Guest Post – Justinian the Great – Musings on the Senate: Voting and Election 

There is always a lot of griping about the undemocratic nature of the senate come election time from both the major political parties and the Canberra press gallery.

I dare say a lot of Cats would be open to abolishing the senate considering it a house of obstruction rather than review and against the spirit in which our framers of the constitution allegedly had in mind.

Such gripes always centres on myopic discussions (like everything else from the Canberra press gallery) about preference deals and the impact of people like Clive Palmer holding the balance of power.

The media and other “elite” opinion makers look down their noses at the likes of Clive or Pauline whom they they deem unworthy and unfit for public life apparently distinguishable from the stellar “quality” of Liberal, Labor, National and Green senators mostly considered beyond reproach.

A lot is made of the dark art of preference dealing and every election we see journalists frothing at the mouth attempting to create controversy in either total ignorance or total deception of the difference between political tactics and political endorsement in a preferential voting system.

In what is the epitome of fake news and political bias this non-story only ever focusses on Coalition preferences. Hence, if the Coalition preference United Australia or One Nation it is interpreted as an endorsement of “far right” bigotry.

When Labor preferences the Greens on the other hand, it is dismissed as purely tactical and not an endorsement of Green totalitarianism.

Not even the hypocrisy of Labor preferencing United Australia while simultaneously moralising that the Coalition mustn’t doesn’t change the narrative that Coalition preferences equate to endorsement whereas Labor preferences are simply election tactics.

When the Canberra press gallery bang on about about preferences what they are really doing is stating their own preference which is to say a preferred political narrative and a contempt for voters they deem too stupid to know the difference between tactics and endorsement.

Critics of the senate like to point to a motley crew of minor party and independent senators aggrandising themselves as an alternative to government and using the balance of power to impose their will, with little-to-no expertise or experience, and all in the grubby pursuit of populism.

Worse still they lament that we routinely end up electing obscure candidates on only a handful of primary votes (leaving aside inept party processes that fail to ensure constitutional eligibility). This is typically portrayed as a fault of the voting system rather than what it actually is which is largely a product of major party preference strategies.

If Liberal and Labor wanted to put a stop to this anomaly they could largely do so tomorrow by reaching an agreement on senate preferences. Instead, Liberal and Labor view elections in zero-sum terms and by hoping to deny the other side a senator they enable the election of fringe candidates.

In a country notable for duopolies in so many markets it is an appalling indictment on Liberal and Labor that they haven’t figured out how to better dominate the political market. This is probably a reflection of both parties having pretty much zero business experience within their parliamentary ranks. Not that I endorse duopolies.

If Liberal and Labor got together on senate preferences we would see pretty much the eradication of minor party and other independent fringe senators including most of the Greens.

Of course, for all the harping on about the senate from the media elites, one rarely comes across the same level of scorn and criticism of Green senators that they apply to say One Nation and who also owe their place in Australian politics largely as a consequence of preferences.

That said the election of minor parties and independents to the senate is not simply a quirk of preferences. It never occurs to elitist critics that voters are smarter than they credit and their voting patterns might just happen to represent a considered decision.

First of all the rise of independent and minor party senators is a largely a reflection of voter dissatisfaction with the major parties.

This dissatisfaction is obvious with neither party of government yet to hit over 40% of the primary vote despite being just 10 days out from the election.

This is a trend that has been two to three decades in the making. Major political parties are increasingly on the nose and in my opinion for good reason.

The political system is captured by an insiders class of staffers, unionists, and factional warlords with a heavy dose of political nepotism and cronysim thrown in for good measure.

Ordinary people no longer consider their political representatives as being “of the people, for the people” but rather part of the deep state swamp.

As stated above, Australian voters are not stupid. They know that under our voting system either Liberal or Labor will form government and there is nothing they can do about it.

However, what they can do is place limits on executive government by voting for an insurance policy in the senate. And this is what they have done.

Consider the 2016 Federal election. The Coalition secured 5,693,605 popular votes in the House of Representatives (42%) versus just 4,868,968 popular votes in the Senate (35.2%). That is a difference of nearly 825k votes.

The Labor Party was no better securing 4,702,296 popular votes in the House of Representatives (34.7%) versus just 4,123,153 popular votes in the Senate (29.8%). That is a difference of over 579k to the party that lost.

Combined we are talking about 1.4 million people that voted for a major party in the house of representatives but not the senate.

