SOS from David Leyonhjelm

Save Our Senate

How many senators can you name? If your answer is no more than a handful, you are typical of most Australians. And if the senators you can name are crossbenchers like me, there is nothing unusual about that either. Despite the government having 31 senators and Labor 26, there’s a fair chance you’ve never heard of most of them.

That’s a problem, because it’s leading to some pretty appalling assessments about the value of the Senate. It’s also prompting some highly undemocratic suggestions as to what should be done about it.

A recent example was an article by George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of NSW. He argued that the Senate is “a house of political parties” and therefore “the disloyalty of our senators cuts to the heart of the role of the chamber”.

His concern is with senators who were either elected or appointed under the auspices of one party but are now associated with another one. He asserts that this is now occurring more frequently, can no longer be tolerated, and signifies the need for reform.

Another is an article by Alexander Downer. He argued that Senate crossbenchers are feckless and that the number who resigned due to dual citizenship or have changed their party affiliation has weakened the democratic standing of the Senate.

Yet another is an article by former Senator and Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson. He castigated me for something I never said, bizarrely puts Derryn Hinch in the same category as Cory Bernardi for being across the issues, criticises Pauline Hanson for changing her mind on company tax (she changed her mind no more often than Bill Shorten did), and concedes he knows next to nothing about the rest of the crossbench. All of which amounts, in his view, to “squalid dysfunction”.

Implicit in all three of these assessments, notwithstanding various errors of fact, is the assumption that the government and parliament would perform much better but for the crossbench.

Williams wants to make party loyalty obligatory. Yet, as we saw with the recent foreign interference and foreign influence bills, the only senators who routinely scrutinise legislation are crossbenchers like me. The great majority of bills pass the Senate with barely a whiff of scrutiny from the Labor Opposition.

Party loyalty means Labor senators (who hardly anybody knows) who once supported company tax cuts now block them. Party loyalty also means that Coalition senators (also largely unknown) supported an increased Medicare levy prior to Anzac Day this year, but no longer supported it once the Treasurer told them he’d changed his mind.

Downer believes joint sittings of both Houses could help overcome Senate obstruction, except the numbers don’t add up. The Coalition needs eight crossbenchers to get bills passed through the Senate, and would need seven to get bills passed through a joint sitting. And let’s not forget most of the Super Saturday by-elections were due to dual citizenships in the House of the Representatives.

Richardson offers no solutions to perceived dysfunction.

The danger with this shoddy analysis is that it risks being taken seriously. When the minor parties cooperated with each other in 2013 to maximise their chances of winning, just as Labor and the Greens had been doing for years and the Liberals and Nationals had been doing for decades, they were accused of “gaming” the system, mainly by people who had no idea how the system worked.

That led a change in a Senate voting system that disenfranchises minor party supporters. And yet, support for minor parties in the Senate has been steadily rising since 2007. Despite the new system making it considerably harder for them to win, minor parties continue to be seen as a problem.
While it can sometimes be difficult to discern the principles motivating some of my fellow crossbenchers, especially when they change their position, they are never voting contrary to their own views. That cannot be said about any of the senators in the major parties. No matter how much Labor and Liberal senators may agree with my small government principles, and they do from time to time, they can never vote with me if their party decides otherwise.

Unless the major parties find a way of increasing their electoral appeal, support for minor parties will continue to grow. But if the major parties heed the undemocratic claptrap of commentators and change the rules to make it even harder for crossbench senators, that support will not be represented in parliament. That’s a problem.

David Leyonhjelm is a senator for the Liberal Democrats

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45 Responses to SOS from David Leyonhjelm

  1. Cynic of Ayr

    Mr L, the reason we have the shits with the Senate are not that numerous.
    1. You can be elected with bugger all votes, as “gaming the system” is the present M.O. Your own results were 9.51% of the vote, and a quota of 0.6653. Not all that overwhelmingly impressive, is it?
    2. You are supposed to be looking after the interest of your State only. That is, look out for matters that advantage the other States, over your own. That is why there are equal numbers for each State! Country wide matters should not be your concern.
    3. As an independent, and thus holding some sway over the Government of the day, you fall under the illusion that you are important to the country, and not only to your State.
    4. There would be more morons in the Senate, as a percentage, than there are in the Reps, although I’ll agree it’s a close run thing.
    5. You’re at the trough for six years, and we’re unable to get at you before then.
    6. Party loyalty and instructions from the Party, has overcome any tendency of Party Senators to act in the interest of anything, State or Country.
    7. As we are unable to fix 6, then dump the lot.
    8. Methinks you’re in a bit of a panic about your present employment, rather than any real desire to do anything really useful.

