Parliamentary electoral committee floats bigger parliament, longer terms and no byelections


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A government-dominated parliamentary committee has recommended the voting system for federal elections should become optional preferential and pre-polling should be reduced from three to two weeks.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 2019 election also urges ID, such as a driver’s licence or Medicare card, be required for voters, with special arrangements for certain disadvantaged people.

In a set of radical proposals the report says a referendum should be considered to break the constitutional nexus between the numbers in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The government should consider asking the committee to inquire into the size of the lower house, given the growing size and demands of electorates, the report says.

It should also consider having the committee examine extending the parliamentary term to a non-fixed four years, with eight years for senators.

The report suggests looking at the viability of replacing by-elections with alternative methods of selecting the new MP, and declaring a seat “vacant when the sitting MP resigns from or leaves the party under which they were elected”.

In his forward to the report, Queensland Liberal National Party senator James McGrath says replacing compulsory preferential voting with optional preferential would maximise voter choice.

Prepolling time should be reduced to a maximum of two weeks and those “who choose to vote early should be required to explain why they are unable to attend on the day rather than it being a matter of convenience,” he writes.

Labor put in a dissenting report opposing a number of recommendations.

The shadow special minister of state, Don Farrell, accused the government of launching “an outrageous authoritarian-style assault on Australian democracy”.

Through its control of the committee, “the government is proposing drastic measures designed to silence its critics, suppress the vote and stop workers and grass-roots campaigners from participating in our democracy,” Farrell said in a statement.

He said moving to optional preferential voting would undermine the compulsory voting system, while voter ID laws would disenfranchise vulnerable citizens, including homeless people and many indigenous Australians.

Abolishing by-elections and allowing the retiring member’s party to choose their replacement would erode democratic rights, Farrell said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: ‘Super Saturday’ is not so super in Labor’s eyes


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s not much good Labor playing the blame game about the July 28 date of the five Super Saturday byelections. In fair part, it has been the architect of its own troubles.

If Bill Shorten had agreed last year to dealing with any Labor MPs who had questionable citizenship status when they nominated, this would be over. But he insisted the ALP members were all okay. They weren’t. It was a case of hubris and short-term tactics.

Now the ALP has been hit with a byelection date that means its July 26-28 national conference has to be postponed. More important, the campaigning will be strung out and so enormously expensive for Labor – which must spend whatever it takes. This will bleed its funds in the run up to a general election.

The new government regulations designed to avoid fresh dual citizenship issues have delayed things – whether excessively can be argued over.

Labor can cry partisanship and rage at Speaker Tony Smith, who sets byelection dates, the Australian Electoral Commission, which advised July 28 was the “optimal” day, and the government, which is consulted by the Speaker (as is the opposition).

But the date can’t be changed. The ALP just has to suck it up and throw itself into battle, because the stakes are very high. Four of the five seats belong to Labor. The results in two of them will be crucial for Bill Shorten’s standing and leadership.




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Politics podcast: Anthony Albanese on Labor’s National Conference


Moving the national conference will bring inconvenience and financial costs. But there are upsides. Pre-conference wrangling over refugee policy was already underway – policy jostling would have been a negative if the byelection date had been early July.

To be frank, Shorten would be better off if the conference could be scrapped. Whenever it is held, it will inevitably highlight internal differences. Killing it altogether, however, isn’t feasible.

The July 28 date sparked speculation about whether Malcolm Turnbull could later morph the byelections into an early election. Prime Ministerial sources say “absolutely not”.

The polls are tightening – Newspoll and Essential both have Labor’s two- party lead at a modest 51-49% – and there is a better vibe around for the government. But Turnbull needs more time and besides, after repeatedly saying the election is next year he would be marked down for going back on his word.




Read more:
Post-budget poll wrap: Labor has equal best Newspoll budget result, gains in Ipsos, but trails in Longman


While Super Saturday has implications for Turnbull, it is Shorten who has most at risk. If the status quo holds, Turnbull can say, that’s byelections for you.

Apart from the four Labor seats, the other contest is in the South Australian electorate of Mayo, which has been held by the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie. The long campaign will be financially hard for her; she’s up against a well-known, well-resourced Liberal candidate in Georgina Downer. But some Liberal sources say Sharkie is popular on the ground and a crossbencher in a semi-rural seat can dig in.

It is Longman in Queensland and Braddon in Tasmania, both on close margins, that are the crunch seats for Shorten (the Liberals aren’t standing in the Western Australian seats of Perth and Fremantle). Essentially, voters in these two seats will determine whether Shorten’s leadership becomes an issue.

