Australian Politics and Government

An Introduction to Australian Politics and Government providing access to the Australian Commonwealth Constitution Act, Quick and Garran’s Commentaries on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia (from the University of Sydney library), and my own notes on Nick Economou‘s lectures on Australian Politics.


Quick and Garran – Annotated Australian Constitution – fed0014

Sir Gerard Brennan’s Lecture A Pathway To A Republic, on constitutional change, including recognition of Australia’s Indigenous people: Gerard Brennan’s Lecture

I have also created posts on my own idea of social justice, and the insidious application of the concept of terra nullius in the Australian context.

The following are my comprehensive notes based on the 2010 Monash University lectures of Dr. Nick Economou on Australian government and politics. Since I created these notes there have been major changes with the prevailing governments in Canberra, but the history of our political system and the processes of government remain largely unchanged. This is a very useful primer for the political science student, not only in the Australian political system and its history, but in the machinations of Australian systems of government:


1              Introduction

2              Classical Democracy

3              Modern Democracy

4              Liberal Democracy

4.1          The Constitution

4.2          Revolutions

4.3          Liberalism

5              The Australian Constitution

5.1          Federations and Federalism

5.2          Reasons for federation

5.3          Federation – defined

5.4          The Constitution – defined

5.5          Changing the Constitution

5.6          The American model

5.7          The Senate – defined

5.8          Liberal democracy – defined

5.9          Parliamentary Bicameralism

5.10        Separation of powers

5.11        The Crown

5.12        What the Constitution does

5.13        Why federate?

6              The Westminster System

6.1          Constraint of powers

6.2          State and national constitutions

6.3          Westminster System

6.4          Executive-in-council

6.5          Conventions

6.6          S.96 – Financial assistance for the states

6.7          S.92 – Nationalisation

6.8          Constitutionalism

6.9          Upper house tenure

6.10        S.53 – The Senate and tax bills

6.11        S.57 – The double dissolution and joint sitting provision

6.12        S. 5 – The role of the Governor-General – Reserve Powers

6.13        What the Australian Constitution does NOT provide for

6.14        No Parliamentary Sovereignty in Australia

7              The Westminster System  p.II

7.1          Responsible Government

7.2          Appropriation bills

7.3          Motions of no confidence

7.4          Ministerial Responsibility

7.5          Collective Responsibility

7.6          Cabinet

7.7          Cabinet secrecy

7.8          FOI

7.9          The Westminster Model

7.10        Westminster Cabinet

7.11        Westminster – the Australian approach

7.12        The Australian Model

8              The Dismissal – 1

8.1          The 1975 Constitutional Crisis – 11 November 1975

8.2          How Parliamentary legislation is made

8.3          S.57 Australian convention

8.4          Political background to the crisis

8.5          Controversies in Australian Westminster practice

8.6          The 1975 Constitutional Crisis – Political background

8.7          72 and 74 elections – Senate obstructionism

8.8          Overuse of S.96 to force State compliance

8.9          S.15 – Replacement for casual Senate vacancy

9              The Dismissal – 2

9.1          1975 Summary

9.2          Constitution versus convention

9.3          Kerr prorogues the Parliament

9.4          Kerr’s argument

9.5          1977 – Change of Constitution

9.6          Use of S.96 to circumvent S.51

9.7          Problems of the Whitlam Government

9.8          High Court of Australia and pre-emptive      constitutional advice

9.9          Fundamentals in dispute

9.10        Changes since ‘75

10           The Public Service 1

10.1        The importance of the Public Service

11           The Public Service 2

11.1        As an example of Westminster Public Service

11.2        The difference between the public service and the public sector

11.3        Permanent Career Service

11.4        Statutory Authorities

11.5        Permanent departmental heads

11.6        The American model

11.7        Separation of powers

11.8        Hawke’s model – 1987

11.9        SES – Senior Executive Service

11.10     ‘Children Overboard’ & AWB affairs

11.11     Ministerial Advisers

11.12     The conventions of Westminster and the Public Service

12           The Public Service 3

12.1        Reforms to the Public Service by the Hawke government

12.2        Statutory Corporations

12.3        Problems with Public Service and Westminster: disparities in power

12.4        Reforms to the Public Service

13           Electoral Systems

13.1        Compulsory voting

13.2        The importance of elections:

13.3        Elections in Australia: legal basis:

13.4        allocation of seats

13.5        The Constitution and elections

13.6        The Electoral Act of 1918

13.7        Electoral boundaries

13.8        Gerrymandering and malapportionment

13.9        Preferential Voting (Alternative Vote). Majoritarian systems

13.10     Electoral boundaries

14           The Electoral System

14.1        Preferential voting

14.2        How to count a Preferential Vote Election

14.3        Two Party Vote (TPV)

14.4        Counting preferential elections: McMillan – 1972

14.5        The two-party vote versus the primary vote

14.6        Proportional Representation

14.7        Relationship of Representation to Vote: Proportional Systems

15           Electoral Behaviour

15.1        The Senate system

15.2        Half-Senate elections

15.3        Double dissolution

15.4        Hawke reforms – the Group Ticket Vote

15.5        Parties

15.6        How Family First’s Fielding won a Senate seat

15.7        Effect of minor parties on the major party vote

15.8        Electoral Behaviour

15.9        Voting Behaviour: Australian federal elections

15.10     Electoral behaviour and political sociology:

15.11     Social cleavage and the party system

15.12     The Mackerras election pendulum

16           Political Parties 1

16.1        Major parties – overview

16.2        Definitions

16.3        Three party system

16.4        Constitutional references

16.5        Sartori on factions

16.6        Key functions of the parties

16.7        Recruiting individuals to the organisation

16.8        Policy debate

16.9        The glorious workers’ party – The Australian Labor Party

16.10     The Australian Labor Party – History

16.11     ALP origins; key dates

17           Political Parties 2

17.1        British election results – May 2010

17.2        ALP national governments

17.3        The Australian Labor Party – organisational structure

17.4        ALP organisational politics: key features

17.5        ALP National Conference: evolution

17.6        Labor factionalism:

17.6        Labor and organisational politics

17.7        Labor and the policy debate

18           Political Parties 3

18.1        Labor – summing up

18.2        Labor’s three factions

18.3        What does Labor stand for?

18.4        The Liberal Party

18.5        The Liberal party: main themes

18.6        Evolution of the non-Labor parties

18.7        The creation of the Liberal party: process

18.8        The Liberal party organisation: key points

18.9        Liberal party: growth, consolidation and success

18.10     The Liberal party and intra-party politics

18.11     Liberal Party: contemporary factionalism

18.12     The Liberal party: party ideas

19           Liberal Party

19.1        The Liberal Party of Australia: Organisation

19.2        Geographic specificity – Free Traders v Protectionists

19.3        Affiliation of external associations

19.4        State Council and Federal Council

19.5        Federal and state directors

19.5        Party Room Meeting (aka ‘caucusing’)

19.6        Intra-party politics

19.7        division over philosophies

19.8        ‘wets’ and ‘dries’

20           Country Party

20.1        John ‘Black Jack’ McEwan

20.2        Joh Bjelke-Petersen

20.3        Lower house seats

20.4        Balance of power

20.5        Coalition

20.6        Doug Anthony

20.7        Tim Fischer

20.8        One Nation and the demise of the NP in Queensland

20.9        The Country Party: origins

20.10     The Country Party and Preferential Voting

20.11     Practical outcomes oriented

20.12     State intervention

20.13     Beginning of coalition politics

20.14     Significant dates

20.15     Country Party – Labor coalition in Victoria

20.16     Evolution of the Country Party; National Party name

20.17     The Nationals and the electoral system

20.18     Regional specificity

20.19     Coalition agreement

20.20     Themes and issues in internal party politics

20.21     Themes and issues in internal party politics

20.22     The Difficult Years

21           Minor Parties 1

21.1        General principles

21.2        Minor parties defined

21.3        Duverger’s Law

21.4        The ‘minor party’ system: some core themes

21.5        The Australian Democrats

21.6        The green parties: WA Greens, Tasmanian Greens, the Greens

21.7        One Nation: a special case

21.8        Minor parties: some conclusions

21.9        The Australian Democrats

21.10     The Democratic Labor Party (DLP)

22           Minor Parties

23           Interest groups

23.1        Interest Group politics: overview

23.2        Interest group theory: basic themes

23.3        Interest groups: typologies

23.4        Interest group politics and political theory: the state, democracy and power

23.5        Theories of interest groups and power: Pluralism

23.6        Pluralism’s Critics

23.7        Interests Groups – Conclusion

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1      Introduction

The USA was the first Liberal Democracy, followed closely by Australia.
The first form of Australian government was military (martial), autocratic, and hierarchic (Governor / soldiers).
By 1855 (marked by the end of ‘Transportation’), all the colonies (original states) had parliamentary government (Responsible Government).
The date of Federation was January 1st, 1901

The Civil Government was comprised of:

  • Institutions:
    1. Executive
    2. Legislature (parliament – representatives)
    3. Public Service
    4. Judiciary (courts)
    5. Military (Martial Law)

The three main themes covered by these lectures are:
1. Liberal Democracy
2. The Westminster System of government
3. Australia as a federation

2      Classical Democracy

Classical Democracy (Athens: 490BCE – 411BCE):
* Civic culture: Citizens involved in affairs of State
* Answerability and accountability of officialdom
* Citizenship as a social contract: rights in exchange for duties to state
* Direct Democracy –  made possible by the small size of the population and occurred when citizens voted directly on matters of governance (rather than through representatives)

* Alternative to autocratic states
Examples of non-democratic states are monarchic states and ecclesiastic states (e.g. Iran).
Democracy breaks down the power of the elites.
Communism is an example of a one party state.
WWI marked the decline/collapse of monarchy (e.g. Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, etc).
Mid 1600s:
* Beginning of rise of parliament as key institution of government in the Westminster system
* Beginning of battle between Parliament and the king for control of affairs of State (Britain)
So our system of government predates the rise of mass democracy.
Our current system is democratic because the right to vote (known as ‘universal suffrage’) was extended to men in the 1850s.
In many countries the idea of monarchy is antithetical to democracy.
In becoming democracies, many countries ousted their monarchy (e.g. Greece).

3      Modern Democracy

* in 1787 North America creates a system of democratic government

* Instead of monarchy, America has:
* a directly elected head of government – the President
* a directly elected parliament – the Congress
* an elected executive, and an elected legislature

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4      Liberal Democracy

4.1    The Constitution

(is a legal document):
1. is a rule book for parliament (establishes mechanism for national parliament)
2. divides responsibility for government between national (Commonwealth) and State governments. Neither of these can dissolve the other
3. is a product of a combination of two isms:
a. Conservatism – half the contributors were conservatives, suspicious of change
b. Liberalism – the other half were colonial liberals

4.2    Revolutions

* France – the common people displace the aristocracy
* US – overthrow of British crown; democratic government
* Industrial – the rise of “mass politics’ and ‘socialism’
The Industrial Revolution:
* changed social relationships
* spawned :
o communism
o political parties
o trade unions

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4.3    Liberalism

Liberals are about individuals. Socialists are about collectives.
Liberals are philosophically opposed to socialism and communism.
Our education system is based on John Stuart Mill’s liberal philosophy.
Liberalism goes hand in hand with ownership of private property.
Capitalism does not always go hand in hand with democracy; sometimes it is the opposite.
Elections are the foundation stones of Liberal democracies.
The Essence of liberal democracy:
* Constraint of powers – to protect individual rights
* Separation of powers

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5      The Australian Constitution

5.1           Federations and Federalism

Federations occur where previously autonomous, self-governing units come together and agree to create a national (central) government.

i.e. the six colonies or ‘original’ states (SA included the NT).

NZ participated in the first Constitutional convention (1890s) but decided against joining the Federation.

5.2           Reasons for federation

  • The six original colonies predate the national system of government
  • After 1855 the colonies were effectively small, independent, autonomous, self-governing countries in themselves.
  • They decided to create a central government
  • They agreed to cede certain policy making powers to the national government

Initially the intention (in formulating the Constitution) was that the STATES would be the most important level of government in Australia.

However, contemporary Australians consider the NATIONAL level to be the most important.

5.3           Federation – defined

Federation (an indissoluble separation and redistribution of power):

  • Systems designed to decentralise the power of government
  • Two levels of government:
    • national & sub-national (states)
    • coequal power
    • both have autonomy
    • neither can dissolve the other 

A Unitary system is one in which there is only one level of government – e.g. Britain, where Westminster has Parliamentary Sovereignty.

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5.4           The Constitution – defined

The Constitution – a legal document – does 3 things:                                          

  1. Provides the rulebook for operation of the national parliament
  2. divides the responsibility for government between the two levels of government
    • The ‘Division of powers’ – (part of) a legal document
  3. The power to interpret the Constitution is put into the hands of the Judiciary (the High Court of Australia) independent of Politics – derived from the British notion of Separation of Powers: the Court is independent of the Parliament.

Altering the federal Constitution is no simple matter.

However altering the constitution of the States is fairly straight forward; It is achieved by passing legislation through the parliament – if the government has a majority in both houses, this is easily achieved (note that the upper house in state parliament is not elected in the same manner as in the national parliament and, therefore, might well be controlled by the government).

e.g. Queensland (alone, of the states) has abolished its upper house.

5.5           Changing the Constitution

To change the national Constitution:

  1. The bill needs to pass both Houses (not a simple matter if the government lacks control of the Upper House)
  2. It needs to be approved by referendum

For a referendum to succeed, two things are required:                                                                 

  1. The proposal must receive a majority of votes
  2. It must also win in a majority of states

Out of about 47 or 48 referendum in the past, only 7 or 8 have succeeded and, for the best part, they were only minor changes.

NB the in-built protection of minority interests, i.e. the small states.

Small states (at the time of federation): Tassie, SA, WA, Qld.  Big states: Vic, NSW

Note, at the time of federation, the rivalry between Vic and NSW (read Melbourne v Sydney) necessitated the creation of ACT / Canberra (otherwise federation would not have occurred!).

Canberra is the product of Federation.

Nothing has changed! (Tension between big and small states – Melbourne and Sydney).

At the time of Federation (Jan 1, 1901):                                     The crucial time for the Federation movement was 1890 – 1900:

  • series of constitutional conventions attended by premiers of the colonies, ministers of the colonies, attorneys general and lawyers, colonial conservatives, and colonial liberals
  • already taken place has been a key transfer, based on the British model (not written), of parliament as a key institution of government
  • there is great interest in American federalism

The American system of federation becomes a model for Australian federation (based on similarities in our circumstances, particularly states)

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5.6       The American model

Borrowed American ideas:

  1. Courts: Supreme Court = High Court
  2. Parliament: Congress = Parliament
    • Two chambers:
      1. Upper: Senate = Senate
      2. Lower: House of Reps = House of Reps

5.7         The Senate – defined

The Senate: A directly elected upper house that will represent the federating states

The Senate causes huge amounts of grief in blocking legislation. This remains a problem to this day. (e.g. the 1975 constitutional crises precipitated by the senate blocking passage of supply bills)

Note that the Senate is NOT an anachronism (as critics have argued) – it is a POWERFUL house.

Despite huge changes in politics, the statement that ‘the Senate is there to represent the federating states’ is as important today as it was in the 1900s. It underlies the following important principle (that of liberal democracy):

5.8           Liberal democracy – defined

Liberal democracy is the coming together of two potentially contradictory ideas:

  1. That government exists at the behest of the people – the House of Representatives
  2. That it has a chamber that represents the federating states – the Senate

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5.9      Parliamentary Bicameralism

In 1855 – 1901, in the colonies, the prevailing view was that the upper house should be like that in Britain:

  • Conservative view point – constraining the potential of the lower house for radicalism in law making
  • a chamber to slow the legislative process, allowing conservative views to temper the potential for the ordinary people to make radical change

This view was transferred to the Australian Constitution (at least in intention):

  • Upper house as a brake, a means of check and balance on the lower house; a conservative view

The liberals and the conservatives, together, share a fear of ‘mob rule’.

Overriding principles which were instrumental in the constitutions of the colonies (pre-federation):

  • Government is formed in the lower houses
  • it is constrained by powerful upper houses
  • idea that courts are able to overturn things that the government do

All these precedents were replicated in the creation of the Australian Constitution

5.10           Separation of powers

NB:  Important notion of Separation of Powers (colonies predate the national constitution)

The Legislature and the Judiciary shall be separate (and also the Public Service)

(For further detail refer to Section 11.7 Separation of Powers)

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5.11   The Crown

The Crown is represented by the Governor-General

The national and state constitutions make NO reference to premiers or prime ministers or cabinet.

They go out of their way to describe the functions of governors or governors-general, but make no mention of premier or pm or cabinets. Why?

Because, as good ‘British’ citizens, we would understand Westminster Conventions, obviating the need to write them down – Britain does not have a written constitution.

The Executive-in-Council (equivalent to British Privy Council) technically rules Australia. This is the Governor in council with leaders of Parliament.

We assume (with the exception of Victoria – the only state to write it into their constitution) that when the Executive Council meets with the Governor, or Governor-General, that he or she will take the advice of the executive, and follow it.

This is because of the Westminster convention that the Crown will act on advice of the Parliament. This dates back to the 1600s and the fight between the Crown and the State. There is no legal basis, just slippery convention.

5.12        What the Constitution does

  • establishes Australia’s head of government – the Governor-General
  • establishes bicameral parliament, directly elected
  • provides for Judicial overview
  • outlines division of government powers
  • provides financial assistance for the states
  • provides for Inter State free trade
  • provides the mechanism for altering the Constitution

5.13        Why federate?

  1. Defence – a national approach
  2. Immigration (external affairs, international diplomacy)
  3. Intercolonial free trade

[ – Upholding the Australian Constitution Vol 17]

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6     The Westminster System

Recapping to date:

The 3 Big Statements:

  1. Australia is a Liberal democracy
  2. Australia is a federation
  3. Australia is a classic example of a Westminster system of government

We are a Modern Representative Democracy:        (Joseph Schumpeter definition)

  • We have popular sovereignty – those who govern us do so with our consent
  • we have attained consent through the electoral process which enjoys popular support
  • we are a liberal democracy, with many constraints on the power of government
    • the whole point of liberal democracy is to have a balance between the rule of the majority, and the protection of minority interests. The liberals are concerned about the “tyranny of the majority”.

6.1          Constraint of powers

Our system is full of mechanisms designed to constrain the power of the state.

We have a federal system with two levels of government: National government in Canberra, and state governments.

6.2         State and national constitutions

There are many constitutions:

  • each state has a constitution
  • there is a national constitution

Most important features of the national constitution:

  1. Provides rules and regulations for operation of the parliament
  2. Provides for the Division of Powers between the two levels of government: S. 51 of the Australian Constitution divides powers – Exclusive; Concurrent; and Residual.

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6.3           Westminster System

Unlike the Constitution, there are no written rules; no legal documents. There is a raft of opinions dating back to the 1700s.

The Australian Parliament has two major tomes, published by the two houses; guidelines for MPs on how the Westminster System operates.

There are lots of academic texts, but no constitutional rules for the Westminster System.

The essence of Westminster government revolves around the primacy of Westminster conventions. Conventions are very important to the operation of the Westminster System.

Conventions are unwritten rules of a constitutional practice. They are accepted, traditional, customary procedures for the operation of parliaments, and for the operation of parliamentary governance.

 6.4          Executive-in-council

Constitutionally, the Executive-in-Council consists of the PM and the Governor General in Canberra, and the Premier and the Governor in the states. This is the formal mechanism of government.

But the convention is that the Crown (in the form of the Governor or the Governor-General) does not run the state, the Premier or the Prime Minister does. The Crown only acts on the advice of the Prime Minister.

6.5         Conventions

There are heaps of minor conventions, including many anachronistic curiosities. For instance, when the Speaker (which is a favoured position of privilege) is elected, he feigns reluctance and is dragged to his new position by the MPs at his side. (This reflects the historic reality that he was liable to be beheaded when conveying unfavourable advice from the parliament to the monarch). Another instance is the presence of the parliamentary mace, which used to be used to control unruly members. These things serve as reminders of the origins of Parliament.

Conventions can evolve.

The system has evolved for over 300 years.

Written rules are fixed, but not conventions.

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[following a recap of what the Constitution does …]

6.6         S.96 – Financial assistance for the states

S.96 allows the federal government to make payments to the states on terms and conditions outlined by the Federal Parliament. Therefore S.96 allows Federal Parliament to make policies in areas it was never intended to legislate on.

We are in a S. 96 environment now (the university) – it was never intended for federal government to run higher education. It was intended that higher education be run by the states. But everything that goes on in the uni is paid for by the federal government, through S. 96.  Note also that the federal government is currently taking control of health, using S. 96

S.96 gives the government great financial power.

6.7        S.92 – Nationalisation

You cannot have socialism in Australia, at a federal level, because, in 1947, the High Court of Australia held that S. 92 does not allow the federal government to nationalise an industry.

At that time the federal Labor government tried to nationalise the bank of NSW. They were trying to turn the privately owned bank into public ownership. The legislation passed through both houses, and the Governor-General gave it Royal assent. But then the bank took it to the High Court of Australia, and, in 1947, in one of the most celebrated of High Court cases, they held that S. 92 did not allow for nationalisation.

S.92 is an important constraint on the ability of governments to govern. i.e. Liberalism par excellence!

State Labor governments CAN nationalise – there are no constitutional constraints on nationalisation by state governments. For example, the hydroelectric company, in Tasmania, which no longer exists, was originally private, before it was nationalised…

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6.8           Constitutionalism

The difference between Constitution and Constitutionalism:

  • A constitution is simply a written document
  • Constitutionalism is understanding the written document against the backdrop of Westminster – the culture, the practice, the conventions.

When you talk about Australian Constitutionalism, it is not sufficient to simply read the written document – you must understand the Westminster context as well.

Important constitutional creations:

Bicameral parliament:

  • Lower House: House of Representatives – three year terms
  • Upper House: the States’ house – six year terms.

6.9           Upper house tenure

Upper house MPs are deliberately meant to have twice the tenure of lower house MPs. Why?

Because the constitutional framers wanted to create a Senate that would not be under control of the PM

i.e. a mechanism to put a brake on the lower house and the power of the prime minister.

At a normal election, all of the House of Representatives go to election while half the Senate go.

The constitutional framers deliberately wanted the Senate to be a pain in the arse for the House of Reps.

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6.10          S.53 – The Senate and tax bills

S.53 is a very interesting section which says that the two houses of parliament are coequal in power, with one important exception. It says that the Senate may not initiate Tax bills (laws / legislation). This is one instance where the Constitution does codify (commit to writing) the Westminster convention. It further says that tax bills may not be amended by the Senate.

Just because the Constitution says the Senate can’t initiate or amend, does not mean that they can’t REJECT tax bills. (This is not mentioned in the Constitution). It is a Westminster convention that, if a government can’t get its taxation bill, and its supply bill (the law authorising the provision of government money), through the parliament, they are considered to be defunct and should resign.

The Australian Senate has the power to force the lower house to an early election by rejecting supply.

This is also the case in every Australian state except Queensland (who have abolished their upper house), and Victoria.  The Victorian constitution says that the only house that can vote on a tax matter is the Legislative Assembly. If the Legislative Council were to block the bill, the Premier would go to the Governor and say that the bill has passed the lower house and advise him or her to give consent, after which he or she would comply. The lower house is the house of government. In this way Victoria is different to all other states. This was the result of a 2003 amendment, prior to which it was the same as all other upper houses, with the right to refuse supply and force an early election.

6.11          S.57 – The double dissolution and joint sitting provision.

Also known as ‘the deadlock provision’.

S.57 provides a solution to a dispute between the two houses of parliament.

  • The government introduces a piece of legislation which is rejected.
  • After 3 months the bill is returned to the Senate
  • If the Senate rejects it again, the constitution says that the Governor-General may dissolve both houses of parliament and call a double-dissolution election. [There is no reference to the prime minister. In Australia we use the convention that the Governor-General only uses this provision if so advised by the PM. Section 57 is a mechanism for use by the PM]. At this point the prime minister can take all the twice rejected bills to the Governor-General and request that he issue writs for a double-dissolution election.
  • If the government is returned after the double-dissolution election, it has the right to re-introduce all those twice defeated bills to a joint sitting of the parliament – both houses sitting as one.
  • Because, by constitutional order, the House of Reps is twice the size of the Senate, and the government must control the House of Reps, they will probably succeed with these bills.
    • We have only ever had one joint sitting in 100 years of parliament, in 1974. Amongst those bills presented was the one that allowed the NT to vote in referendums. Also that which allowed the NT and the ACT to have Senate representation (the people of the NT and ACT had previously had no representation in the Senate).
    • Some of the bills that were passed in that joint sitting were later rejected by the High Court.

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6.12           S. 5 – The role of the Governor-General – Reserve Powers

There is an argument to be made that the G-G and the state governors are more powerful than the Queen, because there is an expectation, almost a conventional expectation, that if there are going to be major political disputes, especially disputes between upper and lower houses, somebody has to be able to deal with the dispute. That somebody is the governor or the Governor-General.

The principle of the governor, or the Governor-General, intervening in a dispute “to preserve government” is sometimes referred to as ‘Reserve Power’:

The principle that the vice-regal heads of State have an obligation to preserve good governance of the Australian colonies, and that they should intervene in the case of a dispute.

Most liberal-democracies have a head of state, a President, with a residual power; that they can become the final avenue of appeal; to be the final resolver of a fundamental political dispute.

6.13      What the Australian Constitution does NOT provide for

It does not make any reference to the Westminster System. Why not? They debated it in the constitutional conventions in Bendigo (read about it in the Collected Works of Quentin, Quick, and Garran – the Annotated Australian Constitution), so why not write it down?

“Is there any need delegates?” “No, there is not. We are all good Britishers together – we understand how the Westminster System works”.

The constitutional framers deliberately avoided writing it down. Why? Because Britain does not have a written constitution. It does not have a single document that outlines the constitution. They have a range of laws, conventions, and practises. So the feeling was that we don’t have to do that in Australia. The primary reason for the Constitution was to divide powers between the Commonwealth and the states.

It makes no reference to cabinet government, or to the prime minister, which is a terrible omission as both are crucial to government in the Westminster System.

There is no explicit declaration of citizen’s rights – we don’t have a Bill of Rights. Liberties are assumed to be covered by the common law (transferrable British common law).

