Can a senator be expelled from the federal parliament for offensive statements?


Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

In the wake of comments about the Christchurch massacre, members of the public have raised the question of whether a senator can be expelled from the Senate for making offensive statements.

It is now well known that members of parliament can have their seat vacated in the parliament due to their disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution for reasons including dual citizenship, bankruptcy, holding certain government offices or being convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer.

But there is no ground of disqualification for behaviour that brings a House of Parliament into disrepute. This was something left to the house to deal with by way of expulsion.




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What powers do the houses have to expel?

Section 49 of the Commonwealth Constitution provides that until the Commonwealth parliament declares the powers, privileges and immunities of its houses, they shall be those the British House of Commons had at the time of federation (1901).

The House of Commons then had, and continues to have, the power to expel its members. The power was rarely exercised, but was most commonly used when a member was found to have committed a criminal offence or contempt of parliament. Because of the application of section 49 of the Constitution, such a power was also initially conferred upon both houses of the Australian parliament.

The House of Representatives exercised that power in 1920 when it expelled a member of the Labor opposition, Hugh Mahon. He had given a speech at a public meeting that criticised the actions of the British in Ireland and expressed support for an Australian republic.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes (whom Mahon had previously voted to expel from the Labor Party over conscription in 1916), moved to expel Mahon from the House of Representatives on November 11 – a dangerous date for dismissals. He accused Mahon of having made “seditious and disloyal utterances” that were “inconsistent with his oath of allegiance”. The opposition objected, arguing that no action should be taken unless Mahon was tried and convicted by the courts. Mahon was expelled by a vote taken on party lines.

In 2016, a private member’s motion was moved to recognise that his expulsion was unjust and a misuse of the power then invested in the house.

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.

Could the position be changed?

Just as the parliament had the legislative power to limit the powers and privileges of its houses, it could legislate to amend or repeal section eight so that a house could, in future, expel one of its members, either on any ground or for limited reasons.

Whether or not this is wise remains doubtful. The reasons given by the parliamentary committee for the removal of this power remain strong. The power to expel is vulnerable to misuse when one political party holds a majority in the house. Equally, there is a good democratic argument that such matters should be left to the voters at election time.

However, expulsion is still an option in other Australian parliaments, such as the NSW parliament. It’s used in circumstances where the member is judged guilty of conduct unworthy of a member of parliament and where the continuing service of the member is likely to bring the house into disrepute.




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It is commonly the case, though, that a finding of illegality, dishonesty or corruption is first made by a court, a royal commission or the Independent Commission Against Corruption before action to expel is taken. The prospect of expulsion is almost always enough to cause the member to resign without expulsion formally occurring. So, actual cases of expulsion remain extremely rare.

Are there any other remedies to deal with objectionable behaviour?

The houses retain powers to suspend members for offences against the house, such as disorderly conduct. But it is doubtful that a house retains powers of suspension in relation to conduct that does not amount to a breach of standing orders or an “offence against the house”. Suspension may therefore not be available in relation to statements made outside the house that do not affect its proceedings.

Instead, the house may choose to censure such comments by way of a formal motion. Such motions are more commonly moved against ministers in relation to government failings. A censure motion is regarded as a serious form of rebuke, but it does not give rise to any further kind of punishment such as a fine or suspension.

The primary remedy for dealing with unacceptable behaviour remains at the ballot box. This is a pertinent reminder to all voters of the importance of being vigilant in the casting of their vote to ensure the people they elect to high office are worthy of fulfilling it.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

Grattan on Friday: Warringah Votes – Abbott’s challenger has yet to ‘penetrate the streets’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Zali Steggall is a poster person for a batch of high-profile
centre-right independents contesting seats in the May election.

Her bid to oust Tony Abbott from his Liberal heartland Sydney seat of Warringah is receiving national attention and the former prime minister is clearly feeling under pressure.

But, according to qualitative research in the seat this week, Steggall – former Olympian, lawyer, local – is yet to embed herself in the minds of those voters who are potentially willing to turn against Abbott.

The focus groups, sponsored by the University of Canberra’s Democracy 2025 project and conducted by Landscape Research, found mixed feelings about Abbott, who has held the northern beaches seat since 1994, but uncertainty about alternatives.

The four groups, each of seven to nine “soft” voters (who haven’t made up their minds) drawn from across the electorate, were held on Monday and Tuesday. This research is not predictive but taps into general attitudes.

Federal politics isn’t top of mind for these Warringah residents, many of whom display conservative views on economics while being socially progressive (for example, disdaining the use of border security as a political weapon).




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Their concerns focus more on infrastructure, particularly roads and traffic congestion, population growth, environmental concerns on the northern beaches and housing affordability for their children.

Older voters are more engaged, more readily able to discuss current issues in federal politics and more concerned with the impact on their area. Younger voters have largely tuned out, feeling powerless.

Interestingly, in view of Steggall’s very strong pitch on climate change, that issue barely rates a mention, with people’s environmental concerns more on the loss of farmland to mining, the decline of the Murray Darling Basin, and the impact on the local beaches of population growth in the longer term.

Older Warringah voters trust Scott Morrison more than Bill Shorten to run the country. But for quite a few this is grudging. Morrison is the “least worst” option – they don’t trust him that much, but they trust Shorten less.

Younger people are divided as to which leader they trust more. Shorten is regarded as having the more progressive and inclusive policy agenda. Those younger voters who trust Morrison more see him as more likeable and sympathetic and a “straight shooter” as well as having stronger economic credentials.

