Why are elections bad things?

Every year around this time a slow news day story can be generated by reminding readers that it is x years since the Whitlam dismissal and what a terrible thing that was blah, blah, blah. Now we’re coming up to 40 years since the Whitlam government was first elected, that then got dismissed, and what a terrible thing that was blah, blah, blah.

George Williams has an op-ed in the SMH drawing out similarities between the Whitlam and Gillard governments.

Next month’s 40th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s election reminded me of striking similarities between the political landscape of 1975 and today. Both eras have seen a determined and focused opposition using every tool at their disposal to bring down a Labor government.
In each case, the opposition has sought to bring on an early poll by destabilising the government and undermining its legitimacy.

Well, yes. That is what the opposition is supposed to do. Force an early election and give the voters the opportunity to change the government. Yet I get the impression that Williams doesn’t really approve of such a thing.

This avenue to power has not been closed. A hostile Senate can still deny a government the money it needs to function. If this occurred, the Governor-General would again be put in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Nothing has been done to change Australia’s system of government to prevent this. Indeed, the failure to do so leaves it open for people to argue that Australians accept that this can occur again.

…the only thing that prevents an opposition leader from doing so is self restraint. If the opportunity beckons, there is no convention or rule to prevent the crisis of 1975 occurring again.

The Senate should be doing more to deny government spending money – not less. I am always appalled when I hear politicians speaking of ‘conventions’ that the Senate doesn’t withhold supply and the like. A Senate that does not review money bills and government spending is doing nothing.

What of the other point? Is there no mechanism to stop an opposition from bringing down a government by withholding supply? Yes there is. It is called the electorate. It is not enough to bring down the government in Canberra, the opposition has to win the subsequent election.

So if the Prime Minister follows an option pricing approach to calling the election then I predict the current PM will wait as long as possible before calling an election. But let’s imagine that an opposition leader had the ability to bring down the government by, say, withholding supply in the Senate. Would he go as soon as possible? No, I don’t think so. This looks to me like a first generation speculative attack model – the opposition leader will only bring down the government if and when he thinks that he can win the subsequent election. At the moment the current opposition leader must think he can win an election but he doesn’t have the numbers in either the House or the Senate. Usually, however, the government would have a comfortable majority in the House and stand a reasonable chance of winning an election so it wouldn’t always pay the opposition to withhold supply.

So elections work to restrain excessive political opportunism. That is why more elections are better than fewer elections and bringing down the government by hook or by crook doesn’t worry me, so long as they have to subsequently explain themselves to the voters.

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58 Responses to Why are elections bad things?

  1. PSC

    Those of us under the age of 40 – born after the whole Whitlam thing – just don’t care. At all.

    For me the Whitlam dismissal is less relevant and interesting than the Lang dismissal.

  2. Sinclair Davidson

    just don’t care. At all.

    Some of us over the age of 40 don’t care either. The headline, however, was

    Dismissal looms large for a new political generation

    To be fair the op-ed writers don’t write the headlines.

  3. GrantB

    More elections! Fair suck of the sauce bottle Sinclair. It cost me 100 bucks this year to not vote in the Qld state and council elections. Any more and I’m on cask wine.

  4. Sinclair Davidson

    Any more and I’m on cask wine.

    With minimum pricing laws on the way, it’ll be cheaper to vote.

  5. GrantB

    Perhaps. I’ll stick to the Hill of Grace then and risk financial ruin. But as a libertarian I will vote if and when I want to and not because a government tells me to.

  6. C.L.

    Dismissal looms large for a new political generation.

    Around the nation, youngsters are saying, “there was this prime minister called Geoff Whitlam and, like, he was sacked ‘n that by Abbott – who was advised by High Court judge, George Pell, and stuff. It was totally hectic ‘n that. Abbott really sux.”

  7. Sinclair Davidson

    Yes. Compulsory voting is an abomination.

  8. Cato the Elder

    Come on guys, they can make you turn up, or fine you if you won’t; but they can’t make you vote, can they?

  9. C.L.

    Yes. Compulsory voting is an abomination.

    Yes, and the Liberal Party never bothers to get rid of it, even though the only argument in its favour is that it compels Labor’s mooching constituents to drag themselves away from the hammock on polling day.

  10. James in Melbourne

    Love how the rage maintenance industry never mentions the subsequent election.

    Kerr did the right thing – he referred the decision to the ultimate arbiter, the electorate of Australia.

    Which Turned on the Lights.

  11. Sinclair Davidson

    Voting is compulsory – the fig leaf atm is the secret ballot but the legislation and case law is clear. You are required to cast a valid ballot.

  12. Sinclair Davidson

    CL – most of them support it.