While his position has been safe, Shorten operates against background chatter about whether, when push comes to election shove, he will get Labor over the line. So far the opinion poll evidence has suggested he will, but in Labor there’s concern about voters’ negative response to him.

He’s sensitive to the speculation, with always an eye to Anthony Albanese, the man he beat for the leadership after Labor’s 2013 loss. Albanese, with an eye to expectations, predicts Labor will hold all of its four seats on Super Saturday.

Shorten’s position was impregnable following the ALP’s strong showing at the 2016 election. It is still robust, and in the normal course there would be no possibility of change.

But “Super Saturday” has injected the abnormal, a new test in real time.

Apart from Tim Hammond’s resignation from the seat of Perth for personal reasons, the contests in the other three Labor seats are because of the citizenship crisis. In the government electorates of New England and Bennelong last year, voters weren’t censorious about MPs’ constitutional carelessness; Labor hopes the tolerance has lasted.

If Shorten lost Braddon or Longman he would be flying against history – only once (in 1920, when the Labor member had been expelled from parliament) has a government won a seat from the opposition at a federal byelection.

A defeat in one of either Braddon or Longman would be destabilising for Shorten. He’d likely hold onto his leadership, but everything would become more difficult, including managing a delayed national conference.

If Shorten lost both seats, anything could happen. Labor would be shaken to its core.

At the worst, there could be a leadership move against him, although the ALP rules would work to protect him. Under changes sponsored by Kevin Rudd, who knew a thing or two about coups, 60% of caucus must petition to open the opposition leadership during a term – then a lengthy ballot involves the rank and file as well as the caucus.

But Caucus is master of its destiny and so can vote to wind back the clock from the Rudd rule. Overturning the rule, however, would be extremely controversial, although it could not be entirely ruled out if two seats were lost.

At the very least, losing both seats would fundamentally change the political dynamics for Shorten.

Both Shorten and Turnbull have been on the campaign road for the byelections. At this early stage, neither side seems to have a fix on Longman and Braddon. The Liberals point to history. Labor remains nervous.

The Liberals polled well in Braddon at the state election. Their candidate is the former Liberal federal member for the seat, Brett Whiteley.

Last time the ALP won Longman on One Nation preferences, which it won’t get again. A recent poll was positive for the Liberal National Party, which is running a former state MP.

In each of the campaigns, local factors will be critical. But the national argument about tax will also be in play, with two competing income tax packages on display, and also the government’s tax cut for big business, from which Pauline Hanson, with Longman in mind, withdrew her support this week.

The ConversationWe know from history that key byelections can have big political impacts. And that’s been when there was only one on the day.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor outraged as July 28 Super Saturday overlaps ALP conference


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Speaker Tony Smith has announced that the five byelections will be held on July 28, sparking Labor fury because this puts Super Saturday on the last day of the ALP national conference.

Labor now faces having to postpone the July 26-28 conference, set to be held in Adelaide. Urgent discussions were underway in the party late on Thursday.

Smith, who sets byelection dates after consultation with the parties and the Australian Electoral Commission, told parliament the date – which means a nine-week campaign – had been advised by the AEC.

He said it allowed time for the AEC to implement the government’s new regulations to make candidates aware of their citizenship before nominating, and for candidates to comply with them. It also took into account school holidays.

The byelections, which span four states, are especially crucial for opposition leader Bill Shorten, because four are in ALP seats and two of those are on wafer thin margins.

The government would expect an advantage from publicity around whatever arguments there might be at the Labor conference.




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Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said: “This is a disgraceful delay and a sneaky tactic from Malcolm Turnbull.

“It would appear this has been deliberately designed to disadvantage the Labor Party, given our national conference is scheduled for that weekend.

“This will obviously have implications for our national conference. Our activists will want to be out in the community campaigning for Labor, not sitting in a conference centre.”

The seats are Longman (Queensland), Braddon (Tasmania), Fremantle (WA), Perth (WA), and Mayo (SA). Mayo’s member has been Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie.

The contests in Longman, Braddon, Fremantle and Mayo have been caused by the citizenship crisis. All the previous incumbents are recontesting. Perth has become vacant because Labor’s Tim Hammond resigned for family reasons.

For the ALP the crucial contests are in Braddon which has a margin of 2.2%, and Longman which sits on 0.8%.




Read more:
Four MPs resign as citizenship crisis causes more havoc


The row saw angry exchanges in a Senate estimates committee between the Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, and Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong.