But there is some concern among both older and younger voters about Morrison’s religious beliefs, and their possible influence on policy and pushing the Liberal Party to the right. “Morrison’s too much of a radical Christian, a bit of a loose cannon,” an older woman says.

Some voters see Shorten’s leadership position as more stable than
Morrison’s (suggesting they haven’t tuned into the Liberals’ new rule that a Liberal PM winning an election would see out the term).




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A positive for the prime minister is the Liberals’ historical
reputation as better economic managers. Shorten’s union background and character are cited as negatives for him.

While a few younger voters support Labor’s policies on capital gains tax, negative gearing and franking credits as being more equitable, many older voters are highly critical of the policies. A 66-year-old woman admin officer laments: “I will be a self-funded retiree when I retire, and my whole life is stuffed up, because everything I’ve worked for is about to go arse-up.”

Stability – or lack of it – is a recurring theme among Warringah soft voters. They see politicians from both sides as focussed on themselves, and the leadership coups as evidence they are more preoccupied with power than “doing the right thing by the people”.

For his critics in these groups, Abbott’s trenchant stand against
same-sex marriage is clear evidence of being out of touch. Three
quarters of Warringah electors voted yes in the 2017 plebiscite.

A younger female says Abbott “has lost a lot of trust over his whole attitude towards women, and the same sex marriage issue”. A female nurse from Curl Curl declares he’s “past it and hasn’t got his finger on the pulse. He’s very old school, very set in his ways, bit of a misogynist. He’s very 1950s in his thinking”.

On the other hand, for some participants Abbott’s sticking to his
beliefs has been a plus, a sign of strength of character and
convictions.

There was passing reference to Abbott as a climate change sceptic, but his stance on same-sex marriage, which people cite repeatedly to illustrate his being out of touch with the electorate, aggravates them far more than his views on climate change.

Some voters who might disagree with him on issues see him as tenacious and committed to a life of public service. “He’s one of the most principled politicians I’ve ever seen,” says a 59-year old male musician from Dee Why.

Running in Abbott’s favour is his local activism. His lifesaving,
firefighting and general community engagement are well known. But his long tenure of itself can work against him. A 47-year old mother of two from Allambie Heights says: “I don’t dislike Tony Abbott. I just think he’s been in the job too long”.

Others regard him as untrustworthy and bitter. A female retiree from Mosman says it is clear he “has spent a lot of time in the parliament getting revenge and caused the most enormous amount of damage to the party”.

But the challenge for Steggall is to turn discontent with the incumbent into support for her.

As the researcher’s summary of the findings puts it: “What might appear to be a high-profile candidature to those looking in from outside the peninsula, does not yet appear to have penetrated the streets of Warringah.

“Some participants had never heard of Steggall. Some had only heard her name and knew nothing else about her, while a few knew she was an Olympian and/or a lawyer, and that she has children and has been married twice; certainly their knowledge of her at this time is not enough to make her an obvious alternative vote choice to Abbott.

“The dilemma for Steggall’s campaign is that neither the former
Liberal-voting Abbott defectors nor the ‘anyone-but-Abbott’ voters are automatically falling her way,” the report says.

“The very fact of deciding (definitely or probably) not to vote for Abbott causes these Warringah electors to consider their vote more carefully, to ponder the issues and weigh up their options on candidates (seriously for the first time in more than two decades).

“Some are aware that there is a ‘strong Indigenous female candidate’ (Susan Moylan-Coombs) and while her name is not top of mind for them, ‘she looks interesting’. The Labor candidate did not rate a mention across all four groups. Minor parties such as the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, as well as potential other independent candidates, are also under consideration by some”.

Older voters are more aware of Steggall, her legal career and her
father’s local legal practice. The fact she’s been an Olympian is a plus for some, indicating discipline; they see her legal qualification as indicating intelligence. A couple of the participants have received direct marketing information from her, making them feel more positive towards her. A 40-year old male from Freshwater who’s been getting “a lot” of Steggall material says: “She’s an independent, she’s moderate. Perfect.”

The assessment from a male business development manager from Balgowlah reflects the ambivalence in some voters’ minds: “There is something exciting about her, and she’s different, but you can’t have that trust in her because there’s no track record there, so you’re really just taking a leap of faith”.

As the researcher sums up from the group discussions, at this stage Steggall “is a local by geography but has yet to prove her mettle as a worthy community advocate.”

But this contest has a long way to run.

Postcript: Listen to interviews with Abbott and Steggall on The Conversation’s Politics with Michelle Grattan podcastThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Could Tony Abbott lose to an independent? If the zeitgeist is any guide, he’s on thin ice


Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Strangely enough, there’s a link between “Kevin07” as an electoral phenomenon and the recent successes of independents such as Kerryn Phelps (Wentworth), Cathy McGowan (Indi), and Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo). All three now hold once safe Coalition seats.

And the link is one that may prove influential in 2019, particularly for Zali Steggall, who is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah.

As in the case of Kevin07, the formerly Coalition-friendly independents, which is also how Steggall positions herself, found a way of giving life-long centre-right voters permission to break ranks without feeling like they were being disloyal.

The aim is to present as essentially similar to the incumbent conservative, but better. Modernised. Updated.

The implicit message to voters was that it was their party that had left them, not the other way around.

Such a sentiment may be ripe for expression in Warringah which, while economically conservative, has emerged as demonstrably more progressive than its long-time MP, Abbott. The blue-ribbon jewel was among the most pro-equality electorates in the country in the 2017 postal survey.

Beaten only by Wentworth, the two inner-Sydney electorates were the leading Liberal-held “yes” seats in NSW.