That is not an accident but a deliberate decision by voters reflecting a lack of confidence in whomever will form government. Voters are deliberately hoping to constrain their choice of executive government because they don’t have a a great deal of confidence in them.

Of course this insurance policy only works because of the way in which the major parties vote in the senate when in opposition. Opposition parties typically vote down government legislation regardless of whether the government has a “mandate” or not.

They invoke contested and confected notions of “mandate” to justify opposition at all costs and in the process elevate minor parties and independents as deal-makers who in turn proclaim their own special mandate as the price of legislative support.

Once a mandate becomes divorced from executive government it ceases to have any meaning and the parliament descends into what it has largely become, namely a place of dysfunction, chaos, bickering, and gridlock in which a popularly elected government cannot implement the policies it took to an election because of senate recalcitrance.

This should be food for thought for Morrison who in order to win must break the trend of voters drifting to minor parties and independents. So far the Coalition have built a campaign almost exclusively in opposition to Labor’s big tax and spend agenda and its un-costed climate policy.

To some extent it has worked with Newspoll showing a 49-51% TPP contest which is also within the margin of error. However the primary vote is stuck on 38% suggesting that swinging voters are still undecided and in the absence of change the 3 year trend to Labor will likely prevail.

While voters do not necessarily like (nor trust) Bill Shorten they look likely to hold their nose and vote for change in the House with an insurance policy in the Senate. Morrison needs to remove this as an option.

When John Hewson lost the “un-losable” election 1993  Paul Keating did exactly that. He turned defence into offence by stating that if the nation elected a Hewson government Labor would not get in the way of his GST “Fightback” mandate.

In Question Time, Paul Keating specifically stated “The Labor Party would not obstruct the passage of the GST legislation in the senate“. Why? Because he wanted it to be “totally clear that a vote for Hewson is a vote for the GST”.

Keating directly challenged voters that they would get what they voted for, and accordingly if they didn’t particularly like or understand the GST they had only one choice – vote Labor. And it worked.

In short, Keating took away the option of voting for change but with a Labor insurance / hedge policy in the senate. By respecting the mandate he changed the contest and in doing so he changed the political dynamic.

Morrison if he is to have any hope of winning must do the same. Scott Morrison must state for the record in the same emphatic language as Keating that the Coalition in opposition will respect the Shorten Labor mandate: a largely un-costed mandate that constitutes the most audacious far Left agenda in Australian political history.

He must make it totally clear that a vote for Shorten is a vote for a radical Left experiment on the economy and jobs, on energy and climate, on superannuation, savings and investment, on debt and deficit and that radical experiment will secure passage through the senate.

In one fell swoop you crystallise the contest by taking away the insurance / hedge and by disempower minor parties and independents.

More importantly this should not be simply campaign rhetoric but must be followed through in the event a Shorten Labor government is elected on May 18.

The best strategy for the Liberal Party in opposition is to ensure that Shorten fully owns the consequences of his own policies and the Liberal Party remains unsullied from the Shorten experiment. They need to given Shorten all the rope he needs to hang himself.

In doing so they achieve three things:

  1. They set up a falsifiable test of Shorten policies that his government alone will wear.
  2. They strip the minor parties and independents of all power and relevance diminishing their future appeal to voters.
  3. As a consequence of 2 they disempower GetUp! which will no longer be able to manipulate politics through faux independents.

In the long run this will only benefit a future Liberal government that for too long has ended up co-owning Labor-Green policy disasters.

In summary, Morrison must convert the undecided to not gamble on change by taking away the safety net of split ticket voting.

The message must be that a vote for Shorten is vote for the good, the bad and the ugly and split ticket voting won’t save you from the latter two.

As for those that would happily do away with the senate I simply say that there is a place for a chamber of review that done properly increases the accountability of government thereby improving both politics and policy-making.

Obstructing legislation simply allows governments to claim they would have been effective but were stymied by the senate. Blame is smeared.

Instead, opposition parties should use the senate not to obstruct legislation but establish benchmarks that validate or falsify the efficacy and intent of legislation that will ultimately hold the government to account come the next election.

Why be part of the problem (i.e. legislative gridlock) when you can highlight failure and present a solution?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Guest Post – Justinian the Great – Musings on the Senate: Voting and Election 

  1. a happy little debunker

    Keating directly challenged voters that they would get what they voted for

    L.A.W. tax cuts?

