Category Archives: Election

Voting is Now Voluntary in Australia

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Courier Mail on Thursday 28 January 2017*)

A spectacularly innovative** decision by a magistrate in a New South Wales Local Court has made voting at Federal Elections in Australia essentially voluntary.

Magistrate David Heilpern’s decision was in the prosecution of Adam Easton who had failed to vote at the 2016 Federal Election.  It is apparently the first time s.245(14) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act has ever been considered by a Court – and Magistrate Heilpern found Easton’s alleged belief in freedom, and alleged belief that all politicians cannot be trusted (the factual or rational nature of this belief was unsubstantiated in evidence in the Court) meant he had a sort-of religious duty to not vote.

In making his ground-breaking decision the Magistrate specifically repudiated and rejected many precedents and findings of other Courts, including Australia’s High Court, amongst them this:

 “…there is no force whatever in the contention that a valid and sufficient reason exists for non-compliance with the primary duty of voting, merely because no one of the ultimate candidates meets with the approval of the given elector. If that were admitted as a valid and sufficient reason, compulsory voting would be practically impossible”.

Isaacs J in Judd v McKeon (1926) 38 CLR 380 at 386

The section in question provides a religious exemption, Magistrate Heilpern explicitly finds Easton’s beliefs are not religious, yet says his refusal to vote is allowed via the religious exemption, thus:

“Having carefully considered the evidence of the defendant, I am satisfied that his evidence shows an honestly held belief, a moral code that requires him not to vote. To vote would be to breach a truly held conscientious life viewpoint. Thus the defendant in this case has a devout (but not religious) objection to voting. It would be simply nonsensical that were his deeply held moral objection subjectively connected to a recognised religion or a belief in god, that this would, of itself, be a valid and sufficient reason, but that a conscious agnostic well-developed moral faith as described by the defendant would not. The provision allows for a form of conscientious objection in my view, and that is what has been evidenced here.”

This decision will be applauded by the organised far right of Australian politics, who have long mounted a disingenuous demand for the freedom to not vote … which they expect will, incidentally and coincidentally of course, reduce the Labor vote.  It will be opposed by everyone who recognises, inter alia:

  • compulsory voting tends to build a relationship of mutual obligation between the governed and Parliaments, which is a positive contributor to social cohesion, and
  • the ugliness and vapidity of US election campaigns is in part caused by the need to make voters angry enough to bother to vote in a voluntary system – and that’s where we will head if this decision is allowed to stand.

Will the decision be appealed, or will anti-compulsory-voting forces in the Liberal Party block both an appeal and amendments to the legislation before the next Federal Election?

 

 

* You can access the Courier Mail version here http://bit.ly/2BLBTg4
** possibly in this instance actually meaning “stupid”

 

 

 

Queensland Government: New Labor Ministry

The New Economic Team

The re-elected Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced her full Ministry on Monday, 11 December 2017, after announcing key economic portfolios a day earlier (see here).  Cabinet will be sworn in on Tuesday 12 December.

You can download short biographies of Cabinet members here http://bit.ly/2jsOJMk.

Cabinet has been expanded to 18, and there are three new Ministers, to replace the retiring Bill Byrne and Curtis Pitt who is to become Speaker: the new faces are Di Farmer, Member for Bulimba, Craig Crawford, Member for Barron River, while Stirling Hinchliffe, Member for Sandgate, returns to Cabinet.

Of the Cabinet of 18, 9 are women.  9 are from the Left Faction, 6 are from the Labor Forum (often called “Right” or “AWU”) faction, and 3 are from the Labor Unity (“Old Guard”) faction.

