Section 18C change appears doomed in Senate


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the controversial Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party. The Conversation

Under the proposal the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain.

Turnbull argued the government was “strengthening” the act, not weakening it.

In a series of changes to the act and the Human Rights Commission legislation, the government will introduce a “reasonable member of the Australian community” standard by which contraventions of 18C should be judged (rather than the present “reasonable member of the relevant community”), and toughen the commission’s processes to stop spurious claims and give greater fairness to those subject to complaints.

The legislation will raise the threshold for the commission to accept a complaint, provide additional powers for it terminate unmeritorious complaints, and limit access to the courts for unsuccessful complaints.

The change was unveiled on Harmony Day.

The Coalition partyroom overwhelmingly backed the measures, but five MPs – Julian Leeser, David Coleman, Julia Banks, Russell Broadbent and Craig Laundy, who is an assistant minister – opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the partyroom if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda.

Turnbull said the new 18C would “strengthen the protections of Australians from racial vilification and strengthen the protection of free speech – one of the fundamental freedoms upon which our democracy depends”.

The wording of the present law had “lost the credibility that a good law needs”. “If you have language that is too wide, too general, it has a chilling effect on free speech,” he said.

He admitted there would be many critics and opponents of the change – “but this is an issue of values … free speech is a value at the very core of our party”.

In parliament Labor MP Anne Aly, who said she had been subject to racism time and again, pressed Turnbull on what he wanted people to be able to say that they could not now. He replied: “The suggestion that those people who support a change to the wording of Section 18C are somehow or other racist is a deeply offensive one”, listing a number of critics of 18C.

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In the Senate, Indigenous senator Malarndirri McCarthy said Turnbull had “on at least 16 occasions ruled out his government amending Section 18C”.

Before the election Turnbull indicated he did not plan to revisit 18C. His predecessor, Tony Abbott, had moved to reform it but then retreated. Abbott at the party meeting congratulated Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis, saying the situation had altered since his experience.

Asked at his news conference what had changed since his earlier stand, Turnbull cited the experience of the QUT university students who endured a long court case, which finally failed, and the late Bill Leak being taken to the commission over a cartoon in The Australian, a complaint which was dropped.

The changes will be introduced in the Senate and their fate will depend on what the Nick Xenophon Team does. Xenophon told the ABC that he supported comprehensive reform of the commission’s processes but did not support overhauling the wording.

“Let’s get rid of those frivolous and, some would say, vexatious claims by improving the process and then we can then look down the track, if there are still problems in respect to the wording,” he said.

He said there was strong feedback from a whole range of ethnic communities, including the Jewish community and Islamic communities, saying the wording should be kept as it was.

Xenophon later in a statement confirmed his Team’s opposition to changing 18C’s wording.

Conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who has campaigned for change to 18C, said that: “Today’s announcement will be welcomed by Australians who prioritise freedom of speech above politically correct left-wing groupthink”.

“I am also pleased that the government will rein in the Australian Human Rights Commission which has morphed into self-appointed thought police,” Abetz said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the 18C change “isn’t about free speech, it’s about the prime minister appeasing his party”.

“The only two cases the prime minister held up today as his rationale could both have been addressed by improving the process – not by changing the law,” Shorten told parliament. He said the change to the Racial Discrimination Act would “make it easier for people to be insulted or humiliated on the basis of race”.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane tweeted:

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The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils expressed dismay at the proposal to change 18C. Chairman Joe Caputo said it sent “a strong signal that racism is acceptable”.

“Australia’s international reputation as a strong, successful multicultural and multi-faith community is threatened by this proposal,” he said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kwxda-68af74?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Bernardi should have resigned his Senate seat: here’s why


Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

Senator Cory Bernardi’s decision to quit the Liberal Party comes as no surprise to most political observers. For quite some time, and certainly since Malcolm Turnbull’s elevation to the Liberal leadership, Bernardi’s resignation from the party was always a distinct possibility.

However, his decision to quit the party without resigning from the Senate has sparked (the inevitable) condemnation from his former party colleagues. While he might well be feeling “reluctant and relieved”, many Coalition MPs are savage about this decision.

The perils of ratting out the party

Parties have little mercy for those in their ranks who quit the party but continue to occupy their seat in parliament. Such persons are often decried as “deserters” or “rats”.