  13. Gab

    This avenue to power has not been closed.

    And why should it be? The power is available to all in opposition, regardless of the governing party.

    the only thing that prevents an opposition leader from doing so is self restraint. If the opportunity beckons, there is no convention or rule to prevent the crisis of 1975 occurring again.

    Yeah, bet he wouldn’t be saying that if the current tables were turned.

  14. Cato the Elder

    So it’s a fatuous law, as there is no way that it can be enforced. Why be equally fatuous in response? Make a $50 donation to the revenue if you prefer to do so, personally I prefer to vote when I get the chance.

  15. Cato the Elder

    I’d feel really stooped if I’d refused to vote against Lieboor just because voting is compulsory.

  16. Sinclair Davidson

    Right now yes, but in future with electronic voting the compulsory nature will be more obvious.

  17. Cato the Elder

    I’ll worry about that if and when it happens.

  18. Old woman of the north

    All the hoo-har about Whitlam’s deplorable government being dismissed is nonsense. That gov. were intending to try to borrow heaps of money from a source that the treasury had not vetted.

    Anyway, all that happened was that the people were able to vote about the issue and did so resoundingly against Whitlam’s disastrously uncontrolled team. The fact that Fraser was a terrible PM who did not do as the people expected was another story.

  19. GrantB

    Cato, yes you can lob up and write GF on the paper and that fulfills your voting obligation. In the 60s in South Aust with 6 o’clock closing workers would race in and vote down the list, write GF or leave the form blank and speed off for drinks. The donkey vote was in excess of 10% and if the [unnecessary. Sinc] party was lucky enough to be number one on the list they would have got more than 10% of the vote. Democracy my arse.

    #Ok, Ok before someone says it, they probably would have got that percentage anyway.

  20. Cold-Hands

    Right now yes, but in future with electronic voting the compulsory nature will be more obvious.

    I can’t see the AEC downsizing itself through electronic voting. Besides, safeguards against vote tampering/hacking are nowhere near robust enough to see the end of pencil and paper.

  21. SteveC

    Well, yes. That is what the opposition is supposed to do. Force an early election and give the voters the opportunity to change the government.

    Really, the purpose of oppositions is to force early elections? That’s a very strange concept of democracy. That the loser should immediately try to subvert the will of the majority by not allowing a government to run for the term they were elected.

  22. .

    That the loser should immediately try to subvert the will of the majority by not allowing a government to run for the term they were elected.

    Gillard was not elected.

  23. The Dismissal would not happen today, because the government has a pet Governor-General who would never pull the plug. She would prorogue Parliament instead, to protect Gillard’s skin.

    Cold-Hands, I agree with you on the safeguards (or lack thereof) with electronic voting. I would encourage everybody to use a pen. In fact, provision of pens in the polling booths instead of pencils should become law, as should the showing of photo ID.

    Kerr acted correctly IMO – if the transfer of power had not ultimately been electoral in nature, I would have been arguing differently.

  24. SteveC – Australian federal governments are not elected for fixed terms, only maximum allowable ones, and the experience of New South Wales demonstrates very clearly why fixed terms are a bad thing.

    You stay in power only as long as you can hold the confidence of the Parliament and the Electorate. Soometimes that is the maximum allowable time and sometimes it is not. If Slipper and Thomson had been cast out of their seats on the basis of the things they had done or been suspected of doing, Gillard would long since have reached that point and would be on her way out if not already gone. The only reason she dares not have an election is because some of the mendacious drips she calls her Parliament will be liable at law as soon as they are voted out (which they will be) and the Opposition gets its hands on what’s left of the books after the shredders have died from over-use.

  25. Jannie

    For a long time I lived by that old anarchist saying ‘it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government stil gets in’. But a mortgage and kids makes you understand some governments are worse than others. I never thought this worse but.

  26. SteveC

    You are required to cast a valid ballot.

    Are you saying a deliberate informal vote (e.g. blank paper) is against the law? That seems a big call, do you have any references for that?

  27. SteveC

    Sure perturbed, the government stays put while it has the confidence of the parliament. That’s a long way from saying the purpose of the opposition is to force an early election.

  28. SteveC

    Gillard was not elected.

    Dot, Labor won the majority of the 2PP vote. Gillard convinced the cross benchers to support her, and formed a majority on the floor of the house. How else do you define “was elected”?

  29. Chris

    Voting is compulsory – the fig leaf atm is the secret ballot but the legislation and case law is clear. You are required to cast a valid ballot.

    I doubt in practice that its going to be an issue in the future. The electronic voting system used by the ACT (approved by the AEC) clearly separates voting from having your name marked off the roll as having voted.