  2. Entropy

    Well, sure, except:

    The best strategy for the Liberal Party in opposition is to ensure that Shorten fully owns the consequences of his own policies and the Liberal Party remains unsullied from the Shorten experiment.

    Sure, and who’s fault is the NBN and NDIS boondoggles then?

  3. Rafiki redux

    On the other hand, is it possible – even probable – that a Labor/Greens would set about changing the political landscape in many and varied ways (not least by outright repression of dissent) so that centre and right parties could not for many years return to government? Given the mind-sets of the young, the recent immigrants etc, I think the answer is yes.

  4. Old School Conservative

    A clever analysis – thank you JtG.

  5. stackja

    The best strategy for the Liberal Party in opposition is to ensure that Shorten fully owns the consequences of his own policies and the Liberal Party remains unsullied from the Shorten experiment. They need to given Shorten all the rope he needs to hang himself.

    Gough gave us Medibank and ‘free hospital care’. Kev gave us Pink Batts deaths, BER, deaths at sea etc. Voters drink too much milk of amnesia, and keep electing ALP. ALP has never faced consequences.

  6. Chris M

    First of all the rise of independent and minor party senators is a largely a reflection of voter dissatisfaction with the major parties.

    ‘Independent’ is code for Labor Green. Like a meat pie uou might think you are buying ‘home made’ but it actually comes from the same factory. There has not been a single Independent candidate that has turned out to be a hidden conservative.

  7. Peter Greagg

    Good analysis that I strongly support.

  8. Karabar

    there is a place for a chamber of review that done properly increases the accountability of government thereby improving both politics and policy-making.
    Obviously that is the idea that Parkes, Barton, Deakin, Downer et al had in mind.
    I don’t think they considered that party politics would have a role in the selection of senators.
    Candidates should ignore political affiliation and instead rely on their reputation for State affiliation.
    Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way this could be enforced, other than by the intelligence of voters who actually make a point of meeting the candidates, and otherwise give a shit.

  9. Percy Popinjay

    As for those that would happily do away with the senate I simply say that there is a place for a chamber of review that done properly increases the accountability of government thereby improving both politics and policy-making.

    What a load of garbage. My main objection to the senate (apart from the fact that it couldn’t “review” its own backside) is that it’s the antithesis of “one vote, one value”.

    For that reason alone it must either be significantly reformed or (preferably) abolished – and no, I don’t give a rodent’s about its supposed creation as “a house for the states”. That too, is absolute bollocks and ultimately becomes the justification for my main objection to it.

    According to the AEC, in 2019 there are 386,076 enrolled voters in Taxmania and 5,298,606 enrolled voters in NSW. That means a Taxmanian’s senate vote is worth 13.72 times the vote of someone enrolled in NSW (or 6.86 times if you allow for both of the Taxmanian’s heads).

    As already stated – this is not democracy, it is its absolute antithesis.

    The senate, in its current inacarnation, is indefensible.

  10. woolfe

    Only problem is that once laws are enacted by one party how many are redacted when the other gains power. Can you imagine the ALP agreeing to redact one of their laws?

  11. stackja

    Re-engineering degrees
    BELLA D’ABRERA

    Labor’s push for a National Gender Centre is informed by radical academic philosophies and not facts

    Should it be elected on the weekend of May 18, the Labor Party has promised to offer free sex change procedures, set up a tax payer-funded National Gender Centre, and appoint a new Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status Issues. This is completely in keeping with the party’s fixation with social justice.

    To be clear, when the Labor Party talks about social justice, it doesn’t mean things like equality before the law, the equal claim to rights as citizenship, or free speech, which it clearly considers to be outdated and antiquated ideas which should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

    No, when the Labor Party talks about social justice, it means the complete rearrangement of society, so that there is no privilege, no hierarchy and no difference. This has everything to do with engineering, and very little to do with justice. One of the ways it proposes to fulfil the party’s self-proclaimed mission to reshape Australian society in its own progressive image, is to get society to a point in which we are a genderless, androgynous mass.

    It genuinely believes that a genderless world in which there are neither men nor women, boys nor girls will be better, because if there are no men, women, boys or girls, there can be no difference between us. And if there is no difference, there can be neither oppressor or oppressed. Hey presto, you have a world of perfect equality.