There is no reference to Party Politics, with the exception of S. 15, which was amended by referendum in 1977. (S. 15 is the amendment to the way in which casual Senate vacancies occur).

Some of the key features of what we consider to be at the core of Australian politics – cabinet government, the prime minister, party politics – are not in the Constitution.

6.14      No Parliamentary Sovereignty in Australia

In Westminster the British Parliament can legislate on whatever it likes, only constrained by politics (what it can get away with at the next election). This is not the case in Australia where the national parliament cannot legislate on whatever it wants. It is constrained by S. 51 of the Constitution, and it is constrained by the High Court of Australia. If the High Court of Australia decides that what has been legislated is outside the Constitution, it will nullify the legislation.                                   Ask Ben Chifley.

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7         The Westminster System – part II

7.1        Responsible Government

  • Government is answerable to the parliament
  • Parliament is answerable to the voters

Responsible Government is measured by two things:

  1. Does it have a majority of support in the lower house?
    • (The government must come from the lower house)
  2. That a government can get its budget and supply bill through. Budget = tax + supply. Supply is the legal authority for the government to spend money – very important.

If you are no longer a Responsible Government then, by Westminster convention, you must advise the Crown and resign or, in the case of Australia, expect the Crown to sack you. If you are the premier or prime minister, you should go to the governor, or governor-general, and say “I can no longer govern. I advise you to call on the leader of the opposition to see if he or she can form a government. If they can’t form a government then let the voters decide”.

[In response to a student’s question as to whether the government could call a double dissolution to resolve the deadlock, Nick answered as follows:

S.57 is not really meant for a budget. It’s intended for ordinary bills. Between 1996 and 2004, Howard’s government, with the Democrats holding the balance of power in the Senate, tried to pass unfair dismissal legislation 27 times. So just because it’s rejected twice doesn’t necessarily mean a double dissolution must follow. by convention it’s one of those sneaky little powers that the PM can use. (And it was highly unlikely that Whitlam would have won an election at that time. As it was, when a double-dissolution election was held shortly afterwards, the Fraser government had a land-slide -my own note). What makes 1975 so controversial is that the Governor-General used section 57 without the PM having advised him to do so.]

Also associated with Responsible Government are other forms of answerability:

 Ministerial Responsibility:

Government is made up of Ministers of the Crown. These are members of parliament who have been sworn in by Her Madge, in Britain, or the Governor-General in Canberra. They usually come from the side of politics that has the majority of seats in the lower house. Westminster systems lend themselves to party politics.

Even by the 1700s, in Britain, party politics – groups of people who band together to make political parties – were coming though. Today is a bit different: we have ‘rigid discipline’ parties. Currently we have three in the lower house – Labor, Liberals, and Nationals

The party with the majority of seats forms government. The leadership group (leader, deputy leader, etc) of that party becomes the Government. We do not vote for a PM directly (he or she is only voted for directly by their own constituency). We vote for parties. Westminster systems are dominated by disciplined political parties.

Who becomes Prime Minister? The leader of the party that wins the majority.

The difference between the Ruddmeister and Abbot:

they are as

  • smart as each other
  • Catholic as each other
  • conservative as each other
  • dull as each other

The only difference is that Rudd leads the Labor Party and Abbot, the Liberal.

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The cabinet will be the senior ministers. The leadership will be invested with the power and authority to be Ministers of the Crown. Under the Westminster system this means they get to do two things:

  1. They get to initiate policy:
    • A minister is given a ministerial portfolio. Portfolios are usually divided along specific government funding lines: e.g. Treasury, Defence, Education, Health, etc.
  2. They become responsible for the Public Service department that manages that portfolio. If something goes wrong the minister is responsible. If there is a breach of Ministerial Responsibility, by Westminster convention, a minister should resign or expect to be sacked by the prime minister.

Ministerial Responsibility is a form of answerability

The Government comes from the Parliament. To survive it must first win an election. It is then considered ‘Responsible’ as long as it commands majority support in the popular house – the lower house, the House of Reps / The House of Commons.

(House of Reps is the one decked out in green.)

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2 or 3 important points:                                                                                 It is not uncommon for a government to lose the vote on some pieces of legislation. This is especially so in parliaments where the numbers are very close in the lower house.

So the doctrine of Responsible Government focuses primarily on:

7.2         Appropriation bills

  1. The fate of budget legislation, and in particular the bills that go through a parliament that authorise government expenditure, technically called ‘appropriation’ bills – bills of parliament that, once passed, will become law, enabling the government to pay for things, such as the army, universities, police, etcetera.

Under Westminster, if a government can’t get its appropriation bills through the parliament it is no longer ‘Responsible’ and should expect to go. It should either resign or expect the head of state to move it on.

In Britain, if the government can’t get its appropriation bill through the House of Commons it would be in a political crisis – it would no longer have the numbers in the House of Commons – and the PM would then go to her Maj., resign, and ask her to invite the leader of the opposition to see if they could form a government. If he or she replies that they can’t then, by Westminster convention, the House of Commons will be dissolved and have a fresh election.

The bottom line is that if there is a doubt about Responsibility, it must be resolved by the People. But this must happen via the process. The Crown first checks with the Opposition. This is because of the principle that all possible avenues (from the last election) must be explored before proceeding to a fresh election. This is straight forward in Britain because only one house is directly elected. It is complicated in Australia because we also have an elected upper house.

The possibility of not getting appropriation bills through Australian Parliament is real.

This is all the more so if, as is almost always the case, the government of the day does not control the Senate.

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7.3         Motions of no confidence

  1. If the Opposition moves a motion of no confidence against the government, and it succeeds, the government would no longer be ‘Responsible’ and would have to resign.

If the Rudd government tries to get a health bill through and is defeated, it doesn’t mean that we should go to election. If they can’t get a budget through, it’s different – a crisis. Then there’s a problem as to whether it is a ‘Responsible’ government or not.

The electoral process is important, but so is what happens in the lower house.

How could a motion of no confidence succeed?

Here’s a hypothetical example:

Tasmania has elections resulting in the election of 11 Liberals, 10 Labor members, and 4 Greens. The Greens, therefore, have the balance of power.

The Liberals secure the promise of the Greens to give them support (or to form a coalition) and so ensure a majority. Whenever bills are presented the Greens support the Libs and the bills are passed. However, a year or so later the Greens tire of the Libs and promise the Labour Party that they will withdraw their support for the government. Providing the Labour Party agree to certain Green concessions, they will oust the Liberal premier.

In the next session of the Tasmanian lower house, the Labor leader asks the Speaker to suspend Standing Orders, as he wants to move a motion of no confidence. The Speaker, being a Liberal, refuses. Consequently, there is a division. The four Greens vote with the ten Labor members. 14 is a majority in a 25 seat house. Then follows the motion of no confidence, which is carried. What happens next is NOT a fresh election. Next, the former premier, just defeated in the house, goes to the Governor and says “I no longer have the confidence of the house; my advice to you is to call on the leader of the Opposition to ask if they can form a government. The Governor complies, the leader of the Opposition replies in the affirmative, and the government changes, even though there has been no election.

This can happen. It is very rare in national politics because the House of Reps is so large that, with the preferential voting system, it’s rare for the Government to be in a minority position. But it did happen between 1939 and 1942. In 1939 the United Australia Party had a minority government. There were two Independents, who supported it. (Joe Lyons was PM – he died in office and was replaced by Robert Menzies, when he was a young smart-arse from Melbourne uni – not really liked in the UAP, but their best and brightest. He had a terrible time of it cos half the party people disliked him; they ending up just arguing with each other. And in 1939 there was a bit of a problem happening. It was WWII and the Japs were actually bombing the joint. So a major problem developed. The two Independents said “Bugger this” and crossed the floor – went to the cross-benches and supported Labor. That was how John Curtin became the first war-time Labor PM, even though there was no election.

It can happen sometimes: a Government changes without an election. It’s simply a reconfiguration of the numbers on the floor of the lower house. It doesn’t happen often in the national government. That described may well be the last time.

The UAP was the forerunner of the Liberal Party. If you understand why half the UAP didn’t like Bob Menzies, then you are half way to understanding the internal politics of the Liberal Party. They still haven’t got away from it. (Melbourne – Sydney tension).

Bob Menzies didn’t lose the leadership of the UAP (contrary to the ramblings of some political journos). He said “I’ve had enough of this”, and resigned, and the Country Party took over. (When the Country Party – now Nats – takes over, we’re in big trouble. It also took over when Harold Holt disappeared. Bob Menzies resigned. Political journos said “Menzies – what a dud. We’ll never see him again”! He later became the longest serving Australian PM.

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7.4        Ministerial Responsibility (recap)

It is Westminster convention that when you become a Minister of the Crown you must be part of the Government.

The Government is made up of ministers – sitting on the Speaker’s right, on the front-benches.

The Minister is responsible for policy, and is in charge of his or her Public Service department.

There is a price to be paid for ministership, being part of the Executive, having a position on the front-bench: if something goes wrong you are expected to take the blame – full responsibility – you should resign.                                                                                                                                                       [The Westminster system is a Winner takes All system. An adversarial system – there are Shadow Ministers to match the Government Ministers, but Opposition is worth nothing. When they take the floor, everyone yawns. They have nothing to do but change their leader.]

The Public Service is a really important part of Government. Those hopeless in Opposition can become apparently brilliant in government.

e.g. Paul Keating: Lots of Labor luminaries still love him. But (in Nick Economou’s opinion) he was an unmitigated disaster. He suffered one of the worst defeats that Labor has ever experienced. A couple of Labor leaders that have really copped it: Herb Evatt copped it when he lost his marbles. Arthur Caldwell copped it when he opposed the Vietnam war, at a time when everyone favoured bombing Vietnam back to the middle-ages. Gough Whitlam copped it in 1975 and ’77. But Paul Keating copped it too – so he was a disaster.

Paul Keating is often considered one of the greatest treasurers Australia has ever had.  Peter Costello is often said to be the greatest treasurer we’ve had. Costello was a law student. He was a minor solicitor of some sort in an industrial relations case. Paul Keating left school at 15. His only job, before being elected to parliament at the ripe old age of 23 or 24, was managing a rock band in western Sydney. Ugh. Imagine what that would have been like (the band). He had no idea. He was never trained in Economics. So how do these guys become so brilliant? Because their Public Servants make them so. They are a crucial part of government.

It is important to be a minister.

It is important to be in charge of a ministerial department. The double-edge of the sword is that if something goes wrong in your department (Mr Garrett and insulation?) the Westminster convention is that you should resign. However it doesn’t happen that way in practice. This is an instance where ‘party politics’ intervenes and mitigates a Westminster convention. It is not often that a PM will stand in front of Parliament, or a community, and say “my minister’s a dud. He’s been responsible for the burning down of several houses in Queensland, and I’m sacking him”.

How would the Herald-Sun report Mr Rudd sacking Peter Garrett on the grounds that he’d stuffed up the insulation program?

Would it be (next to a picture of Nick Riewoldt on the front page) screaming headline:


No! More like:


PMs and premiers know this, so they tend not to apply the full letter of the law.

It is both attractive and annoying (to the lecturer), about the Westminster system, that there are all these conventions that provide behavioural benchmarks – this is the way the thing is supposed to work – and that they are never really met, and one of the reasons for this is because disciplined party politics intervenes.

A PM, or premier, with someone like Garrett, will defend him. Rudd has defended him all year, first by saying nothing, then by shilly-shallying, and finally, the ultimate: “it was my fault, says the PM”. So the Westminster convention is not respected, but we need to know that it’s there because it’s a benchmark of behaviour; a standard.

Ministerial Responsibility is very important because it has important implications for the complicated relationships between ministers and the Public Service, a very important part of modern government.

[Westminster primer seminars are provided to them because…] We find these days that so few Public Servants have done first year politics that they have no idea what a Westminster Public Service is. They have never heard of Ministerial Responsibility and they don’t even know how Parliament works. Yet they are considered to be a vital part of the system.

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7.5          Collective Responsibility

Westminster convention says that when you become a member of the ministry (part of the government) you are bound by the decisions made by your colleagues.

In other words, decisions made when the full ministry meets (which is not very often) or when the Cabinet meets (which is frequently). Premiers and PMs will select half of their ministers to be Senior Ministers and they will meet all the time – these Senior Ministers are known as the Cabinet.

7.6        Cabinet

Cabinet is made up of half the ministry – the Senior Ministers.

When, occasionally, the Premier or the PM has a meeting with all the ministers, it is called a meeting of the Full Ministry. Whether it is a decision from a cabinet meeting or a full ministry meeting, all ministers are bound to that decision. They are bound to agree to the collective decision. Ministries and Cabinets can sometimes disagree about decisions – they will argue between themselves – but once a decision is made, all ministers are bound by that decision. If, as a minister, you cannot support the collective decision, you must resign, or expect to be sacked by the PM or premier.

We have had past instances of this, particularly during the Hawke years:

The federal government has constitutional power for airports. When the Hawke government had to grapple with the issue of a building a new runway, for Sydney Airport, abutting working class suburbs, all of which were represented by Labor MPs, and some of whom were in the Ministry, a couple of ministers disagreed with the decision to go ahead with the new runway, and resigned from the Ministry as a consequence. They felt they had to be able to go to their local constituents and say they supported them in opposing the new runway. But this is rare.


  1. You are bound by collective decisions
  2. This is a doctrine that allows for secrecy in government

[This is contrary to our democratic instincts, which would seem to require open government.]

The Westminster assumption is that in order to make a good decision, the government needs to be able to argue amongst itself about policy, but this is only possible if the decision making process is made in camera.

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7.7        Cabinet secrecy

The Westminster system bestows secrecy on Cabinet, and ministerial, decision making.

You are a minister and you come out of the office. You ring Glen Milne; he’s not in his office – he’s at the bar! You ring Laurie Oakes, or Paul Austin, or whoever. You say “this is what happened in Cabinet, Laurie, mate; he said this… and that…” If it is discovered that you have had this conversation you will be sacked for breaching Collective Responsibility. Technically, you should never talk about decision making – EVER.

The High Court of Australia has found that cabinet documents, that is papers given to ministers, from their departments, helping them make decisions on policy, are also confidential. Under Australian Law they cannot be released for 30 years.

Public Service – The Westminster Public Service is a separate body. (Separation of Powers)

7.8      FOI

[In response to a question from a student re freedom of information act]

It’s a piece of legislation that has been put together to try to get around the problem of Collective Responsibility. When in opposition, Opposition leaders are fervent supporters of FOI. They know there’s something wrong somewhere… BUT remember the Westminster system: When in Opposition you have no contact with the Public Service whatsoever. There is one body only to whom the Public Service is answerable: NOT the Parliament; not the Press; not the Courts. ONLY the Ministers (in theory). Oppositions don’t like this – they want to know what’s going on. They use the liberal-democratic argument to justify reform. When we get into government we’ll bring in FOI – everything will be open… But what happens in practise?

[Ted Bailleau, now] What about FOI, Ted? I’m in favour! Sure you are. Are you really? – Just like Jeff: In Opposition, he was going to open everything up. But when he became Premier, getting information was like trying to get blood out of a stone…

One of the benefits of government is that you’re entitled to make decisions behind closed doors.

  • Conventions are crucial to the operation of the Westminster system
  • relationship to the Crown: the bottom line is that it only acts on the advice of Ministers – the PM or the Premier. The assumption being that the Parliament is sovereign, and that the Premier, or PM, is the head of government.
  • Westminster parliaments are bicameral:
    • they have a (popular house) lower house – the house of Government
    • they have an upper house – the house of review

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7.9          The Westminster Model

The Crown is linked to the Executive. The Executive is linked to the Parliament. The Parliament is linked to the People.

Professor Hugh Emy calls the model of Responsible Government a system of answerability and accountability. The whole thing is democratic because it is held together by each level being answerable to the level below.

The parliament is the most important institution in the Westminster system.

7.10          Westminster Cabinet

In a Westminster system, ministers of the government are Ministers of the Crown, who must be Members of Parliament.

The head of Cabinet is the Prime Minister or the Premier. Under Westminster there is an assumption that the PM is ‘first among equals’ in his or her cabinet. There is no pecking order. But this is not how it operates in the real world where the PM is very powerful.

The Cabinet = Senior Ministers of the Crown, sometimes called Senior Cabinet, or Inner Cabinet – they are the Government.

Cabinet initiates policy – parliament debates policy.

  1. Isn’t it true that MPs can initiate legislation? Private members bills; conscience voting?

Of course they can. BUT nothing will happen if the Cabinet doesn’t agree.  A private member can pass as many bills as he or she would like but if Cabinet says ‘we are not going to consider them’ then they are howling against the moon, farting against the wind, wasting everybody’s time.

Sometimes private member’s bills get up. Sneaky PMs say ‘that’s a controversial thing, with which I kinda agree, but gee, it will divide my cabinet colleagues. I know what I’ll do – I’ll get some dork back-bencher MP to do it. That way if it goes down in a screaming heap, it will forever be known as ‘the Kevin Andrews euthanasia bill’ – hypothetical. (In this case it actually got through). (Kevin Andrews was rewarded by being made a minister – and a fair-minded minister, too!)

The same with conscience votes. Why do conscience votes happen? Because the Government allows them to. Who decides what will be a conscience vote and what won’t be a conscience vote? The PM. Cabinet dominates the process because of the connection between ‘part politics’ and the way Westminster parliaments operate, but it can use party discipline to force the issue.

The assumption is:

Cabinet initiates policy – Parliament debates policy, and Cabinet must have the confidence of the Parliament to govern.

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7.11       Westminster – the Australian approach

  • applicability of Westminster conventions
  • At the centre of government is the cabinet, and the PM is the head of government
  • We have bicameralism, but we have a problem with an elected upper house
  • The British Parliament is a sovereign parliament but the Australian Parliament does not have parliamentary sovereignty: It can’t legislate on whatever it chooses; it is constrained by the Constitution, especially Section 51. If it steps outside of the constitutional authority, the High Court will raise the off-side flag.
  • We have a written constitution that tries to bring Westminster and federalism together. (Some writer describes our system as Washminster).
  • Contradictory conventions – our written document makes no reference to the PM but is full of references to the Governor-General.

 7.12        The Australian Model

Section 61 says that the Crown – the Governor-General – is the head of government. (position currently held by Quentin Bryce).

Section 62 talks about the Executive in Council. It is a ritualistic body – just a symbolic ritual for the PM to meet with the Governor-General and the Executive in Council and say ‘Your Excellency, please approve these things that your parliament has done’.

The Government – the PM, the Cabinet, and the Full ministry are drawn from both houses; the House of Representatives, and the Senate. You can have a Senator as PM. There are no constitutional constraints to a Senator being PM. The main reason that it doesn’t happen is basically political. If you don’t control the Senate, every day would begin with the Opposition moving a motion of no confidence against you in the Senate. How soul destroying would that be? They couldn’t get anywhere. The Senate can pass no confidence motions until the cows come home, but the house of government is the House of Reps.

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 8   The Dismissal – 1

‘Fundamentals in Dispute’ – Hugh Emy’s description of the 1975 Constitutional crisis.

8.1           The 1975 Constitutional Crisis – 11 November 1975

It’s important to get a sense of the political debate at that time for a couple of reasons:

  1. to get a feel for why this was such a dramatic period in Australian politics
  2. to try to sort out some of the confusing issues associated with the 1975 crisis

It was a crisis in the working of the Constitution, arising from the fact that we, as a nation state, have not resolved one of the ‘fundamentals in dispute’ with our system. That fundamental is in whether it is possible to bring together a Westminster system, based on the notion of parliamentary sovereignty, and a federalist system. And the Australian experience of 1975 would suggest that it is not. But we still haven’t resolved the problem.

At one level the ’75 crisis is a simple problem, the essence of which is found in S. 57 of the Constitution – that is that there was an unresolvable deadlock between the two core institutions of our system – the Senate and the House of Reps. A fundamental piece of legislation – the appropriation bill, also known as the Supply bill, was blocked. Gough Whitlam’s Labor government had a majority in the House of Rep’s where the bill passed without any problem. But when it went to the Senate, which was not under Labor control, they refused to consider it.

The Whitlam Government could not get its appropriation bill through the Senate.

What the Senate had done was a little bit tricky. We’re aware that S. 53 says that the Senate can’t initiate or amend budget bills, but the Senate didn’t do either of these things. But it didn’t even reject the bill. (The High Court of Australia has, in the past, been asked to look into the Senate’s power to reject Supply, and has decided that the Senate can reject Supply if they so choose. What would happen then? Presumably the Government could send it back 3 months later and, if defeated a second time, presumably invoke S. 57, or, perhaps the PM, on hearing that the Senate is not passing the Supply bill, would opt to go to the G-G to request the Parliament be dissolved.

But what the Senate did in ’75 was to refuse to consider the bill.

It was a procedural motion. They refused to debate it – they would not allow the first reading of the bill.

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8.2           How Parliamentary legislation is made

Standard procedure – the way modern Westminster parliaments, dominated by disciplined political parties, operate:

[The government of the day knows it has a majority in the House of Reps; the cabinet knows it can get its legislature through the lower house. The situation in the upper house may be a little more tricky.]                                                                                                                                                                           A parliamentary bill begins as a decision in Cabinet or the ministry. Cabinet will decide what its policy will be. It will then instruct the Public Service to draft the necessary legislation. The Public Service (Attorney General’s department ?) drafts the legislation. Then the minister responsible (e.g. if it’s health policy it would be Nikola Roxon) will introduce the bill to Parliament. The first reading is undertaken by the Clerk of the Parliament, by simply reading the title of the bill. It then goes to the second reading. The second reading is where the responsible minister will outline the Government’s reasons for bringing the bill and the shadow Minister will outline the Oppositions position. This is the important reading – the one to pay attention to if you want to understand where the government is coming from.

The bill then goes to the committee stage. At committee, all the members of the parliamentary chamber (the House of Reps) attend. They debate the bill, clause by clause. They will vote on each clause as they go by. This is the time when the Opposition can move amendments to the bill. Of course this has no great consequence as the Government has the numbers. Sometimes the Opposition will try to stall the process by saying ‘here’s some amendments’. But, having the numbers, the Government can suspend all this. They can ‘railroad’ or ‘fast-track’ stuff through. They can apply what’s called ‘the guillotine’ – stopping the debate and getting the thing rushed through the House of Reps.

Another thing that can happen is that the Government can allow the bill to go to the House of Reps Standing Committee, where it would be looked at in detail. Most House of Rep committees aren’t particularly important as they are controlled by the Government. Where the committee system gets interesting is in the upper house, the Senate, because the Government doesn’t control proceedings there. Once the bill is approved at Committee, it then passes to the second chamber – it goes to the Senate for review.

This is where it gets tricky as the Government rarely has the numbers. If the Government do control the Senate (as Howard did after 2004), then the same ‘rubber-stamping’ exercise as occurred in the lower house, repeats in the upper house.

In recent times the Senate has been a benign institution; the likes of the Australian Democrats (R.I.P.), and Independents like Nick Xenophon, and Stephen Fielding – jolly good chaps that they are – may or may not pass things; may or may not do a deal, negotiate. But in 1975, Mr Whitlam faced a hostile Senate, controlled by the two major non-Labor parties – the Liberals and the Country Party (the coalition). This was where the problems started.

The situation for Rudd, Howard, Keating, and Hawke, was very different to that faced by Whitlam. Hawke, Keating, Howard, and Rudd have all dealt with Senates where minor parties held the balance of power, and were able to negotiate, so the Senate has been seen by this younger generation as a benign institution; an institution for good, constraining the power of the Executive. Mr Whitlam didn’t have the option for negotiation; he was against the Liberal and National parties, who would vote NO to everything – bloody-minded obstructionism.

When the bill goes to the Senate the process begins again – the Clerk of the Senate gives the first reading.  Then a minister in the Senate, representing the responsible minister (e.g. the minister representing the health minister in the Senate – maybe Penny Wong?), will give the second reading speech, which is usually the same as the speech which was given in the House of Reps. Then it goes to Committee. Committee in the Senate is a tricky one because the opposition parties will hold the numbers. This is where the Government will negotiate with the minor parties and sometimes the minor parties will move amendments; the government will agree to the amendments and the bill will pass.

When the bill is amended by the Senate, a couple of things can happen:

First, it goes back to the House of Reps as amended. If the House of Reps accepts the amended bill (they vote and say ‘yep’), the bill goes to the G-G, at the Executive-in-Council, gets approval, and becomes law. If it fails, three months elapses, and it fails again, then S. 57 may be invoked.

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Important thing to remember here:

8.3           S.57 Australian convention

By Australian convention, even though the Constitution doesn’t mention the PM, and, in S. 57, it says that the G-G has the right to invoke S. 57, the Australian convention is that it’s the PM who decides when S. 57 should be used.

This is the major controversy in the 1975 crisis.

In 1975, G-G, Sir John Kerr, unilaterally used S. 57 to dissolve the Australian Parliament. He unilaterally dissolved the Parliament. Up until then, and to this day since, the convention is that it’s the PM who has the prerogative to request that S. 57 be used.

Researchers consult the second reading speeches if they wish to find out what the government was thinking about.

[In answer to a student’s q. about the ability of minor parties to respond] The official Opposition has the right of reply. The minor parties don’t have any input at the second reading stage. They get their chance at the committee stage. However, if the party whips, the leader of government business in the Senate, and the leader of Opposition business allow, someone who holds the balance of power, such as Bob Brown for the Greens, for example, may be allowed to make a speech, if they so desire.

8.4           Political background to the crisis

The second reason was that there were lots of red herrings in the debate.

It was simply about an unresolvable dispute between the two houses of parliament.

But, for many, it was more than just that. For some, there was talk about Mr Whitlam acting illegally: What about ‘the loans affair’? What about middle-eastern money lenders? What about treasurer, Jim Cairns, falling in love with his parliamentary secretary and failing to act as treasurer any longer (another red-herring)? What about the G-G allegedly taking advice from the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick? Isn’t that a constitutional matter? No, no, no. All of these are political red herrings, swimming around the core constitutional issue which relates to the problems you have in trying to link Westminster with a federal system.