And it is to these voters that new and fresh quasi-independent candidates like Steggall seek to speak – voters whose Liberal loyalties have been tested by Abbott’s blunt antipathy for social reform and particularly his denial of tough Australian action against global warming.




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Labor’s unusual ‘07 campaign

The trick is to be close, but not the same, and it has a record of working in conservative-minded electorates.

Underpinning Kevin Rudd’s defeat of John Howard in 2007 was a carefully calibrated reassurance that Howard’s Australia – in which political correctness had been demonised and social reform moved at a glacial pace – would continue even with a change to a Labor government.

Labor’s plan was to strip the election of the usual contrast between parties, reducing the choice before voters to John Howard or a kind of John Howard 2.0.

In a number of ways, Rudd presented as a prime ministerial simulacrum, updated but only where required to: prioritise “working families”, take faster action on climate change, and offer an exciting public investment bridge to the digital future (the NBN).

So successful was this unusual proposition, it tended to minimise other policy differences between the parties and neutralise the usual fear of change itself among cautious voters.

From a marketing perspective, it was daring given Rudd was in fact the leader of the opposing Labor Party.




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Crucially, it sought simultaneously to share in the government’s credit for economic stewardship – moderate inflation, strong employment, and a healthy budget surplus again – while outflanking Howard on his right.

Of course there was more to the 2007 changeover than mere campaigning, not least being Howard’s odious industrial relations laws (WorkChoices), an inconvenient mid-campaign cash rate hike (to 6.75%), and simple fatigue after a dozen years of Coalition rule.

Even so, there’s no denying that with his lay-preacher persona, non-union background, and claim to be fiscally conservative, Rudd deftly positioned himself as the safe choice for those voters considering change but still concerned with budget discipline and creeping permissiveness.

Similar to Labor’s 2007 strategy, Phelps, McGowan and Sharkie have offered the tribally conservative voter a reduced-risk alternative to the status quo. Or, as some have coined it, “continuity through change”.




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But there are also key differences. While Rudd promised measured economic modernisation in a socially-conservative manifesto – opposing same-sex marriage, for example – the new breed of once-were-Liberals flip that around.

They tend to emphasise the low tax, pro-business instincts of conservatives, but are more left-leaning on social policy and the environment. This turns out to reflect much of the electorate also – including many Liberal voters.

Can Steggall do the same in Warringah?

It’s a formula with a particular piquancy now given 2019 marks ten years since Tony Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal leadership over emissions trading.

An acrimonious decade on, and with no government climate or energy policy to speak of, voters’ patience has been strained to breaking point. The endless point-scoring and division has nudged moderately inclined Liberals within the grasp of new independents.

Fittingly, these events are coming to a head most threateningly for the government in Abbott’s own stronghold of Warringah.

Abbott’s vulnerability turns on three things: the standing of the Morrison government come polling day (which may or may not have improved), the campaign prowess of the Steggall operation (unknown), and the extent of declining loyalty by once solid supporters in his electorate. All are in flux.

Steggall’s threshold objective must be to drive Abbott’s primary vote south of 45%. That will not be easy. In 2016, his primary vote tanked by some 9% but he still managed to hold the seat without need for second preferences at 51.65%.

Still, if the zeitgeist is any guide, Steggall’s presentation as “the Liberal for the future against the Liberal for the past” will be appealing to those voters peeved at Abbott’s undermining of Turnbull and specifically the right-wing insurgency against the government’s National Energy Guarantee.

It could also resonate strongly with Liberal backers who were appalled at Abbott’s starring, if roundly ineffective, campaign against marriage equality.

Despite its unwavering support for Abbott through nine elections, Warringah voted “yes” to legalising same-sex marriage at the rate of 75% compared to the national rate of 62%. It even exceeded support in the most progressive jurisdiction – the ACT.

Steggall’s backers believe Abbott’s famous resistance to a reform his constituents found uncontroversial will prove it is his failure to move with the times that will force them to move their votes.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

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

View from The Hill: Independent push against Frydenberg


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A high profile independent candidate, Oliver Yates, is expected to run against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the heartland Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne.

Yates, who lives in the electorate, is a member of the Liberal party
and a former international banker and former CEO of the Clean
Energy Finance Corporation. At present he works for several firms on
renewable energy projects.

Son of Bill Yates, a colourful character who held the Victorian seat
of Holt in 1975-80 and was earlier a member of the House of Commons,
Yates has made swingeing attacks on the Liberals, saying in a recent
Guardian article that the “party is in need of desperate cultural
reform”.

Challenger Oliver Yates.
Clean Energy Finance Corporation

On climate change, which would be central to his campaign, he wrote in
an earlier Guardian piece: “Refusing to reduce emissions as cheaply as
possible is irrational, immoral and economically reckless.”

Frydenberg had a very solid 58% of the primary vote in 2016, and would
not be at risk unless his primary vote was pushed well under 50%. But
Liberals were shocked when at the Victorian election the seat of Hawthorn, which is within Kooyong,
was lost to Labor.

Yates’ expected challenge and an anticipated announcement by former Liberal Julia Banks that she will run against Health Minister Greg Hunt in
Flinders follow the unveiling of Zali Steggall’s bid to oust
former prime minister Tony Abbott in Warringah.

The political crows have been circling Abbott, but until the appearance
of Steggall – a Liberal-leaning born-and-bred local – the political
odds were on him.

Now the Liberal disruptor is himself target of a major disruption,
with the outcome uncertain.

The House of Representatives voting system makes it hard for
independents to break through, so they are still a relatively rare
breed in the lower house. However they are more common than previously
and now the times are more auspicious for them than ever before.