    Dr Bella d’Abrera is the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs

  12. Cynic of Ayr

    I understood from my far off school days – when teachers taught minds, not manipulated them – that the Senate was to ensure that no State was disadvantaged by legislation. Hence the States having equal representation.
    My personal view of all this is that this idea should be enforced.
    As it is, the Senate is nothing but another House of Reps, and is run purely on Party lines. No State advantage of disadvantage is ever mentioned.
    IF a Senator votes against legislation coming from the House of Reps, then he should provide evidence why that Legislation disadvantages his State. If he cannot give this evidence, he should not vote against it.
    Is this gunna happen? Of course not! Good, honest Governance and the Constitution, are merely insignificant hurdles, easily ignored or jumped over.

  13. Chris M

    The best strategy for the Liberal Party in opposition is to ensure that Shorten fully owns the consequences of his own policies

    Yesss! Agree with Peter, excellent summary Justinian.

    Not seeing the strength and resolve for this. Morrison might be a nice enough person but I find him a bit weak and soft, like Abbott he has that craving to be liked. Well I guess that’s a weakness of democracy, no such issue in Commo countries haha.

  14. Petros

    Bring on the feral senate I say. Let’s see how Labor goes trying to pass their stupid bills.

  15. nato

    Those numbers look very similar to senate composition
    42% coalition
    35% Labor
    23% none of the above

  16. Kneel

    “…this is not democracy,…”

    Not supposed to be.
    It’s part of being a republic commonwealth of states – much as the US presidency is not “democratically” elected and should not be.
    There is a reason these arrangements are made and continue to be in place – without them, the senate would be like the HoR, totally controlled by, and run for the benefit of, Sydney and Melbourne (and maybe Canberra and Brisbane at a pinch).

  17. Percy Popinjay #3008216, posted on May 9, 2019 at 8:54 am
    …What a load of garbage. My main objection to the senate (apart from the fact that it couldn’t “review” its own backside) is that it’s the antithesis of “one vote, one value”.
    For that reason alone it must either be significantly reformed …
    According to the AEC, in 2019 there are 386,076 enrolled voters in Taxmania and 5,298,606 enrolled voters in NSW. That means a Taxmanian’s senate vote is worth 13.72 times the vote of someone enrolled in NSW (or 6.86 times if you allow for both of the Taxmanian’s heads).
    As already stated – this is not democracy, it is its absolute antithesis.
    The senate, in its current inacarnation, is indefensible.

    Tasmania has Five seats in the House of Reps.
    NSW has 47
    By the enrolment numbers above, each NSW seat has 112,736 voters, each Tas seat has 77,215
    Or, each Tasmanian’s HofR vote is worth half as much again as that of a New South Welshman.
    Something to reflect upon.

  18. Rabid Koala

    I dare say a lot of Cats would be open to abolishing the senate considering it a house of obstruction rather than review and against the spirit in which our framers of the constitution allegedly had in mind.

    What stupidity. What we need is more obstruction, not less. Politicians have fucked this country up but not being obstructed enough. Had the Senate been more obstructionist we would not have mass immigration, muslims, nanny state gun laws, fag marruage, be involved in endless middle east wars, be giving billions to countries that hate us and so on. If the parliament could only pass laws that are acceptable to 90% of Aussies this would still be the greatest country on Earth.

  19. Horse

    I dare say a lot of Cats would be open to abolishing the senate considering it a house of obstruction rather than review and against the spirit in which our framers of the constitution allegedly had in mind.

    What we need is more obstruction, not less. P oliticians have fuc ked this country up by not being obstru cted enough. Had the Senate been more obstr uctionist we would not have mass immigra tion, mus lims, na nny state g un laws, fa g mar riage, be involved in endless midd le e ast wars, be giving billio ns to countries that ha te us and so on. If the parliament could only pass laws that are acce ptable to 90% of Au ssies this would still be the greate st country on Earth.

  20. Dr Fred Lenin

    If we had rule by referenda ,no career politics and impoverished political parties by curbing bribes (donations by lobbyists ) ,there would be no need for more politicians , rule by referenda would curb politicians stupidity and make for true democracy.

  21. duncanm

    Great analysis — but does Scomo have the cojones (or arrogance) to stare down the electorate like PJK?

  22. Diogenes

    Fred,
    look at the mess CIR has made out of California in general & places like SFO in particular. In SFO tenants outnumber landlords , would YOU like to pay a tenant 100k just to vacate a lease ?