    And the electronic system whilst it will warn you if your ballot is invalid does not stop you from submitting an invalid one. I think this is quite valuable as it effectively separates the protest invalid vote from the accidental invalid vote. The fewer of the latter the better for democracy.

  30. .

    2PP legally means nothing. The cross benchers ignored their constituents.

    A US President who wins the popular vote and the EV is elected. An Australian PM who wins 2PP and wins a majority of seats with their party or allied parties is elected.

    Gillard has less legitimacy than a German Chancellor or Italian Premier.

    That’s a long way from saying the purpose of the opposition is to force an early election.

    Absolutely. Otherwise they are not a credible alternative and ought to be a third party.

  31. SteveC

    So dot, as neither major party have a majority of seats, who “was elected”?

  32. .

    The members of Parliament. The PM is only “elected” in any normal sense when they form a majority Government. We all know the PM is appointed by the GG from Parliamentary prerogative, then Cabinet or party room.

    This is fairly obvious.

  33. SteveC

    dot, you were the one that specifically named Gillard as being elected I said Labor got the 2PP and Gillard convinced the cross benchers. So stop splitting hairs. The Labor government “was elected”. If not, who should have formed government?

  34. Jannie

    If not, who should have formed government?

    The garden gnome would have been better.

  35. Jannie

    Around the nation, youngsters are saying, “there was this prime minister called Geoff Whitlam and, like, he was sacked ‘n that by Abbott – who was advised by High Court judge, George Pell, and stuff. It was totally hectic ‘n that. Abbott really sux.”

    CL you could expand that a tad and write a radioscript. Hire a couple of young actors, and do a weekly on 2GB. Or Youtube. Along the lines of those old ABC hippy characters, when the Left still had a sense of humour. Mind you, there might be a law against offending young people these days. There is a lot of material.

  36. .

    dot, you were the one that specifically named Gillard as being elected

    No.

  37. twostix

    So dot, as neither major party have a majority of seats, who “was elected”?

    Obviously Abbott has the support of the people, Obviously he’s the PM in exile as two key rural electorates who support him 2 – 1 currently are unrepresented in parliament – with their “representatives” immediately betraying them to form this leftist Labor / Green alliance, the antithesis of everything those electorates stand for.

    Which of course is why the current illegitimate junta (currently overtly supported by at least two criminals) and two treacherous, community betraying “independents” (who performed the most disgraceful treachery on their electorates this nation has ever seen) doesn’t dare go near the electorate.

    Because they are all going to be severely punished for their transgressions – and so it’s been since the day after that they stole power with the aid of the Rob “cannot now show my face in Port Macquarie” Oakeshotte and Tony “Dog” Windsor.

  38. tbh

    What is consistently forgotten is the pants-down thrashing that the electorate gave the Whitlam government after the dismissal. I recall my Dad and his mates (after voting for Whitlam in 1972) talked about how they were out in the streets demonstrating against them and voted that way with extreme prejudice. They were a hated government by all accounts by 1975. A bit like this current one.

  39. Scapula

    Fantasy-laden diatribes against an elected government are indeed reminiscent of 1975. Thankfully the events finished off the DLP and soon the reputation of the Catholic Church will follow.

  40. C.L.

    That’s right, twostix.

    Abbott won the election but democracy was suspended in those two electorates and nationally.

    We do indeed have a junta.

  41. H B Bear

    One of the main reasons Windsor installed the Gillard government was he knew Abbott would go to an early election and he was finished as soon as this happened. Gillard would have done exactly the same thing, only she has never had the numbers, nor will she ever.

    Personally I prefer to see a government with a majority to pass legislation without having to do deals with independents or Greens. Don’t like ‘em vote ‘em out next time otherwise give them a decent majority.

  42. Thankfully the events finished off the DLP and soon the reputation of the Catholic Church will follow.

    Now at least we know, openly, where your priorities lie. B.A. Santamaria would probably not have liked you very much.

  43. twostix

    Fantasy-laden diatribes against an elected government

    Tony Windsor at last count was down to 24% “support” and dropping.

    2/3 people in New England support Tony Abbott.

    This is reality. The current government sits illegitimately, it doesn’t by any measure have the support of the people, nor has it ever, not for even a second.

    Which is of course what drives this government and the people in this government to act in the psychopathic way that they do. They all know full well who they need to maintain their tainted illegitimate power. Two betrayers of their communities and two criminals – the foundation stones that this junta is built upon, corrupting everything that rests upon them.

  44. Why are elections bad things?

    Well they’re not, as long as they don’t occur at a really awkward moment, like when you’re meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time.

    …oh, wait.

    Nevermind.

  45. Abu Chowdah

    Yes, and the Liberal Party never bothers to get rid of it, even though the only argument in its favour is that it compels Labor’s mooching constituents to drag themselves away from the hammock on polling day.