Once established, they are hard to shift. So we can expect
independents Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo and Andrew Wilkie in Denison to be
back after the May election.

Banks’ prospects in Flinders would not seem high, although union-commissioned polling has been bad for Hunt, who backed Peter Dutton’s challenge to Malcolm Turnbull.

Banks presently holds the seat of Chisholm. Last year she deserted the
Liberals to go to the crossbench citing the leadership change and
bullying.

Hunt had 51.6% of the primary vote last election; ABC election analyst
Antony Green says that post-redistribution he is on about 50.5%. But
the ALP vote is around 27% and Hunt seems in more danger from Labor
than from an independent.

Two of the most interesting contests involving independents will Indi
in north eastern Victoria, and Wentworth in Sydney.

Cathy McGowan famously tipped out Liberal frontbencher Sophie
Mirabella from Indi in 2013. McGowan, with a long background in the
area, and backed by the grassroots “Voices For Indi” forum, was
completely dug in by 2016. She would have won again this year.

But she had set in place a process for a community selection for a
successor and earlier this month that produced Helen Haines, 57, from
Wangaratta , a public health researcher. McGowan then confirmed she would not stand.

Indi will test whether can one independent can pass on the “community
candidate” heritage to another.

All the McGowan infrastructure is in place for Haines. On the other
hand, by definition an independent candidate must establish themselves
as an individual.

Haines will have to demonstrate her personal credentials, and convince
voters that the local area will have a stronger “voice” in the next
parliament if it has an independent than if its member comes from the
Coalition (Labor can’t win the seat).

McGowan’s “voice” has been enhanced in this parliament because of the
tight numbers. The crossbench has the crucial balance of power in
these last months because the parliament is now “hung”.

The numbers in the next parliament are unlikely to be as close which
would reduce the clout of a crossbencher.

In Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps was greatly helped to her 2018 byelection
win by voters anger at the treatment of the seat’s former member Malcolm
Turnbull. She was also assisted by the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma,
a former diplomat, not being a local.

By the time the election comes in May Phelps – who won by just 1850
votes – will enjoy the advantage of incumbency but have had less than
a year to establish herself as member.

In this contest there are two interesting questions. Will a sizeable
number of the locals have got over their rage about Turnbull, and
reassess their vote? And will some people, in a seat where voters like
to have a high flier, decide to switch to a candidate with prospects
of rising through the Liberal ranks in the next few years?

Some might say the Wentworth contest as one in which the voters are
spoilt for choice.

Wentworth voters reacted against the loss of a former prime minister –
in Warringah, many voters just want their ex-PM to shuffle off.
Steggall, an former Olympian (in winter sports) and a barrister, will run hard on climate change, and attack Abbott’s views in general as out of touch with his constituents. She says Warringah is conservative economically and financially but progressive socially (as shown by a 75% yes vote on same-sex marriage).

As with Indi – although in a much less developed form – there is a
community group backing Steggall – and she says she wants to give
people in Warringah “a real choice for a voice”.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.

New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law



File 20180814 2921 15oljsx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government today announced its proposed legislation to give law enforcement agencies yet more avenues to reach into our private lives through access to our personal communications and data. This never-ending story of parliamentary bills defies logic, and is not offering the necessary oversight and protections.

The trend has been led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with help from an ever-growing number of security ministers and senior officials. Could it be that the proliferation of government security roles is a self-perpetuating industry leading to ever more government powers for privacy encroachment?

That definitely appears to be the case.

Striking the right balance between data access and privacy is a tricky problem, but the government’s current approach is doing little to solve it. We need better oversight of law enforcement access to our data to ensure it complies with privacy principles and actually results in convictions. That might require setting up an independent judicial review mechanism to report outcomes on an annual basis.




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Where is the accountability?

The succession of data access legislation in the Australian parliament is fast becoming a Mad Hatter’s tea party – a characterisation justified by the increasingly unproductive public conversations between the government on one hand, and legal specialists and rights advocates on the other.

If the government says it needs new laws to tackle “terrorism and paedophilia”, then the rule seems to be that other side will be criticised for bringing up “privacy protection”. The federal opposition has surrendered any meaningful resistance to this parade of legislation.

Rights advocates have been backed into a corner by being forced to repeat their concerns over each new piece of legislation while neither they nor the government, nor our Privacy Commissioner, and all the other “commissioners”, are called to account on fundamental matters of principle.

Speaking of the commissioner class, Australia just got a new one last week: the Data Commissioner. Strangely, the impetus for this appointment came from the Productivity Commission.

The post has three purposes:

  1. to promote greater use of data,
  2. to drive economic benefits and innovation from greater use of data, and
  3. to build trust with the Australian community about the government’s use of data.

The problem with this logic is that purposes one and two can only be distinguished by the seemingly catch-all character of the first: that if data exists it must be used.

Leaving aside that minor point, the notion that the government needs to build trust with the Australian community on data policy speaks for itself.

National Privacy Principles fall short

There is near universal agreement that the government is managing this issue badly, from the census data management issue to the “My Health Record” debacle. The growing commissioner class has not been much help.

Australia does have personal data protection principles, you may be surprised to learn. They are called “Privacy Principles”. You may be even more surprised to learn that the rights offered in these principles exist only up to the point where any enforcement arm of government wants the data.




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So it seems that Australians have to rely on the leadership of the Productivity Commission (for economic policy) to guarantee our rights in cyber space, at least when it comes to our personal data.

Better oversight is required

There is another approach to reconciling citizens’ interests in privacy protection with legitimate and important enforcement needs against terrorists and paedophiles: that is judicial review.