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Telling the difference between shit and clay:

8.5           Controversies in Australian Westminster practice

  • Party politics in the parliament. When the Australian Constitution was written, in the 1890s, we did not have today’s rigid party discipline system. So the constitutional framers wrote the constitution for a very different parliament to that of the 1970s. This is particularly relevant to the Senate. The framers intended the Senate as the states’ house, but the reality is that the Senate replicates the party politics of the lower house. Australian senators don’t sit as state representatives; they sit together in party blocks. So we have party politicisation of the Australian Parliament in both houses.
  • Debate about the power of the Cabinet, especially the power of the PM. Some have argued that the rigid discipline of party politics has undermined the parliament’s role as a debater of policy. Why? Because MPs are not independent; they are party representatives and will do as told by the party. The argument is that this goes against what parliament was intended to be, which was a chamber to debate the policy being formulated by Cabinet. The extension of this argument is that Westminster parliaments are characterised by what is called the ‘Tyranny of the Executive’. This means that Cabinet is supreme, and the Supremo in the Cabinet is the PM. Rigid discipline party politics, members responding not as representatives of people but of parties, loyal to the party in government, and loyal to the party leadership, equates to a situation where parliament is simply a rubber stamp of the Government – Tyranny of the Executive – a major problem in Westminster parliaments.
  • In the Australian Westminster practice we have the problem that the Constitution sets up two houses with different intentions: representing the will of the people in the House of Representatives, and the will of the states in the Senate. The reality is that the Senate replicates the party politics of the lower house.
  • The Power of the PM or Premier (who’s in charge?) Who has executive power in Australia? The Westminster system says that is the PM. The Australian Constitution says it is the G-G. The reality says that it is the PM.

The first constitutional crisis is the irreconcilability of the House of Reps and the Senate.

The second crisis is that two people claim to be the head of Executive power: Officially, the G-G (from the written document), and by assumption, based on the Westminster model, the PM.

  • The Australian Parliament does not have parliamentary sovereignty. There are severe constraints on what it is able to legislate upon (S. 51).

Finally, Westminster or Washminster (Federal)?

We expect in general terms that Westminster conventions will apply in Australia:

  • we expect Cabinet to be the centre of Government, and the PM as the head of Government
  • we have a bicameral system like Britain, but unlike Britain, our upper house is elected
  • We have a written constitution which limits the power of government
  • And we have the combination of federalism and Westminster

And we also have a problem with our constitution:

S61 Executive power – The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen….

S62 Federal Executive Council – There shall be a Federal Executive Council to advise the Governor-General in the government of the Commonwealth  [advise, not tell, but advise],  and the members of the Council shall be chosen and summoned by the Governor-General and sworn as Executive Councillors, and shall hold office during his pleasure.   [my underlining]

“You dickheads thought that the people selected the government – eh? eh? Is that what you thought? The voters think that they elect the government, don’t they? BUT that’s not what our core document says. Look, these are really powerful words. They are powerful words. They come back to haunt us in 1975. The Governor-General shall choose the ministers of the Crown, and they shall hold office during his pleasure. Nothing about elections. Nothing about prime ministers. Nothing about parliament, is there? We don’t have a democracy – we have some sort of guideautocracy”


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The Fun Stuff:

8.6           The 1975 Constitutional Crisis – Political background

Gough Whitlam: In 1972 the Australian Labor Party is elected to government. The ALP had spent the years from 1949 to 1972 in opposition. 23 years in opposition – a very long time. Federally the Labor Party looked like they would never be elected. The coalition dominated Australian politics. So, in 1972, when Whitlam brought Labor to government, it was a very exciting time.  {shows the 1972 election campaign political campaign clip – features Gough in lots of ‘masculine’ pursuits – rowing, in the army, and lots with Margaret – why was this so? Because Gough, educated man, former public servant, private school educated, university educated, in a party full of boof-headed union thugs and former train drivers and what have you – he really stood out as bit of an artistic Renaissance man. He used to quote Latin at People: nil illegitimum sum carborundum – don’t let the bastards grind you down – that sort of stuff – so the party’s secretariat ran market research; asked what people thought of Gough – what they got back was that some were worried about Gough’s sexuality. A man, not interested in football, not interested in beer, and able to cite Latin, and coming from Canberra – how could you be sure about his masculinity? So to address this problem the ad agency ensured there were lots of piccies of Gough both butch and heterosexual. There is a bitter irony in this ad. Those old enough will recognise lots of the participants as being members of the ‘arts’ community … [Classic It’s Time Campaign Advertisement – ALP 1972 – from YouTube].

So Labor came to power with quite an urgent reform program. They’d been in opposition a long time, so when they came to power, wanted to do lots. Whitlam was very much what we call today a policy womp? – he was very interested – you can read these thing in his own book called The Whitlam Government 1972-75, also known in the trade as ‘I am the Greatest by Gough Whitlam’, a 700 page extravaganza, the interesting thing about which one of the interesting things – he was interested in urban and regional planning of all things…

8.7           72 and 74 elections – Senate obstructionism

Important thing to remember about both 1972 and 1974 was that whilst Labor won the contest for the lower house, they failed to win a majority in the Senate. The 1972 election saw all of the House of Representatives elected and half of the Senate, as you’d expect. The other half of the Senate had been elected in 1969 (an election which the coalition had won).  The Whitlam government started to legislate – tried to get its bills through the Senate – and it could not legislate. Every bill that went before the Senate was knocked back. In 1974, the then Liberal leader, Billy Snedden, threatened Whitlam – he said if you don’t call an early election, I will block supply, I won’t let your budget through and I’ll force an election. now at the time Mr Whitlam and the Labor Party were still relatively popular with the electorate, shown by the opinion polls, and Mr Snedden was not quite so popular; he was a bit insecure – he’d been fighting off some leadership challenges. There was growing resentment toward the Whitlam government. Things started to go wrong in Australia; there were economic problems; unemployment which had been unknown since WWII, was starting to rise, and we also started to have a serious inflation problem. This was the beginning of a period of ‘stagflation’ – high unemployment, high inflation, low growth, and yet the inflation rate was indicating that really Australia should have been booming.  So we’re running into economic problems. Mr Whitlam had no interest in economics whatsoever. He was immediately caught up in a whole lot of arguments with his treasurer, who wanted Australia to change economic tack, but Mr Whitlam said no – he was in the business of making big social change.

In 1974, Mr Whitlam called Billy Snedden’s bluff, and instead of Snedden blocking Supply, Mr Whitlam went to Governor-General of the time, Sir Paul Hasluck, with four pieces of legislation that had been defeated twice over a three month period, and asked the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of parliament under Section 57. And as we know, those 4 bills were to come back in 1974 in a joint sitting, when the Whitlam Labor Party won the election. It did not, however, win control of the Senate. At the time, control of the Senate was in the hands of the Democratic Labor Party?; there were also a couple of ex Liberals who were now sitting in the Senate as Independents; ? from Tasmania, and Steele Hall from SA. So the situation in the Senate, for Whitlam, was not as bad in 74 as it had been in 72, but, again, they tried to pass legislation and they weren’t succeeding. Senate obstructionism worked, and there were serious policy problems.

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8.8           Overuse of S.96 to force State compliance

One of the policy problems he had, and which was to come back to haunt him, was over the use of S. 96 of the Australian Constitution. That’s the specific purpose grant section, which says that the federal Parliament can give money to the states on terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit. Mr Whitlam was what we call in the trade a ‘centralist’ – he didn’t like the states; he thought that the states should be abolished; that there should be national government and enhanced local  government – you can read all about that in his book – there’s a huge section on local government. Of course you can’t abolish the states. As if the people of the States are going to vote themselves out of existence!  Gough went into Parliament and said – right, I’m going to do things, and I’m going to force the States to follow my policies. What he did was to use Section 96 again and again and again and again.

Now this caused him a lot of trouble. He started to have fights with premiers., and it just so happened that, of the six premiers, only two of them were Labor premiers; Don Dunstan from SA, and Eric Reece in Tasmania. Everybody else was Liberal or Country Party.  There were some famous challenges in the High Court, where the federal government would send money to the States, under Section 96, and the Premiers would refuse to take it.  The federal government took the States to the High Court and tried to get the Court to say to the States ‘you must take the money’, but the High Court said, no, no, no, no; there’s no compulsion, the States can refuse.

That’s a big thing. (As Paul Keating once said: “You don’t want to get between a Premier and a bucket of money”). This is relevant because this deals with the constitution in two ways:

Firstly – The federal Liberal Country Party Opposition, after 1974, when Billy Snedden is replaced, is headed now by Malcolm Fraser. Mr Fraser accused Mr Whitlam of being contrary to the spirit of the Australian federal system, and he accused Mr Whitlam of, if not acting illegally, going against the spirit of the Australian Constitution by trying to use Section 96 like he was. Meanwhile, in the States, the Premiers are going to have their revenge. Both Queensland’s (Country Party) Bjelke-Peterson, and the Liberal premier of NSW, by the name of Tom Lewis. The revenge is going to occur in the Senate.  Now after the 74 election the balance of power is in the hands of two Independents: ? from Tasmania, and Steele Hall from SA. Labor then loses two senators. The first senator they lose is Lionel Murphy, the Attorney General. He is appointed by Whitlam to the High Court of Australia. This caused a furore – the Conservatives were appalled (only Conservatives were allowed to make political appointments to the High Court bench. Wait a minute. Something’s terribly wrong!)

8.9           S.15 – Replacement for casual Senate vacancy

Now, S. 15 of the Australian Constitution says, at that time, if a vacancy occurs in the Senate, the governor of the state from which the senator came, shall appoint the replacement. That’s what S. 15 used to say. The Australian convention was that a State Governor would act on advice of the State Premier, and the premier would nominate someone from the same political party as the vacating senator. That was the Australian convention.

In 1975, Tom Lewis breaks the convention.  Murphy was a Labor senator for NSW, the casual vacancy comes up, Lewis recommends to the governor a guy by the name of Cleaver Bunton, (one of the things Gough had tried to with S 96 was to ramp up local government, and one of the things he’d done was to set up a regional authority to manage Albury and Wodonga. Cleaver had been the mayor of Albury; he didn’t like what Whitlam was trying to do, so he was a perfect message, for the Prime Minister, from the NSW Premier – stop fucking about with our local government). To his eternal credit, Cleaver Bunton did not participate in what was about to transpire. He did not vote against Whitlam on Supply. He did not.

The person who fucked Whitlam right over, was Joe Bjelke-Petersen. A couple of months after the Cleaver Bunton problem, a Labour senator for Queensland, Bert Milner, dies of a heart attack. For political irony listen to this: The Queensland Labour Party had a bloke called Mal Colston next in line to replace Milner (Mal Colston would come back to haunt the Labour Party later), but the Premier of Queensland, Joe Bjelke-Petersen refused to nominate him. Instead he nominated a chap by the name of Albert Field, a former Labor man who had left the Labor Party and was famous for two things: Saying that if he got to the Senate he wanted to crack down on child pornography, and for hating Gough Whitlam. Both things which Joe Bjelke-Petersen would support. Fields never got to take his seat in the Senate – he was legally challenged in the High Court.

But the fact that Labor lost their Senator in Queensland, changes the balance of power in the Senate, so the Independents no longer have the balance of power. It is now the Liberal Party and the Country Party, under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser, who control the Senate. After ’74, the cross benches control the Senate. Labor comes to power. After the departure of Milner and Murphy, Labor’s position is much worse in the Senate. Mr Fraser, the Liberal leader in the lower house, now controls the Senate.

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9               The Dismissal 2

1949 -1972: Labor in opposition

1972 & 1974 elections: failure to win the Senate

Policy problems: the economy

Power problems: who or which is most powerful:

  • The upper or lower house?
  • The PM or the G-G, with his reserve powers?

9.1     1975 Summary

  • G-G Kerr refers to the Constitution, and prevails over convention.
  • Whitlam makes prolific use of S 96:
    • causes premiers to get off side
    • some premiers refuse federal money, via the High Court of Australia
  • Whitlam government – last of the ‘Keynesian’ type, suffers major economy problems
  • The government has become unpopular:
    • economy
    • federal – state relations (S 96), especially Nationals Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland
    • ‘the loans affair’ (Executive in Council)
    • ‘The Khemlani affair’ – Rex Connor, Minister for Energy, seeking ‘petro-dollars’ from OPEC countries – Iraq, who is pro-Soviet – Whitlam overrules, but Connor persists anyway. Connor sacked after Lynch exposes his dealings, in Parliament. Treasurer Jim Cairns continues, where Connor left off. Fraser questions legality of these dealings as (contrary to Constitution S?) approval of the ‘loans council’ had not been sought. This was a political manoeuvre – it was not constitutionally incorrect.
  • The casual Senate vacancy problem:
    • Murphy, Gair, Milliner, (Field)
    • Lionel Murphy moves to the High Court
    • Vince Gair (the ex Queensland Labour premier) had joined the DLP. The ALP and DLP were bitter enemies. Gough employed a little lateral thinking, to address this potential problem, by offering Gair (an avid Catholic) an ambassadorial position – Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See (how could he refuse?) – but Joh refuses to fill the vacant position, leaving a hostile Senate.
    • Millner dies and Joh nominates Field, who never takes his seat as he’s challenged in the High Court of Australia. Consequently the Liberal – Country Party (Fraser/Antony) coalition retain control of the Senate.
  • Controlling Senate: obstructionism
  • The power of the premiers – Lewis and Bjelke-Petersen
  • Internal party politics – the rise of Malcolm Fraser. Fraser takes over by narrowly beating (future Democrats leader) Don Chipp.
  • Political allegations. Whitlam government is:
    • wrecking the economy
    • disregarding the Federation (by abusing S 96)
    • tainted by the illegality of the loans agreement by not consulting the Loans Council of the Executive in Council.

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9.2           Constitution versus convention

The Crisis:     the Senate defers passing of Supply

The Opposition argument:     importance of the written Constitution

The Government argument:       the importance of conventions. As they have the numbers in the House of Reps, they have ‘confidence’ and satisfy the requirements of Responsible Government. So let the Government in the lower house rule.

Intervention of the G-G:              The Governor-General seeks advice from Malcolm Fraser (the Opposition Leader, and Sir Garfield Barwick, the Chief Justice of the High Court. Under the Australian Constitution, the HCA is not allowed to give advice on such matters. The 11th November is the last day on which writs could be issued which could result in a December election. The Government’s money would last until February. Kerr argued that Australians would want resolution before Christmas (so they could concentrate on the barbie). He then installs Fraser as PM, as he has advised that he will both pass the budget, and advise the G-G of the need for elections.

9.3          Kerr prorogues the Parliament

using the concept of ‘Reserve Powers’ – the Governor-General intervenes to preserve ‘Good Government’. See S. 61 (Executive power), and S. 62 (power to appoint ministers). Kerr’s actions are a unilateral application of S. 57.

9.4           Kerr’s argument

The Doctrine of Parliamentary Responsibility:

  • Westminster is based on Responsible Government
  • Responsibility depends on being able to secure a budget
  • If a government can’t govern it must resign or be dismissed
  • Australia is a federation. Therefore ‘responsibility’ applies to BOTH the House of Reps and the Senate
  • In Australia, a government that can’t get its budget through both houses is in breach of Responsible Government and must resign or expect dismissal

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9.5           1977 – Change of Constitution

In 1977, the Australian Constitution was changed. NB the provision with reference to replacement of a member, who creates a casual vacancy, with someone from the same party.

The written word prevailed over the conventions.

Reserve Powers are not written into the Constitution. They are subject to convention.

9.6           Use of S.96 to circumvent S.51

Section 51 doesn’t allow much. To get around S. 51, Whitlam made extensive use of S. 96, the specific purpose grant section, which allows the federal parliament to give money to the states on terms and conditions that they see fit. Whitlam used this provision repeatedly to force his policies through.

In 1974, Dick Hamer, the Liberal premier of Victoria, and Tom Lewis, the Liberal premier of NSW, went to the HCA to see if they could refuse the grants. The Court ruled that the States had the right to refuse Federal transfers.

Gough’s was the last of the Keynesian governments, which would try to resolve a problem by throwing public money at it. Prices went up at this time, as did unemployment.

By 1975, the Government was very unpopular.

9.7           Problems of the Whitlam Government

  • The economy
  • (S 96) Federal – State relations
  • the Loans Affair
  • In an attempt to fund a gas pipeline, from WA to Melbourne/Sydney, Rex Connor tried to borrow money from (Arab) OPEC countries (Iraq, et al). There was an OPEC crisis at the time, which meant escalating oil prices. Consequently OPEC countries had lots of ‘petro dollars’. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was aligned with the (Left) Russians. Whitlam orders Connor, in Cabinet, not to continue borrowing from OPEC countries. Connor maintains his communication with Tirath Khemlani, a Pakistani arms dealer. In Parliament, Philip Lynch asks Whitlam if he has stopped the loans and receives his answer in the affirmative. Lynch tables documents which prove otherwise – that is that the Energy Minister has misled Parliament and the PM. The PM sacks Connor. Cairns, however, continues to work on raising loans.

Some pundits question whether Labor’s failure, from 1974 to 1972, was due to the DLP (Democratic Labor Party).

Fraser (Liberal) and Anthony (Country Party) were leaders of the Opposition, with a minority in the lower house. Whitlam had a majority of seats in the lower house, and was, therefore, PM by the Westminster convention. Don Chipp rivalled Malcolm Fraser for Liberal Party leadership. Fraser prevailed by a narrow margin.

Fraser tells Whitlam “Resign, and we pass the budget. Stay, and we won’t” thus precipitating the crisis. The deferral of Supply went on for six months.

So the Opposition demands that the PM go to the G-G, under S. 57, to ask for an election. The Opposition underlines the importance of the Constitution. The Government underlines the importance of conventions. The crisis is a Constitutional crisis. It is an irresolvable deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate. The budget stalls, and the government may run out of money – they will have no authority to make payments. The Governor-General intervenes and dismisses the Whitlam Government.

The Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia had no right to advise the Governor-General on matters of Constitution – fucking none.

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9.8           High Court of Australia and pre-emptive constitutional advice

Under the Australian judicial system, the High Court is not permitted to give pre-emptive constitutional advice.

Kerr had made up his mind that the politicians would not resolve the issue, so he decided that he would. He called Whitlam and Fraser to meet him on November 11th, the last day for issuing writs for an election in the following month.

The Governor-General can act unilaterally.

S. 57.  In the past the G-G would consult the PM.

The 1975 election resulted in a landslide victory to the coalition. One of the biggest victories known.

Kerr’s argument:

*the key thing*  The doctrine of Parliamentary Responsibility.

The Westminster system’s notion of Responsible Government, for which the test is the ability to get the Appropriation bill through Parliament. i.e. Passage of Appropriation Bill. Otherwise the Government must resign or expect dismissal.

Now the rub:

The essence of parliamentary democracy:

  • Australia is not a pure Westminster State. It’s Westminster influenced by Federal reality.
  • Federation means responsibility to both houses.
  • Kerr’s reasoning – the doctrine of parliamentary Responsibility:

In Australia, a government that cannot get its budget through both houses is in breach of Responsible Government and must resign or expect to be dismissed.

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 9.9           Fundamentals in dispute

Westminster Vs Federalism

Kerr’s approach was a literal, federalist approach.

This gives an imperfect understanding of the Australian Constitution. The Constitution is about constitutionalism: If you don’t read the Constitution against the backdrop of Westminster, it doesn’t make sense – we don’t have a democracy, but a guided autocracy.

9.10      Changes since ‘75

Has anything changed to get around a recurrence of the 1975 crisis?

Only one thing:

S. 15 – the casual Senate vacancy: In 1977, Fraser introduces a referendum which is passed. In S. 15, the Constitution now says that in the event of a casual Senate vacancy it must be filled by someone of the same party. [This is the ONLY time that the word PARTY is mentioned in the Constitution.]

Everything else is UNCHANGED.

It will happen again. “Those who fail to learn from History will repeat its mistakes”.

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10   The Public Service 1

After the lecture on ’75 crisis, constitutionalism, what the constitution means, parliamentary responsibility, etc., dealing with the public service may seem to be like taking a big dose of Mogadon.

Talking about the Public Service = incredibly dull?

We, as members of the Australian community, are socialised to have negative views of the Public Service and the public sector.

The Public Service is a sub-sector of the public sector.

There is a bigger whole called the public sector. Not everyone in the public sector is a public servant. For e.g., Nick Economou (the lecturer) is not a public servant. He belongs to a public sector corporation called a university, which is very different from a ministerial department.

We will try to explain the difference between public corporations and ministerial departments, which are very important in Australian public administration.

The encouraged perception of the public service is that it is:

  • overstaffed
  • grossly inefficient
  • only interested in itself
  • dull and boring

 10.1      The importance of the Public Service

  • Policy expertise
  • The source of ‘policy intelligence’: data, information, alternatives

Capable of undertaking medium to long-term planning

  • Administration
  • You don’t need to be an expert to be a minister. To be a minister in the Westminster system you simply need to:

a/ win a seat in parliament

b/ belong to the party with a majority of seats in the lower house, and

c/ be part of the leadership team of that party

  • You don’t need to be expert on anything. What do you (pointing to someone) know about Massey Ferguson tractors (you are the Minister for Agriculture)? A: You don’t need to know because the Public Service is there to tell you all about it. They are there to fill you in with the expertise. The most important thing that all public services have, Westminster or otherwise (the Westminster public service is only one model – there are many others), is policy expertise – they are the experts on policy. Politicians don’t have to be expert on policy; they will rely on the public service to give them that expertise.
  • The Public Service is the source of ‘policy intelligence’. They are hard at work gathering information which can come in different forms: data – scientific data, operational data (depending on what the department is and with what they deal); information, lots of info from different sources to feed through to ministers so that they can make good, comprehensive policy decisions. And the formulate alternatives for government. Government may say “We are thinking of doing such and such, what are the options? how can we deliver this service? and it’s up to the public service to provide that information.

The important thing to remember about the public service is that it is a really important source of power for a parliament in any system of government; it is ‘an integral part of the state’ – the ‘administrative arm of the state’, and administration is very important indeed.

The 75 crisis was all about power – people trying to get it, people trying to retain it. Politics is short term. Who’s going to be responsible for the long-term planning? How can you run a country medium to long term if decisions are simply in the hands of politicians? They only have short term existences. They’re worried about the next election. So who does the medium term – long-term planning? – the Public Service, the civil service do.

Administration is of critical importance to government. If you can’t convert policy decisions into actual programs, you don’t have government.

The Public Service is a critical instrument of government; a critical institution of government, and like all institutions it’s big (but not monolithic – it’s broken up into sub-sections, usually around function), it’s bureaucratic, it’s hierarchic, it’s about power.  If you want to study power, you have to study the public administration – the civil service. And what better way than to study it where it all began – Westminster.

[Shows an episode of Yes Minister – a prescient critique of the Westminster style public service]

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11    The Public Service 2

11.1      As an example of Westminster Public Service

The Australian Public Service is a classic example of a Westminster public service.

The Westminster model, so important in the context of understanding how our system works, and so important to us by way of understanding Australian constitutionalism (recall constitutionalism as distinct from the Australian Constitution  – the latter being the written document, the former, the written document understood against the context of Westminsterism) ; Westminster is really important to the operation of parliament; it’s important to the operation of the Cabinet; and it’s also very important to the operation of the public service.

An important theme previously dealt with, in the context of the Westminster system, was the concept of ministerial Responsibility. This week we look at it from a slightly different angle – previously we looked at it in the context of understanding the role of ministers in cabinet; this time we look at ministerial responsibility and its impact on the operation of the public service.

There are a number of public services: there is the federal public service (which is a huge bureaucracy which congregates in Canberra), and there are six state public services as well (each jurisdiction has its own public service).

11.2      The difference between the public service and the public sector

We need to understand the difference between the public service and the public sector. Students get confused because the text book gets its knickers in a knot over the public sector and in particular the propensity for Australian governments, state and federal, since the 1990s, to try to reduce the size of the public sector. The text book spends a lot of time talking about concepts like privatisation, and corporatisation.

What needs to be identified from the beginning is that the public service is sub-unit, or sub-sector, of the broader phenomenon known as the public sector.

Not everyone who is in the public sector is a public servant.

The public sector, in Australia, use to be humungous. From about 1870/80, when all of the colonial governments took over their privately run railways, which didn’t work – were making a loss; the golden days of the public corporation, the statutory authority, the public sector went from about the 1890s all the way through to about 1986 / 87, when the big privatisation program began, and all governments, federal and state, started to sell off their public corporations.

In the good old days, when the public sector in Australia was huge, banking was done through a public corporation (called the State Savings Bank of Victoria), you used electricity from the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, a massive colossus, churning out electricity from the Latrobe Valley; everyone seemed to be employed by them: the greatest corporation of them all in Tasmania was the Hydro-electric Commission of Tasmania – great big corporations, employing thousands and thousands of people, doing useful things, like fixing the wires when they came down; Telstra, used to be known as Telecom; when you turned on the gas heating, the Gas and Fuel Corporation provided these things; in other words, we used to have a massive public sector contributing to the Australian economy. Over the 80s and 90s, many of these corporations were sold off.  They were sold off to private enterprise in a number of ways. Some sold to private companies who take them over. Others converted into shareholder companies with shares sold on the market – Telecom / Telstra shares were sold to the public. So there was massive privatisation, and the public sector was reduced in size.

In this course, we aren’t interested in this public sector in its totality; we are interested in the public service – a sub-sector, a potential employer of many university graduates. The public service is a place where uni graduates, especially, economics, arts, or law graduates are in very high demand.

The public service is a sub-sector of the public sector. It has very specific roles to perform.

The Westminster model has important conventions regarding the relationships between the public service, ministers, and the parliament.


The importance of the public service, public administration, is the source of policy expertise. It is the expertise that helps governments govern. Currently, the huge debate between Mr Rudd and his Labor

Some institution has to provide long term policy – the public service is it.

The primary function of a public service is to provide policy intelligence. Data; information; alternatives.

They are the ones that are feeding the intellectual work, which needs to be done, through to ministers; through to politicians.

The important thing about administration, public service, is that they are capable of medium to long term planning, and one of the important functions of public services is administration.

At one level administration may seem to be dull and boring. But it is an incredibly important source of political power.

If you’re in politics and have grand ideas, but are unable to convert your ideas into programs, then you’re wasting your time.

Administration is very important, AND it gives those responsible for administration, REAL political power.

One of the subtleties in understanding the politics of public administration, especially those of us studying Westminster systems – by convention the understanding is that there is a separation of powers going on, between the public service and government. The Westminster model assumes that the politicians are the most powerful players in this configuration.