  2. None

    Recall that the Senate is a house of teview but Leyonjhelm uses to blackmail the parliament for his demented agenda like legalizing murder (euthanasia).

  3. Entropy

    And yet, support for minor parties in the Senate has been steadily rising since 2007

    Don’t mistake that fact for endorsement, or even that you are liked particularly. It’s just the majors are even more repulsive.
    The liberals and ALP are your best electoral weapons.

    Here’s my prescription for senate reform:
    1. Only two senators per state, appointed by the relevant State Government, one every three years.
    2. No Territory Senators. The Senate is the States’ house. Territories are territories.
    2. Senators can’t be ministers of the crown
    3. Senators can’t table bills, or co sponsor them.
    4. Senators can’t sit on committees. All twelve must meet together to consider Bills.
    5. Senators can only review legislation passed by the HoR. They have no other function.
    6. Senators can’t be Senators for more than 6 years. One term.

    I suspect neither the majors or the cross benchers would like any of that list. But you troughers arent looking after our interests, so you can be damn well sure we don’t care about yours.

  4. 2dogs

    Select senators by sortition.

    A new lot every session.

    It will end the mindless stonewalling, because no given batch of senators could be sure that next month’s lot won’t decide differently.

  5. Entropy

    I suspect my list would carry greater gravity if I could count.

  6. .

    Country wide matters should not be your concern.

    In the national Parliament? Which has taken over far too many State powers?

    As an independent

    What?

    4. There would be more morons in the Senate, as a percentage, than there are in the Reps, although I’ll agree it’s a close run thing.

    Please, most ALP and LNP backbenchers are just lifelong moochers and have done nothing of note save for been in the party for a long time.

    ——————————————————————–

    Entropy’s ideas are okay but sortition is best.

    If we had a Presidential executive, we could have sortition for both. I’d say sortition for the House and they appoint the Senate on a half rotation. Selection is subject to an approval vote and we have recall elections and can strike down laws with citizen’s referenda. Five year House terms and ten for the Senate.

    ——————————————————————–

    Anyway, more pressing is the fact that the Greens and Liberals changed the rules so the micro right-wing parties would be nipped in the bud. Turnbull did this. He did it to kick KAP, PHON, SFFP, FFP, CDP, ACP, the ALA, LDP and Aust. Xtians in the balls.

    Now imagine if parties got Senate representation in proportion to their votes, weighed on a national basis, out of 100 Senators (and 200 rep).

    Even that would be better than what we have now. But like voluntary voting, there is no way the uniparty would vote for their own downfall.

    [There are at least 8 micro right-wing parties to vote for. There is almost no reason not to support the above in a varying order].

  7. Colonel Crispin Berka, Kings' Fusiliers Corps.

    Five year House terms and ten for the Senate.

    You want electoral review of the activities of government to occur less often??
    That is crazy. What are you, some kind of Queenslander or something?

  8. Petros

    Well Greece has a unicameral system and it does not serve the country well. Imagine the even greater damage some governments here could have done.

  9. .

    Do the sums for yourself.

    2016

    91.9% turnout. 96.06% valid votes.

    88.28% of the electorate cast valid votes. The LNP got 35.18% GVT/1st preference votes.

    So they pass legislation with “virtually no resistance” with only 31.06% of the adult population “supporting” them, in the context of coerced, compulsory voting.

    The Liberals and Nationals do not truly represent more than 15% to 20% of the population but yet they get a free hand in writing Federal law which overrides State law. We are governed by a vocal minority who are not even true to their ideals. In recent years, they have become a mockery of their manifesto, platform, history, philosophy and the ideals of their actual supporters.

    Now consider they are getting into debt which future generations are to pay off and that prisoners and the senile can’t or don’t vote. They aren’t free electors but they are the future, still have rights or otherwise should be treated with dignity.

    The system really needs a shakeup. Malcolm Turnbull has entrenched the Senate as an unrepresentative house of legislation as outlined above.

  10. Luke

    I’d like to see the lot of you go! I’m so sick of Senate inquiries over subject matters you have no business investigating (State or local matters). And it is has nothing to do with making improvements and everything to do with buying interest groups for support. The building industry is the latest example. Totally a State matter but now they are going to get federal legislation to add State and local… because nothing lowers costs like adding a level of government.

    Our Federal system has become a complete and utter mess with the ever increasing overlap directly driving up costs.

    How about you have a Senate inquiry into the waste of tax payer money caused by overlap between the States and Federal government rules, policy and legislation?