The government argues, unconvincingly according to police sources, that this process adequately protects citizens by requiring law enforcement to obtain court-ordered warrants to access information. The record in some other countries suggests otherwise, with judges almost always waving through any application from enforcement authorities, according to official US data.

There is a second level of judicial review open to the government. This is to set up an independent judicial review mechanism that is obliged to annually review all instances of government access to personal data under warrant, and to report on the virtues or shortcomings of that access against enforcement outcomes and privacy principles.

There are two essential features of this proposal. First, the reviewing officer is a judge and not a public servant (the “commissioner class”). Second, the scope of the function is review of the daily operation of the intrusive laws, not just the post-facto examination of notorious cases of data breaches.

It would take a lengthy academic volume to make the case for judicial review of this kind. But it can be defended simply on economic grounds: such a review process would shine light on the efficiency of police investigations.

According to data released by the UK government, the overwhelming share of arrests for terrorist offences in the UK (many based on court-approved warrants for access to private data) do not result in convictions. There were 37 convictions out of 441 arrests for terrorist-related offences in the 12 months up to March 2018.




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The Turnbull government deserves credit for its recognition of the values of legal review. Its continuing commitment to posts such as the National Security Legislation Monitor – and the appointment of a high-profile barrister to such a post – is evidence of that.

But somewhere along the way, the administration of data privacy is falling foul of a growing bureaucratic mess.

The ConversationThe only way to bring order to the chaos is through robust accountability; and the only people with the authority or legitimacy in our political system to do that are probably judges who are independent of the government.

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

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

Independent crossbencher Steve Martin joins Nationals, giving the party a Tasmanian presence


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has picked up another Senate crossbencher to add to its numbers, with Tasmanian independent Steve Martin announcing he has joined the Nationals.

It is the first time the party has had representation in that state since the early 1920s, when William McWilliams was briefly leader of the Country Party.

Although it is to the Coalition’s advantage to have an additional senator locked in, and one less independent with whom to negotiate, in practice the change does not affect things significantly.

Martin’s move takes the Coalition to 31 in the Senate, out of a 76-member chamber. It means the government has to get eight of ten crossbenchers to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens. Previously it was nine of 11. Martin has mostly voted with the Coalition and was already committed to supporting the government’s company tax cuts for big business.

He was elevated to Parliament on a countback, following the resignation of Jacqui Lambie in the citizenship crisis, but he never sat as a representative of the Jacqui Lambie Network, becoming an independent.

Earlier, Senator Lucy Gichuhi moved from the crossbench to the Liberals. She has come under threat for a winnable place on the South Australian Liberal ticket.

Martin said on Monday that what drew him to the Nationals was “their focus on key issues such as natural resources, teamwork and, of course, people”. He said the Nationals had a record of looking after rural and regional communities and Tasmania was rural and regional.

Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Martin’s joining was “reinvigorating the National Party in Tasmania”.

Recalling the long period since the party had had representation there – before the Tasmanian tiger was last seen in the 1930s – McCormack said: “I liken Steve a bit to the Tasmanian tiger, inasmuch as he will be a tiger for regional development, an absolute tiger in there fighting for the interests of Tasmanians.”

Martin said he had no “deal” with the Nationals although “I hope I get the number one on their election paper”.

It is not clear how Martin, who is up for election at the next poll, would fit with the Liberals’ ticket. Although only Liberal Richard Colbeck is up for re-election next time, sources say Martin’s joining the Nationals does not mean there would necessarily be a joint Coalition ticket. There could be separate tickets.

Lambie, meanwhile, responded to the news with her own tweet on Monday: “I will be running to return the Senate seat to the people of Tasmania who want a truly independent voice in Canberra. Trust me, I am biting at the bit, looking forward to taking the Nats out!”

CORRECTION

The ConversationMalcolm Farnsworth on his blog, AustralianPolitics.com has corrected Michael McCormack, and The Conversation. McCormack (and we) said that before new recruit Steve Martin, the last federal representative of his party from Tasmania was William McWilliams. Farnsworth says it was Llewellyn Atkinson, who was the Country Party member for Wilmot from 1921 until 1928.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: Tim Storer, the $35 billion man


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Put yourself in the shoes of Tim Storer. The accidental senator from South Australia has one hell of a decision to make shortly after the May budget, when the government plans to bring back its legislation to give tax cuts to big business.

A week ago the Coalition’s fairly confident hopes rested on Storer voting in favour of its A$35.6 billion package. A deal with Victorian crossbencher Derryn Hinch, whose vote also had to be secured, was seen as doable. Then Storer baulked, and the legislation’s future has again become anybody’s guess.

Think of the situation from Storer’s perspective. He has literally just arrived in the Senate, elected to replace a Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) victim of the citizenship crisis but sitting as an independent because of a stoush with his former party.

It’s amazing he’s there at all, and he’s not likely to be there long – one can’t see him re-elected next year. Now he has life-or-death sway over a key measure the government took to the 2016 poll. He has to ask himself whether he should use the extraordinary power that bizarre circumstances have given him to frustrate legislation on which the Coalition can argue it has a mandate.

On the other hand, as he said in his Wednesday Senate statement outlining his doubts about the bill, he is concerned about whether the budget can afford the cuts. And then, he noted, there’s the question of whether the money could be better spent on other things – infrastructure and the like.

When he was sworn in last week, Storer was escorted by the government and opposition Senate leaders, Mathias Cormann and Penny Wong. He chose his escorts. It was to signal his independence, and perhaps to flag that he saw himself as an active player.