Rogers reacted sharply to Wong’s suggestion that the timeline looked “partisan”, compared to that in government seats in the past. “Are you saying I’m partisan?” he shot back.

He said the AEC put to the Speaker factors that needed to be considered – the selection of the date was up to the Speaker.

A 23 May letter from Rogers to Smith, which Smith tabled, said July 28 “is optimal”.

It “provides sufficient time for the AEC to implement the changes; enables prospective candidates to comply with the new requirements; and ensures that voters are not disenfranchised [due to school holidays].”

Rogers stressed in the letter that the AEC was only providing “advice” on the date. “The AEC remains ready to respond to any date you select”.

The next legally possible date was June 30, the letter noted. The AEC “is ready and would be able to conduct the byelections on that date”, Rogers wrote but then added the Speaker might care to weigh in his decision the issues of the changes to the nomination process and school holidays.

Rogers wrote that “rushing the process may risk providing an advantage to the major parties and disenfranchising independent and minor party candidates”, given the need to digest the changes and prepare nomination material.

Labor pointed out that other polls that had been held during school holidays.

Labor’s Justine Keay in Braddon will face former federal MP Brett Whiteley who held the seat from 2013 to 2016. In Longman Labor’s Susan Lamb faces former state MP Trevor Ruthenberg. Labor won Longman on One Nation preferences, which it won’t get this time.

The ConversationThe Liberals are not contesting the two WA byelections, although Liberal backbench senator Dean Smith will argue to the party’s state council on Saturday that it should run in Perth.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga



File 20180510 185500 18viidv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Rebekha Sharkie’s seat of Mayo is the most likely to change hands at the byelection, after she resigned in the light of the dual citizenship saga.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On Wednesday morning, the High Court disqualified Labor’s ACT Senator, Katy Gallagher. As a senator, Gallagher’s disqualification will not require a byelection; she will be replaced by Labor’s second candidate on its ACT ticket, David Smith.

However, Gallagher’s case was seen as a test case for four House members: Susan Lamb (Labor, electorate of Longman), Josh Wilson (Labor, Fremantle), Justine Keay (Labor, Braddon) and Rebekha Sharkie (Centre Alliance, Mayo).

By Wednesday afternoon, all four of these members had announced they would resign from Parliament and recontest their seats at subsequent byelections. With the Perth byelection that was required last week, there are likely to be five federal byelections on the same date.




Read more:
Dual citizenship debacle claims five more MPs – and sounds a stern warning for future parliamentarians


All byelections will be held on 2016 boundaries, even if there has been a redistribution in the state in which the byelection takes place. As the incumbent will be recontesting, the byelections caused by section 44 are different from most byelections.

At the 2016 election, Labor gained both Braddon and Longman by defeating Coalition incumbents. Labor’s 0.8% margin in Longman, and 2.2% margin in Braddon do not reflect the “sophomore surge” effect.

If Longman and Braddon were held at a general election, Labor would expect to do better in those seats than nationally, as their new incumbents should receive a personal vote bonus, while the Coalition loses the personal votes of their previous members.

A negative for Labor in Longman is One Nation preferences. In 2016, One Nation won 9.4%, and their how-to-vote cards put Labor ahead of the LNP; Labor won 56.5% of One Nation preferences. One Nation is now more pro-Coalition than in 2016, and is likely to recommend preferences to the LNP at the byelection. However, One Nation’s primary votes are likely to come more from the LNP than Labor, mitigating damage from One Nation’s preferences.

Labor has a 7.5% margin in Fremantle, and the Liberals are more likely to focus on Perth (Labor by 3.3%), where the incumbent Labor member is not recontesting.

In Mayo, the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie (formerly Nick Xenophon Team) holds a 5.0% margin against the Liberals. However, Xenophon’s attempt to win the balance of power in the South Australian election failed dismally, as his party won zero lower house seats.




Read more:
Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman


It is likely Xenophon’s failure will affect Sharkie, although her profile as a sitting member will help her. Sharkie’s interest would be best served by running as an independent, not endorsing Centre Alliance policies. The former Liberal MP Jamie Briggs was negatively perceived, explaining some of the swing to Sharkie in 2016.

On a two party basis, the Liberals hold a 5.4% margin against Labor, a 7.2% swing to Labor since the 2013 election. However, some of this swing is explained by Briggs, and Labor is unlikely to be competitive with a better Liberal candidate.