In this case, the displeasure with Bernardi runs even deeper. From the Liberal Party’s perspective, it believed it had gone to some lengths to accommodate some of the senator’s policy concerns. Yet the efforts to appease Bernardi ultimately proved insufficient to prevent him from tendering his resignation only seven months after the federal election that granted him a six-year Senate term.

On a more practical level, Bernardi’s resignation makes an already complex Senate even more so for the Turnbull government. Once the vacancies triggered by Rod Culleton and Bob Day are filled, Bernardi will be among a 21-strong cross bench. The Turnbull government’s numbers have been reduced to 29 senators, 10 votes short of the 39 it needs to transact most business in the chamber.

High-profile, senior Liberal Party ministers, such as George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, have argued that Bernardi should resign as senator to give rise to a casual vacancy. This would enable the party to select a replacement senator.

The problem for the Liberals is that Bernardi does not believe he is under any particular obligation to do this. For Bernardi, the decision to resign from the Liberal Party is a matter of principle, and therefore justified and imperative.

In constitutional terms, Bernardi is not obliged to quit the Senate just because he has resigned from the Liberal Party. The party can do little to force his hand, except to hope that he might eventually fall foul of the Constitution’s various eligibility requirements to serve in the federal parliament. This would be unlikely.

Should Bernardi resign on ethical grounds?

While there is no constitutional basis for Bernardi to resign from the chamber, there is a compelling ethical case for him to do so.

Before I outline my reasons, I must clarify the scope of my claim. First, the argument is not directed exclusively at Bernardi. This is an argument that should apply to any senator who quits his or her party, short of reasons of their party imploding, or being fired by the party.

Secondly, this argument is not one that I would extend to members of the House of Representatives who resign from their party. It is particular only to party defections when the member was elected in a seat through proportional representation.

My argument is essentially tied to two particular features of the Senate electoral system: the statewide basis of that system and group ticket voting. In combination, these elements greatly heighten the importance of the party label to the electoral success of major party candidates.

The statewide basis of the electoral system creates a geographical obstacle for all but a rarefied group of candidates to build a sufficiently strong personal mandate to secure a Senate quota. For this reason most independent candidates choose to contest lower house electorates rather than nominate for the Senate, where campaigning is conducted over a much wider, often more diverse electoral terrain.

Group ticket voting has further elevated the importance of the party label to the election of Senate candidates. Known colloquially as “above the line” voting, it allows parties to predetermine their preferred order of election of their candidates. While voters are permitted to vote for any candidate in any order that they wish, most do not. Only a very small proportion of voters cast their vote within the party list.

The combination of these features of the Senate electoral system means that most major party senators would struggle to make a convincing case that they were elected on the basis of personal appeal and support.

If we use Bernardi as the case in point, of the 345,767 votes cast for the South Australian Liberals at the 2016 election, he attracted just 2,043 of the first preference vote. Bernardi’s re-election had almost nothing to do with his personal vote and almost everything to do with the Liberal Party label and the favourable number two Senate spot that South Australian party officials awarded him on the party’s ticket.

Established parties can legitimately claim, therefore, that the single most decisive factor that accounts for the election of their senators is the power of the party label. For this reason, senators who quit their party under the current rules should feel compelled on ethical grounds to resign their vacancy, so that the democratic will of the party’s supporters is fulfilled.

The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

Major rebuff to Malcolm Turnbull as poll result hovers on knife edge


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal election result is on a knife-edge, with the outcome between a majority Turnbull government and a hung parliament.

Malcolm Turnbull has been delivered a major rebuff and left potentially embattled, with bitter recriminations breaking out in conservative ranks. Even if the Coalition ends up with a majority, Turnbull will have an uphill struggle to manage a party that includes many who are his enemies.

There were immediate calls for a review of the superannuation policy that the government took to the election, which cut back concessions for high-income earners and deeply angered the Liberals’ base.

Liberal ministers blamed Labor’s Medicare scare campaign for turning voters against the Coalition.

Late in the night the swing against the government was 3.6%. The election has seen a high vote for small parties.