Ministers are:

  • Annastacia Palaszczuk, Premier, Minister for Trade*;
  • Jackie Trad, Deputy Premier, Treasurer, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships
  • Cameron Dick, Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, Minister for Manufacturing
  • Kate Jones, Minister for Innovation, Minister for Tourism Industry Development, Minister for the Commonwealth Games
  • Yvette D’Ath, Attorney General and Minister for Justice
  • Steven Miles, Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services
  • Grace Grace, Minister for Education and Minister for Industrial Relations
  • Mark Bailey, Minister for Transport and Main Roads
  • Anthony Lynham, Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy
  • Mick de Brenni, Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Digital Technology, Minister for Sport
  • Shannon Fentiman, Minister for Employment and Small Buiness, Minister for Training and Skills Development
  • Leeanne Enoch, Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Minister for Science, Minister for the Arts
  • Mark Ryan, Minister for Police and Minister for Corrective  Services
  • Coralee O’Rourke, Minister for Communities and Minister for Disability Services and Seniors
  • Mark Furner, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries
  • Stirling Hinchliffe, Minister for Local Government, Minister for Racing, Minister for Multicultural Affairs
  • Di Farmer, Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence
  • Craig Crawford, Minister for Fire and Emergency Services

The Premier also announced he appointment of five Assistant Ministers, each with both a policy portfolio and a regional focus:

  • Jennifer Howard, Assistant Minister for Veterans Affairs and Assistant Minister of State  (Ipswich)
  • Glenn Butcher, Assistant Minister for Treasury  (Gladstone)
  • Julieanne Gilbert, Assistant Minister for State Development  (Mackay)
  • Brittany Lauga, Assistant Minister for Education  (Keppel)
  • Meaghan Scanlon, Assistant Minister for Tourism Industry Development  (Gold Coast)

 

* Corrected from original post

 

 

 

 

Queensland Election 2017 – What Happens Now?

We need a State Government, we need a Premier, and we need Ministers – but no-one can be absolutely certain yet about who is to be a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly: there are at five or six seats still in doubt, and while Labor says they are confident of achieving a majority in their own right, they (and everyone else) are waiting for final results.

Of the seats where results are clear, no Party yet has a majority of the Parliament.

Postal votes – and possibly recounts – will determine the final outcome of in-doubt seats, and receipt of outstanding postal vote closes at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 5 December.  It’s also possible postal votes may overturn current expectations of seat-by-seat results, and throw more seats into the too-close-to-call pile – postal votes are being counted day-by-day, and new tallies in undecided seats are being announced daily.

Once postal votes are all in and all counted, the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ – see http://www.ecq.qld.gov.au) will determine whether they need further recounting in any seat – they’ve been doing check counting all along, so a full recount will be reserved for the very closest seats.  That might take a day or two, or ECQ may determine there is no need.

If there’s no recount needed, it’s only after Tuesday the various Parties with members in the Assembly (Australian Labor Party, Liberal National Party, Katter’s Australian Party, One Nation Party, and perhaps the Greens) will hold meetings to determine who controls the Parliament and the Government, and who takes on which roles.

If Labor has a majority, we can expect a meeting of the Labor caucus in the days immediately after 5 December – and immediately after the caucus meeting we could expect a returned Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to announce her new Cabinet.

If Labor doesn’t have a majority, depending on how far short they fall it may take several days for a majority coalition to be stitched together – or possibly a minority Government – so we may not know who is our Government, and who is Premier, and a Minister, until the week of 11 December.

The Brisbane Times website has a pretty good summary of where things are http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland-election-2017-results and they keep it reasonably up to date.

 

 

 

Queensland Election 2017 – Sunday’s Status

Labor seems likely to secure 48 seats (out of 93) in Queensland’s Legislative Assembly, plus or minus one – which is a small but clear majority.

But, be cautious – there’s only 72.2% of the votes counted so far, and the notional two-candidate count in some seats has counted the wrong two candidates!

Ben Rau from the Tallyroom has an excellent summary of the current status of counting as at Sunday 26 November 2017, including seats likely won and lost for each of One Nation, the LNP, Katter Party and Greens.  You can access his summary here http://www.tallyroom.com.au/32465.

 

Queensland Government is in “Caretaker Mode”

Now the State election has been called – see https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/queensland-state-election-basics/ – the Government moves into what is called “Caretaker Mode”.

Caretaker Mode is all about both maintaining public sector impartiality, and ensuring no decisions or commitments are made which will bind a new, possibly unwilling Government, post-election.