In summary, I think it is likely that Labor will hold all four of its seats, and that Sharkie is the most vulnerable at these byelections.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted May 3-6 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (down one) and 6% One Nation (down two). This will be the last poll conducted before the budget.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net approval was -2, up one point since April. Bill Shorten’s net approval was -4, up four points. Turnbull led Shorten 40-26 as better PM (41-26 in April).

39% (up six since November 2017) thought the Australian economy was good, 32% (down six) thought it was neither good nor bad, and 24% (steady) thought it was poor.

Since May 2017, there was an 11-point increase in those thinking the budget should increase assistance to the unemployed, and eight-point increases for aged pensions, affordable housing and assistance to the needy. The only large decrease was for public transport infrastructure (down six).

28% thought more funding for schools and hospitals most important for the budget, followed by 22% for supporting industries that create jobs, 17% for personal tax cuts, 12% for building infrastructure and 8% for fully funding the NDIS.

Status quo result likely in Tasmanian upper house elections

Every May, two or three of Tasmania’s 15 upper house seats hold elections for a six-year term. Currently the left has control with eight seats (four Labor and four left-wing independents). On Saturday, elections were held in Hobart and Prosser.




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Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham has more details. In Hobart, left-wing incumbent independent Rob Valentine defeated another left-wing independent challenger, 61-39, with the Liberals a distant third.

In Prosser, in a field of 13, Liberal Jane Howlett had 26.1%, Labor’s Janet Lambert 22.0% and independent Steve Mav 19.8%. Bonham thinks Howlett is most likely to win when preferences are distributed next Tuesday, the final day for receipt of postals.

If either Howlett or Mav wins in Prosser, the right and left will retain their seats, with no change to the overall balance of power.

In brief: UK local elections, Malaysian election, Australian vs US employment

I wrote for The Poll Bludger about the May 3 UK local government elections. According to the BBC’s projected national vote share, Labour and the Conservatives tied on 35% each. This was the first major UK electoral test since Labour surged back at the June 2017 general election to deny the Conservatives a Commons majority.




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Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election


In Wednesday’s Malaysian election, the party that had governed Malaysia since independence in 1957 was defeated. Former PM, and current opposition leader, Mahathir Mohamad, will become the new PM, the oldest head of government in the world at the age of 92. The opposition parties gained 54 seats from the government.

The ConversationI have written about the Australian and US employment figures on my personal website. The current US unemployment rate is 3.9%, while Australia’s is 5.5%, but Australia’s participation rate is 2.7% higher than in the US. As a result, in my opinion, Australia’s employment situation is better than in the US.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dual citizenship debacle claims five more MPs – and sounds a stern warning for future parliamentarians


Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

In one fell swoop, the High Court’s judgment about the eligibility of Katy Gallagher as a Senator disposed of five members of Parliament.

Not only was Gallagher disqualified, but the consequence was that Susan Lamb, Justine Keay, Josh Wilson and Rebekha Sharkie had no legal ground left to stand on. They had to resign, and they did.

In each case, although they had initiated the procedure to renounce their foreign citizenship before the nomination date at the last election, that procedure had not been completed in the United Kingdom and they were still formally British citizens on nomination day. That was enough to see them disqualified.

A change in the law or a clarification?

The ALP had previously boasted of its rigorous vetting of its candidates, and expressed certainty they were all validly elected.

What went wrong? Has the High Court changed its interpretation of the Constitution or has it been consistent, as the Liberal Party claims?

The answer is that the previous position, as set out by the High Court, was ambiguous and could legitimately have been interpreted in two different ways. What the High Court did was to clarify the law by removing the ambiguity.




Read more:
Explainer: what the High Court decision on Katy Gallagher is about and why it matters


When the issue was first dealt with in the 1992 case of Sykes v Cleary, Chief Justice Mason and Justices Toohey and McHugh rejected a strict reading of section 44(i) of the Constitution on the ground that it would:

result in the disqualification of Australian citizens on whom there was imposed involuntarily by operation of foreign law a continuing foreign nationality, notwithstanding that they had taken reasonable steps to renounce that foreign nationality.

They considered that it would

be wrong to interpret the constitutional provision in such a way as to disbar an Australian citizen who had taken all reasonable steps to divest himself or herself of any conflicting allegiance.

Their Honours pointed out that even at federation, Australia was a nation of migrants, and that:

it could scarcely have been intended to disqualify an Australian citizen for election to Parliament on account of his or her continuing to possess a foreign nationality, notwithstanding that he or she had taken reasonable steps to renounce that nationality.