The Westminster model is based on the assumption that the minister is the most important / powerful figure in our configuration.

Advanced studies of public administration you look at the very difficult positions of ministers compared to the very powerful positions of administrators.

Administration may look like a dull and prosaic pass-time, but it can be the source of real political power.

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11.3      Permanent Career Service

The APS – Australian Public Service – is what we call a permanent career service, providing advice and administration.

[PowerPoint of Australian government web site     ]

Government Departments and Agencies, Commonwealth Parliament, Governor General, Courts and Judges; the website shows the whole gamut of government in Australia. We are currently interested in Government Departments and Agencies.

We need to understand the very important difference between government departments and government agencies – they are NOT the same thing:

11.4      Statutory Authorities

Government departments are what we call Ministerial Departments.

Agencies are what we call Statutory Authorities.

In 2008, the APS had a workforce of 147, 598, of whom 2% are at the top of this hierarchical structure. Only 2% are considered part of what we call the SES – the Senior Executive Service.

So the Australian Public Service has a workforce of about 150,000.

Compare this with one of the states: Victorian Public Service had 33, 422 public servants.

The Public Service is a subset of the ‘public sector’. the ‘public sector’ also includes statutory authorities.

In Victoria they aren’t called ‘statutory authorities’ – they are known as VPEs – Victorian Public Entities.

In the Australian Public Service they’re called authorities now; they used to also be known as ‘government business enterprises’ – GBEs – but they’re a thing of the past thanks to privatisation.

The important starting point for this is to refer to the APS as a ‘Career Service’.

Watch out – people really stuff this up:

When we say that a public service is ‘a career service’ we are giving another shorthand indication that the public service is part of the Westminster model. To understand what a Westminster public service is we have to be able to get our minds around the idea of a ‘career service’. Most people think that this means we are saying that people join the public service at a relatively young age, usually university graduates, and then stay in the public service for life; they are promoted on the basis of seniority, and they can’t be sacked – that’s the general assumption. This is NOT quite right. Not what a ‘career service’ means. All public servants, in Britain, or Australia, or in any Westminster system, are subject to the Industrial Relations law. They can be hired and fired like anyone. Every public service has a statutory authority that looks after conditions and terms of employment, and dispenses discipline.

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11.5      Permanent departmental heads

The point of the Career Service is this (this is the essence of the Westminster model):  A public service is a hierarchical phenomenon. We are really talking about those at the top of the public service, and the key to a Westminster public service is that the heads of the public service can’t be dismissed for political reasons. This is the essence of a Westminster public service. The departmental heads can’t be sacked for political reasons.

This is a Westminster convention that is designed to try to do a couple of things:

The first thing it tries to do is reinforce the idea of separation of powers: that the Parliament and the Public Service are separate entities. The Public Service in the Westminster system is considered to be a permanently standing public service.

The second thing that this concept of a career service tries to do is that, in exchange for guaranteeing the tenure of the head of the public service, the head of the public service will give ministers good, frank, and fearless advice.

11.6      The American model

This is an approach which delineates the Westminster approach from the American approach. The Americans have a very different view on the role of the public service: the Americans see the top of the public service as an extension of cabinet, so that when the American cabinet changes, which it does every four years, when there’s a new President elected, the new cabinet members are entitled to appoint their own heads of ministerial departments. So when the President changes, the cabinet changes, and the top of the public service changes.

[aside to restless students] What is a ‘career public service’? It is a Westminster public service. It aims to reinforce the idea of separation of powers. The American approach to the public service, we Westminsterites call (rather disparagingly?) the ‘patronage system’ – the argument there being that power is something that is dispensed by the people who have won the political process. The President wins the election; he or she has the right to select their own cabinet, and the cabinet has the right to select its top people in the public service.  The Westminster model takes a different approach: it sees public administration as separate from politics. In the Westminster system there is a very serious division of labour involved. The Westminster model assumes that politics goes on in the parliament; administration goes on in the public service. There’s a third group of players who should be referred to (especially for those who are students of law) because the idea of an independent judiciary exists under exactly the same concept of separation of powers. Under the Westminster model, the Courts are separate from politics as well.

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11.7      Separation of powers

These are the three separate institutions: the parliament; the public service; and the courts. That’s where the Westminster separation of powers operates. Compared to the American separation of powers, which is highly political: the executive is separate from the Congress. That’s how the Americans see where separation of powers should happen. Westminster rejects that. Westminster sees the executive as being part of the parliament – Westminster separation of powers involves the separation of the parliament, the public service, and the courts. The whole idea of judicial independence – being free from political interference. The public service is supposed to fall into the same category. In theory, there is supposed to be a separation between the parliament and the public service.

The reason for looking at the American model is because of the changing nature of our own system. Like everything which we have done with the Westminster system, we have varied it: the situation in the public service, in Australia, today, is not pure Westminsterism. We have arrived at a half way point between the American patronage model and the idea of a Westminster career service. But we can’t understand where we’ve got to if we don’t understand where we’ve come from and why these things are necessarily controversial.

11.8      Hawke’s model – 1987

In 1987, a Labor government, under Bob Hawke’s prime ministership, revisited the idea of how the public service would be structured and made some very important reforms.

What we have in Australia is a half way point between the Westminster model, and the American patronage model. We have managed to develop a system in which we still consider our public service to be a Westminster type, but we have varied the idea of the permanent departmental head.

To give a hint of what’s coming on, we compare two governments: the Whitlam government of 72 and 75, – they were in trouble all the time, but the other institution that the Whitlam government had heaps of trouble with, was the public service. The Whitlam government felt that the public service was against them. Why? Well, said Whitlam and his mates, every time he wanted to do something, a public servant would say ‘minister, you can’t do it like that. That’s not the way we do things in Australia. All the Whitlam ministers claimed, after the event, that they found the public service to be a conservative body, and they meant this in a party political sense. The Whitlam government felt that the public service was against them. They argued that the reason for this was that there had been 23 years of Liberal rule, that the PS had got used to the way that Liberals did things, and when Labor came to power they couldn’t cope with a reformist government. The public servants denied this. They said the Whitlam government didn’t understand how the public service operated. how could they? they said – they hadn’t been in government for such a long time. They argued that in fact the problem was on the ministerial side – that the ministers didn’t understand what the limitations were in making policy in Australia.

The Labor people were tipped out by the G-G in 1975; they all retreated to their little bailiwicks, thought about what they were to do when they got back into power in 1983 and decide they’d better do things a bit differently. And the Hawke government made some very important reforms to the public service, designed to try to break down what they saw as the excessive power of the departmental heads. When Whitlam came to power the departmental heads were permanent heads – they were called permanent departmental heads – once you became a departmental head, through a process of promotion and seniority, you had that job for the rest of your working life. So you had people who were in charge of ministerial departments for 15 or 20 years. Some very famous names: Sir Kenneth Wilmot? – Head of treasury, Sir Arthur Tange – head of defence. When the Labor ministers came to power they didn’t like these guys – they thought they were more powerful than they were, so there was a tense relationship, and the Whitlam government was defeated. Labor was re-elected in 1983. In 1987 the Hawke government changed the top structure of the public service. It converted the top of the public service from the departmental head model to become what we call the SES, the Senior Executive Service

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11.9      SES – Senior Executive Service

The important thing to know about the SES is that under the rules, as practised in Australia now, you are a head of department for a fixed term. You have only a short period of time as a head of department. The term may vary depending on the negotiation between the minister and the SES personnel. So instead of having heads of department for 15 or 20 years, the longest a person is in charge of a department tends to be 5 years, and it is a prerogative of the minister, and the government of the day, to shift the departmental heads around. The concession to the Westminster model is that once you are promoted to SES level, you can’t be demoted, so that looks like a permanent Westminster public servant, but within the SES, ministers can select people to be departmental heads.

See how American it’s becoming?

In the old days the minister would turn up to lesser departmental heads, and the head would have been there for 15 to 20 years – “Ministers – I’ve seen them come and go, but I go on forever.” Now when a government changes in Australia, the PM appoints the Cabinet, and the cabinet ministers can select, from the SES, new heads of departments. We have Americanised our system.

[In answer to a student q. – It is possible for the government to terminate the head – the Rudd government has done this: They had some controversies with the Defence Department; controversies over procurement, the minister was alleged to have provided secrets to the Chinese, and the government thought there had been some disloyalty to the minister from within the department, and one of the consequences was that they changed the head of department. So in fact the government can break an agreement with the SES – the only thing is that if you’re a head of department and you’re told you’re no longer head of, say, Defence, you can’t be demoted; you just go back to the SES level: it’s a pool of senior personnel.]

Now this model, pioneered by the Hawke government in 1987, became so effective, that it’s now the model used in the six states as well. All the Australian jurisdictions use this system. It is a halfway point between the American patronage model and the Westminster model.

It is argued that one of the consequences of this is that a Westminster public service, subject to these arrangements, becomes politicised. The allegation is that the public service becomes politicised. And this is supposed to be antithetical to the Westminster ideal of an apolitical public service. A value neutral, non party-political, standing institution, that can give advice without fear or favour.

This may seem boring and esoteric, but in some ways it is more interesting than the contest between Labor and Liberal. We know what the response of the Labor or the Liberal Party is to most things. But if you want to study real power, real politics, look at the institutional contest. Look at the relationships between ministers and senior public servants. The balance has shifted over the years. Senior public servants used to be in a very powerful position. These days, ministers are a little bit more powerful. But there has been a price to pay: the integrity of the public service; the fearlessness of the advice which they give to ministers; and the consequences of politicisation of the public service.

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This actually did happen: Two big events during the Howard years:

11.10     ‘Children Overboard’ & AWB affairs

One was ‘the children overboard’ affair – at the heart of this affair was a critique of the relationship between the public service and the government. The allegation was that the public service must have been negligent in advising the government; but the public service said ‘no, we told the government what was going on, but the government chose not to accept the facts’.

There was a similar controversy over the sale of Australian wheat to Iraq, at the very time that we were supposed to be at war with them. This was overseen by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Surely here there was a failure of public policy, and a Royal Commission found that there was tension in the relationship the ministry and the public service. To find out what the problem was we have to go back to Gough Whitlam again. (We’re not blaming Gough for the AWB fiasco .…)

11.11     Ministerial Advisers

When the Whitlam government was in power, when they found they couldn’t trust the public service, when relationships between ministers and their departmental heads soured, what did the government do in an attempt to get quality intelligence? It resorted to using outsiders. It resorted to using people outside the department. These people are known today as ‘ministerial advisers’.

In State politics, in Victoria today, there’s a shit fight involving the Victorian attorney-general, Rob Hulls, in dispute with a Legislative Council parliamentary committee on urban planning, because the parliamentary committee wants to subpoena a ministerial adviser to appear before it. There’s a controversy over an email sent inadvertently to the ABC. That’s the bad news. The good news is that only 12% of people listen to the ABC so it won’t be picked up by most people reading the Herald-Sun and who barrack for Collingwood. Here the minister is saying ‘no, no; a ministerial adviser is a member of the minister’s staff, and therefore is immune from the conventions of Westminster’. The parliament is saying ‘no, no, no, no; this person shall be subpoenaed – the parliament can subpoena anyway’. So there’s a power struggle going on.

So who are these ministerial advisers? You have to go back to the Whitlam years to find out who they are. The Whitlam government pioneered the use of ministerial advisers. Initially, the sorts of people who were brought in to give ministers advice on policy (because they didn’t trust the public service) were policy experts, usually from universities. So it was the Whitlam government that brought in outsiders. They brought them in – they gave the ministers advice on policy, ministers made decisions, drafted legislation, and the adviser was then sent back to from wherever he or she came. This is the beginning of the advisory position. What has happened, is that the ministerial adviser today, has become a permanent member of the minister’s staff, and the number of ministerial advisers has increased dramatically. And the types of people who become advisers?

  1. Policy expert outside public service. So there’s a bit of a tension here: the Westminster model assumes that advice will come from one source and one source only – the public service – but the ministerial adviser is potentially an auxiliary source. (There’s not many of these experts).
  2. the second most preferred adviser – and there are many more of these than experts, are former journalists and public relations people. Ministers these days see public policy making as much a exercise in marketing as in forming policy.
  3. the third group of people populating the ministerial adviser position, in large numbers, are members of the party machinery. These are people who belong to the political party but are not actually in parliament. In the public service, the claim is that the sorts of people who come in as ministerial advisers are actually the next generation of parliamentarians.  Every political party has a large number of party workers; they need to find useful things for them to do, and quite often, they’ll be used for ministerial advisers.
  4. and the fourth sorts of ministerial advisers are former pressure group and interest group leaders.  As an insight into this – when Nick E. was researching his PhD thesis on environmental policy, he went to interview the responsible minister, Ros Kelly. She said to him “look I’m not really interested in the environment – talk to my advisory staff – they are the ones who design the policy and manage to carry it through”. The ministerial advisers – NOT the public servants! The minister’s own private staff. And when he went to meet them, they were all people he had met, three or four years previously, when they were fighting the Franklin Dam campaign. The former head of the Wilderness Society, the former head of the Conservation Foundation, the former head of the Tasmanian Conservation Class?, the former head of the World Wildlife Fund. They were former leaders of interest groups and suddenly they’d been brought into the minister’s private staff. So this is a very important source of policy advice.

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11.12     The conventions of Westminster and the Public Service

This is another tension on the Westminster system. Under the Westminster model, the assumption is that the public service has the exclusive right to give advice to ministers. Why? Because under the Westminster model, under its convention of ministerial responsibility, the assumption is that the minister is answerable for the department. The minister is answerable to the parliament for the actions of his or her department. That’s how it’s supposed to work. The minister takes the wrap. It’s the double-edged sword – to be a minister gives you power – you are responsible for initiating policy, but the other side is that if things go wrong, you have to take the blame.  You are answerable to the parliament and ultimately the electorate. that’s the convention. There’s no reference to ministerial advisers in such conventions. ministerial advisers are in a constitutional grey area.  They don’t exist. this cause great confusion to the public – ministerial advisers look like public servants, they sound like public servants, but they are NOT public servants.

So the Australian system has moved a long way from the Westminster ideal. We have adopted part of the American patronage system for the structure of the public service, and the ministerial adviser has now become a powerful player.

[Student q. – are they paid for by the government, by the tax-payer? Yes, they are. And, on what terms and conditions are they employed? Public service terms and conditions. That’s why they look like public servants – but they are not.]

It will be interesting to keep an eye on what’s going on in Victoria – who’s going to front the Parliamentary enquiry? – Mr Hull (he says that ministerial advisers don’t exist by Westminster convention) – they have no need, they are not required to front the parliament. He says that if questions are to be asked of ministerial advisers, then the responsible minister is the person who should answer.

Just before Easter there was a bit of a to-do in Victorian parliament.  The parliamentary committee was meeting. They had said they wanted to talk to the planning minister, Justin Madden’s adviser, but instead Justin Madden turned up.  He said “I’m going to answer questions. My adviser is under no obligation to answer you guys. if you want to ask questions, you’ll have to ask me”. And the whole thing fell apart. And this is on the basis of the lack of certainty over who’s accountable.

[Student q. Can the parliament subpoena ordinary people to answer questions? The answer is yes.  A Westminster parliament has exactly the same subpoena power as a court of law, and if people refuse to appear, then they could be charged with contempt of parliament, which is similar to contempt of court.]

There’s a huge power struggle coming on, which begs the question – why now? Observers of this think that both major parties are loathe to set the precedent of allowing their ministerial staff to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny. The Liberals won’t do it because although in opposition now, their concern is that when they get into government, if they force the issue now, then Labor, when in opposition, will do it to them. So far both major parties have had a tacit agreement not to do the other side’s ministerial staff over, for purely political reasons. The current showdown in Victorian Parliament is fascinating. It may set important precedents. This is the Westminster system evolving.

Westminster and the Public Service

  • Separation between parliamentary government and administration (separation of powers)
  • A ‘career service’ : independent of party politics
  • Advice (expertise)
  • Administration (functionality)
  • Principle: Cabinet and Parliament decide on policy, the Public Service administers policy

The conventions of Westminster and the Public Service

  • division of labour: Public Service administers, politicians do politics
  • the departmental Head (SES) the only source of advice and interaction with the minister (hierarchy)
  • Ministers are on top; Public Servants are on tap
  • Ministerial Responsibility applies. Department is indirectly answerable to Parliament via the Minister

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 12      The Public Service

12.1      Reforms to the Public Service by the Hawke government

These were very important and involved not just the public service, but also the structure of Cabinet. This was a substantial reform made in 1987. It was so dramatic that all of the systems of Australian government (all the states, and the two territories, as well as the federal governments) changed in its aftermath.

We will also look at some of the changes made to the Public Service by Malcolm Fraser, and some of those made by John Howard. We also need to understand the distinction between a ministerial department and a statutory authority. One such statutory authority, responsible for the conduct of Australian elections, is the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

Ministerial Departments are subject to Westminster conventions

  • providing advice and converting political directions into administration
  • usually based in close proximity to the Minister, but may have some public interface infrastructure (particularly if a service delivery department)
  • answerable to the Minister: direct ministerial overview applies
  • Specialist functions: departments organised according to function
  • prerogative of government to define departmental function (government may create new departments, amalgamate departments, etc.)

A Ministerial Department is considered to be the very sort of public service body that the Westminster model talks about when it makes reference to Ministerial Responsibility and the convention that the Public Service is there as a value neutral, politically neutral, administrative instrument at the disposal of government. The Westminster model assumes that the Public Service is an independent, autonomous, non party-political instrument. It is there to be used by the government of the day, regardless of its political persuasion. The Westminster assumption is that politics is legitimately the concern of the parliament – that’s where people make political statements. It is up to the people to determine the party-political persuasion of their government; it is the prerogative of the government to make political decisions on policies. Once those political decisions are made, the Public Service are required to carry those orders out – they are required to convert policy decisions into information.

The Public Service is there for the government; it is not there for the opposition, not for the shadow ministry, it’s not even there for the back-benches who are on the government’s side. It is there for the ministry.

Ministerial departments: providing advice and converting ministerial direction into administration.

Ministerial Departments are usually in close proximity to the minister. In Spring Street, at the palace of democracy, there’s the really steep steps out the front, deliberately designed so that, if the mob came racing up, the police could pick ’em off quite quickly on the way in. But around the Parliament are the so called ‘executive buildings’, and that’s where all the Public Service departments are. So they are literally in close proximity, but what we mean is that the minister is able to liaise with his or her departmental head and staff, and they are there to provide policy advice, although some ministerial departments do have a substantial number of public servants interacting with the community. Those are departments like the Department of Health; Department of Education, and most importantly, the Department of Human Services – the Department of Social Security (or whatever it’s called by the government of the day). Some of these very big ministerial departments will have a large number of people interacting with the public.

There’s some interest amongst scholars about this, as this is the group that’s most likely to suffer whenever a government says ‘right, we’re going to rationalise our numbers; we’re going to cut back on expenditure; we’re going to cut back on the Public Service.’ Also, incidentally, that level of Public Service tends to be the least powerful of public servants, and they tend to be the most heavily unionised as well. If the government has a problem with Public Service unions, it’s usually in those public interface functions. Some scholarly work suggests that those departments are the weakest departments in the political configuration of the bureaucracy. The really powerful ministerial departments are the departments that deal with the economy – Treasury and Finance – and what we call the coordinating department, that is the department that tries to bring all the different pieces together for Cabinet’s perusal, and it’s doing this at the behest of the most powerful person in the Westminster system; not the fucking Crown, the Prime Minister or the Premier. Each PM and each Premier has a Public Service department that works for them; it’s called the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC). We think that PMC is probably the most important, the most powerful, Public Service department in the configuration. It is reflecting the power of the PM.

Ministerial departments are directly answerable to the Minister. Ministerial Responsibility applies. Ministerial departments have specialist functions. They are organised to deal with specific policy areas. So we have an Education Department dealing with education policy, a Health Department dealing with health policy, etcetera. It is the prerogative of Government to define what their departmental functions will be. This is one of the powers a government has. Every now and then, a Prime Minister or a Premier will display this power. He or she will say “I’m reorganising the Public Service – reorganising departments; we’ll amalgamate some departments; we’ll rename some departments; we’ll move some departments apart”.

Last week the Rudd government created a new ministry – the Minister of Population, and a new department to go with it. Premiers and prime ministers do this all the time.

One of the powers government has is to try to alter the way the Public Service is structured.

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12.2      Statutory Corporations

giving immunity from Westminster conventions

  • established by an act of parliament
  • providing services or regulatory framework
  • legislation includes a charter of operation
  • legislation provides for a board of directors: corporation run by a CEO answerable to the directors
  • deliberately given limited autonomy from direct ministerial overview
  • examples: ABC, AEC

Statutory Corporations are also known as State Agencies, or Statutory Authorities.

The first thing to note is that statutory authorities are NOT ministerial departments. They are part of the Public Sector, they are NOT part of the Public Service (not directly). They have a degree of autonomy from the government. They are not subject to direct ministerial overview.

Statutory authorities are usually established as an act of the parliament; that is the government makes the decision to establish a statutory authority, or statutory corporation; it draws up legislation, and the legislation is debated in parliament and presumably passed. Once the legislation is passed, the statutory authority comes into being. Statutory authorities in Australia tend to do one of two things: they either provide services (some of the great statutory authorities of the past: State Savings Bank of Victoria; the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was a statutory authority – a “government owned” bank providing banking services; in the good old days you could pass your entire day using government authorities –  you could ring, on Telecom, a government statutory authority, to book a flight with Trans Australian Airlines (TAA – later acquired by Qantas), a government statutory authority, you could pay for it with a cheque  from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a statutory authority. Those were the good old days before privatisation. So the statutory authorities used to provide goods and services, and there are still some doing that. The ABC, for example. Many have disappeared due to privatisation.

What happens now is that governments tend to establish statutory authorities that act as regulators; regulatory authorities overseeing the provision of services by private companies; a very popular administrative function in government. In the good old days, if you wanted to build a freeway, you passed a bill, through parliament, which gave the government the authority to give money to the Authority, and a statutory authority, called the Country Roads Board, would build a freeway, and you would drive on it. Then we have privatisation; the freeways weren’t built by a statutory authority, they were built by a private company – Transurban; Eastlink, Citylink; etc. A private company built it. A private company runs it. If you go on Citylink you must pay a toll. But who’s going to oversee the functioning of these things, now that they’ve been handed over to private operators?

Statutory authorities are created to oversee the provision of goods and services by the private operators. The statutory authorities are still very much part of the public administration landscape of Australia. The legislation will always include a charter of operation. When the parliament passes legislation, establishing a statutory authority, a charter of operation will be included. This will define what it is that the authority can do. The legislation will also provide for two very important functional areas: One will be the Board of Directors. These will be the people who will run the statutory authority and these will be the people to whom the authority will be answerable. They are NOT directly answerable to government. They are answerable to their Board of Directors.

The second important position provided for by the legislation will be what they call the Chief Executive Officer (the CEO – used to be called the Managing Director). The CEO will be appointed by the Board, and will be answerable to the Board, NOT the Minister. The only answerability the statutory authority has to the Parliament, as distinct to the government (note that this is an important distinction), is that they are required, by law, to provide an annual report to the Parliament. It is usually tabled by the Minister who’s Department has something, vaguely, to do with the statutory authority. So when the ABC hands its annual report to the Parliament, it’s the Communications Minister who will table it.

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Those who have done Corporations Law will know that what we have in the statutory authority is a parliamentary established corporation. It is meant to act like a private company. It is deliberately immune to direct ministerial overview. It is immune; protected; the Minister can’t tell it what to do. This has legal force. Hydroelectric Commission versus City of Launceston, 1954: High Court Ruling – City of Launceston unhappy with Hydroelectric Commissions levies for electricity tariffs, wanted to force the Hydroelectric Commission to conform to government directives on the setting of tariffs. The Commission argued before the High Court – “we are like a private company, we operate like a private company. The only way in which government can alter the way we operate is to either: a/ change the Charter of Operation, or b/ change the enabling legislation. The High Court found in favour of the corporation.

Statutory authorities are what we consider to be quasi-autonomous government bodies. They are quasi-autonomous because they are not subject to direct ministerial overview, but they are subject to Parliamentary review by the annual report process.

Confusion arises for many citizens:

(Holds up a Myki card). This will bring the ‘Bumbling Brumby’ government down. How much trouble has this caused? It’s caused one minister to resign and another bloke to be put off the position of minister, the Herald-Sun and the Age [of course the Age loves this sort of stuff – only 7% of Victorians use public transport – because it’s only clustered in the city centre, around about Richmond, and St Kilda, and those sorts of places. The sorts of places where people read the Age. And you go from town to the real world, where they don’t read the Age – they read the Herald-Sun. So that’s why the Herald-Sun is interested in Myki – because there are no trains, and the buses can’t use Myki, and everyone’s in their car. So the Herald-Sun is interested in crime. But in the inner city the Age is interested in trams and buses and bike lanes. That’s what Age readers like – they like to ride their bikes.] ??

So, there’s a great controversy – not sure of figures, but – something like 400 or 500 million dollars has been spent trying to get Myki going. And the press pick it up and say “this is a disaster – all this money has been spent; it’s clearly a policy failure; the transport minister is responsible – the transport minister should resign”. That’s a fairly strong argument. But technically, legally, that’s not the case. The transport minister is in fact not in charge of Myki. It’s the Transport Ticketing Authority (the TTA). Now, if you want to distinguish a ministerial department for a statutory authority, look at the name. A statutory authority always contains the name Authority, or Corporation, or Commission: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation; the Australian Electoral Commission; the Transport Ticketing Authority; the State Transport Authority; etcetera, etcetera. The Melbourne Ports Authority. What a colossus they are: huge ships going back and forth; dredges dredging up Port Philip Bay – people in kayaks going “it’s terrible, stop it, stop it – where’s that evil Mr Brumby, where’s the Transport Minister?” – no, no, no: it’s nothing to do with them – it’s the responsibility of a statutory authority. Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic – in order to dredge they had to get certain legal authorities from the government – which they got, but still, it’s statutory authorities – they’re an important part of our system.

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The important thing to remember is that they’re not subject to ministerial overview.