Turnbull waited until after midnight to address his supporters, declaring: “I can report that based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a Coalition majority government in the next parliament”. In his speech, he did not accept any blame for the bad result or suggest he would make any changes as a result.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the Coalition was “on the cusp” of being able to claim the 76 seats needed to form majority government.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who spoke to supporters around 11:30PM, said the outcome might not be known for days but whatever happened one thing was sure: “the Labor Party is back”. He said the Liberals had “lost their mandate”.

Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said there was “too much on the table to call it tonight”.

The ABC said that with more than 70% of votes counted, the Coalition was on track to win 72 seats, and Labor set to claim 66, with five crossbenchers including one Green, and seven seats in doubt.

An unanticipated big swing in Tasmania has cost the Liberals Bass, Braddon and Lyons. Labor has won Eden-Monaro (NSW), Macarthur (NSW), and the notional Liberal seat of Burt in Western Australia.

In Queensland, Assistant Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy appears to have lost Longman and the Liberals may lose Herbert. The Sydney seat of Lindsay is likely to fall, as is Macquarie. In the Northern Territory, Solomon is set to fall.

Nick Xenophon’s Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie has taken Mayo from former minister Jamie Briggs, who had to quit the frontbench after an incident in a Hong Kong bar. Briggs tweeted “After a tough fight tonight hasn’t been our night”.

The Liberals could win the Victorian Labor seat of Chisholm. The Labor-Green contest in Batman is neck and neck.

Despite Turnbull calling the double dissolution to clear out small players in the Senate, the new Senate will contain a plethora of micro players. They will include three South Australian senators from NXT. Pauline Hanson has been elected to a Senate seat in Queensland. Broadcaster Derryn Hinch has claimed a Victorian Senate seat. Independent Jacqui Lambie has been returned in Tasmania.

In his speech Turnbull took on criticism, already being aired, that he should not have called a double dissolution, saying this had not been a political tactic but had been driven by the “need to restore the rule of law to the construction industry”.

Even if Turnbull wins majority government he may not have the numbers to get the industrial relations bills, which were the trigger for the double dissolution, through a joint sitting.

The backlash in conservative ranks erupted immediately.

Senator Cory Bernardi said in a tweet to Liberal pollster Mark Textor:

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Broadcaster Alan Jones clashed with one of Turnbull’s numbers men, senator James McGrath, on the Network Seven panel. “There were a lot of bed-wetters in the Liberal Party and you seemed to be the captain of the bed-wetters,” Jones said. McGrath hit back, saying Jones was “not a friend” of the Coalition.

Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin and Attorney-General George Brandis had a spat on the Sky panel over the government’s superannuation changes. Credlin said the changes would not go through the Coalition partyroom in their present form; Brandis retorted she was not in the partyroom.

Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said there had been strident criticism in emails to his office of the superannuation changes. “I for one will be advocating we reconsider aspects of it.”

Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said the party’s base was “furious” with the superannuation policy. “I certainly hope the partyroom would look at this issue.”

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt called for Turnbull to quit. “You have been a disaster. You betrayed Tony Abbott and then led the party to humiliation, stripped of both values and honour. Resign.”

Morrison, asked if Abbott could have won the election, replied “highly unlikely”.

Roy and Peter Hendy, member for Eden-Monaro, were both heavily involved in the Turnbull coup.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said “undoubtedly” the Medicare scare campaign had been an important factor in the result. She said a number of people on election day had raised Medicare with her at polling booths.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor’s Medicare’s scare was more effective than the government had thought during the campaign. “No doubt the absolute lie Labor was running on Medicare was effective.”

Turnbull lashed out over the Medicare scare, saying “the Labor Party ran some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia”.

He said that “no doubt” the police would investigate last minute text messages to voters that said they came from Medicare.

Abetz said the “three amigos” in Bass, Braddon and Lyons had been swamped by the Medicare campaign.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce held New England from independent challenger Tony Windsor. Independent Cathy McGowan retained Indi. The Nationals have taken Murray from the Liberals, and headed off a challenge in Cowper from independent Rob Oakeshott.

The poll has seen the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives – Linda Burney in the NSW seat of Barton.

The pre-poll count continued to 2AM. There will be no more counting until Tuesday.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Malcolm Turnbull sounded tone deaf to election message


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to deflated supporters in the early hours of Sunday morning was extraordinarily lacking in self-awareness.