The ambiguity was whether the “reasonable steps test”: (a) only applies where the person would otherwise be disbarred from parliament because he or she was unable to renounce the foreign citizenship by any reasonable means; or (b) applies to all categories of dual citizenship, including those that can readily be renounced by following a reasonable procedure. This would mean that a candidate need only take all the reasonable steps within his or her power to renounce the foreign nationality prior to the nomination date, even if the formal renunciation did not happen until after that date.

Either view about what the court meant could have been fairly taken, but on balance most scholars favoured interpretation (b) because their Honours went on to apply the test of “reasonable steps” to two candidates who had dual citizenship with countries that permitted renunciation.

It was therefore unsurprising that the ALP, in its legal advice to candidates, took interpretation (b), with the consequence that some of its candidates undertook the renunciation process before the nomination date, but not sufficiently early for the renunciation to be completed prior to nomination.

While this approach was legitimate, it was not the most cautious one, as it involved a risk of invalidity if the High Court later decided that (a) was the correct approach.

Doubts arose about this interpretation when the High Court handed down its judgment last year in relation to Barnaby Joyce and the other “citizenship seven” in the Re Canavan case.

There, when discussing the “reasonable steps test”, the High Court did so solely in the context of the “constitutional imperative” to avoid the “irremediable exclusion” of citizens from being capable of election to parliament.

This left lawyers wondering whether the reasonable steps test applied more broadly, and the court had simply not mentioned it in that context, or whether the Court was confining its application to circumstances where the foreign citizenship could not be renounced at all.

What the High Court decided in the Katy Gallagher case

We now have an answer – the court took interpretation (a) above. It held that the “reasonable steps test” only applies where it is impossible or not reasonably possible to renounce the foreign citizenship.

In such a case, the person must still take all reasonable steps within his or her power to renounce that citizenship (but not the “unreasonable” ones). Once this is done, the person can stand for Parliament even though the foreign citizenship continues.

But if the impediment is simply slow processing, or that renunciation is a matter of discretion, this is not enough to trigger the exception. The process of renunciation has to be completed in accordance with the law and procedures of the foreign country before the person nominates as a candidate in a Commonwealth election.

Has this now resolved all the problems?

We now have more certainty than we did a year ago. We know that a person can be disqualified for holding dual citizenship, even when it was inherited through parents and the person holding it did not know of its existence. Ignorance is no excuse. We also now know that a person has to complete the process of renunciation of that foreign citizenship before he or she nominates to stand for parliament, even if it takes a long time to complete it.

The only exemption will be if it is impossible to renounce the foreign citizenship or the steps for doing so are unreasonable, such as a requirement that would involve a risk to the person, such as residency in a dangerous country.

It is in this area that there may yet be litigation. Some countries make it very difficult to renounce foreign citizenship, and the court may have to decide in the future about the point at which that difficulty becomes unreasonable. So this may not necessarily be the last of these cases.

What are the ramifications?

In practice, it will mean that political parties need to complete their pre-selection processes well before an election to allow sufficient time for any renunciation. If there is a snap election, or where casual vacancies or byelections occur and a candidate is needed quickly, those with dual citizenship may have to be passed over if there is not enough time to renounce the foreign citizenship.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Voters just want citizenship crisis fixed – but it isn’t that easy


It is also likely that arrangements will be made with some countries, such as the United Kingdom, to fast-track processing of renunciation to deal with this problem.

But in other countries, this will not be feasible, so some potential candidates will have to renounce a long time in advance in order to be ready to nominate if the opportunity arises. The message to every aspiring politician is to check your family tree, identify any foreign citizenship you may have and renounce now.

Can this be fixed?

Realistically, the only way of removing this problem is by way of a constitutional amendment approved by a referendum. There have been many past proposals to repeal this disqualification, or to replace it with a requirement that all candidates be Australian citizens, or instead to give parliament the power to deal with the issue by legislation.

It would not be necessary to abandon the principle that members of parliament have sole allegiance to Australia. Instead, this could be achieved by legislation that puts control over renunciation of foreign citizenship into Australian hands.

The biggest problem with the current provision is that both the law as to who is a foreign citizen and the procedure to renounce it are outside Australian control.

Would such a referendum be successful? I have my doubts. It is likely to be perceived as something to help politicians, not the people.

The ConversationBut this High Court judgment will make it more difficult for people from some countries to become members of parliament, and that unfairness may provide a stronger argument to support a referendum to change the system.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.