This became a real crisis for state governments back in the 80s and 90s, when all of their banks were collapsing. The State Savings Bank of Victoria went broke, and the only way they could bail it out was to sell it to the Commonwealth, who were then sold to private enterprise. And that’s another reason why people are not sure about statutory authorities anymore. Because there are so few statutory authorities now, providing goods and services, people think they no longer exist, but they do; they’re still an important part of the political framework. One of the other powers that statutory authorities invariably get, in certain areas, is that they can make regulations, and the regulations have the same force as a law passed through the parliament. Again, journalists and politicians sometimes make passing reference to this power as a way governments change the law without actually having to go to parliament. Given that so many of our governments don’t control the upper house, if they get contentious issues, they change things not by passing laws in the parliament, but they change the operational environment; change the charter; or they can change legislation for a statutory authority and they will change their regulations.

To illustrate that by example: You have your ticket, waiting for your train, and a whole lot of people come along and say “who are you? What’s your name? Have you got a valid ticket?” There are signs on the train saying “authorised officers can do this, can do that, etc”.

The laws that those railway inspectors are enforcing are what we call ‘by-laws’. That’s another word for regulation. By-laws have the full force of a law that’s passed through the parliament. The statutory body is given the power to make by-laws. This is how local government works as well. They make important decisions on things that affect our lives, like animals; pets; registration fees; parking regulations; fines – by-laws are brought into effect. And if you complain that you don’t think that these laws went through both the houses of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council to be passed,  they’ll say “zip it, son. You sound like a Monash University law student. You’re full of bull shit and you don’t know what you’re talking about”. Because the law enables these corporations – Councils – to make by-laws. It’s an important part of the legislative framework of our system of government and administration.

The electoral commission and the ABC are two classical examples of statutory authorities, important because they remind us of a couple of things. Firstly, students who are shit hot will ask – hang on, who gets to appoint members of the Board of Directors for a statutory authority? Good question. The answer is that the government of the day does. So there’s great opportunity for the government to try to influence the operation of a statutory authority through the appointment of members of the board.  That does sometimes happen, and the ABC is a classic example of that, where, when a major political party’s in government, they deny it, but they tend to put their mates onto the ABC board. And the current ABC board is full of people who John Howard, the previous PM, thought favourably of [which is why I’m encouraging you to write to Stephen Conroy – I want to bring back Thomas the Tank Engine – get it off ABC3 and bring it back to ABC1.] So you do get some political argy-bargy BUT it’s the only decent broadcaster we’ve got (I find SBS a bit too crude).

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We all like to think it’s an important institution. And to defend those who go onto the ABC board: most are actually quite charming in the way they change their perspective; when they get onto these boards, they don’t actually become puppets of the government; they actually become great defenders of the institution that they’re running. And one of the great power struggles that has gone on in Australian politics since 1936, when the ABC was established, was the fight between the ABC board and the government over the ABC’s independence, and everyone, to a man or a woman, who’s been appointed to the ABC over the years, even Michael Kroger and Janet ?, have always defended the ABC, and the ABC’s independence, and that’s the point: this is the way we can have an authority doing something on behalf of the community, but it’s kept at arm’s length from the political process.

It’s kept at arm’s length from the political process.

It’s like the Australian Electoral Commission, as we’ll see next week; the AEC is involved in incredibly sensitive work. What could be more important than running an election in a liberal-democratic state? We would expect the system to be free from political interference. We like to believe that our system works well, and it does. And one of the reasons that it does and why we, as a community, have faith in our electoral systems is that they are run by statutory authorities. They have autonomy. They are kept at arm’s length from the politically powerful.

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12.3      Problems with Public Service and Westminster: disparities in power

  • permanence of the Public Service compare with political volatility of the ministry

There are some political problems with the Westminster type Public Service, and the problems all relate to the perception that there is a disparity in power between ministers and the public service, and especially the permanent departmental heads of the public service, and this is the reason why that aspect of the public service has been formed. The first thing to remember is that, in the old days, under the traditional Westminster model, the departmental head was permanent, whereas the minister came and went. So what we used to do was contrast the stability and order of the Public Service with the volatility of the political institution. Ministers come and go; they can change very quickly. Governments can change, so the political realm is volatile; it’s always shifting. People who are ministers have an awful lot to do.

On Q&A, last night, Tania Plibersek said that being a politician was a really hard job. She was commenting on Joe Hockey’s response when questioned as to how he would react if his wife asked him to give up politics (he had answered that he would do as she wished). It’s an interesting insight. The common perception is that politicians are all evil, greedy, power hungry people. But (Nick E’ says) bollocks to all that!

The great American liberal, Adlai Stevenson, once said “with liberal democracies, people get the governments they deserve”.

Our politicians are us – they are just like us.

Politics is a very harsh business – very difficult, very demanding. There’s Joe Hockey trying to raise a family – he’s got the Liberal Party waiting on him; he’ll have electoral work to do, all sorts; the press following his every move. How difficult would that be? His wife, working in the private sector, earns much more. To be in the public sector, is to be impoverished. People must do it for reasons other than money.

In 1998, when the One Nation band wagon was rolling through Queensland, all these One nation candidates were going “the trouble with these politicians is that they have their snouts in the trough. When we get in we’re going to stop all the corruption, all the perks of office … “And when some were elected (11 of them were elected to the Queensland Parliament), within a month they were saying “we don’t have enough resources to do our job properly; we want more money …”  They had one view from the outside, but when they got in, they actually realised how demanding it is, and how impoverished it is.

It was the great Australian economic historian, W K Hancock, who encapsulated what happens in the country when he said “Oh, Australia – private affluence next to public squalor”.

So being a minister, being a politician, is very demanding, taxing on your time.

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Problems with Public Service and Westminster: disparities in power

  • permanence of the Public Service compared with political volatility of the ministry
  • Public Service expertise compared with political demands on minister
  • the ‘power of bureaucracy’ (Max Weber) cf: the official power of the Cabinet
  • Intra-departmental rivalry: undermining policy making
  • the power of the permanent head
  • fragmented by specialisation; intra-bureaucratic competition (motivated by search for bureaucratic power – not responsive to government
  • conservative and incremental: the Public Service as a source of frustration to government and policy-making

You don’t have to be an expert to be a minister for something. You can become the Minister for Agriculture without knowing the difference between a David Brown and a Massey Ferguson tractor. You don’t have to worry about that because the Public Service will tell you. So politicians are used to a very volatile, short-term game; the Public Service is playing a much longer game – but that makes the Public Service a much more powerful entity in the politics of policy making.

The Public Service have huge expertise: they are the experts on policy, when you compare them with politicians.

The only skill that politicians really have is to win political contests: Win the battle for pre-selection for a seat, preferably a safe seat; win the election, win your seat; win the election, become government; win the support of your colleagues to become part of the leadership, which makes you a minister, or a senior minister, or even a prime minister; etcetera, etcetera

The expertise on policy resides with the Public Service, and that can give you a very unequal power relationship; the great German sociologist, Max Weber, articulated ‘the power of the bureaucracy’: How does it manifest itself? In expertise; in the fact that administration is a powerful pastime in itself. He also noted that it is not a monolith; it is divided along functional lines, and they can compete with each other. The bureaucracy is a seething mass of political rivalry. The struggle for power and influence.

In this situation, a permanent departmental head has the potential for a great deal of power, and that can undermine the Westminster assumption that the minister is on top and the public servant is on tap. The fear is that it is in fact the Public Servant who is on top, because of the command that the public servant has of the information, expertise, and perspective, in policy making.

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One of the great criticisms of public services generally, including old fashioned Westminster public services, was to attack the idea, that underpins the Westminster model, that the Public Service is apolitical. What Westminsterites are doing when making such a claim is trying to draw our attention to the idea that Public Services should be above party politics, but there is another sense in which political arises, and this leads to substantial criticism of public services generally, and Westminster public services in particular, on the grounds that they are big, complex, inert, and above all conservative institutions.  Not conservative in the party political sense, but drawing on Max Weber’s ideas about the public service being a complex political phenomenon in its own right, involved in a power struggle with its political masters. The concern, especially in Westminster public services, is that they become conservative bodies; inert; they won’t do what government tells them to do. Instead of expediting what government is doing, they oppose what governments doing. That’s the whole joke of the Yes Minister TV series.

Conservative and incremental: the Public Service as a source of frustration to government. Instead of assisting in the process, they hinder it.

What to do?

 Redressing the imbalance? Government reforms to the Public Service

  • Whitlam government:
    • development of the ministerial adviser
    • government suspicion of the power of the Public Service
  • Fraser government:
    • cutting the Public Service in numbers
    • rise to prominence of the Department of PM & C
  • The Hawke Reforms:
    • reform of Cabinet to include ‘Super Ministries’
    • fluidity of the departmental head: SES with 5 year contracts
    • opportunities to bring in ‘outsiders’ from the corporate sector
    • privatisation of Commonwealth statutory authorities
  • The Howard Reforms:
    • fusing DPMC and Personal Office
    • closer integration of government objectives and Departmental management
    • controversies over lines of accountability: AWB affair; the Children Overboard affair

Several governments have tried to do something about it:

Gough. The Whitlam government pioneered the use of ministerial advisers.  In today’s papers Rob Hulls is being threatened with the police. He’s accused of being in contempt of parliament. Round him up. Knock on the door. Politician off to jail. Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and see.

Whitlam was very suspicious of the Public Service,

Note that the Whitlam government was an expansive government, and, under Whitlam, the Public Service grew; the public sector expanded very, very rapidly. He really liked the use of statutory authorities to try to fix things.

So when Malcolm Fraser came in, his policy was to cut the Public Service. Most of the cutting went on through cutting the number of people delivering services to the community, and there were big cuts to the public sector as well. But it was interesting to note that, under Fraser, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) started to emerge as a very powerful and influential body.

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12.4      Reforms to the Public Service

The really important reformer was Hawke. This is not meant as a party partisan comment.

The 1987 reforms that the Hawke government brought in were quite extensive, and they were copied by everyone. The first thing that they did was to reform the structure of Cabinet and reform the structure of the Public Service.

[Shows a slide of how the government was structured in 198? – the ‘old style’ where the ministry was broken up into Cabinet and the ministers. There is a list of all the ministers, with a marker to show those in Cabinet.]

If you’re head of a department whose minister is in Cabinet, whacko, your department is representing the most powerful institution in the Westminster system but, by the same token, if your minister is only a junior minister – Minister for Employment; Minister for Housing and Construction; Minister for Science and Technology – then you’re outside Cabinet. So what the Hawke government did was amalgamated 32 departments into 16 ‘Super Ministries’. Now every department is represented in Cabinet. There are 16 Super Ministries and within each of these there will be sub-ministries; there will be a junior minister and an assistant minister. So, we have 16 members of Cabinet, and underneath each of the 16 members of Cabinet, each Minister will have two or three junior ministers. So the Hawke government reformed the Cabinet structure to bring all the departments in. And then it set up the Senior Executive Service, as explained in the previous lecture. The Senior Executive Service is made up of senior Public Service personnel and they are appointed as heads of department for fixed terms to get rid of the idea of the permanent departmental head. They also tried to change the Public Service rules to allow for private enterprise people to come into the Public Service – open the Public Service up to outsiders – not very successful. What has tended to happen, though, for those of you who think the public sector have no value in the private world, is large number of former public servants have actually gone into the private sector. We have not yet found a way of bringing private sector people into the public sector. Why? They don’t get paid enough. Even though a departmental head earns more than the prime minister, something like $300,000 or $400,000 per annum, it doesn’t compete with private sector salary packages that are in the millions of dollars and involve quite substantial share holdings. So that hasn’t worked. Also note that it was the Hawke government that started the process of privatisation. It got rid of those statutory corporations providing goods and services, arguing that private enterprise can do it better, and so started on the road of privatisation.

Three thoughts:

First, the Howard government made some reforms but they were not that extensive.

Second, Public Sector employment numbers did fall quite dramatically: The public sector component of the Australian workforce went from about 20% in 1983 to about 12% today. The public sector has shrunk quite substantially, but Public Service numbers fell and then started to rise – this is one of the great paradoxes: at the same time that these governments talk about the value of small government, they are hiring more and more public servants to work on policy formation. Why? Because public policy is important – it matters.

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13      Electoral Systems

Elections – the ‘Representative’ in ‘Representative Democracy’/

Remember Joseph Schumpeter – One of the great defining characteristics of a modern liberal-democracy is the election process.

Elections are really very important to a liberal-democracy.

There are elections and there are elections. (PRC) People’s Republic of China has elections too – problem is that you can only vote for one party – the Communist Party. There might be 4000 candidates, but they’re all from the same party.

They used to have elections in Iraq, before the Americans moved in and brought their electoral system – Saddam Hussein used to win 99.9% of the vote! Zimbabwe has elections. There are elections and elections.

Australia has a very strong electoral system. Our reputation for our fair and democratic electoral system is such that quite often members of the Australian Electoral Commission are invited to give advice, to other countries, on how to set up their electoral systems. And we’re not just talking about crazy, tin-pot, third world countries like Afghanistan; in fact the AEC has been giving advice to British electoral authorities recently, who are contemplating the idea of converting their House of Lords, from an appointed house, into an elected house, and they are thinking of instituting a system like our electoral system for the Senate. So we have a strong reputation in this area. The Australian electoral process enjoys a great deal of legitimacy, a great deal of strength. Not to say that there are no controversies and problems with the system – of course there are.

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Next couple of lectures:

1. Explanation of the 2 electoral systems which we use for our national parliament:

The Preferential Voting system for the House of Reps, and Proportional Representation – the very different system used for the Senate.

This is a very important part of civics education. What is the point of having a civic culture if people don’t understand the basics? Surely the electoral process is the most basic way in which people interact with their political process.

2. Electoral behaviour.

These are two slightly different topics:

  • electoral systems looks at the processes; the mechanisms by which citizen choices are turned into representation
  • electoral behaviour is a form of political sociology – it’s a superior form of sociology; trying to understand why people vote the way they do; how they respond to the political process the way that they do.

Preferences, determined purely by the voters themselves, will be explained.

13.1      Compulsory voting

In Australia, voting is compulsory.

The law requires:

  • You must enrol (on the electoral roll) at 18 y.o.
  • You must turn up to vote when an election is called.
    • there are arguments about whether informal voting is allowable or not
    • you must lodge your ballot – are not permitted to remove it from the polling station:
    • at the end of the day the number of papers in the box must tally with the number handed out

The ballot is secret.

You can write messages on the paper but you must NOT identify yourself, and you must not obscure your numbering.

Our electoral system is very complicated. As a result of the complexities associated with the system Australian voters rely heavily on external players to provide advice on how to cast their votes. The most important players in this process are political parties. They are crucial because, firstly, they put up the vast majority of the candidates; secondly, the vast majority of voters will vote for party candidates; thirdly, the vast bulk of voters have no idea who the individual candidates are. So they end up having to rely on how to vote cards provided by the parties. These are provided by party workers outside the polling booths.

In Victorian state elections, and in national elections, you must cast a preference for every candidate.

[‘Optional preferential voting’ is when you are permitted to just select one, and say the rest can jump in the lake.]

The parties play a crucial role in this process. It gives them huge amounts of political power.

In theory, this electoral process is the ‘sovereignty’ in popular sovereignty. This is the only time that politicians want to listen to you.

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13.2      The importance of elections:

  • converting popular choice into representation
  • clearing house for policy debate
  • bestowing ‘legitimacy’ to government: the ‘mandate’ to govern
  • needs to be fair, lawful, regular
  • ‘the closest most people will come to their system of government and politics’ – Dean Jaensch
  • Essential to modern ‘representative democracy

The first thing elections do, whether liberal, democratic, or any otherwise, is to convert popular choice into representation; the will of the citizens into actual representation. This is the way in which we select representatives for our legislatures.

Elections are also a very important clearing house for policy debates. What shall we do about Medicare? What do we do about climate change? What should happen with Indigenous Australians? etcetera. All these complex policy matters; all subject to a really simple choice – you go in and vote for someone.

Elections are a place where parties and candidates argue with each other about policies; they present policies for your approval or disapproval; if a party’s in government they’ll seek your endorsement that they’re going the right way; if the opposition is trying to win government, they’ll try to convince you that they are a better alternative; a complex exchange of ideas and debates which requires only the simplest response on the voter’s part.

Electoral systems aim to bestow what political scientists call ‘legitimacy’ on governments. They are a process whereby parties that seek to govern will claim that they have what we call a ‘mandate’ to govern; the authority to govern. So it is important for electoral systems to give who ever ends up winning, a sense of authority; they have the authority to govern. This will only work if voters genuinely believe that the voting system is fair and beyond reproach. If citizens don’t think it’s fair there is no legitimacy, and they will seek to achieve political change in other ways – usually at the point of a gun; with violence.

Politics can be done in many ways. The electoral system is one. If people think it lacks legitimacy, they will find other ways, and sadly, one of the common alternatives to peaceful civic processes, such as voting, is to take your gun in an attempt to force the matter with brute force. So it is very important for liberal-democracies that elections work, and that they are seen as fair, regular, and lawful. It must be fair – voting is often tampered with; it happens frequently, including in the US – they have a very patchy record. America is the home of varying electoral districts in an attempt to contrive results. It has to be fair, it has to be lawful, and it has to be regular.

In Australia, there have been a couple of occasions when it was questioned whether elections should go ahead. One example was WWII. It was questioned whether they should go ahead, as the Japanese were attacking, etcetera: it was agreed that it was important that they should be held. It is important that elections are held, and that they are held regularly.

Hero of Australian political science, Professor Dean Jaensch, put it eloquently when he said that elections are the times when people come close to politics.

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13.3      Elections in Australia: legal basis:

  • The Australian Constitution
    • Parts II and III – establish directly elected Houses (Senate and HOR)
    • allocation of seats (equal Senate representation for original states)
    • ‘original states’ have a minimum of 5 HOR seats
    • parliament has the power to legislate for the conduct of elections
  • The Electoral Act (1918) as amended
  • electoral authority (now the AEC)
  • regulations by which elections will be conducted
  • electoral systems: how the vote will be counted, and how the seats will be allocated
  • ‘districting’ – drawing up electoral boundaries
  • disputed returns

We are a federation so we don’t have just one electoral system; we have two. There’s a national, federal electoral system, run by the AEC, and each state and territory has its own electoral process as well, and its own electoral commission to run state elections. And there is now a third level of elections – local government elections, run by state authorities.  So we Victorians are required to vote in three types of elections; we must vote in national elections; we must vote in state elections; and we must vote in local government elections as well.

National elections are run by the Australian Electoral Commission; state elections are run by the Victorian Electoral commission.

For national elections, parts II and III of the Australian Constitution establish the authority for elections.

Right from the start the constitutional framers intended for both houses of parliament to be directly elected; both the House of Reps and the Senate.

There are some important caveats which complicate the system:

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13.4      allocation of seats

  • first, the question of allocation of seats; the number of seats in a parliamentary chamber to be filled by elected representatives. It was always the intention of the constitutional framers that the House of Reps would be double the size of the Senate.
  • Secondly, each state would be given an equal number of Senators. Originally it was six, it blew out to ten, and today it’s twelve. Each state returns 12 Senators
  • remember S.57. Double dissolution elections. The way it’s supposed to work is that there are a certain number of HoR seats (today it’s 150; originally about 120?). The Constitution says that the allocation of lower house seats will be proportional to the size of the state. The state with the largest number of people will get the largest number of seats; the state with the smallest number of people will get the smallest number of seats. Be careful: the Constitution also says that there will be six original states, and that they will be guaranteed a minimum of five seats. So Tasmania, probably only has enough people to justify 3 HoR seats, but, because of the constitutional allocation of seats, they are guaranteed at least The constitution says that the House of Reps will be elected every three years, and the Senate will have representatives who serve six tear terms, but the terms of the senators will be staggered. So, in a normal electoral cycle, every three years, half of the Senate and all of the House of Reps are elected. The Australian Constitution is a nightmare: nothing is as simple as it seems. It was written up by lawyers who thought – what shall we do to ensure that our successors will enjoy a richly rewarded life by being constitutional lawyers, who can argue in the High Court, till the cows come home, at $400,000 an hour? I know – let’s write up the Constitution! As a rough rule of thumb, what’s supposed to happen is that every time there’s a House of Reps election, half of the Senate gets elected as well. The exception is when Section 57 kicks in. It gives us double dissolution elections in which all of the Reps, and all of the Senate, are up for election. This has important implications for the electoral process.

13.5      The Constitution and elections

The Australian Constitution also gives the parliament the power to regulate, to legislate, for the conduct of elections. So the electoral systems used are the product of parliamentary legislation.

13.6      The Electoral Act of 1918

The rules and regulations for Australian elections are contained in the Electoral Act of 1918, as amended. And it is being amended all the time.

The Electoral Act is the most important body; after it was amended by the Hawke government in 1983, we can say with certainty, the first thing it does is establishes a statutory corporation to run national elections. This is called the Australian Electoral Commission. It sets out the regulations by which the election will be conducted. it tells you how far from the polling booth people are permitted to hand out how to vote cards; it tells you the amount of time that has to elapse between the issuing of writs; it tells you how much parties are allowed to spend on elections; the electoral act is an extensive piece of regulatory legislation. It tells you which electoral system we use.

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13.7      Electoral boundaries

Importantly, the Electoral Act also provides the basis for what we call ‘districting’. Districting is the practice of drawing up electoral boundaries. The first step in any election is to decide the basis on which single representatives will be elected. We do this by looking at geography. Where people live and the physical boundaries within which they live.

The electoral commission will look at every part of Australia and start to draw up electoral boundaries. First they work out how many voters there will be in each electoral district. They then start to draw the boundaries. The main way this is done, in Australia, is to keep like-minded communities together. There are no electoral boundaries in Victoria, state or federal, that cross over the Yarra River. This is another thing the commission uses to determine electoral boundaries. They’ll look at geographic features; mountains; rivers; roads; railway lines; local government boundaries; and they’ll draw these things up.

13.8      Gerrymandering and malapportionment

The difference between malapportionment and gerrymandering.

The importance of ‘districting’:

  • ‘Gerrymandering’
  • deliberate manipulation of electoral boundaries to contrive a result
  • electoral practice in some US states
  • does not occur in Australia – districting done by the AEC according to strict guidelines
  • malapportionment
  • unequal distribution of voting populations across electoral districts
  • prior to 1984: rural weightage (10 per cent)
  • post-1984: demographic shift tolerance of 10 per cent
  • constitutional malapportionment: Tasmania HOR and the Senate

Many people mistakenly claim that we have gerrymandering in Australia. Gerrymandering is the deliberate manipulation of electoral boundaries to contrive results. It was a practice that was brought to us by the Americans in the 1920s. It was done by the governor of Massachusetts, Governor Gerry, who told his officials that he thought they would lose the next election, and so he asked them to fix it for him – they began drawing up electoral boundaries, the shape of which, someone said, looked like a salamander. Hence the term gerrymandering was born.  If we had gerrymandering, and I was a great Labor Party loyalist, and I’d been set up as the State’s chief electoral officer, and the Premier says to me – Nicco, Nicco, we’re up shit creek; fix it so that we don’t lose the next election, then, having studied first year politics I’d know exactly what to do. I’d go “right – I know that all these Liberal people live here: Kew; Hawthorn; Balwyn; nice, nice people with lots and lots of money, and they vote Liberal of course, all the way up here to Menzies; they’re all liberal and I’ll cluster them together into the one electorate, and then, cos I know all the salt of the earth Labor voters live out here – I’ll just draw the electoral boundary up here, along the river here, and I’ll know that the Labor voters outnumber these Liberal voters and Labor will win that seat. I’ve marginalised all those Liberal voters, and just to rub it in, I’m going to call it Fraser. Or I’ll call it Howard! (We name our electoral districts after prominent people in politics and what have you.)

That’s gerrymandering – we DON’T have it in Australia.

We didn’t have it in Queensland either: you sometimes hear, or read, stuff about Queensland state politics from Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s era – accusations that he contrived election results by gerrymander – no! He didn’t – we don’t have gerrymander in Australia, and never have had it. What we do have, is what’s called malapportionment.

Malapportionment occurs when you have an unequal distribution of voting populations across electoral districts. This used to be an important part of Australian electoral practice in the old days. The Country Party used to be very influential, and what used to happen, prior to 1984, was that rural electorates were allowed to be as much as 20% under what was considered to be the acceptable number of voters per electorate, and city electorates were allowed to be 20% over, so you could have a 40% difference. Then Mr Whitlam came into power in 1972, and in 1974 a joint sitting passed legislation that changed that rule, so there could be a ten per cent plus or minus variation between city and country seats; this was challenged in the High Court, and the High Court found in favour of Mr Whitlam: one of his few constitutional victories.

In 1984, however, the Hawke government changed the rules completely. We no longer have rural malapportionment. What we do allow for is a ten per cent variation in electoral districts to allow for population movement. When electoral districts are being drawn up by the Electoral Commission, they are trying to forecast what population movement will be. Under the rules, as they are now, the Electoral Commission changed the boundaries every seven years. We’re about to have an electoral redistribution in Victoria.

For those who live out Healesville way, in the federal electorate of McEwan (Fran Bailey’s seat), there are 105,000 voters, whereas the average number of electors per seat in Victoria is supposed to be about 85,000. That is a malapportioned seat. The voting power of the people of McEwen is far less than the voting power of Deakin, for instance, simply because the voting population is so great out in McEwen, and this is because of changes to Melbourne metropolitan urban areas.

So we still have malapportionment; we still have uneven seats, because of demographic malapportionment: the Electoral Commission is trying to forecast where populations will be moving to, and where they’ll be leaving.

The old days of rural malapportionment are gone. We do have very important malapportionment as a result of the Constitution. The first is the Tasmanian situation: Tasmania has many more seats than it ought to be entitled to, because of the Constitution. by the same token, those poor saps who live in the ACT, and the NT, who have no such constitutional protection – they have grossly overpopulated electoral districts. The 2 electoral districts of the ACT; Canberra and Fraser, each have about 120,000 voters. cf that with the seat of Lyons, in Tasmania, which has 70,000 voters. Tasmania’s voters have a lot more electoral power than mainland voters.

And it gets worse in the Senate, because the Constitution says that each state shall have equal representation in the Senate, regardless of their population. Tasmania has about 380,000 voters; Victoria has about 3 ½ million. Tasmania still gets 12 senators; Victoria still gets 12 senators. The joke is on us (Victorians)! Malapportionment.