  11. Davo the spy

    Fixing the senate is simple. If the election is for 2, 4 or 6 (whatever) per state; then you each have that many votes and its first past the post with above the line voting abolished…then use entropy’s other rules about being ministers etc. They are just a house of review, the end, thats it

    Alterantively, abolish it

  12. Roger

    A recent example was an article by George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of NSW. He argued that the Senate is “a house of political parties” and therefore “the disloyalty of our senators cuts to the heart of the role of the chamber”. His concern is with senators who were either elected or appointed under the auspices of one party but are now associated with another one.

    I haven’t read the article, but if correctly represented his concern should rather be that the allegiances of senators to political parties effectively negates their duties to the states, which usurps the powers of the senate, a chamber constitutionally intended to represent state interests, in favour of party political sectional interests.

  13. As entropy implied (and note none) the senate is supposed to be a states house. The house is meant to be a house of review with the members making sure that legislation complies with the requirements of their state and does no harm to their state and their electors. Party affiliations should be scrapped. If a senators resigns, dies or is forced out the person should be replaced by the respective state government. What Bjelke-Peterson did is the correct way of senator replacement. It should have been done with the creep Dastyari. That stupid Keneally should not be in parliament.

  14. H B Bear

    The Senate is a dysfunctional, national embarrassment. And that is even before you get to the Senators themselves.

  15. .

    I haven’t read the article, but if correctly represented his concern should rather be that the allegiances of senators to political parties effectively negates their duties to the states, which usurps the powers of the senate, a chamber constitutionally intended to represent state interests, in favour of party political sectional interests.

    This is a bit silly. A similar argument may be made about electorates and I think the voting systems can actually be flipped (in theory anyway, within limits; in the House we could see no list-PR or State appointment, but approval voting, Hare-Clark or a FPTP list would be fine and perhaps State-based single electorates, States could theoretically create single-member electorates or use appointment for the Senate) for the chambers (see sections 9, 10, 24 and 29 of the Commonwealth Constitution).

  16. Habib

    I think we’d be better off without a senate, and a permamently hung parliament. The senate’s never been much use, and since labor expanded it and the likes of Harradine perverted it, it’s actively acted against our interests.

  17. mh

    Unrepresentative swill. Change my mind.

  18. Oh come on

    The senate was an essential element of federation. No senate, no Australia. Stop bitching that it’s unrepresentative or whatever. Yeah, no shit it’s unrepresentative. It was designed to be unrepresentative. If it wasn’t unrepresentative, the WA, SA, Tas and Qld colonies would never have signed on to the federal project.

    Deal with it, FFS.

  19. zyconoclast

    Entropy
    #2791902, posted on August 17, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    Good list.

  20. Cactus

    My said Unrepresentative swill. Change my mind.

    Well I agree. But if we get enough diversity in the cross bench, then legislators cant pass stuff because of all the crazy. That means less govt. Thoughts?

  21. Oh come on

    Unrepresentative swill. Change my mind.

    When you’ve finished fellating Paul Keating, speak up.

  22. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    If it wasn’t unrepresentative, the WA, SA, Tas and Qld colonies would never have signed on to the federal project.

    The colony of Western Australia was blackmailed into joining Federation. The State Premier, Sir John Forrest, was informed that, if Western Australia didn’t join Federation, the Colonial Office in London would split the colony in two. The Goldfields, around Kalgoorlie, largely populated by “t’othersiders” – those who had come from the Eastern States , would be part of Federation. The coastal districts would be another colony, with full freedom to do as they pleased.

  23. Oh come on

    The problem is not an overmighty senate. The senate is functioning more-or-less as it was intended. (It’s not really a house of the states, that is true. But it was intended to be a powerful house of review.)

    The problem is with an overmighty federal government.

    All the senate haters here could fix the senate up exactly how they wanted and there would still be the same problem. In our federal system, the Commonwealth is far too strong and the states are too weak.

  24. Oh come on

    That’s great, Zulu, but let’s return to the topic at hand.

  25. Snoopy

    In our federal system, the Commonwealth is far too strong and the states are too weak.

    True. For so long as the Commonwealth collects most of the taxes things can never improve.

  26. Herodotus

    Arguments in support of the Senate would be more convincing if it confined itself to sensible review of legislation (too boring?) and behaved less like a rabble. A house with such characters that the Greens supply will never have my respect.
    The ALP should be blamed more for the dysfunctions of the upper house and its committees. They have the power but not the integrity to see itmfunction correctly.

  27. I see the Senate as a sometimes check on the unfettered power of executive government that does not listen to backbenchers or the population it governs. By electing enough cross benchers to the Senate this gives the voters a chance to modify or reject proposed legislation in the interests of their states or support base. This may be somewhat different from its perceived role 100+ years ago but the world has changed and so has politics. Power to the people is a good thing especially when you look at the mess we are in today.