Many public servants interpret this incredibly widely – far more so than is intended or appropriate, and this can be a real nuisance for anyone trying to do business with the State Government.

Official guidelines for the conventions which apply during the caretaker period are set out in the Cabinet Handbook, section 9, here https://www.premiers.qld.gov.au/publications/categories/policies-and-codes/handbooks/cabinet-handbook/caretaker-conventions.aspx.

In summary:

  • Caretaker conventions are merely conventions and not binding at law – but are nearly always adhered to;
  • Caretaker period starts the moment the election is called and lasts until either te result is clear or a new Government appointed;
  • Things to avoid during the caretaker period: appointments of significance, implementing new policies, entering into major contracts or undertakings;
  • Normal Departmental operations are to continue, but with care to ensure there’s no presumption about who will win the election;
  • Departments should not at Ministerial request develop new policy initiatives;
  • Opposition access to public servants is through requests to the Minister and any such discussions are confidential, but public servants may not discuss the merits of policy options with the Opposition and should keep no official notes;
  • Departments prepare two sets of briefing documents for the incoming Government: one for a returned Government, and the other for a new Government;
  • All Cabinet documents are readied for destruction;
  • All Bills in Parliament lapse and must start again from scratch after the election, and any Acts not yet proclaimed by the Governor must await the intentions of the incoming Government.  In some circumstances subordinate legislation may be approved;
  • The Premier will determine whether Government advertising campaigns continue – anything highlighting the role of Ministers or covering matters of political controversy are usually stopped;
  • Ministers generally don’t go to Council of Australian Governments meetings which occur during the caretaker period.

In detail:

Here’s a downloadable PDF file for your reading pleasure, courtesy of Ethical Consulting Services! http://bit.ly/2hnbr4p

 

 

 

Queensland State Election 2017 Basics

The Queensland State Election was called on Sunday 29 October, and Election Day will be Saturday 25 November 2017.

Here are three reasons it’s historic:

  • it is the last time the Government gets to pick the Election Day – after this one, Queensland moves to a fixed, four-year election term;
  • it is the first time preferences will be compulsory since 1992, when they were made optional*; and
  • the number of seats has been increased from 89 to 93, which means to win Government a party or coalition needs 47 or more seats.

New or updated enrolments close on 3 November, and nominations of candidates close on 7 November.  If you need to update your enrolment the best place to do it is via the links on this page: www.ecq.qld.gov.au/voters-and-voting/enrolment.

Because the number of seats has increased, electoral boundaries have been changed all over the place.  Here’s a table of changes driven by new boundaries, from psephologist Antony Green www.abc.net.au/news/elections/qld-redistribution-2017/#ChangeTable.

Green’s analysis of the political impact is here www.abc.net.au/news/elections/qld-redistribution-2017/#PoliticalImpact, and his new electoral pendulum is here www.abc.net.au/news/elections/qld-redistribution-2017/#Pendulum.

You can access his overall guide to the election here http://www.abc.net.au/news/qld-election-2017/.

… and here’s a link to the latest polling  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queensland_state_election,_2017#Opinion_polling.

 

 

* Corrected – thanks to Cameron Milliner for noticing the error!

 

When is the Next Queensland Election?

Last week several business organisations, including one of which we’re members, echoed calls from Liberal-National Party Leader Tim Nicholls, and demanded the Palaszczuk Labor State Government call an election immediately.

Apart from this echo chamber, it’s hard to detect any groundswell of demand for an immediate election – it’s due by 5 May, and the (usually but erroneously presumed three-year) Parliamentary term isn’t up until late January 2018 (the anniversary of the last election) or more appropriately 14 February (the anniversary of the Palaszczuk Ministry) – or, legally and correctly, 5 May*.

Premier Palaszczuk has said several times she intends the election will be in 2018.