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13.9      Preferential Voting (Alternative Vote). Majoritarian systems

Australia’s Electoral Systems:

  • ‘Preferential voting’ for the House of Representatives
  • known specifically as the Alternative Vote – requires electors to cast ‘preferences’
  • utilises single member electorates
  • successful candidate wins a majority of the vote
  • AV results in ‘exaggerated majorities’
  • difficult for minor parties to win: the system usually encourages ‘two party systems’

The House of Reps voting system is known as Preferential Voting. Political scientists also call it the Alternative Vote (AV). It is part of what we call a majoritarian voting system. There are all sorts of majoritarian systems. In Britain, they have a majoritarian system called First Past the Post. You have an election in an electoral district. You draw up an electoral district. You call for nominations. Nominees nominate; they’re on the ballot. The punters go in and vote. The person with the largest number of votes wins. Very simple. First past the post. You have an electoral district of 100 people (must be Tassie). 4 or 5 candidates. One gets 30 votes; the rest get ten votes less; the candidate with 30 votes wins. A simple majoritarian system. We don’t have it – we used to, but we changed it in the 1920s. The reason was because the Country Party came along. The Country Party came along in the 1920’s and split the non-Labor vote. It so happens that the non Labor side of politics are in government; they think uh-oh if the Country Party splits our vote, Labor could get in under a first past the post system, so they came up with the preferential voting system.

The preferential voting system requires voters to cast a numerical preference for every candidate, and you have to order the preferences, 1 through to however many candidates are running. If there are 4, the votes must be numbered 1 through to 4. 1, 2, 3, you can get away with, as the electoral commission will think – ok, the next must be 4. 1, 2, blank, blank – no; informal. 1, 1, 2, 3 – no; informal. 1, 1, 1, 1 –  no; informal. Fuck you guys, nothing – informal. 1,2,3,4 – all the squares. Not every jurisdiction in Australia has compulsory preferential voting.

In Queensland and NSW they have optional preferential voting: you only have to cast preferences for as many candidates as you wish.

Tasmania has a really weird system!

The Alternative Vote; you cast preferences; we utilise single member electoral districts. The whole of Australia is drawn up; redrawn by the Electoral Commission; there’s a series of electoral districts from which each district will return one MP and that MP will sit in that district seat in the parliament. So we use these terms interchangeably: district, electoral division, and seat. The seat of Menzies; or the electoral division of Menzies, or the district of Menzies. The theory is that the successful candidate wins an absolute majority of the vote. In the first past the post system, the candidate who got 30% of the vote wins; you can say, well bully for her – she got the largest number of votes and the rest of the votes were split off amongst these other candidates. But if you think about it, that person sits in the parliament with the approval of only 30% of the people, who voted for her.

The Alternative Voting System is designed to try to ensure that whoever gets elected can legitimately claim to be supported by more than half of the people who voted in that electoral district.

In theory we say, to win a seat in a preferential voting system you must win 50% +1 of the total votes cast. So in our 100 vote electoral district we have to win 51 votes to win the seat. 47.12   What happens in the case of someone who gets 30% of the vote and hasn’t won? all will be revealed shortly.

AV voting gives us what we call exaggerated majorities. (This is something that a lot of people get wrong – you get an election outcome with really close results – but one side has won a huge number of seats. Then people run around saying – that’s unfair – surely if you get 51% of the vote, you should get 51% of the seats? No, no, no!) Majoritarian voting is deliberately designed to reward the winners. You are deliberately winning seats at an exponential rate to the vote that you are getting; you win 50% of the vote, you get 50% of the seats; win 52% of the votes – get 56% of the seats; get 60% of the vote – should get 70 or 80% of the seats. The system is designed to ensure that the party that wins the election wins with a big majority. The whole idea of alternative voting / preferential voting is to reward the winners; make sure that they get a bigger majority than they would normally get.

The system is designed to do two things:

  • reward the winner
  • freeze out minor parties

Minor parties very rarely win preferential voting contests.

Independents win, but since WWII, excluding by-elections, no party other than the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or the National Party has won a preferential electoral contest. No other party.

Independents have won, but no other party.

Not even One Nation and Pauline Hanson! And why?  [Shows a graphic of the ‘cube law’: a graph of a cotangent curve, rotated 90 deg – think hysteresis symbol] The mathematical law of electoral representation. (Don’t worry – won’t be asked in test). Maths representation of the relationship of seats to votes. What we’re seeing is that small change in vote but large number of transfer of seats from one side to the other is perfectly normal. It’s exactly what the system is supposed to do. The graph shows us two things: Firstly, a candidate is not in the position to win a seat until they are polling between 20 and 30% of the vote. In a single member, majoritarian electoral contest you’ve got to be polling at least 30% to have a real chance of winning the seat. But once you get over 50%, small increases in the vote lead to an exponential increase in the number of seats. The more votes you win, the greater, in theory, should be your majority. This is deliberately intended.

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13.10     Electoral boundaries

Single member electorates:

Here’s the Australian Electoral Commission’s map of Australia divided up into electoral districts.

Note that the electorate of Kalgoorlie covers about ¾ of WA. It is the largest electoral district in the liberal-democratic world. One chap represents Kalgoorlie! Whereas if you go to somewhere like Melbourne, or Perth, or Adelaide, there are many electorates in a relatively small space.

[Nick then displays the same boundary map, but with the electorates coloured to represent their political parties: blue for Libs; pink for Labor; green for Nationals; and yellow for Independent (Katter – Kennedy, in Qld).]

Liberals won Kalgoorlie – one MP; One Labor MP for the whole of the NT.

Melbourne (electorates): talk about a class based city! [Points out the boundary of the Yarra River. “All the ‘nice’ people who live by the sea or on the eastern side of the Yarra – they vote Liberal, and a jolly good thing too! And where are all the oiks? Over the other side: yer spanner twirlers, yer ethnics; yer people without much money; look they’re all clustered there (points to western suburbs), and down here (Dandenong area) – Dandenong; that evil, evil place, where Ted Baillieu would never, ever be seen: a Labor heartland as well!

Each electoral district: one MP. What happens in Australian electoral behaviour is that people who get elected are usually from one or other of the major political parties. A system dominated by the major political parties. The only variation is here [indicates the green coloured electoral cluster of rural NSW and Qld]: green! The Greens? The Australian Democrats? No – National Party. Mooo. Baaaa. Turn on your tractors. Vroom vroom. The party of Australian primary producers. They manage to win seats. Why? Because all of their supporters are clustered in this area. Sure, they only get 5% of the vote nationally, but if you go to a seat like Maranoa, in southern Queensland, the National Party primary vote is about 30 to 40%, and with that sort of vote, you can win seats.

Next: how the preferential system works, and how the Senate STV proportional system works.

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 14      The Electoral System

What’s wrong with everybody at the Australian newspaper?

I don’t understand what these guys are on about. I read a news poll that says Labour is 54% of the two part preferred vote, according to their poll, which in my view is a damn good lead – 51% of the 2 party preferred vote gives you about 55-60% of the seats, so I don’t understand, when the polls say Labor is that far ahead, that the headline is “Abbot’s on the way back”.

Today we will explain how the Preferential Voting System works, and then try to explain how the Senate’s voting system works; we use two different systems for the two different houses.

14.1      Preferential voting

First we look at the Preferential system, for the lower house. Australia is divided up into a series of electoral districts. As we get to more densely populated areas the districts get smaller. There is supposed to be the same number of voters per seat. There is a 10% voter population variation to try to accommodate demographic change; it’s a complex thing to try to forecast population shifts. The election revolves around the parties seeking your vote in these electorates. The decisions made by voters in each of these districts will result in the election of a single representative for each electoral district. Preferential voting systems revolve around the idea of single member electorates. One geographic area, called an electorate, trying to keep like-minded communities together, designed to try to stop gerrymandering so that you get a fair and reasonable outcome; each electorate will have an electoral contest within it – somewhere between 50 to 90,000 voters will make their choice; one person will be elected and that person will be considered to have won the seat, in Parliament, for that electoral district. In the Westminster system, government is formed by the party, or parties, that win a majority of seats in the Representative (lower) house.

This is the contest for Government.

The choices made by voters in each electoral district will determine what seats each party holds, and then when the seats are all tallied up we can tell who’s got government. If Labor’s got 76 House of Reps seats, whacko, Labor forms a government. All you need’s one – a one seat majority. Preferential voting systems usually give us what we call ‘exaggerated majorities’. That is, the winner should win a number of seats well out of proportion to the vote. As your vote increases you should be winning an exponentially greater rate of seats. So, if you go from 54% of the two party preferred vote, to 55% of the two party preferred vote, you should be going from winning something like 60% of the seats, to 70% of the seats. In a minute we discuss proportional representation where the ethos is proportional outcomes, but THIS IS NOT proportional representation; this is majoritarian voting.

A majoritarian system is a system designed to find the majority winner. A simple majority system would be the ‘first past the post’ system. You would have an election; the person with the largest number of votes (ticks, crosses, 1s, whatever) would be elected. So if you have an electorate of 100 people; 4 candidates; all the other candidates get about 20, 21, or 22% of the vote; one candidate gets 30% of the vote – she wins the election. The others fall by the wayside. One of the problems with first past the post is that you can get a situation where a candidate is successful, but you could argue that an absolute majority of voters actually didn’t vote for that candidate.

This is the sort of thing causing concern in Britain at the moment. Britain has first past the post voting and we saw, when Margaret Thatcher was PM – and this may yet happen, in the upcoming British elections – you get some electoral districts where the vote was pretty evenly split; 30% Conservatives; 28% Labor; and 22% to the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative candidate wins because of the first past the post system.

In Australia, because of developments in the party system, after WWI – a new political party, called the Country Party, comes on the scene. The Country Party is well supported in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia. It only gets about 5% of the vote nationally, but in the Murray-Darling areas they can win about 20, 30, or 40% of the primary vote.

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14.2      How to count a Preferential Vote Election

When you go to vote, having enrolled on the electoral roll, you run the gauntlet of how to vote cards, go to the tables, in the booth, to see the electoral commission staff, who will ask you your name and address (who you are); they will ask whether you have voted before and then they will provide two ballot papers. The green one is that for the House of Reps. [The ballot paper is small, with the candidates listed, in random order, in a column. To the left of each candidate’s name is a box in which the number (from 1 to 5) is placed in order of preference.] The average number of candidates per lower house electoral district is about five. It varies depending on the number of parties registered and what’s going on in politics. I n some places you’ll only get 3 or 4, maybe no more than 3. In some state elections, sometimes, you go to vote and the lower house ballot paper will have only 2 candidates on it. And in some local government elections, in Victoria, so few people nominate, that you get quite a few people returned unopposed. If an election was called; they call for nominations; only one person nominates – the Electoral Commission declares that person elected – there’s no need for an election. On our sample ballot paper, 5 people are nominated. The names are drawn out of a hat.

There was a time when people’s names, on the ballot, were organised alphabetically, and there was one minor party who used to go around trying to recruit people whose surnames began with A. And there used to be a rush to the deed poll office to register people as Aardvark, and Aanonson, to get on top. So, in 1983, the Hawke Labor government (remember that changing electoral laws is a prerogative of the government – the government can do this by changing the Electoral Act) made a series of big, very important, reforms, and this was one of them; names would now be drawn out of a hat. Why are we interested in this? Some psephologists (psephology is the statistical analysis of elections) argued about whether there was an advantage in being on top of the ballot. The common term used to describe the practice whereby people go in and get their ballots and say, “fuck this – I’m only doing this because I’m forced, and then number the boxes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” is ‘the donkey vote’. There was a big debate about this. Elections sometimes can involve some very close results, and sometimes it’s assumed that being on top of the ballot can be an advantage. We think the advantage is about 1%.

Victorian state election; general election 2006; out in the seat of Kororoit? – out in the western suburbs. The woman candidate was from the Family First party. She’s on top of the ballot. She gets 13% of the vote. That’s massive for someone who doesn’t belong to a mainstream political party. About two years later there’s a by-election. They’re held when a sitting member vacates for some reason or another. The same woman ran again. This time her name’s drawn out of the hat, about 4th – so she’s way down the ballot.  In these by-elections, you get Caulfield Cup fields: 15 or 16 people can nominate. So she’s way down the ballot and she lost 2%. So we suspect that, in some electorates, the donkey vote might be much more than 1%.

Labor were very concerned with certain minor parties going around trying to get themselves on top of the ballot (the minor party they were concerned about was the Democratic Labor Party – the DLP. That’s because the DLP would have their people standing outside ballot stations – they’d have their DLP how to vote card, and every DLP how to vote card, without fail, would always say No. 1 DLP, No. 2 Liberal. That’s where they directed their preferences. Labor solved this problem by having them drawn out of a hat. The other thing they did: Prior to 1983 candidate’s party affiliations did NOT appear on the ballot paper; only the names of the candidates. Labour changed the rules so that the party affiliations are there. You know who the Labor candidate is; you know who the Liberal candidate is.

It’s one thing to go into the polling station and be given a small green slip of paper, however, when you’re given the white Senate paper, it’s something else; it’s huge. There can be as many as 80 or 90 candidates on the ballot.  So the HoR ballots are pretty straight forward, and the idea of putting the party affiliations, with the candidates’ names, is very important. Prior to 1983, the only way a voter could figure out who belonged to what party, was to use the how to vote card. Very few people would know who the candidates were. The How to Vote cards, provided by each of the parties, are a very important part of elections.

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Steps to counting preferential voting:                                           

  • Objective; successful candidate wins 50% plus 1 of formal vote cast
  • ‘Primary vote’ counted
  • If no candidate with 50% plus 1, candidate with lowest primary vote is eliminated
  • Eliminated candidate’s vote is distributed as directed by preferences at full value
  • Process continued until a candidate is elected

What you are doing is trying to find the candidate with an absolute majority of the total formal vote cast in your electoral district. So if there are 50,000 voters, you want to win 25,001 votes; that’s 50% + 1. Now, everyone (50,000 of them) goes in and votes, and, under our system, you are required to post a numerical preference for every candidate. So of the 4 or 5 candidates, you vote No 1 for the person who you want elected; your second preferred candidate – 2; third – 3, and so on. When the polls are placed, the boxes are opened and the ballots are put on a big table; the chief counter, the senior officer at that booth, will instruct the counters to start counting votes. They will look at what we call the primary vote. The primary vote is the number 1 vote; they will look at the ballot papers to see where the voters have put their number 1, and then they allocate the vote to the candidate who received the primary vote. So the first round of a preferential vote involves counting the primary vote. Then the question is asked – has any candidate got 25,001 votes? If the answer is yes, this candidate has 30,000 primary votes, then the election is over – that candidate has won. In 2/3 of the electoral districts in Australia, that’s how it will go. 2/3 of the electoral districts in Australia are very stable for Labour, or very stable for Liberals. So there will be no distribution of preferences. They will count the primary vote; the Labor candidate, or the Liberal candidate, will win.         That’s it. Now these days, for the benefit of psephologists, they do a complete preference count – but that’s only recently. In the old days they stopped – once the result was known, that was it.

Now, what happens if you don’t have an absolute majority of the primary vote? If there’s no candidate with a 50% +1 result, then the candidate with the smallest number of primary votes is eliminated from the count. The counters go back to the ballot. They look to see where the second preference goes. This is the important bit. The eliminated candidate’s vote is given to the 2nd preferred candidate at full value. Not half a vote, not a fraction, but at a full value. After distribution of preferences, all ballots are counted again. If someone has now reached 25,001, then they win; if not – back to the piles. The next candidate with the smallest number of votes, even after distribution of preferences, is eliminated and their preferences are distributed, and this process keeps going until such time someone gets the majority of the vote. That’s how it works. That way, all the votes are counted; all the votes are considered. So the process continues until we elect a candidate.

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14.3      Two Party Vote (TPV)

What we have is called a ‘two party vote’ (TPV). The two party vote is the result of each electoral district, after the distribution of preferences.

Q. from student, about this system disadvantaging minor party candidates. A. It is very difficult for minor parties to win this because they do not have a critical mass of votes. You really need to be holding about 35% of the vote to be in with a chance of winning. And even then, there’s no guarantee. In the 1996 federal election, Pauline Hanson unexpectedly won a very safe Labor seat. At this stage everyone, the two major parties, the minor parties, everyone was against her. So all major parties decided to put her last on their how to vote cards. They directed preferences to anyone else, but Hanson. She was number five, of the five candidates. When the votes were counted, she picked up 35% of the vote; a big slab of the votes. But any psephologist will tell you, to have a chance, she really needed about 48 / 49% of the vote, because she wasn’t going to get any preferences. Why? Because Australians follow How to Vote cards. We have evidence of this. So, with 35% of the vote, Pauline Hanson failed to win the seat.

Now, what’s happening [in this example] with the Greens? They have a very strong concentration of support in central Melbourne. The federal electorate of Melbourne, held by the Labor Party, would normally be a very safe Labor seat. But what’s happening with the Greens primary vote prior to this election? In the last election it was about 27% or 28% of the primary vote. Now you’d be right in thinking that’s a really strong primary vote. But it’s small in the greater scheme of things for two reasons: firstly, at the moment the Liberals have more than the Greens; they’re coming second. So then, [on primaries] the Labor candidate comes first, the Liberal candidate comes second, and the Greens candidate comes third. And also, the Greens candidate has the votes of all those Greens voters who are just disillusioned Labor voters. 80% of them give the Labor candidate their second preference. And those preferences flow through to the Labour candidate, and so Labor get 51% of the primary vote, but on the two party – they get 75%. Now in the last federal election, a couple of things have happened: the Greens candidate comes second; Labor 1st, Greens 2nd, and Liberals 3rd. Now this makes the Liberals think: will they win ‘Melbourne’? No way – the day that happens is the day Labor wins the seat of Goldstein in Brighton – or the red flag flies over government house. It won’t happen, and they know it. So what they do is they say we’re going to embarrass the sitting Labor member; we’re going to direct our preferences to the Greens, and so they do. And what was interesting there was that the Labor candidate got about 52% of the primary vote, so he’s still over the line with the primary; but then the Liberal preferences went to the Greens candidate, and the final two party preferred result was actually very close: Labor 54; Greens 46. Just a 4% margin for Labor. So in fact Melbourne, in a Labor versus Liberal contest, delivers a straight Labour seat, but in a Labor versus Greens contest, delivers a marginal Labor seat. So the preference is important.

(In the state election) you have to remember: For the Greens to win these things have to happen: first, the Labor primary vote has to fall to about 40%; then they have to make up 10% in preferences. If the Labor primary vote is above 50%, it’s game over – they’ve won the seat. If the Labor vote is just a little bit under 50, they’ll pick up the full measure in preferences – preferences never go 100% one way or the other. Normally, there’ll be some people who defy the party ticket. You’ll get the limited preferences Labor need to get over. The Labor vote has to fall to about 40 / 45. Next thing that has to happen is that the Greens candidate needs to come second, not third. The third thing that must happen is that the Greens primary vote must be, as the Cube’s Law suggests, around about 30%. The fourth thing that must happen is that they must get preferences from the Liberals. if all those things come into play, then the Greens will win the seat. That’s very hard – a very, very big ask. Why? It’s part of electoral behaviour. One thing Australians do: they ‘vote the card’, and the vast majority, 80% at least, will vote either Labor or Liberal, no matter what Labor or Liberals do.

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 14.4      Counting preferential elections: McMillan – 1972

Results on primary vote:                                                                     

Armitage (LIB)            12,025 (24.2%)

Buchanan (Ind)          3,113   (6.3%)

Hewson (CP)               8,282   (16.6%

Houlihan (DLP)           3,383   (7.2%)

Mountford (ALP)       22,987 (45.8%)

Stage 1: elimination of lowest primary vote winner, and distribution of preferences at full value

  • with 3113 primaries, Buchanan is eliminated and the vote is distributed according to second preference

Armitage (LIB)                        12,835

Buchanan (Ind)          eliminated

Hewson (CP)               10,262

Houlihan (DLP)           3,721

Mountford (ALP)       22,987

Stage 2: with still no winner reaching 50% plus 1 of the vote, the candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated and preferences distributed

  • with 3,721 votes, Houlihan is eliminated and preferences are distributed

Armitage (LIB)                        13,226

Buchanan (Ind)          eliminated

Hewson (CP)               13,406

Houlihan (DLP)           eliminated

Mountford (ALP)       23,173

Stage 3: Still no candidate with 50% plus 1 of the vote. The candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated and preferences distributed. We now have ‘two party preferred vote’ result.

  • Armitage eliminated and preferences distributed

Armitage (LIB)                        eliminated

Buchanan (Ind)          eliminated

Hewson (CP)               26,096 (52.4% two party vote)

Houlihan (DLP)           eliminated

Mountford (ALP)       23,709 (47.6% two party vote)

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This is a very famous example of preferential voting, in action. It is from the 1972 federal election. It’s for the federal seat of McMillan. It’s 1972 and here are the results of the contest for this electoral division:

A chap by the name of Armitage, the Liberal, wins 12,025 primary votes; that’s a primary vote of 24.2%.

An Independent candidate runs, a chap by the name of Buchanan, 3,113 votes; 6.3%.

A chap called Hewson (not John Hewson, failed Liberal leader from the 1990s), Arthur Hewson, Country Party (in 1974 the Country Party changed name to the National Country Party, and today its simply called the National Party), gets 8,282 primary votes, that’s 16.6%.

A chap by the name of Houlihan, from the Democratic Labor Party (they hate the ALP – they’re always directing their preferences to the non-Labor parties), gets 3,383 votes, 7.2%.

And a chap by the name of Mountford, the Labour candidate: 22,987, not bad eh, 45.8% of the vote.

Now, first past the post; Mountford would have won. Miles ahead. But…

The first thing that happens is the person with lowest primary vote is eliminated – that’s Buchanan, the Independent. Now, his 3,113 primaries are now redistributed according to the second preferences. After preferences, Armitage is 12, 835; Arthur Hewson is 10,262; Houlihan is 3,721; and Mountford has 22,987.

When Buchanan was eliminated, most of his vote went to Arthur Hewson: Armitage picked up about 810, and the rest, about 2000, went to Hewson. What we’ve got here is a bloke who had got pissed off with the Country Party, and ran as an Independent, and split the Country Party ticket. But he’s handed out a how to vote card; vote for me -1, and he’s given Arthur his second preference; and that’s what they’ve done.

So now, we still have no one with the 25 or 26,000 needed to win. Houlihan has the lowest vote now, so he’s eliminated and his preferences are distributed. Armitage gets 13,226; Hewson gets 13,406 and Mountford 23,173. So we know that Hewson has won the contest. Why? Because we know that the Liberal Party and the Country Party are mates. They are coalition partners. So we can be sure that the Liberal Party’s ‘How to Vote’ preference will go to the Country Party. It’s close. Houlihan and Buchanan have upset the apple cart. It could have easily gone to the Libs. But how would Mountford feel! All those votes; but as the count goes on he picks up hardly any preferences. All the others are right-centre candidates, and all their preferences are coming back to the main right-centre candidate; Hewson is now going to win. Armitage is eliminated; Hewson has gone from 8,000 primary to 26,096 votes!

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That’s the difference between the primary vote, and the two party vote.

Just remember how important those preferences are. In certain circumstances, they can get distributed at full value. In the previous example we got right down to the third and fourth preferences. A lot of Australians think, when they vote 2, 3, 4, 5, that they’re giving votes of diminishing value. NO – they are not: in certain circumstance they can be full value.

However, these sorts of outcomes are very rare. In the last federal election, only 6 out of 150 seats had the result on primary changed after distribution of preferences. In most of these cases they were seats where the Liberal candidate was ahead; after the distribution of Greens preferences, the Labor candidate won. But they’re rare. Most of the time, the preferences simply confirm the results of the primary count. But not always.

The other interesting thing about this system is that you actually feel how the minor parties vote. In the first past the post system, minor parties really have little influence over the result because they can’t cast preference votes, but in our system minor parties can play a part by directing preferences. In a very close seat, the distribution of preferences can be the difference between winning and losing.

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14.5      The two-party vote versus the primary vote

  • From obtaining 16.6% of the primary vote, Hewson wins 52.4% of the two party vote by virtue of a 97% flow of preferences from Armitage (that is, 12,870 of the 13,226 votes held by Armitage placed Hewson ahead of Mountford as their preferred candidate)

Amongst psephologists, in Australia, there’s a big argument: what’s the most important – the primary vote, or the two-party vote. Campbell Sharman is a great primary vote fan – he talks about primary votes where you can get to track how people vote for the minor parties, and he points out that ?? with the major parties in ??.  On the other side of the equation is a chap called Malcolm McKeriss? and he argues that the real thing about the two party preferred vote is that in the end that’s the vote that determines who wins the election, and he’s more interested in that. And what he does, too, is to compare the two-party preferred vote, in each electorate, for each election. And he argues that there’s something called a swing; that is a percentage of Australians who, if they change their voting choice, will change the party’s victory in that particular electorate and that means, then, changes of government. He talks about the importance of the two-party preferred swing; that if the two-party preferred swing to Labor at the next election is for 2 or 3%, then, in theory, they should win even more seats than they hold now. Or to put it another way, If Mr Abbott is to become PM, he needs to achieve a 4% or 3% swing; that is 3% of voters have to change their minds. It shows what a close contest most Australian elections are. They’re very close in terms of votes. The reason why it doesn’t look close, in terms of seats won, is because of the phenomena of the ‘exaggerated majority’. Very small shifts of vote can lead to large numbers of seats changing hands.

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14.6      Proportional Representation

  • used to elect the Australian Senate
  • known as the ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) system: requires electors to cast a numeric preference for all candidates
  • multi-member electorates (the States, with equal representation)
  • introduced in 1948, first used in 1949
  • quota: (total vote divided by vacant positions plus 1) plus 1
  • in theory, makes it easier for minor parties to get elected (quota for half Senate elections is 14.4%; 7.7% for full Senate elections)

Proportional Representation is used to elect the Senate. It revolves around something called the single transferable vote. This is a concept brought to us by Irish liberal philosophers. If you read John Stuart Mill, you will notice he spends a lot of time considering how to protect minority interests. Liberal mathematicians (philosophers are good at maths) came up with this idea: let’s have an electoral system that allows minor parties, that is individuals who get a small share of the vote, to win seats. The whole thing about proportional representation is to try to ensure that representation is proportional to vote. If you win 5% of the vote, you win 5% of the seats; 50% of the vote – 50% of the seats. Entirely different to majoritarianism. The single transferable vote idea requires voters to go in and cast a preference for every candidate that runs. It looks a bit like preferential voting. But this is because the complicated electoral system is going to try to shift huge numbers of votes around in a bid to determine who is going to be elected.