  23. Percy Popinjay

    each NSW seat has 112,736 voters, each Tas seat has 77,215
    Or, each Tasmanian’s HofR vote is worth half as much again as that of a New South Welshman

    Thanks Socrates, clearly, we don’t live in a “democracy”, but a mere “commonwealth of states”. One where I get screwed over by mendicants when voting for both houses of our beloved parliament.

    What a frigging joke.

  24. Rob MW

    As stated above, Australian voters are not stupid.

    Lol………….. in what other country where mandatory voting is compulsory (lol) is there a need for how to vote cards, like, you know, the voters have only had 95 years to get used to the fact that after nearly a century of mandatory because it’s compulsory voting that instructions on how to vote is really, really, really stupid.

    Thank you; I rest my case !!!!!!!!

  25. Diogenes:
    I meant to reply to you yesterday.
    CIR without Citizen Veto is useless.
    California is now finding out what happens when stupid people vote for stupid laws.
    Decisions have consequences.

  26. Anthony

    I did a tally of the Combined Lib/Nat/ALP quotas from the last election. As you can see, in an ideal election for the major parties they would get about 28/36 seats per Senate election, they get nearly another three full quotas, so, if they get lucky could get 31/36 seats. So, you are looking at 5 crossbenchers per election (probably at least three Greens (they get nearly a full quota in three states).

    But overall, they could possibly shrink the crossbench down to 10.

    State Quotas
    NSW 4.7009
    Vic 4.4705
    Qld 4.3151
    WA 4.8529
    SA 4.19957
    Tas 4.6302
    ACT 2.1347
    NT 2.216

  27. CIR for veto ONLY.

    DO NOT abolish the Senate.

    1. Sortition.
    2. More States.
    3. Otherwise, a national list with votes weighted to the system we have now – add more States per 2. if we don’t like it. Sydney as State is likely going to have a bigger population than New England for some time.

  28. Yes Frank, if the senate is to be more representative need more states and less senstors for each state. USA has 53 states and 2 senators for each. Switzerland had 26 states but they do all the taxing as Australia at Federation. In Switzerland CIR can over rule any budget item of the federal government. Recently the Swiss people voted to have no minimum wage.
    I am all for having independents and state representatives in the senate. Vote below the line and make sure no preference goes to socialists particularly the Greens (this may mean leave out some who call themselves liberal – labor are socialist)

  29. Art Vandelay

    When filling out my postal vote yesterday, I found the following information very helpful:

    Australian Liberal Party, who voted for Malcolm Turnbull to replace Tony Abbott ?

    Turnbull’s own Senate voting ‘reforms’ mean that you only have to number a minimum of 12 boxes below the line, so I was able to ensure that the Senators in my state who supported Turnbull didn’t receive a preference at all.

  30. Dr Fred Lenin

    Under a system of rule by referenda the politicians would put proposed actions to the people for judgement ,,unlike the stupid california thing which is open to abuse by dickheads . If enough citizens wanted a new law they would present it to the politicians for presentation to the people by referendum . Californians never get anything right pelosi and swartznegger are their idea of leaders ,plus the hollywood dickheads .

  31. FWfNT:

    CIR for veto ONLY.

    I need to disagree with you on this one.
    A major issue with the Australian people is that Parliament is enacting policies that either have no mandate or are so interwoven with other policies that they are impossible to enact.
    Now that’s not put very well, but just one example – Multiculturalism. No one has been able to vote on this issue but it has become a bedrock policy.
    Multiculturalism can mean damn near anything and it has been used to flood our society with the dregs of the planet who will never work, never contribute, never uphold our values, and will try to supplant our culture with their own.
    In concert with some of the most useless and treasonous politicians and senior public servants massive harm has been done to our national culture.
    No. We desperately need binding Citizen Initiated Referendum Legislation.
    The referenda would be paid for by the people who raise it if it doesn’t pass – just to stop the idiots who want to fill the inland sea with whales or some other stupidity.
    The nuts and bolts can be discussed at any time, but if you want to energise the Australian politic, then this issue will do it.

  32. Dr Fred Lenin

    Winston. Referenda coupled with abolishing career politicians ,one term only in a lifetime ,combined with defunding of political oarties by cutting donations to parties to $10 oer oerson or organisation woukd get rid of lobbyists bribing politicians ,they dont give them momey wothout strings attached .

  33. Yes Fred, we ought to have recall elections as well.

  34. Chris M

    OK so this has now been picked up in the MSM by Joe Hildebrand – with no credit.

Comments are closed.