    My dad always hoped it would rain on election day because it encouraged the Labor drones to skip voting.

    I think it’s still true.

  46. m0nty

    I’ll try to remember this thread if the Greens deny supply to an Abbott government.

  47. Entropy

    Why, Mont? If an Abbott government proves as hopeless as a Whitlam Government, why would t we want supply blocked so we can vote the bastard out?
    The only reason we might not like it would be if the scenario where they were blocking supply was arbitrary, just because they could.
    The electorate resoundingly demonstrated it supported the blocking of supply in 1975, or more correctly, the annihilation of the Whitlam government.

  48. 2dogs

    “Thankfully the events finished off the DLP”

    On present polling, the DLP will have the balance of power in the next senate.

    Of the senate seats going up, that’s 4 to the Coalition in WA & QLD, half of the others, leaving the continuing DLP senator Madigan with the balance of power.

  49. 81Alpha

    Never forget that Whitlam suffered the largest elctoral defeat in Australian History.
    And that the excerable Keating suffered the second largest defeat.
    May I predict, that Gillard, will put both of those in the shade when we, the people, finally have our chance to rid our Country of her despicable, ruinous, shambles of a government.

    Please God that she will be held to account in this life as well as in the next.
    Gaol is too good for her and her cronies.

  50. Token

    So dot, as neither major party have a majority of seats, who “was elected”?

    Very perceptive question SteveC.

    In our democracy we vote for a local member to act as our agent in parliament. They hold the right for the maximum term of the current parliament.

    We do not vote for a PM or a party and therefore we have to live by the judgement of those members.

    This includes taking the right to force another election.

    If they chose to ignore the wishes of their electorate (like Oakeshott & Windsor have) they will not get a renewal by the voters.

    Sure perturbed, the government stays put while it has the confidence of the parliament. That’s a long way from saying the purpose of the opposition is to force an early election.

    See above.

    One of the great ballasts of the parliamentary democracy is that individual party members can use their judgement to keep or remove a government.

    This is what happened in 1931 when Lyons and a number of other Labor members brought down what they thought was a bad government and created a new coalition (which turned out to be for the benefit of the country).

    Labor benefited from a similar maneuver in 1941 which lead to stronger government.

    We only wish Costa, Iemma and a few other Labor members had the ticker to do the same for NSW a few years back.

  51. Peter OBrien

    The Left are fond of referring to the events of 1975 as a ‘constitutional crisis’. There was no constitutional crisis. The constitution worked as it was intended in offer to solve a political crisis. Whatever post hoc criticisms may be levelled at Kerr in the minutiae of his handling of this issue, he got the final call right. There was an election and Fraser won convincingly. And, no, I’m not saying that Kerr used the probability of a Fraser win to inform his decision.

  52. Token

    The constitution worked as it was intended in offer to solve a political crisis.

    Absolutely, to the point where the GG acted in a similar way to English monarchs of earlier years to force an election to resolve a stalemate.

    The problem is the sneery inner city elite who blindly backed the bad government felt cheated.

    This is the same elite who sneer at the same anger of the people of Oakeshott & Windsors electorates.

  53. Gab

    There was an election and Fraser won convincingly.

    Yes the grieving luvvies seem to forget the Australian voters spoke convincingly back in 1975. LNP 55.7 : 44.3 ALP.

  54. Danny McGrath

    After a quick read, I believe an important point has been missed in all this discussion. In 1975 we had what was called a “Supply Period” budget. This allowed the Gov’t of the day to operate usually between July and November whilst the full budget was discussed and then passed. The supply period funding was eventually subsumed into the approved budget of that particular year. This allowed the Whitlam Gov’t to keep paying public servants etc without the full year appropriation acts being approved. Today there is no supply period funding. If the budget is not approved then all govt spending ceases on 1 Jul.This would create utter havoc. No pay , no pensions etc.

  55. H B Bear

    Yes the grieving luvvies seem to forget the Australian voters spoke convincingly back in 1975. LNP 55.7 : 44.3 ALP.

    No Labor history is complete without a little re-writing.

  56. .

    Today there is no supply period funding. If the budget is not approved then all govt spending ceases on 1 Jul.This would create utter havoc. No pay , no pensions etc.

    Progress, actually, cobber.

  57. .

    “Thankfully the events finished off the DLP”

    On present polling, the DLP will have the balance of power in the next senate.

    Of the senate seats going up, that’s 4 to the Coalition in WA & QLD, half of the others, leaving the continuing DLP senator Madigan with the balance of power.

    I’m in a majority Catholic locale and the DLP branch for the city centre reckons it has 300 members.

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