The first thing we need to note is that proportional representation differs from preferential voting in a number of important ways: firstly, it utilises multi-member electorates – not single member electorates. In the Senate, each state becomes a multi-member electorate; each state returns 12 Senators. If there is a half Senate election, 6 Senators are being elected; if there is a full Senate election, thanks to Section 57,  12 Senators are being elected.

After the votes have been cast, you need to determine a quota; the amount of votes that a candidate needs to win to secure a seat. This is done mathematically: (but we won’t worry about the formula for the exam). In a half Senate election, you need 14.4% of the vote. In a full Senate election you need 7.7%.  This is because the percentage of votes you need will be influenced by how many seats have to be filled. If you’re only filling six seats, it’s 14.4%; if twelve, 7.7%. Note, firstly, that this is a lot lower than 50% plus 1. So, in theory, this system should advantage minor parties. And if you have a full Senate election, it advantages them even more. That’s why minor party candidates love double dissolution elections. Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding say ‘come on – bring on the double dissolution election’, because they have a much better chance of being elected than with the half Senate election.

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14.7      Relationship of Representation to Vote: Proportional Systems

[Shows slide of mathematical graph of proportionality, followed by slide of sample Senate ballot paper}

Notice, on the Senate ballot paper sample (which is a relatively small one), that the candidates are grouped according to party; thanks to Bob Hawke, there’s a black line dividing a single vote for the preferred party option (above the line), or the complete selection (below).

The Hawke government changed the system; prior to 1984 you had to fill in all the squares. People had no idea who all the candidates were. There was no party identifier. Without a how to vote card you would have no idea at all. And you had to fill in all the squares, and if you made a mistake, the vote was invalid. Hawke changed it so that you could fill in the squares yourself, or you could simply vote 1, above the line. If you vote 1 above the line, you are assumed to be voting for the official party how to vote card. That’s how your vote is counted. It’s called the GTV – the group ticket vote. Now 95% of Australians vote above the black line. It varies from state to state; Tassie – it’s 87; everywhere else, it’s 95. It varies by party: with Labor voters, 99% vote above the line. So it was an important reform.

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 15     Electoral Behaviour

15.1      The Senate system.

Electoral behaviour (aka Political Sociology).

Next: Important organisational actors that make up the politics in Australian politics.

So far: we’ve looked at Institutions of government; electoral systems – a bridge between the institutions of government: elections are institutions of government – there are laws, there are organisations; associations; statutory authorities running elections; elections perform a crucial function in choosing representatives who go through to the legislature; important parts of the democratic process – but highly political – we’ve seen that the electoral contest revolves around political parties, so parties are clearly crucial to Australian politics. Tomorrow we look at political parties, and interest groups as well; interest groups can play a part in this electoral process.

How the Senate system works.

You can make a reasonable guess at Senate election outcomes because, even though it’s proportional representation, and, in theory, proportional representation systems are supposed to deliver seats in proportion to vote won – if you win 5% of the vote, you should win 5% of the seats; 10% of the vote, 10% of the seats –  but it’s actually very badly distorted; the proportionality of the outcomes in senate contests in Australia are distorted by a couple of things: first of all they are distorted by the malapportionment at work – that’s unequal voting power. We have an inbuilt malapportionment in the Senate system – it’s in the Constitution, which says that every one of the Original states shall have the same number of senators, regardless of the number of voters contained therein. This means there are certain mathematical implications for the way in which Senate outcomes occur.  The text book contains the boring formulae, but we won’t bother… 5:46 The consequence of the way malapportionment works in Australia is that we don’t have to be mathematical wizards to work out what you need to win in seats to get elected.

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15.2      Half-Senate elections

When there is a normal half-Senate election (normal cycle – every three years, half of the Senate) you need 14.4% of the vote to get a seat. Clearly, the major parties are going to get multiples of this. At the very worst, Labor will get 30% of the primary vote. That’s 2 times 14.4 = 2 seats. But the major parties are the only ones who will get anywhere near that sort of vote. The minor parties – even those that have been around for a while, like the Australian Democrats who are a long standing feature of the Senate – rarely ever get that sort of vote. In fact you can count on one hand the number of non-major party candidates who managed to win 14.4% of the vote and secure for themselves a Senate seat, from a non major party configuration. One of them was a One Nation Party candidate, from Queensland, in 1998. She didn’t take her seat because she had her candidature withdrawn by the High court. But One Nation, in 1998 in Queensland, got 14.4% of the vote. On that basis they won a seat. Natasha Stott Despoja, who was very popular in SA, would get a very high primary vote whenever she ran for the Australian Democrats. One year, 1996?, she picked up about 15% of the vote in SA, and so got her Senate seat. The only other person who gets a quota is Bob Brown in Tasmania. When he ran in the Senate, in 2004, he got 18% of the vote, so he clearly got the 14.4% needed to get a seat. It is very rare for non-major party candidates to get a quota.

The chimera?? changes a little bit when there’s a full Senate election (as a consequence of Section 57). When there’s a full Senate election, that is all 12 Senate positions become vacant in each state, the electoral quota, the amount of the vote that you need to secure a seat, comes down; it’s basically half. It’s about 7.7%. Minor party politicians love double dissolution elections because the electoral thresholds come down. They have a much greater chance of winning a double dissolution election than a half Senate election. But again, don’t be fooled: very few minor parties actually achieve even 7%. In fact, just to make things even more complicated, we have had some instances of minor party successes with incredibly small primary votes. In 1987, the Nuclear Disarmament Party won a seat in NSW with 1.8% of the primary vote. And, in 2004, a chap called Steve Fielding (he’s God’s emissary in the Senate) got there with 2% of the primary vote in Victoria. How do these people do it?

The answer lies here [indicates a diagram depicting how the Senate ballot paper looks] [Remember – early prediction of 28 August for double dissolution election]

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15.3      Double dissolution

This means all 12 Senate positions, here in Victoria, will be available. This is a Senate ballot paper that you’d expect in a half Senate election, because they’re just filling six positions. The major parties will put up candidates – they’ll be listed; that’s the way this ballot paper is structured; and the major parties will put up six names; the minor parties might put up five or six names; the ballot paper will be quite manageable. When a double dissolution election happens, all 12 positions have to be filled, so the major parties will nominate 12 people each, and perhaps the minors will nominate as many as eight. So a double dissolution Senate ballot paper is massive, with lots and lots of names.

15.4      Hawke reforms – the Group Ticket Vote

Prior to 1984, when you went to vote, you didn’t have the black line; you didn’t have the party names; all you had was names of candidates listed under A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and Ungrouped. Ungrouped are the Independents. Prior to 1984 you had no party identifiers on the Senate ballot. In 1983 the Hawke Labor government changes the electoral rules and they introduced this ballot paper, where you can choose to either fill in all the squares, or simply put a number 1 in the box of the party list and your vote is assumed to correspond with the official party How to Vote card. We call this a group ticket vote; a GTV. The Group Ticket Vote occurs when Australians vote above the black line. They simply put a 1 in one of those boxes and their vote is assumed to follow the official party How to vote card.

The Hawke government did this for a couple of reasons. The first reason for why they changed the Senate election system goes back to the Whitlam years. in 1974, that double dissolution election year, in NSW there were 75 candidates running. We don’t know that this is true as the Electoral Office, as it was back then, hasn’t confirmed this, but Labor scrutineers claim that one of the consequences of having so many candidates, with no part identifiers, is that it made voting, for Labor partisans, really difficult. Shortly we’ll discuss electoral behaviour and the jigsaw puzzle pieces will fit in. Because your typical Labor voter, especially in the western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, not very well educated, not very numerate, likely to speak a language other than English – really difficult. And as a result of this, what we used to have in Senate elections, before these reforms, was really high informal rates. Informal voting rates of 10% or more. And most of these informal votes were mistakes. People had made a mistake trying to number their preferences from 1 to 75. Under this system you have to cast a preference for every candidate, and the Labor scrutineers claim, and this is published, in Colin Hughes’s chapter, in a book by Howard Penneman, called Australia at the Polls, 1983 – Colin Hughes, who was later to become Chief Electoral Commissioner for Australia, writes in his chapter that Labor scrutineers reported that an abnormal number of people had tried to vote for the Labor Party in NSW in 1974, and had made a mistake. And so what the Labor Party considered to be an abnormally high number of votes meant for the Labor Party were rendered informal. And the scrutineers claim if those votes had counted, Labor would have won an extra Senate seat in NSW, and the 1975 constitutional crisis would never have happened!  Labor would have controlled the Senate. But because of the complexity of the system, a number of Labor voters couldn’t cope with it, and made a mistake.

When Labor came back in 1983 they were going to change the system, and this is the result; a system which was designed to make it easier to vote in the Senate, and it’s been very successful. The informal rate in Senate elections, now, is down to 3%. The problem of informal voting in the Senate has been solved. But it’s a double edged sword: one problem has been solved, but another has arisen. As a result of the Group Ticket Voting system, large numbers of Australians have become very lazy. 95% of Australians will vote above the black line. It varies from state to state; in Tasmania it’s about 80%; in Victoria it’s very high – about 96 – 97%. There’s a reason for that: Tasmania has Hare-Clarke proportions for its lower house elections. 99% of the people voting for the major parties – Labor or Liberal – vote above the black line.

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15.5      Parties

What does this all mean? It means that the major parties have a role in determining which minor party, if any, will get into the Senate. This all depends on how the major party vote is going. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that we are having a half Senate election and the quota to get elected is 14.4%. You get 14.4% of the vote and you’ve got one seat. If you get 28.8%, you get two seats. If you get 43.2% – you get three seats. Now the major parties will easily get 40%. So both Labor and Liberal are guaranteed of getting two seats each, in a Senate contest. The Libs tend to do very well in Senate contests; there are very few right wing minor parties to take votes off them – the only exception was 1998 when Pauline Hanson and One Nation came along. That hurt the liberal Party vote – it came down. Normally, right wing minor parties, like Family First, and what have you, Confederate Action Party? – they are lucky to get 1% – 2% of the vote. What tends to happen is that conservative, right of centre voters will vote for the coalition in the Senate, and they get 43.2%, or close to it, and that gives them 3 seats. The problem is on the Labor side of the equation. Labor will always get at least 30% of the vote, but there are always left of centre parties chiselling votes off Labor – the Democrats for a long time, and then the Greens. They’re taking 6 – 7 – 8% of the vote off. Not enough for those minor parties to get a seat on their own, but enough to deny Labor the third left of centre Senate seat.

So what happens in half-senate election contests is that the coalition will get three of the six seats in each state. They’ll get ’em. Unless there are some crazy right wingers out there, getting huge amounts of support, like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation; otherwise that’s the normal thing. Labor are guaranteed of getting at least two of the left of centre seats. At least two. Then there’s a big fight for the final seat – that’ll be between Labor and the Democrats, or, these days, Labor and the Greens. 18.11 When people are voting, some candidates will get well over the 14.4% that they need to get elected, and the electoral system, as complicated as it is, is basically doing this: it’s shifting what we call ‘surplus votes’. That is the vote that the parties have won in excess of the vote that they needed to win a couple of seats; if there’s vote left over, it gets moved to the next preferred candidate. When the major parties produce their Group Ticket Votes, they will make a decision on where their preferences will go, and, in the case of the Labor Party in Particular, the Labor Party will determine whether the Democrats or the Greens will get a seat in the Senate.

Unless a minor party can win a quota in their own right, they are dependent on preferences and on surpluses from the major political parties, and, given that nearly everyone who’s voted Labor has voted above the black line, an argument can be made that when the parties make decisions about the allocation of preferences, they will make key decisions.

Here’s an example. In WA, for a large number of years, both the Greens and the Australian Democrats were polling about 7 or 8% each, in separate Senate contests. Sometimes the Democrats would get the final seat, and sometimes the Greens would get it. How was this determined? It all depended on which minor party the Labor Party gave its preferences to. On the occasions that the Labor GTV gave their preferences to the Democrats, the Democrats would get that seat; on the occasion the Greens got their preferences, they would get the seat. The major parties are really influential in the conduct of our elections. Even though proportional representation is supposed, in theory, to be a system that gives minor parties more opportunities to win seats than preferential voting, because 14.4% is a lot less than 50% + 1, and 7.7% is even easier, at the end of the day it’s the major parties that will determine which minor party sits in the Senate, thanks to this group ticket vote. And thanks to the fact [that people vote above the line] No-one is forced to vote this way – you can fill in your own squares if you wish – and there were a lot of Labor people who, in 2004, felt cheated.

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15.6      How Family First’s Fielding won a Senate seat

In 2004, in Victoria, Labor polled poorly. It only won enough votes for the quota – 14.4 times 2 – they won about 32, 33% of the vote. This was enough for two Labor Senators, but not enough for a third. So there was quite a substantial amount – about half a Labor quota – left. You would think in a sane, rational world that quota would have gone to Labor’s great left of centre, social progressive colleagues – the Greens. And the greens had won about 7 or 8% of the primary vote, so they were right up there with a chance for the voting, but there was a problem: the Labor Party GTV didn’t give its preferences to the Greens – it gave its preferences to a party called Family First, and a chap called Steve Fielding. A few journalists picked this up and said ‘why’s Labor done this?’ and Labor strategists said ‘because we want to maximise our chances of winning the third seat – we’ve done a preference deal with Family First; in exchange for giving them our second preference, they’re giving us their second preference’. But the joke was on the Labor Party; what happened was the coalition polled really well – they got their three senators up, with quota to spare – and, of course, the Liberals had done a preference deal with Family First as well. They certainly weren’t going to give their preferences to the Greens, so they gave them to Family First. And so, after they got their three senators up, a little bit of Liberal surplus went over to Steve Fielding, and, lo and behold, Steve Fielding was ahead of all the other minor party candidates.

At the end of the count, you had a Labor candidate, a Green candidate, and Steve Fielding, the Family First candidate, all vying for the last seat. And because the Labor Party had given their preferences to Mr Fielding, and because 99.9% of Labor voters voted above the black line, all of the Labor surplus (about half a seat) went to Steve Fielding, to the annoyance of the Greens who thought they should have won the seat. Mr Fielding is in the Senate because the Labor Party put him there!

Mr Fielding is in the Senate because Stephen Conroy, and various others of the Labor Party in Victoria, who should have known better, put him there!

In that election of 2004, in Tasmania – same thing, but a little bit different. The Greens candidate there is a woman called Christine Milne; a big environmental activist. She’s running for the Senate. She gets a big primary vote – 13%, but that’s not a quota; not enough. So she’s going to have to rely on preferences. Now, there’s a Family First candidate – Jacqui Petrusma – and she’s on 2% primary vote, but the same thing happens; Petrusma stays in the count – she, the Labor candidate, and the Greens candidate, are the last candidates standing for the sixth Tasmanian Senate seat. And the Labor Party’s GTV in Tasmania has directed its preferences to Jacqui Petrusma. The difference is, in Tasmania, only 80% of Labor voters (20% less than Victoria) have voted above the black line. The other 20% of Labor voters have voted below the black line, and they’ve given the Greens candidate, Christine Milne, their second preference. Now, because she’s so close to a quota, this leakage of Labour preferences is enough to get her over the line. She only just won.

You need to look very carefully at these preferences in Senate contests, particularly from the major parties; they are the ones that will determine how the election will go.

Senate contests look really difficult – you need a mathematics degree to work out how to count them; but there’s no need for you to know this, unless you’re going to be an electoral officer at some stage; if you really need to work out the quota, the text book shows how. What you need to know is that the Australian situation is a bit odd: in theory, our system should be giving minor parties a much greater chance of winning Senate representation, and indeed it does; the minor parties are present in the Senate – they are not present in the House of Reps, and, clearly, the two different electoral systems account for this. But we have to remember that even under proportional representation, the way we practice it in Australia, the role of the major parties is crucial. Very few minor party candidates ever win enough votes to win a seat in the Senate in their own right. And the last thing to say about Senate contests is, as Professor Malcolm Mackerras reminds us, in most instances the Senate contest is a battle between what he calls the left of centre and the right of centre.

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15.7      Effect of minor parties on the major party vote

Let’s leave aside the normative assumptions between left and right. What he’s trying to say is, when the Democrats, or the Greens, run, they usually take votes off the Labor Party, and when One Nation, or Family First, run, they usually take votes off the Liberals. And the proportional system still makes people cast a preference for every candidate, and whether you choose to do it individually, or as a group ticket vote, at the end of the day, the major parties’ flow of preferences will determine which minor party gets in. He said each electoral contest will be a battle. Half will go to the left of centre; half will go to the right of centre. Half of the seats will go to the coalition, and Family First, half will go to Labor, and the Greens. And the big question is how big will the primary vote for the major party be? Will the vote for the major party hit 43.2%? If the major party vote, for each state, in the Senate, hits 43.2%, they will win the three Senate seats; there will be no minor party in Canberra.

43.2% is a big ask. There are very few instances of Labor achieving that; the Liberals are more likely to achieve it. What tends to happen is, when a minor party gets in, it usually does it at the expense of the Labor Party, and it’s usually a left of centre party. Unless, of course, our friends at the Labor Party decide to direct their preferences somewhere else, as they did with Steve Fielding in 2004.     And if the total right of centre vote gets over 43.2%, and up into the 50s and 60s, well then you’ve got a real chance of picking up four of six seats, and that’s exactly what happened in Queensland, in 2004, which gave John Howard control of the Senate.

So those electoral struggles, in the Senate, are titanic struggles.

Things to know about the system:  It clearly is a system that’s designed to try to deal the minor parties into the game; but remember that one feature of Australian electoral behaviour is that what tends to happen is that most people vote for the two major parties.

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15.8      Electoral Behaviour

(aka Political Sociology – the only useful sociology in the world – all other sociology is bullshit)

What is important is to understand this basic factor – in most industrial societies there are two basic cleavages: those who earn income from doing hard work, and those who earn their income from the market place; blue collar versus white collar; working-class versus middle-class.

Therein lies the problem, but let’s start with that assumption, because that’s the assumption we are going to work through. We will talk about the relationship between electoral behaviour and what we in the sociology business call social cleavages; the things in society that divide us. This is a difficult thing to talk about in Australia because we are encouraged to think about ourselves as a classless society. You can go to Sydney, or to Brisbane, or into the country; we all talk the same (mostly). There’s a strong sense of a homogenous society; a massive middle-class society; no great class divide.  On Dateline last night, (George – shut the fuck up, you pompous old git –) George Negus was interviewing a political journalist, from Britain, about next Thursday’s British general election. There was lots of stuff about class division in Britain. In Britain they understand class much more keenly than we do here.

This is relevant to the topic because one of the enduring controversies in trying to understand political behaviour in this country is to ask the question – is class still an important determinant of electoral and political behaviour in Australia? – and there are two schools of thought: there are those who say ‘no – class is a declining factor – you can’t talk about the old style industrial, blue-collar working class, because it’s in decline in numbers in Australia’, and the Labor Party talk to people who vote for Labor and they are no longer just simply blue-collar, trade unionised working people. On the other hand, if there’s a working-class, what’s the other class, and how come they’re so numerous? Is it simply a case of calling the non-working class the middle-class?

If property ownership is a determinate of class – you’re working class because you’re a wage and salary earner; you’re middle-class because you’re a property owner – how does that work in a country like Australia, where everybody either owns property, or aspires to own property? And so the big argument – do we have class division in Australia? I would acknowledge that there’s that question of class, but I would urge you to remember that there are also very important matters of geography and demography that come into trying to understand how elections operate and what happens. My argument would be (and I hasten to stress that this is not agreed with, at all, across political science – some of my very great elders and betters in political science have serious disputes with me on this), I still think that class is important. it may be declining but the realities of economic class, and geography (land and people – the correlation of where you live, what work you do, and what your socio-economic and socio-cultural background is), is still really important, because our cities and our regions still have serious class divides, and this is reflected in electoral contests because geography is the basic building block of electoral systems.

We draw our electoral systems that bring communities together, and if you have class divided cities… Melbourne is a class divided city; here we are in the nice end – sure it gets a bit messy down there, toward Dandenong – but in the nice part: Kew; Balwyn; Mt Waverley; Glen Waverley; Camberwell; Hawthorn; even aspiring Camberwell like Surrey Hills; Box Hill. Mont Albert; Laburnum; these are beautiful places where people earn their incomes from using their brains rather than their hands; and children are going to private schools; they’re being driven there in SUVs, and English is the dominant language spoken. Whereas you go other the other side and God almighty! What have you struck? High schools everywhere; people in beaten up old Falcons; languages – all sorts of languages! OK I’m parodying the situation, but we clearly know, from the census, that the Yarra River is the great socio-economic divide in Melbourne. Go across the river and all the socio-economic characteristics suggest to you that things change: median family income – lower; educational attainment level – much lower; languages spoken at home, other than English – much higher in the western suburbs; manufacturing employment – much higher in the western suburbs. Now that’s not to say that everyone in the western suburbs is a Greek speaking, blue-collar working, Ford manufacturer, etcetera etcetera, who left school at 14 and is really glad he’s in Australia, and not Greece, now cos isn’t that a mess? – I was in Oakleigh on the weekend, and I swear that people were taking a collection for the Greek government! One dollar a raffle ticket – every dollar helps!

Now I’m not saying that everyone who lives in the western suburbs is a Labor partisan, and I’m not saying that everybody in Kew is a died in the wool Liberal voter; what I’m saying is that when we look at electoral results, what we find is that the Liberal Party always wins Kooyong, and the Labor Party always wins Maribyrnong, and it wins it with a huge vote, that’s not to say there’s not Liberal and Labor people in these places – of course there are – but when we’re looking at electoral results, the issue of class is actually very important, and it’s reflected in election results, but, again, I stress this is my view – that class is important to electoral results – not everybody agrees with me.

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 15.9    Voting Behaviour: Australian federal elections

House of Representatives

Voting Behaviour - Federal Elections HoR 1949-1996: two party voting
Voting Behaviour – Federal Elections HoR 1949-1996: two party voting

The purpose of showing this graph is to remind us of a couple of things. Firstly – again there’s great argument about what’s going on – one school of thought is that the system revolves around the dominance of the major political parties; that’s where I’m at. I believe that the electoral system revolves almost exclusively about the fact that the vast majority of Australians vote Labor or Liberal. My adversaries in this study would say, well that’s true, but they would point out, and I would have to concede, that what we’re seeing over time [graph shows era between ’49 election and ’07 election; that’s the Labor Party in red, the Liberals in blue; there’s the National Party vote in green, and yellow for ‘others’ – other minor parties and Independents], what trends do we note? First, the percentage of Australians voting for major parties is still by far the major share, but it’s declining –there is a decline in the total number of people voting for major parties.   The second thing to note is that there’s a gradual increase in the number of people voting for parties other than Labor, Liberal, and National. But, (looking at the yellow line) look how variable it is. it’s up and down (like the Greek drachma – ha ha). And the third thing we note is the gradual decline of the National Party. Why are we bothering to factor the National Party in? Because the National Party has an advantage that other minor parties don’t have. The National Party’s advantage is that its support is concentrated. It has geographic concentrations of support – in the Murray-Darling Basin. So whilst the overall national Party vote – the National Party vote nationally – is small; 5- 6%, in certain electorates it can be as high as 30 – 40%. If you’re winning 30 – 40% of the primary vote in single member electorates, then you’re winning elections.

Major party cf: minor party voting: HoR
Major party cf: minor party voting: HoR

Here’s the same data presented slightly differently. Here, I’ve combined the Labor and Liberal primary vote. And, again, this gives the important trend. Sure, it’s declining; there are peaks and troughs in the decline, but by far the vast majority, 80%, of Australians vote Labor or liberal.

We can argue about the goodness or badness of this; we can argue about whether it’s in decline or not; I say bullshit to all that. In a single member, majoritarian electoral system, if you’re winning 80% of the vote, you’re going to win nearly all, if not all, of the Lower House seats. And that is in fact exactly what happens in Australian elections.

Federal election outcomes: HoR seats
Federal election outcomes: HoR seats

Going from 1961, all the way to 2007, this is a graph showing Labor in red, Liberal in blue, and our friend the Country Party in green. The only real change starts to occur in 1987, where a number of others come in. Before you say ‘aha; hoisted on his own petard’ let me remind you that the only people who have defied the dominance of Labor, Liberal, and National, over seat outcomes in the House of Representatives, have been Independents, not the minor parties; individual candidates. We suspect this is something to do in the decline in support of the National Party – nearly all the successful Independents are former regional representatives of major parties – they’ve left the major party and been able to get elected.

There’s a big swag of these in 1996. There are a whole lot of former Liberals who got kicked out of the Liberal Party by the Liberal Party machine; they ran again as Independents, and they got elected. And there was a Labor person in this as well, and some former National Party people. The point being that there is clear evidence of Independent support rising in country Australia; in the regions – not in the cities. The cities are dominated by the major parties.

2 party results 49 - 07
Two Party results: 1949 to 2007

Here are the results that count. This is the national two party preferred vote, from 1949 to 2007. Labor’s two part preferred vote versus the coalition. Let me warn you of something. The data from 1984 onward is to be trusted. The data prior to 1984 is not. Why? Again, the consequence of electoral rule changes. In 1983, the Hawke government, in addition to all the other things which they did, converted the Australian Electoral Office into a statutory authority. Prior to 1983 elections were conducted by an offshoot of a ministerial department. After 1983 the Australian Electoral Commission becomes a statutory corporation.

One of the things which it is the charter of the Electoral Commission to do now is to do a full distribution of all preferences. So the two party preferred vote from 1984 onwards is the accurate vote. Prior to 1984 we only have estimated two party preferred vote. The Electoral office only did preference distribution in those seats that needed them. I mention that as there’s a matter of controversy here as well.