Turnbull had just brought his party a devastatingly bad election result. That’s true even if he manages to reach majority government, which remains far from clear despite his assertions. In the early hours of Sunday things got closer as more votes were counted. With 77.6% of the vote counted, the ABC tally had the Coalition and Labor on 67 seats each, five crossbenchers, and 11 seats in doubt.

Yet Turnbull showed not a scintilla of humility. He made no gesture of contrition, no promise that he had heard the message the people had delivered.

Instead he denounced Labor’s scare campaign – as if the Liberals themselves have not at times been masters of that dark art. And he made an unconvincing attempt to justify a double dissolution that has ended up producing a Senate as potentially difficult as the last one, with the added negative of including Pauline Hanson, so giving her a national platform.

There is now a bizarre parallel between Labor and the Liberals in turning triumph into disaster. Kevin Rudd won convincingly in 2007. He was then removed by his party and successor Julia Gillard came out of the subsequent election with a hung parliament. Tony Abbott had a strong win in 2013, was replaced – and now the Coalition will have a tiny majority or there will be another hung parliament, with the outcome depending on the crossbenchers.

Turnbull and his supporters can argue that if Abbott had still been leader the loss would have been greater, and that’s probably correct. But it is unlikely to be an argument that will do Turnbull much good in the days ahead when there won’t be a lot of Liberal love around.

Turnbull complains about Labor’s lies about Medicare’s future, but they were made more credible to the public because of the Coalition’s previous lies and actions. Did it think people would not remember Abbott’s 2013 promise of no cuts to health? Or the attempt in the 2014 budget to bring in a co-payment, unsuccessful though it was? Or the various subsequent moves for cuts and user pays measures?

Labor’s campaign might have been exaggerated and dishonest, but the Coalition itself had effectively given the ALP the building blocks for it.

Turnbull’s argument that he called a double dissolution not to change the nature of the Senate but because the lawlessness in the construction industry had to be confronted is facile. He did not even make the industrial relations legislation a central talking point in the campaign.

And in his speech he overlooked the point that even if he reaches majority government it is doubtful he would have the overall parliamentary numbers to get the bills through a joint sitting (although at this stage it is impossible to be definite about what the new senators might do).

In the wash-up, everything from the Coalition’s strategy for the past eight weeks – running almost entirely on a “plan” based on company tax cuts – to the mechanics of getting the case across, will be under internal criticism. It will be remembered that Turnbull’s pitch for leadership included his ability as an economic salesman. That, as it turned out, he over-hyped.

The Liberal conservatives will try to unravel policy. They started on election night with their bugbear – the superannuation changes. Assuming the Coalition survives in government, how will the ructions in the Liberals now play out for the same-sex marriage plebiscite?

Turnbull was looking for a mandate to allow him to be his own man. Instead of getting that, his government has been left struggling to survive.

If it does, the conservative forces will now take one of two views of him: as someone who must be forced to follow their will on core policies, or as someone who at a future date should be replaced. Or maybe they will adopt both views.

Turnbull’s enemies within his party have played this election craftily. Abbott was mostly quiet during the campaign, although in the final week he made clear that he thought the issues of budget repair, national security and border protection had been underdone. His former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin used her role as TV commentator to run an at times sharp critique of the Turnbull campaign. Now the conservatives will be full-throated.

Turnbull talks about the need for stability and unity. The Australian public is faced with instability. Whatever the result ends up being, there is no clear mandate and an extremely difficult Senate.

Turnbull, if he is still prime minister, would be confronted by the prospect of internal disunity plus a chaotic upper house that could likely make it nearly impossible to do much that is meaningful.

As happened when he was opposition leader, Turnbull is again in a situation where he didn’t read the danger signals. He thought he was more persuasive than Bill Shorten; he and his strategists (apparently) believed that whatever the national polls said, the marginal seats would stick. They said the election would be close but appeared confident it was in the bag.

Turnbull will pay a high price for his misjudgements, though it is unclear exactly how high.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

After messy night, Coalition more likely to form government – but Pauline Hanson is in the Senate


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After counting into the early hours of Sunday morning, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) currently has Labor leading in 72 of the 150 lower house seats, with the Coalition ahead in 66.

There are seven not-yet-determined seats, where the AEC selected the wrong candidates to count on a two-party-preferred basis and now has to realign the count. The Coalition will win five of those seven seats, and Labor one, bringing the totals to 73 for Labor and 71 for the Coalition.