He brings to the huge decision before him training in economics, and experience of business, especially in Asia. That presumably helps with evaluating the argument the government makes about the competitive importance of these cuts.

He also comes from a state with a history of federal politicians who focus locally when there are Commonwealth dollars to be had. Nick Xenophon once held up the Rudd government’s $42 billion economic stimulus package while he extracted water concessions that would benefit South Australia.

While Storer has been willing to engage with the government, and will continue to do so, if he eventually voted no, he’d be in line with his former party. The two NXT senators are opposed, despite the government trying to lure them.

Labor, fighting the tax cuts, also observes Storer’s past ALP membership as a sign of his general political orientation and thus perhaps a clue to his final decision.

But the government hopes more talking, more incentives, and perhaps the content of the budget might be enough to persuade him.

Parliament is off until the May 8 budget, when attention will turn from company tax to the government’s income tax plans – which are crucial as it tries to improve the community mood for the election due before mid-next year.

Politically, the budget will be preceded by a media feeding frenzy around the next Newspoll that – barring a miracle for Malcolm Turnbull – will be the 30th in which the Coalition trails Labor.

This will be a diversion, as attention harks back to Turnbull’s invoking 30 Newspolls against Tony Abbott. But with no challenger in sight, it won’t be a decisive moment – just another bout of bad publicity to be endured.

Abbott no doubt will make the most of it. But the more time that passes, the less relevance the former prime minister seems to have, despite a speculative story this week that he might he positioning for a tilt at the opposition leadership if Turnbull loses the election.

Abbott’s decision to launch Pauline Hanson’s book of speeches this week was eccentric and ill-judged.

Can anyone forget his toxic view of her two decades ago, when he established a fund to facilitate legal actions against One Nation and she ultimately ended up in jail? Now he is saying that “if over the last two decades we had been more ready to heed the message of people like Pauline Hanson and less quick to shoot the messenger, I think we would be a better country today”. The bitter enemies have turned into kissing cousins.

Hanson might have mellowed slightly second time around, and she is certainly helping the government in the Senate. But her politics should still be condemned by Liberals, certainly not given the sort of qualified endorsement Abbott extended.

Abbott said the only way the Coalition could win the election was if it could harvest One Nation’s preferences, and “if I can make that more likely, that is a very positive contribution that I can make to the prospects of the Turnbull government”.

His remarks at the book launch suggested a mix of conviction and expediency – regardless, they further fuel cynicism about our politicians.

Speaking of cynicism, one couldn’t miss how quickly some observers segued from the cricket scandal to political behaviour. But as they (rightly) criticise the errant Australian players, politicians would prefer to overlook awkward parallels with conduct in politics – for instance the endemic tampering with the ball of truth.

On Tuesday a fired-up Turnbull told a news conference: “I think there has to be the strongest action taken against this practice of sledging. It has got right out of control, it should have no place … on a cricket field.”

The ConversationAbsolutely. And also it has got out of control on the political field. But when a journalist interjected with “doesn’t it happen in parliament?”, Turnbull chose to let that pass without response.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Queensland finally has a government, but the path ahead for both major parties looks rocky



File 20171208 11331 cgymw4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
This is not the clear-cut election result Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor hoped for.
AAP/Glenn Hunt

Chris Salisbury, The University of Queensland

After going to the polls on November 25, Queenslanders finally have a state election result as Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls conceded defeat on Friday.

Following a four-week campaign, votes were counted for almost a fortnight until Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor Party was confirmed the victor. Palaszczuk is the first female premier to win back-to-back elections. In 2015, she’d become the first woman at state or federal level to lead her party to government from opposition.

But it’s not the clear-cut result Palaszczuk desired. Labor appears to have won 48 seats in the 93-member parliament to the LNP’s 39. This leaves Palaszczuk’s returned government with a slim majority and a diverse crossbench.

A complex contest

With a record field of candidates in an expanded number of electorates – many with redrawn boundaries – this shaped as a complicated election. Adding to its unpredictability was the reintroduction after 25 years of compulsory preferential voting.


Further reading: With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


While two-party-preferred swings were generally not as large as at the last two state elections, overall figures showed a fragmented statewide vote. More than 30% gave their first preferences to minor parties and independents. This exceeded the One Nation-driven protest vote in 1998.

This continues the trend of a declining primary vote for the major parties. Combined with compulsory preferencing, several electorate contests duly developed into three- or even four-horse races, extending the time needed to correctly distribute preferences and declare results. Some seats were decided only after the arrival of postal votes, up to ten days after the polling date.

Like the previous Queensland and federal elections, a close and protracted count left the government in extended caretaker mode. Voters in Queensland and the rest of Australia may need to accustom themselves to a new norm of tight, drawn-out contests, where party leaders’ election night speeches might be obsolete.

Winners and losers

Labor went into the election with a notional seat count of 48 following the redistribution. Despite a 2% decline in its statewide vote, it emerges with little change in its electoral stocks.

Gains in the state’s southeast corner at the LNP’s expense offset a few seat losses in central and north Queensland, where persistent unemployment has been a worry.

To the government’s relief, every cabinet member held their seat. Deputy Premier Jackie Trad survived one of the stronger challenges, a 10% two-party-preferred swing to the Greens in South Brisbane. Brisbane’s inner suburbs, as in other state capitals, are now highly vulnerable to a rising green tide.

The LNP suffered a negative swing of almost 8% – and even higher in parts of the southeast. High-profile casualties included shadow frontbenchers Scott Emerson, Ian Walker, Tracey Davis and Andrew Cripps in the north falling victim to erratic preference flows.

