right-of-centre voters, people like me, have a basic political rule that the Greens are such a malign force in the body politic that if you ever find them agreeing with some policy of yours then it’s best immediately to stop and to think again, then think again, then come up with some other policy. I find that a good rule is to go with what the Greens think about as often as that monkey you have in front of the typewriter finishes a perfect Shakespeare Sonnet.
Regrettably, though not wholly surprisingly, Mr. Turnbull disagrees. He’s a good deal more sympathetic to the Greens. So when only the Green Party was willing to support his Senate voting changes, Malcolm pushed on all the same. He legislated the change. Then soon thereafter he called the double dissolution election.
The result was innovative, exciting and dynamic. It was also awful for the Coalition, which tanked in the House while dropping from 33 Senators down to 30. The Labor-Green lefty duopoly stayed the same in the Senate, at a combined 35. But the independent bench increased from eight to 11. Before the double dissolution the Coalition needed six of eight crossbenchers to get anything through the Upper House. That was near on impossible. Now they need nine of 11 of the crossbenchers. Easier or harder? Well, just on the maths it will be harder, much harder. But as any Australian high school student these days knows, there’s more to life than maths.
So maybe these 11 crossbenchers will prove to be less toxic than the previous smaller cohort? Alas, that seems unlikely doesn’t it? For any law now to get through without support from the Greens or Labor we are in situation where the four Hansonites have an absolute veto. Now that’s innovative. Oh, and so do the three Xenophons. So any mooted law will require Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon to agree. And Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm. All of them. Team Turnbull will need nine of the 11. Get down on your knees and kiss any spending cuts goodbye my friends. This Senate will not do cuts. Of course it will do what Labor and Mr. Morrison disingenuously label ‘savings’ – the sort where the government increases taxes directly or indirectly by eliminating a tax concession to up the money it takes from all of us taxpayers then pretends it’s exercising restraint when it isn’t. That extra moolah allows them to do something (not much, but something) about the deficit. But it’s not a ‘savings’ in any world other than an Orwellian one.
Be clear. We have a Senate that will nod through anything that increases government spending and goes down the path to BIG Government. Just witness the Gillard and Rudd years. They had no problem with the Senate. It’s only smaller government parties of the right that face a feral Upper House.
So let’s be clear about the Turnbull change to the Senate voting system. In theory it was a good change. In practice it was moronic. You use up tons and tons of political capital to tweak a bad proportional voting system in a theoretically more defensible direction. But the underlying proportional system is what sucks and in practice – as the Greens could foresee but Turnbull could not – the changes lock in a lefty, populist veto in the Upper House. Labor doesn’t worry about the Senate. Why should it? Meanwhile the Libs have fashioned their own torture instrument.
By all means change the voting system in the Senate. Take us back to the pre-1949 system by getting rid of the proportional system that Labor brought in 67 years ago. That would be a really beneficial change that might make needed reform possible. Alas, any change to the Senate voting system desired by the Libs will in future now require a double dissolution. Talk about an own goal!
So where does that leave Team Turnbull? No doubt you will hear talk of how this new cohort of crossbenchers is a more reasonable sounding bunch than before. And that is correct in the sense that you could pick someone off the street and he or she would seem more reasonable than the PUP people. But politics is politics. And the fact remains that only matters that Hanson and Xenophon agree upon can get through. Try to make a list in your minds of what Pauline and Nick agree upon that goes beyond what type of coffee to order.
Of course we all know what the huge temptation will be for Mr. Turnbull. In order to do anything at all, he’ll be tempted to do deals with the Greens. Heck, Malcolm himself won’t even mind doing these deals as he is the most left wing Liberal leader ever. But at the risk of going out on a limb I’m not sure the party base will be thrilled with its leader.
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