However, late counting, particularly of postal votes, favours the Coalition. The AEC lists five seats as close, and in three of those Labor is narrowly ahead. If the Coalition wins these three on late counting, the Coalition would lead the seat count 74-70. Other seats where Labor currently leads could also be won by the Coalition on late counting.

Current sitting crossbenchers Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and Adam Bandt easily retained office, and will be joined by the Nick Xenophon Team’s (NXT) Rebekha Sharkie, who crushed Liberal Jamie Briggs in Mayo.

The NXT could win a second seat in Grey, one of the seven seats where the AEC needs to realign the count.

However, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott both lost their bids to return. The Greens are unlikely to win a second seat.

Labor gained all three Tasmanian seats that were previously held by the Coalition, and also gained Solomon in the Northern Territory. Labor gained seven seats in New South Wales, at least two in Queensland and at least one in Western Australia.

However, the Liberals have a good chance of gaining Chisholm from Labor in Victoria, perhaps owing to the state government’s dispute with the Country Fire Authority.

The current primary votes are 41.8% for the Coalition (down 3.7% on 2013 election figures), 35.3% for Labor (up 1.9%), and 10% for the Greens (up 1.3%). “Others” have a collective 12.9% (up 6%). In South Australia, the NXT won 21% of the vote. The Coalition and Greens are likely to gain a little at the expense of Labor in late counting.

Kevin Bonham says the current two-party swing against the Coalition in the 138 classic Coalition vs Labor seats is 3.3%, which will probably moderate to 3% when counting is finalised. The Coalition is thus likely to win the two-party count by about 50.5%-49.5%, but will lose many more seats than it should have based on sophomore effects. Perhaps Labor’s marginal seats campaign was strong enough to overcome sophomore effects.

Sitting members usually have small personal votes that are not associated with their parties. When one party wins a seat from another party’s sitting member, they should get an additional boost at the next election, but this didn’t appear to happen last night.

The final pre-election polls were very close to the overall primary and two-party figures, but single seat polls were poor. Yet again, national polls were much better than seat polls.

Though it is unlikely Labor will form the next government, this is a much better result for Labor and Bill Shorten than was expected, particularly when Malcolm Turnbull was riding high in the polls after deposing Tony Abbott.

For Turnbull and the Coalition, this was a bad result. However, it is clear that Turnbull’s popularity dropped between February and April as he abandoned his more “liberal” approaches to climate change, same-sex marriage and other issues. Had Turnbull been more progressive on some issues, it is likely he would have been comfortably re-elected.

Reformed system produces even messier Senate

Even if the Coalition scrapes out a lower house majority, it will have fewer senators than it currently has.

One of the newly elected senators will be Pauline Hanson. Here is the Senate table, based on results at the ABC. There are 76 total senators.

Senate make-up at the time of writing.

The three definite “Others” are Pauline Hanson in Queensland, Derryn Hinch in Victoria and Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. Most of the undecided seats will be contested by micro parties, with One Nation in the race for other seats.

The Coalition had 33 seats in the old Senate, so this will be reduced. This will make it difficult to pass the industrial relations bills that were the reason a double-dissolution election was called, even with a joint sitting.

Normally only six senators for each state would be up for election, but as this election was a double dissolution all 12 were up. The quota for election was reduced from 14.3% to 7.7%, and this has benefited smaller parties.

Under the old Senate system, it would have been possible to calculate Senate seats using the group voting tickets. As preferences are now up to voters, it is unlikely we will know the outcome of some of the undecided Senate seats until the AEC has data entered all votes and pressed the “button” on its computer system, probably by late July or early August.

The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, PhD Student, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Infographic: what we know so far about the results of Election 2016


Emil Jeyaratnam, The Conversation; Fron Jackson-Webb, The Conversation; Michael Courts, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Australians have voted, but with the result currently unclear, how are the numbers falling across the country? This post will be updated when we know more.

As at 11:45AM Sunday, July 3:



CC BY-SA


CC BY-ND

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Key seats

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The Conversation

Emil Jeyaratnam, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation; Fron Jackson-Webb, Health + Medicine Editor, The Conversation; Michael Courts, Editor, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

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

Australian Politics: 10 October 2013