Emerson has the distinction of losing the newly created seat of Maiwar in inner Brisbane to Queensland’s first elected Greens MP, Michael Berkman.

In other firsts, Labor’s new member for Cook in far-north Queensland, Cynthia Liu, is the first Torres Strait Islander elected to any Australian parliament. Innovation Minister Leanne Enoch becomes the state’s first Indigenous MP to be returned at an election.

One Nation’s Stephen Andrew, who defeated veteran Labor MP Jim Pearce in Mirani in central Queensland, becomes the first descendent of South Sea Islander labourers to enter state parliament.

Decisive issues

Besides bread-and-butter issues of job creation, power prices and transport infrastructure, neither Palaszczuk nor Nicholls could escape the dominant themes of this election. The proposed Adani coal mine project animated voters in different parts of the state for different reasons, as did the spoiler role that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was presumed to play.

Together, these factors reinforced an impression of “two Queenslands” in contention during the campaign.


Further reading: Adani aside, North Queensland voters care about crime and cost of living


Protests against the Adani mine’s environmental impact – and questions over its long-term economic benefit to regional communities – featured regularly once the election was called. Palaszczuk succeeded in defusing the issue to some extent early in the campaign with an abrupt declaration that she would veto federal infrastructure funding for the mine’s construction.


Further reading: Why Adani may still get its government loan


A feared backlash in places of regional discontent and high youth unemployment, like Townsville, didn’t entirely materialise, with Labor incumbents holding seats against expectations. But these concerns, in tandem with uncertainty over the Adani project, saw Labor lose Bundaberg and nearly lose the traditionally Labor-voting Rockhampton to independent candidate and former mayor Margaret Strelow.

The LNP’s position on supporting the Adani mine with public funds, and Nicholls’ prevarication over dealing with One Nation, appear to have hurt the party in Brisbane especially. But so too did Labor reminding voters of Nicholls’ role as treasurer in the Newman government.

As the election neared, Nicholls was swamped by constant questioning about cosying up to One Nation.

While always difficult to quantify, the federal Coalition government’s woes amid the same-sex marriage debate and citizenship fiasco likely did the LNP few favours.

Role of the minor parties

The Greens and One Nation capitalised on the dip in major party support, gaining significant vote shares of 10% and almost 14% respectively. However, each party won only a single seat.

Critically, both parties stripped valuable primary votes from Labor and the LNP, especially the latter’s vote in the regions. This will furrow the brows of federal Coalition MPs through this term of government. For good measure, One Nation preferences likely helped unseat some LNP MPs in the southeast.

The party’s state leader, Steve Dickson, lost out to the LNP in Buderim, while Senate outcast Malcolm Roberts didn’t present a serious threat to Labor in Ipswich.

Despite its failings, One Nation attracted more than 20% in the seats it contested and finished runner-up in two dozen of them, perhaps largely down to Hanson’s constant presence throughout the campaign.

Katter’s Australian Party (KAP), though standing candidates in only ten seats and not making much impact on the campaign, might have done best of all the minor parties. Its primary vote improved to more than 2%, gaining it another seat in Hinchinbrook on Labor and One Nation preferences.

KAP’s targeted approach might prove unwelcome news for the federal Coalition, which can expect similar levels of focused disaffection from conservative regional voters elsewhere. But a fragmenting primary vote spells trouble for all the major parties.

What next for Queensland?

Queensland now enters its first fixed-term period of government. The next election is due on October 31, 2020, with four-year terms following that.

Labor holds only 13 of 51 seats outside the Greater Brisbane area. With all seats decided, factional negotiations will now unfold to determine the make-up of Palaszczuk’s new cabinet. It’s fair to assume it will be Brisbane-centric.

With such a concentration of government MPs in the capital, Palaszczuk’s team will presumably clock up many kilometres – and spend some political capital – reassuring the regions they’re not forgotten.

In the wake of an underwhelming result for the LNP, Nicholls announced he is stepping down as party leader and won’t contest a leadership ballot early next week. The likes of David Crisafulli or Tim Mander, or potentially Deb Frecklington, loom as Nicholls’ likely successors.

Party insiders have complained that the election result proves the marriage between the formerly separate Liberal and National parties in Queensland has failed and should be broken up.


Further reading: Queensland Liberals and Nationals have long had an uneasy cohabitation, and now should consider divorce


The ConversationThe road ahead for both major parties will be anything but easy.

Chris Salisbury, Lecturer in Australian Studies, The University of Queensland

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

Labor likely to win Queensland election majority, and regional voters behind same-sex marriage


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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (second from left) with winning Labor election candidates.
AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After five days of counting since the Queensland election on November 25, it is likely that Labor will win 47 of the 93 seats, a bare majority. The ABC is currently calling 47 of 93 seats for Labor, 38 for the LNP, two for Katter’s Australian Party (KAP, one One Nation and one independent).

Two of the four uncalled seats are straightforward two-party contests. The LNP is very likely to win Burdekin, and Townsville is still lineball. Unless Labor loses a seat already called for it, they will have 47 of the 93 seats, a bare majority. The most likely such seat to be lost is Macallister.

A major break for Labor occurred in Rockhampton. On primary votes, Labor had 32%, independent Margaret Strelow 24%, One Nation 21% and the LNP 18%. Strelow had been expected to win on LNP and One Nation preferences, but LNP preferences flowed strongly to One Nation, putting it ahead of Strelow at the point where one was excluded. Labor has won on Strelow’s preferences by about 3,000 votes, according to the ABC’s Emilia Terzon.