There are always constraints in choosing an election date, and here are some presently operative in Queensland:

  • The Queensland election process must take a minimum of 26 days, from announcement (issuing of the writs) to Election Day – incumbent parties normally give little more than the minimum notice, for tactical advantage;
  • Don’t look like you’re calling it early for expediency or advantage – voters aren’t dumb and can usually see through that;
  • Don’t cut across
    • football finals (in this case, AFL and NRL, which expire on 30 September and 1 October, respectively);
    • school holidays (which commence from 17 November for year 12 students, from 24 November for years 10 and 11, and 8 December for the rest) because
      • so many people are away and will get cranky at the inconvenience of voting, and
      • if voters are away they will mostly miss appreciating the value of all of that money you’re spending on election ads …

… schools mostly resume on 22 January 2018;

  • Christmas and New Year;
  • The Commonwealth Games run from 4 to 15 April: if the Government changes in the month before the games, or there is campaigning across the games, there will be major distraction from the Games and this may harm the success of the game;
    • It is too late to announce the election after the Games and meet the 5 May deadline;
    • So, probably, no election after 10 March or perhaps not after 3 March;
    • November 11 (another Saturday) is out because it is Remembrance Day;
  • If you announce an election between Christmas (really, mid-December) and Australia Day, you will either cause chaos because so many Members of Parliament and public servants are away, or you’ll tell them they can’t take leave which gives the game (and tactical advantage) away:
    • Members of Parliament, and particular Ministers, take their holidays between the last Cabinet meeting of the year and the first of the next year – the Monday nearest Australia Day: if you call an election before Australia Day, you’re doing it while many sitting Members of Parliament are still away – that’s arguably quite unfair to non-Government MPs;
    • The Queensland public service shuts down from Christmas Eve (this really commences in mid-December) until late January, say Australia Day;
  • Most polling places are in school halls or similar, and it can be an incredible nuisance to get proper access to school halls during school holidays;
  • The Party in power hasn’t finished selecting all of its candidates yet, although the few remaining are not in highly targeted seats;
  • And, as Michael Todd reminds us: after this election Queensland moves to four-year fixed terms, with the election on the last Saturday of October (starting in 2021) – choosing a late October/early November date tends to bring this election into alignment with the future.

Premier Palaszczuk

These things in combination mean the election could be announced

  • Anytime up until 2 October, for a 28 October Election Day, if the Premier is prepared to explain why it can’t be next year as she has previously said, or
  • Anytime up until 9 October, for a 4 November Election Day, with the same proviso, or
  • Not between 10 October and Australia Day for the reasons advanced above, and
  • Not for a date after 10 March, to avoid the Commonwealth Games and their build up, and
  • Just possibly after an early Cabinet meeting on 22 January, for 17 February, or
  • More likely, sometime in the two-and-a-bit weeks after Australia Day, for an Election Day of 24 February, 3 March, or 10 March.

The Queensland Premier (and her staff) has not been consulted in the drafting of this article, and nor has she consulted us!

 

* See http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/qld/consol_act/caaa1890289/s2.html and http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/qld/consol_act/ea1992103/s82.html

 

 

 

20 years ago today

Twenty years ago today was Northern Territory Election Day: 30 August 1997.

The Australian Labor Party had never governed in the Territory, and never looked like they would win the 1997 Election.  Labor polling showed them heading for a bloodbath – they were starting with only 7 seats in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly, but Party polling showed they were on track to lose several more.

From early that year, Labor’s caucus led by Maggie Hickey seized on the many issues of weakness for the governing Country-Liberal Party (CLP) and worked with real focus in the run-up to Election Day.  Labor’s polling showed the electorate had little regard for the CLP, and the aggressive advertising campaign closely paraphrased the research findings.

The TV ads, in particular, were controversial and met with a mixed reception, but all evidence is that the average voters, mostly, loved them:

The result?  Labor lost one seat, for local reasons quite unconnected with the main campaign.

 

 

New Queensland Election Analysis

Queensland Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk has restated her intention the next State Election should happen in 2018.  In anticipation, blogger Ben Rau of The Tally Room has updated and published his seat by seat analysis.

If you are interested in the next Queensland election, it is well worth subscribing to his blog, and you can do that via an email subscription box just to the right of his post.

You can access his excellent analysis here www.tallyroom.com.au/32057, and can look at the seats listed alphabetically, via a pendulum, or via a clickable map.

