At the time of writing over 1.2 million people have signed a petition calling for Fraser Anning to be expelled from the Parliament. As it turns – apart from an actual election – there is no mechanism to make that happen.
The power of the houses to expel members, as granted by section 49, was subject to the Commonwealth parliament declaring what the powers, privileges and immunities of the houses shall be. This occurred with the enactment of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987.
It was enacted as a result of an inquiry by a parliamentary committee, which pointed out the potential for this power to be abused and that as a matter of democratic principle, it was up to voters to decide the composition of the parliament. This is reinforced by sections seven and 24 of the Constitution, which say that the houses of parliament are to be “directly chosen by the people”.
As a consequence, the power to expel was removed from the houses.Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 says:
A House does not have power to expel a member from membership of a House.
This means that currently neither house of the Commonwealth parliament has the power to expel one of its members.
On balance that is probably wise – I have no doubt this power could and would be abused.
But we do have the situation where 1.2 million people have signed a petition to get rid of Anning. Now no doubt some of them are not Australian citizens, or not on the voters roll, or not old enough, or not from Queensland, and so on. Nonetheless a lot more people have indicated displeasure with Anning than the 250, 126 votes One Nation received at the 2016 election. *
Now – it’s not clear to me that recall elections in the lower house are a good idea. MPs are elected for 3 years only and I suspect that is short enough time to elect and then toss out someone if they’re unsuitable for the position.
But Senator are elected for six years. So what about recall elections for Senators?
At first glance this seems a good idea. But what about gaming the system? Both major parties could very easily engineer a recall election for any minor party Senator and then (attempt to) systematically increase their own numbers in the subsequent election. Okay – so we don’t have by-elections in the Senate – any problems and the next person on the list gets up or the party nominates.
Yes, well. Fraser Anning was the next person on the list!
The issue then becomes that minor parties are not very good at vetting candidates anyway, and minor stop-gap candidates are precisely the problem here.
I anticipate that Anning will be tossed out at the election so the precise details of this case are moot. The issue, however, remains – a large proportion of the population don’t want him in the Parliament and there is no obvious mechanism to remove him (bar the actual election – but even then he remains in office until 30 June).
* A lot of people are making a lot of the fact that he only got 19 personal votes, the actual number to look at is the 250,000 votes (some 9% of the Queensland electorate).