In Macallister, Labor had 37% of the primary vote, the LNP 26.7%, and an independent, Hetty Johnston, 23.2%. Labor trounces the LNP after preferences, but Johnston could move ahead of the LNP on Greens and minor candidates’ preferences, especially as the Greens put her above Labor on their how-to-vote card.

However, according to the Courier-Mail as quoted by the Poll Bludger, Labor is “very confident” this scenario will not happen.

The Electoral Commission of Queensland frustratingly removed all its two-candidate results on Tuesday. The ABC’s two-candidate results are projections, not real votes. The Electoral Commission of Queensland conducted two-candidate counts on Monday in contested seats where the wrong candidates were selected on election night.

In Noosa, independent Sandy Bolton thrashed the LNP. In Cook, Labor convincingly defeated One Nation, but in Mirani One Nation defeated Labor. In Maiwar, Labor defeats the LNP on Greens preferences if it stays ahead of the Greens. In Burdekin, the LNP is slightly ahead of Labor after preferences.

The Greens are currently just 12 votes ahead of Labor in Maiwar on primary votes. Scrutineering information reported by Kevin Bonham suggests the Greens will gain on the preferences of a minor candidate. If they win the battle for second against Labor, they will easily defeat Shadow Treasurer Scott Emerson.

KAP is likely to gain Hinchinbrook from the LNP from third place, on first Labor then One Nation preferences.

Assigning the four uncalled seats to the likely winners, the final seat outcome is likely to be 47 Labor, 39 LNP, three KAP, one One Nation, one Green and one independent, with Townsville still in significant doubt.

Same-sex marriage plebiscite aftermath polling

The same-sex marriage legislation passed the Senate on November 29, 43 votes to 12. Additional protections for religious freedom were not included in the final bill. This legislation will go to the lower house next week.

While many commentators have focused on western Sydney’s large “no” vote in the plebiscite, I think the strong support for “yes” in rural and regional Australia is important.

Only two rural electorates – Maranoa and Kennedy in Queensland – voted “no”. In electorates based on the regional cities of Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Newcastle and Townsville, “yes” won at least 62%. In Oxley, where Pauline Hanson was first elected in 1996, “yes” won 60%.

In last week’s Essential poll, 42% thought current laws already provided enough protection for religious freedoms, while 37% thought any same-sex marriage legislation passed should include more protection for religious freedoms.

By 63-27, voters supported allowing ministers of religion and celebrants to refuse to officiate at same-sex weddings. However, by 48-43, voters opposed allowing service providers to refuse service for same-sex weddings, and by 44-42, they opposed allowing parents to withdraw their children from classes which do not reflect the parents’ views on marriage.

In this week’s Essential poll, 47% thought religious protections should be addressed separately from the same-sex marriage legislation, while 32% thought the legislation should include these protections.

In YouGov, by 46-36, voters thought the same-sex marriage legislation should incorporate new religious protection laws.

Essential 54-46 to federal Labor

This week’s Essential poll gave Labor the same two-party lead as last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Labor, 36% Coalition, 9% Greens, 8% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for its voting intentions, with additional questions based on one week’s sample.

88% were concerned about energy prices, 83% about food prices, and 80% about housing affordability. At the bottom, only 57% were concerned about cuts in penalty rates.

49% thought the government should provide subsidies to speed up the transition to renewable energy, 16% thought it should let the market decide, and 12% slow the transition down.

By 64-12, voters supported a royal commission into the banking industry. 33% thought the economy was good, and 24% poor (30-29 good in May). However, by 39-31, voters thought the economy was heading in the wrong direction (41-29 in May).

In last week’s Essential poll, voters thought the government should run full term by 47-32, rather than call an early election. 36% expected Labor to win the next election, 20% the Coalition and 18% thought there would be a hung parliament.

44% (steady since January 2017) thought the economic and political system is fundamentally sound but needs to be refined. 32% (down eight) thought the system needs fundamental change, and 10% (up four) thought it is working well as it is. By 35-32, voters were satisfied with the way democracy is working in Australia.

YouGov primary votes: 32% Coalition, 32% Labor, 11% One Nation, 10% Greens

This week’s YouGov, conducted November 23-27 from a sample of 1,034, had primary votes of 32% Coalition (up one since last fortnight), 32% Labor (down two), 11% One Nation (steady) and 10% Greens (down one). Despite the primary vote shift to the Coalition, Labor’s two-party lead increased a point to 53-47 on more favourable respondent preferences.

This is the first time in YouGov’s polling that Labor’s respondent-allocated two-party vote has matched what Labor would have got using the previous election method. In previous YouGov polls, the respondent allocation has always skewed to the Coalition, sometimes by as much as four points.

41% thought Malcolm Turnbull a weak leader and just 21% thought he is a strong leader. By 43-30, voters disapproved of the cancellation of this lower house sitting week. By 55-36, voters thought the government has a responsibility for the safety of the Manus Island asylum seekers.

By 46-40, voters favoured changing the Constitution to allow dual citizens to run for office (45-37 opposed in October). However, voters were opposed by 47-31 to allowing those who work for the state to run for office.

The two major Bennelong byelection candidates were both favourably perceived nationally. The Liberals’ John Alexander had a 40-29 favourable rating, and Labor’s Kristina Keneally a 39-29 favourable rating.

New England byelection: December 2

While the Bennelong byelection on December 16 is receiving much attention, the New England byelection will be held tomorrow, with polls closing at 6pm Melbourne time.

The ConversationAs far as I know, there has been no polling for New England publicly released since the byelection campaign began. Any result other than a clear win for Barnaby Joyce would be a major surprise.

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

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