  28. Roger

    This is a bit silly. A similar argument may be made about electorates…

    Not silly at all, and indeed a similar argument could be made about electorates.

    Party discipline pertains much less the House of Commons than in our HR, for example, and similarly political parties were not originally envisioned in our Constitution. What we have is not government responsible to the electorate in the first instance but to political parties which enforce strict discipline, particularly the Labor Party. The electorate are getting fed up with it.

  29. .

    for example, and similarly political parties were not originally envisioned in our Constitution

    I don’t think this is true roger. Deakin, Parkes, Inglis-Clark, Barton, Griffiths; surely these men understood parties? There is no law about parties in the colonial constitutions or the triennial act or act of settlement from memory.

    The electorate are getting fed up with it.

    They should vote accordingly; even though I’ve shown above the Greens, ALP and LNP probably are supported by less than half of the population – yet no one is willing to vote them out. Compulsory preferential (no optional preferencing) voting is a real problem. Like the new Senate system, it is anti-competitive.

  30. mh

    No arguments there to change my mind.

    I declare the Senate to be unrepresentative swill.

  31. Roger

    Compulsory preferential (no optional preferencing) voting is a real problem.

    Repeal recommended by Joint C’tee Electoral Matters in 1996, not followed through because it would have cost the two major parties money, not only in terms of reduced public funding but requiring them to spend money getting voters to the polls. The Uniparty in action, conspiring against Australian democracy.

  32. mh

    Factoid:

    Senator Sarah Hanson-Young went to the World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

  33. I declare the Senate to be unrepresentative swill.

    So what does that make Executive government by a handful of swill appointed by the PM whose unrepresentative party was elected with far less than a majority of first preference votes. The system is stuffed and requires a complete overhaul perhaps on the Swiss model.

  34. H B Bear

    Other improvements to the Senate;

    1. No Bill may originate in the Senate.
    2. No member of the Executive may sit in the Senate.

  35. .

    2. is great but 1. doesn’t need to get up. Only about 30-40%of the nation actually support 145 of the 150 people who sit in the House.

    The Senate, if not given equal weighting (bar money bills) loses power to review. If a department’s remit is lessened, then the indirect checks on executive power and lower house wastrels remain.

    We should have given the Senate more power. The PM appoints Federal judges unopposed in Australia.

    (Although I have expressed a desire for sortition above, that too would be curbed by my preference for removing the Federal layer and having a confederative system).

  36. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    1. No Bill may originate in the Senate.

    With you on that one.

  37. H B Bear

    Only about 30-40%of the nation actually support 145 of the 150 people who sit in the House.

    Too bad. Get some representatives in the House of Reps then. The problem? Compulsory preferential voting. Well 30 to 40% should be able to get rid of that too.

  38. .

    Why? The Senate is probably more representative of the electorate.

    It certainly is where Cats have representation.

    Who in the House stands up for the values espoused and debated here?

  39. H B Bear

    We should have given the Senate more power. The PM appoints Federal judges unopposed in Australia.

    Yeah Australian democracy needs more Lionel Murphys.

  40. .

    Too bad. Get some representatives in the House of Reps then. The problem? Compulsory preferential voting. Well 30 to 40% should be able to get rid of that too.

    All we can do right now is say the framers did a bad job for not allowing an initiative procedure to strike down laws and also a recall procedure to boot bad MPs.

    This is why we need the Senate for now, even if you disagree with me.

    https://www.ldp.org.au/democracy

    https://www.onenation.org.au/policies/citizen-initiated-referenda-2/

  41. .

    H B Bear
    #2792467, posted on August 18, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    We should have given the Senate more power. The PM appoints Federal judges unopposed in Australia.

    Yeah Australian democracy needs more Lionel Murphys.

    We got Lionel Murphy because there was no oversight of the executive. Your aim is a bit off, old bean; or I’m having a fit of autism and can’t grasp context.

  42. H B Bear

    Why? The Senate is probably more representative of the electorate.

    Voters elect their HoR representative personally. That is why the Senate is such a dumping ground for party hacks, union retirement funds and people who could never get elected by voters directly. People like Bambi who was rejected by the people and then installed by the Liars less than a month later.

    Above the line party voting should be banned for that reason.

  43. .

    A reason not to vote for major parties, particularly the ALP is not a reason to beg for at least 35% of the population, in particular people who write and comment on this blog, to be unrepresented in Parliament.

  44. Entropy

    Why? The Senate is probably more representative of the electorate.

    Wot? 15% of the population lives in Tasmania?

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