Ben intends to publish a post summarising the impact of the redistribution of seat boundaries, and a deeper analysis of key seats, in the immediate future.

 

8 August 2017: Opportunity for Government, or for Litigation?

Federal Parliament House

Australia is supposed to have seventy-six Senators: right now we have no more than seventy-four, possibly only seventy-two, and possibly far fewer, because of application of s44 of the Australian Constitution.  And when Parliament resumes on 8 August, expect political and legal fireworks.

This reduced number of Senators is important, because it might make it easier for the Government to get their legislation passed.

Here’s why: while Australia’s Liberal National Party Coalition government has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives, no legislation can pass without the support of a majority in the Senate, where the Government is in a minority. This means all legislation which passes through the Senate, and subsequently becomes law, must garner support from non-government parties, and with fewer Senators the total number of Senators required to support legislation reduces.

If we indeed have 74 Senators,

  • 29 are from the Coalition,
  • 26 are from Labor,
  • 7 from the Greens,
  • 4 are from One Nation,
  • 3 from the Xenophon Team, and
  • one each are from the Liberal Democrats (Leynholm), Justice Party (Hinch), Australian Conservatives (Bernardi), Jacqui Lambie Network, and independent Gichuhi (who is ex-Family First).

With only seventy-four Senate votes in play, to secure Senate passage of government legislation, the Liberal National Party Government needs nine votes from amongst the 19 cross-benchers; Labor needs 12 to block the passage of any legislation, or pass their own resolutions.

The Government now needs the support of one less non-Government Senator than before, to see legislation passed, and this situation will continue for months as the process of replacing ineligible Senators isn’t quick – see https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/ludlam-senate/.  This presents the Government with opportunities to advance unpopular legislation through the Senate – the two ineligible “Senators” are seen as more likely to have opposed components of the Government’s legislative program.

Malcolm Roberts

We are down to no more than seventy-four Senators because two Greens Party Senators have acknowledged they are ineligible – see www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/queensland-government/queensland-greens-senator-larissa-waters-resigns-over-dual-citizenship/news-story/ecb99e946835145fd8f6dacdbf55e131.  We may have only seventy-two Senators because detailed questions have been raised about the eligibility of two others – see www.brisbanetimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-roberts-expert-anne-twomey-believes-one-nation-senator-may-have-breached-constitution-20170727-gxkeol.html and www.brisbanetimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/the-dissenting-argument-from-a-former-governorgeneral-that-could-save-matt-canavans-skin-20170727-gxjxkr.html.

Matthew Canavan

Both Senators Roberts (One Nation Party) and Canavan (Liberal National Party) say they are eligible.  There’s no doubt this will be tested in the Court of Disputed Returns – probably at the same time as determinations are made about Larissa Waters’ and Scott Ludlum’s replacements.

The Australian Senate resumes on 8 August 2017, and we can be very sure if either Senator Roberts or Senator Canavan seek to exercise a vote, or perhaps even take their seat, someone is going to go to Court, claim those Senators are ineligible, and seek via legal action to stop them acting as a Senator.

And to add to the potential for chaos, while it is a typically over-blown and under-researched article, the Australian newspaper has questioned the eligibility of 21 Members of Parliament further, from all of the Liberal Party, the National Party, and Australian Labor Party: www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/mp-dual-nationality-fiasco-extends-to-bloodlines/news-story/5ad03ba3d47cf4eae0a5b1066ea5c59b?login=1 (paywalled).

In the House of Representatives, the Government has only a one-seat majority – should any one Government member* in the House acknowledge ineligibility, or be found ineligible, they will lose their working majority in the House, the capacity of the Government to govern at all becomes questionable, and we may be headed to a very early election.

By 8 August, all of our Parliamentary parties need to have their plans in place for how to react: because the success of the Government’s legislative program, or the very existence of the Turnbull Government, might hinge on the outcome, there’s little hope of bipartisanship.

Here’s a link to information on the Australian Electoral Commission website explaining eligibility laws: www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/Publications/backgrounders/constitutional-disqual-intending-candidates.htm

 

*  Or one more Government member than non-Government members.