In 1954, 1961, 1969, 1990, and 1998, the party that won a majority of the two party preferred vote failed to win the election. For the record, this has happened five times; Labor has lost out four times; the coalition lost out once, in 1990. Does this suggest some sort of class bias perhaps? More likely it shows that the common denominator is that the parties that failed to win a majority of seats, even though they won a majority of the two party preferred vote, were all in opposition. They were all in opposition: Labor in the fifties and sixties; the coalition in 1990. What I’m trying to get across here is something that our dickhead friends in journalism have no idea about – as evidenced by the disgraceful commentary about State election outcomes, on Newspoll, published at the beginning of last week. What can you say about a commentary community that’s obviously in love with Kristina Keneally? I don’t blame them – she’s good looking, no doubt about it – but can you take journalists seriously when they look at the Newspoll vote that says Labor is on 45 and the Liberal Party, the coalition, is on 55 – if that were the case, if the next NSW state election had that sort of figure – 55 to the coalition, 45 to Labor – there would be not enough Labor MPs to form a parliamentary cricket team. There’d be so many coalition MPs they’d have to build a new Legislative Assembly to fit them all. Yet journalists go ‘oh no – this is really close. Look at Kristina Keneally’s approval rating amongst voters’. This is not the United States! They’re not presidents! It revolves around parties.

In the meantime, come to Victoria: 52 / 48. ‘Oh, Brumby’s gone. Gone.’ What!! Labor would love to have 52% of the two party preferred vote. The only way that Mr Bailleau would be guaranteed of winning a majority in the Legislative Assembly would be if he got 52% of the vote. It is really hard for oppositions to win elections. Sometimes they have to get more than the national or state-wide majority two party preferred vote.

The other thing that these figures also show is that there’s a very serious regional factor at work. We need to understand the distinction between safe seats and marginal seats – important to political behaviour.

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First we’ll outline some of the key features of political sociology.

15.10      Electoral behaviour and political sociology:

fundamental basis of ‘political behaviour’

  • electoral behaviour is a subset of political behaviour
  • political behaviour is based on:
    • relationship to the economy: ‘class’
    • where you might live (‘rural’ versus ‘urban’)
    • ‘socialisation’
      • family
      • work-place
      • education
    • cultural
      • religion
      • language
      • ethnicity

 ‘Social Cleavage’ and elections

  • social cleavages are the socio-economic and/or socio-cultural divides in a society that impact on politics
  • impact of social cleavage on:
    • the party system
    • electoral behaviour
  • Key Australian cleavages:
    • ‘class’ – Labor versus Liberal; the Greens
    • urban v rural – the Country Party (National Party)
    • religion – the DLP; Family First

 Australian electoral behaviour: key issues

  • general principles
    • Labor voters: ‘blue collar’; wage and salary earning; unionised; living in ‘industrial’ suburbs or industrial/mining provincial cities
    • Liberal voters: ‘professional’; white collar’; small business; farming, living in affluent areas
    • National Party: the ‘farmers’ party’
  • variations on the theme:
    • Labor’s ‘white collar’ and ‘professional’ constituency: ‘the inner city cosmopolitans’ also known as ‘post materialists’
    • Liberal party’s ‘blue collar’ constituency: ‘ the battlers’
    • Liberal and National party sharing the farmer constituency
    • ‘post materialists’ and the ‘New Politics’: the Greens, the AD aka: ‘The Doctors’ Wives’

 Australian Elections: key behavioural characteristics

  • the election contest and the ‘competing thirds’
  • primary role for political parties:
  • ‘partisans’ versus ‘swingers’
    • firmly aligned voters as distinct from the ‘market rational’ voter
  • the rise of the ‘new politics’
    • post-materialists; anti-system constituents; the new religious constituency
  • party contests or presidentialisation?

Electoral behaviour is seen as a subset of political behaviour. I mention this because a lot of students and commentators get their knickers in a knot over this. There are sometimes competing axioms. Here’s one: People vote the way their parents vote. That’s one axiom. This is based on sociological argument that family is an important agent of socialisation. You learn your politics, it is argued, from your family. And I wouldn’t dispute that. That’s true.

The other axiom is: More young people vote Labor than Liberal. Well, that’s true too. We know this from all sorts of opinion surveys. In fact, it’s such an entrenched concept, it’s a joke – a psephologist’s joke: if you don’t vote Labor when you’re 18, you haven’t got a heart, and if you’re still voting Labor when you’re 45, you haven’t got a brain. The argument being that the young are idealistic, and will go for the idealistic, socially progressive political party. That’s a value laden statement, if ever there was one. And, of course, when you get to be an old fart, and you’re worried about your number plate getting stolen; law and order; getting to work on time; why your kids won’t get out of bed before 4 in the afternoon; and you’re becoming old; you’re owning property; you’re going to vote for the party that understands the importance of …

The interesting thing about the young stuff is that we do also know that parties like the Greens enjoy a great deal of support amongst younger people. Get into the 45+ group and you don’t find too many people who say they’re going to vote Green. We saw this in 1984 when the Nuclear Disarmament Party appeared on the scene. In NSW they were polling at about 12% and the polls found that amongst 18 to 25 year olds something like 60% who responded said that they were going to vote for Peter Garrett, when he was top of the NPD ticket. Remember PG? He’s now a failure in the failed Rudd government, but back then he was a man of principle and lead singer of Midnight Oil and on the Nuclear Disarmament ticket. But ask anyone 45 and above if they’re going to vote NPD – no, no – their support’s fallen away. So there is a bit of a generational factor at work.

To answer the question: it’s not so much about how you vote – what you learn from your family are attitudes toward politics, and electoral behaviour may be a subset. For example, if you come from a family where notions of loyalty are really strong; loyalty to your football club; loyalty to your notion of where you are in society; you’ll pick up notions of loyalty too, and this idea of choosing a political party that you’ll vote for, and sticking with them, will be part of that loyalty factor.

I’d like to put it another way: I’ll bet most of us here come from political families. That is not so much families where there are partisan voters – some will be and some won’t be – but from families where politics is discussed, as distinct from some families where politics is a taboo subject. There are those sorts of families around. One of the great tragedies, or interesting things, about the Australian electoral system is that they’re all expected to participate as well. So electoral behaviour is a subset of political behaviour.

These are the most important things of political and electoral behaviour:

Your relationship to the economy – there’s no doubt that class is still an important feature, even if it’s declining.

There’s also a very strong sense of where you live. This is very pertinent to Australia because we have a very strong divide between metropolitan or urban Australia and regional or rural Australia. You guys live in the second largest city in the country, in a state where 80% of the state’s population live in Melbourne, so this would never occur to you. Visit places like Tasmania – where there’s a much more even distribution of people across the state, and there’s a very strong sense of regional parochialism. Or travel to regional places in Victoria, and you’ll hear people express their suspicions about the cities. ‘oh, the cities get everything; the regions get nothing.’ I used to teach at Monash Gippsland, and I remember going to a job interview, and somebody saying ‘the problem down here is that we provide all Melbourne’s resources, but we get fuck all in return’.  When he used ‘fuck all’, I knew I’d come to the right place. But there’s that sense, in the Latrobe Valley, of ‘we’ve got all the wealth here; oil; coal; electricity; but we get nothing for it – it’s all sucked in by the city’.

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15.11      Social cleavage and the party system

The reason why I’m going through this is because we are interested in the correlation between social cleavage and party system. The social cleavage is to be taken notice of, if it spawns a political party and the class cleavage is really important, because it spawns our two major parties. Workers; blue-collar; trade unions; Labor. Middle-class; property owners; suspicion of unions; pro business; Liberal. Regional; rural; agricultural business; farming; worry about the cities; an advocate of decentralisation; Country Party. Those social cleavages are there; they’re important; they manifest themselves in Australian politics. They may be changing, they may be in decline; they may be rising and falling, but they’re there; they’re called cleavages and they spawn political parties. And the political parties which we’ve just seen are the primary agencies through which citizens respond to the political process. As Dean Jaensch once said ‘Parties are the prism through which all Australians view politics”. He got it in one – Party is crucially important.

How do we respond to the political process? We are either partisan, people who will vote for their party no matter what they do (I reckon, about 35% of Australians are partisan Liberals – they’ll vote Liberal no matter what they do, no matter who they put up – and 35% are Labor partisans), or then we have Swingers. No, not a reference to 1960s parties; these are people who change their minds, and these people are really important in Australian elections because they are the ones who make or break government.

There is also the question of socialisation. Family, work-place, and education.

And there are cultural issues, too. Religion, language, and ethnicity. You can certainly see a strong representation of ethnicity in our politics, because, these days, ethnic diversity is usually characteristic of Labor partisans, although I’d suggest that that has something to do with the economy as well. Now there was a lot of interest in matters to do with religion; I’d dispute this. First of all this is a liberal-democracy with a very strong secular culture. Religion tends to be a private matter for most people. We have seen some religion based political parties, like Family First, but, again, I don’t understand where journalists are coming from. How can you get your knickers in a knot about a party that doesn’t get two per cent of the vote? The only reason that they’re relevant is because the major political parties make them so.

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 15.12      The Mackerras election pendulum

I’d like to look at this [diagram – Elections: the Contest. The Election Pendulum]

The Election Pendulum
The Election Pendulum

What we have here is something called the election pendulum. It was developed by Professor Malcolm Mackerras, from the Australian Defence Force Academy; it is the most important analytical tool in Australian psephology. Everybody uses it. What Mackerras does is he lists the safest Labor seats, that is the seats that Labor wins every election with massive margins, and the seats won by the coalition. And, as the margin of victory descends, you’re getting closer to the so called marginal seats. Two or three comments about this: First, if you are to look at the safest seats for both sides of the spectrum, what you find (there’s a slide on this that bears this out) is that the safest Labor seats are all the same. Western suburbs; highly industrialised; lower levels of income; higher levels of ethnicity. There’s a very strong sense of class. Same with the coalition seats. When you get down to the marginal seats, they tend to be of two types: they’re either outer suburban seats, or some regional centres, where you have a competition between the blue-collar and a white-collar constituency. This is a very important tool for another reason; it shows how elections work in our system.

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16      Political Parties

16.1      Major parties – overview

We want to shift our gaze away from the institutions of government (constitutions; parliaments; electoral systems), and look at the organisations, the associations, that are formed, through which citizens try to interact with the political process. The most important associations of all are the political parties. So we want to look at the political parties over the next five or six weeks: Labor; Liberal; the National Party.

We lead off with the Labor Party, and the reason is chronological; the Australian Labor Party is the oldest of Australia’s political parties. In fact, it is the oldest trade union based political party in the world, and when the Australian Labor Party formed its first government, in 1904, a minority government, and an interesting one because it had a non-Labor person in the cabinet, it was the first time in the world’s history that a trade-union based social-democratic political party had formed a government in a liberal democracy.

The Australian Labor Party has an important past; an important role in Australia’s political history, and world political history. The reason, basically, that we start off with Labour is because the Labor Party is the first of the modern political parties. It is what we call a mass party. It is the first Australian instance, but by no means the last, because the other sides of politics in Australia are going to get their acts together, and they, too, are going to replicate the mass organisational approach of Labor, but Labor starts these things; Labor is the first of the modern mass political parties in Australia, and all the other parties start to form thereafter.

I’ll start with Labor, and then deal with the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is a difficult beast to deal with because the Liberal Party is a comparatively new party in this country. The Liberal Party was formed in the midst of the second world war. Which raises the question – what was around before then – and I’m going to try to sift through the Liberal Party’s origins, and then I’m going to look at the National Party. I’m trying to justify beginning with the Labor Party first by arguing the case that it’s a chronological thing, but of course my argument falls away completely because I’m going to the Liberal Party – the Liberal Party’s not the second oldest party – the National Party is. It was originally called the Country Party. I think it should go back to basics. I think it should go back to being what it is – the party of rural interests in the Murray-Darling Basin – called itself the Country Party when it first formed; it should call itself that again.

Now I think the Country Party is a fascinating party, and I argue (my colleagues don’t agree with me on this) that it’s actually the Country Party that’s the really important non-Labor party, because it’s the first one to get itself properly organised, and once it gets properly organised, urban anti Labor politics has to get properly organised as well.

Some preliminaries

Political parties: some definitions

  • organisational means by which citizens seek to gain access to power
  • ‘power’ understood as legislative/governmental power
  • form of collective political action
  • party: an organisation that contest elections with the intention of winning executive power
  • ‘party’ in its many variations (V.O. Key 1969)
    • the parliamentary wing
    • the parliamentary leadership
    • the extra-parliamentary party (organisation)

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16.2      Definitions

When we political scientists start to talk about parties it’s important to tie down some definitions. What is it that we’re talking about?

First thing: already I’ve foreshadowed the importance of this notion of organisation. Political parties are organisations. They are organisations of ordinary citizens who come together for the purpose of trying to impact on the political process. Or you could say that they are citizens coming together, forming a political organisation with the intention of trying to get access to power. The way which this is done will vary from one political system to another. In some political systems that are not democratic, political parties are still important, but there will be a political party; an official political party. Parties are a common denominator in all political systems. In liberal democracies, political parties are important because the reality in modern liberal democracies is that the quest for power, that goes on in elections, is a competition that goes on between political parties.

The vast majority of Australians, when they vote at elections, will be voting for party candidates. They’ll have very little idea of who the individual candidates are, but they’ll have a strong sense of which party they belong to, and they’ll know who the party leader is – party leaders! [Like one bloke who’s constantly on his bike, or that other clown – how bad is he? Kevin Rudd. I hope you enjoyed the 1975 constitutional crises, and those of you who think that history is bunk, I invite you to watch the Ruddmeister as he was carrying on yesterday: he sounded, to me, like Rex Connor. Remember him? The strangler; the man who actually got the loans affair up and running. Now the last time Labor took on BHP, the Governor-General sacked them, so let’s wait and see what happens with this bloke.] People will identify who the party leaders are; an exercise I can always run in tutes is to ask you to tell me who your local member is. Lots of people don’t know, but if they do, I’m quite shocked, and I try to bamboozle them and, next, I ask well who’s your state member then smartarse; and they might know that as well, but I’ve still got two fall back positions; I will not fail; I will always prevail in this exercise! I then say OK smarty two shoes, name all 12 Victorian senators, and if they do that, first I’ll offer them a tutoring job, and secondly I’ll try to bamboozle them for a last time – I’ll say who are the five Legislative Counsellors in Victoria, and for your region? The fact is very few people know who these individuals are. Individuals count for nothing in political contests, with the exception of a handful of Independents who manage to win seats, against the odds.

I would base my claim that electoral contests revolve primarily around parties, by citing those instances where people who used to be in political parties get disendorsed and  then run as Independents in the seats they’ve held for 20 or 30 years, and get 10 or 15% of the vote, whereas they were getting 40 or 50% before. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s very rare for individuals to defy the political parties. The political party is the most important organisational form in politics. Political parties are about collective action. They are about bringing people together to try to achieve political outcomes, as an organisational unit.

There’s a very famous American political scientist, a man by the name of Mancur Olson, who when actually writing about interest groups (in the 1960s), rather than political parties – but the same sort of beast – said ‘Men are hunters. As individuals it’s very difficult for them to catch things, but if they hunt in packs they will be much more successful’, and he equated that with politics. In big, modern, complex societies it’s very difficult for individuals to achieve things, acting on their own, in the political process. But if they come together; if they pool their resources; if they take a collective approach to politics, they may have much more success, and that’s the basis of politics and political parties.

The standard, political science definition of a party

(And like all good standard, political science definitions, it’s got a hole big enough to drive a Massey Ferguson tractor through.)

Most political scientists define political parties as organisations that contest elections with the intention of winning executive power. That’s the stock-standard political science definition of a party. A party is an organisation of individuals who get together, pool their resources, contest elections, and the objective is to win executive power; government.

This is not a complete definition. In lots of liberal democracies, including the Australian liberal democracy, we do find political parties whose reasons for being are not simply just trying to win executive power. You can’t say that the Greens, or One Nation, or the Australian Democrats are trying to win government. Lots of minor parties form for reasons other than simply trying to win executive power. Minor parties are not in a position to win executive power so, presumably, the reasons why they are organising go beyond trying to win executive power. But political scientists like to have a good starting point, and this is it. It certainly accounts for the two or three main political parties in most liberal democratic systems.

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16.3      Three party system

Australia has a three party system; Labor, Liberal, and National. What are they doing? They are competing with each other. For what? To win government. Is the Labor Party there for any other reason? Or the Liberal Party? Or even the Nationals? The Nationals are an interesting group of people: they win executive power; they get access to executive power even though they only win a handful of seats, and a small percentage of the vote. Because they play the politics of coalition. So that’s the main reason that those parties are there.

When we consider parties, we have to consider various aspects of the parties. A very famous political scientist, V.O. Key, who published a book Political Parties and Interest Groups, in 1969, draws our attention to the party in its different stages. I would rationalise his work; he talks about parties manifesting themselves in about 5 or 6 different levels. I think there are probably three. The first, and most obvious, manifestation of a political party is its parliamentary wing. The party in parliament. When we think of who’s in the ALP, who’s in the Liberal Party, who’s in the Nationals, the first people we think of are those who belong to these parties and who are sitting in the state or federal parliament. Labor MPs; Liberal MPs; National MPs. This is the Parliamentary wing. Key talks about this as ‘the party in the legislature’. They’re the most obvious; the ones with the clearest connection to the political parties.

The next group of people that we should always keep our eye on, and we consider them as an important part of the party organisation, is the parliamentary leadership of the political party. Tony Abbot, Tony Abbot’s deputy leader; Julie Bishop (she’s the Teflon deputy leader – nothing sticks to her; she doesn’t stick to any particular leader, it doesn’t matter who they are; Brendan Nelson; Malcolm Turnbull;  Tony Abbot; she’s a loyal deputy)  – they’re the shadow ministers; the leaders in waiting.

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16.4      Constitutional references

The leadership group of political parties – they’re like the football parlance. I reckon there are great similarities between football clubs and political parties. Legally, that’s actually quite accurate in this country. Legally it’s the same. A political party has exactly the same legal status as a football club, because they’re both incorporated public associations. And the interesting thing about both football clubs and political parties is there’s no reference to either of them in any state or federal constitution. With the exception of Section 15, of the Constitution, that was modified in 1977, after Malcolm Fraser and Joh Bjelke-Petersen destroyed the conventions about casual Senate vacancies. That’s the only reference in any Australian constitution to political parties. Section 15, that says if a senator vacates, someone from the same political party has to replace them.

Actually, I’m wrong: the Victorian Constitution has it as well – with its casual vacancy mechanism for the upper house. So the Victorian Constitution, and the Federal Constitution make a passing reference to political parties, but they’re not mentioned anywhere else. That’s why we refer to political parties as ‘extra-institutional’ organisations. They’re outside of the official institutions of government. Even to the point where the law, or the constitutions, don’t recognise them as an integral part of the constitutional process; they’re simply seen, under corporations law, as a public association; an incorporated number, registered. Of course the difference between a football club and a political party is that the political party has to register itself with the Electoral Commission in order to participate in elections. A football club doesn’t because it’s not involved in that contest. But football clubs are like political parties another way: you’ve got your footballers who come out in their footy jumpers and play – they’re like the parliamentary wing; and you’ve got your leadership group in the club, and your leadership group in the party. It’s not just the leader, and the deputy leader; it’s all those ministers, or shadow ministers, depending on whether they’re in government or not.

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16.5      Sartori on factions

The great Italian political scientist, Giovanni Sartori, once wrote about the importance of internal politics in parties, which you would know as factional politics. We’re assailed, in Australia, with reporting about factions all the time, because one party, in particular, has a very strong, rich culture of disciplined factions. The other side does too, but it’s not as easy to pin down. And Sartori reminds us that these organisations are hugely political phenomena – there’s always a power struggle going on within them; power for control of the organisation.

Back benches – threatened with eviction –

So there’s internal politics going on within the political parties – we need to be cognizant of this because one of the things we want to look at, and try to understand, is factional politics – the fight that goes on within parties.

I’m foreshadowing what I’ll say over the next couple of weeks but can I say this to you – Just consider, we’re a Westminster system, slightly evolved to suit the federal reality, but a Westminster system. So that, when the election’s held, one side knows who’s in government, and one side knows who’s in opposition. So until there’s another election, nothing much is going to happen. The government is always going to win, because it has the numbers in the lower house. This means that the opposition has nothing to do. Occasionally attack the other side, but one of the common behavioural characteristics of Westminster Oppositions is that they’re always arguing over who should be the leader. There’s always an undercurrent of leadership tension – that’s all they can really do.

Now what’s going on, on the other side? Well the other side is quite interesting because, now that they are the government in power, questions about how the party will approach the task of being in government will arise. There’ll be arguments, disputes, disagreements within the political party over a range of things – how to interpret the party’s policy manifesto; how to interpret party tradition; what should we do now that we’re in government? And importantly, who should be our leader? Who should be our deputy leader? Who should be our ministry – who should be in our leadership group?

Remember Bob Hawke. Bob Hawke was a great person to remember in times like this. Not just because he was a good bloke; not just because he had the yard-glass drinking record that he set at Oxford, when he was getting his first-class master of philosophy, where Malcolm Fraser could only get a third. No, no, no, no; not just any of that. We remember Bob Hawke because he was two things: first, he was the most successful federal Labor leader of all time – won four elections: ’83, ’84, 87’, and 1990. Nobody comes near him. You have to start ferreting around in state politics to find a more successful Labor leader. And then you’d have to go to Tasmania. Who wants to go to there! No-one. Except in summer, when it’s a bit cooler than the mainland. So he was a great success.

Bob Hawke was Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991. Who got rid of him? Did the Australian people come to their senses and say ‘no, no, we don’t want the silver bodgie any more – out he goes’? No. No. The people didn’t get rid of Bob Hawke. Bob Hawke’s own party got rid of him, because, in the Westminster system you are premier, or prime minister, because you are the leader of the party with the largest number of seats.

Now, heaven forbid that I should go around quoting John Howard as an authority on anything, but he had the best line on this; as the press would constantly harass him, ‘when are you going to stand aside for that awfully nice chap, Peter Costello?’, and Howard would say ‘I am leader for as long as my party wants me’. How did he put it? He put it brilliantly – “leadership is a gift of the party”. It’s not the gift of the voters. We don’t select the leaders. If you want that sort of malarkey, go to the United States, where you can vote for the President. No, no, no. We vote for party representatives, and the party with the largest number of seats forms government, and the leader of that party becomes premier or prime minister. So it’s the party that determines leadership.

The point I’m trying to make is that there is important internal political manoeuvring going on within the party to try to determine who should be the party leader. Party leadership is very important. So we always look at the party leadership; not only those who are leaders, but those who aspire to the leadership. And the aspirant group, the next generation of leaders, are usually to be found somewhere in the senior cabinet, or in the senior shadow cabinet.

The third group of people; what we call the extra-parliamentary party; the organisation:

Forgive me – here I go again – back to the football club. You’ve got all your players out there, but they’re not the entire extent of the club, are they? Because there’s a club president [chuckle]. Some club presidents you don’t see. Some say the very best club presidents are seen and not heard, which brings my attention to Jeff Kennett. There’s a very obvious club president. In fact Jeff Kennett is running Hawthorn the way he ran the Victorian Liberal Party, and, sure they had some great success, but they had some abysmal failures as well; seems to be history repeating itself at Hawthorn… but I digress. There is an administration behind the football club, just like there is an administration behind the political party.

The political party is more than just the members of parliament; more than just the parliamentary wing; there is also what we call an extra-parliamentary party, made up particularly of people in the party organisation, party presidents; party treasurers; party secretaries; and party executives. A small group of non-parliamentary people, elected from within the political party, who run the party affairs on a day to day basis. 24:41  They are performing important functions. The most important, I’ll list in a minute, but they include selecting candidates and raising money. They are the two most important functions that the party organisation performs, in Australia. In Britain there’s a third function traditionally associated with party organisation, and that is writing up policy manifestos; this is what we are going to do when we get into government – very common in Westminster political parties. But they are different from the parliamentary wing.

The relationship between the parliamentary wing and the parliamentary organisation is a complicated one. We are going to study it. That’s what we do as students of party systems. Any dork can look at the parliamentary wing of a political party and try to figure out what’s going on. The newspapers are full of dorks doing that; they’re called press gallery journalists. What we want to try to do is to have a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of what’s going on in the party process. To do that we need to understand the importance of party organisation. Sometimes in the Australian party literature, the party organisation is called the party machine. That’s a colloquial term; the technical term is party organisation, or extra-parliamentary party, but sometimes the popular language refers to the party machine. Machine politics in the political parties.


Political Parties – key functions

  • recruiting candidates for election
  • recruiting individuals to the organisation
  • aggregating financial and human resources
  • expectation of loyalty to party (discipline)
  • socialisation role; recruiting and training tomorrow’s political leaders
  • debating policy:

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16.6      Key functions of the parties

The first important function in liberal democratic states – political parties recruit candidates for election. But they do more than just simply recruit them. Once they recruit them, and once they select them to be their official party candidate – the Australian technical term for selecting a candidate, to run as an official party candidate at the next election, is called preselection . It’s the selection process before the actual electoral contest.

One of the most important things that Australian political parties do is to preselect people. Consider how important this is. The vast majority of us really don’t know who these local bods are who get put up as Labor or as Liberal candidates for whichever seat you live in. I’ll bet London to a brick that the vast majority of people, when they go to vote, get those how to vote cards and say, ‘who’s the Labor candidate’, ‘who’s the Liberal candidate’. The point I’m trying to get to, as John Cain used to tell our students who do the Victorian parliamentary internship, in third year, and he’d give them a rattling good briefing, especially those idiots who do those subjects but have never done any Australian politics beforehand (why would you spend all your life studying International Relations and then do a Victorian parliamentary internship? I don’t understand). And you’d go in there and you’d find all these politicians talking about things like machine parties and pre-selection, and they’d have no idea what they were talking about; you’d need to get people in there and tell them how it is. And John Cain, the former premier of Victoria, would tell them how it is. He said, ‘if you want to get anywhere in Australian politics you have to join a political party, because the party is bigger than the individual”.

There’s no way you’ll get a position of any importance if you are not preselected by one or another of the major parties. If you want to be prime minister, the only way you could do it would be by joining either the Labor Party or the Liberal Party. I hate to disillusion you, but you’re never going to make it in the Greens. You might make it through the National Party, but only for a brief period. If you look at the pantheon of Australian prime ministers, you’ll be perplexed to know that we’ve actually had a few National Party / Country Party prime ministers. Usually, because they were deputy prime minister, and something happened to the prime minister, and they had to take up the reigns. Such as when Harold Holt disappeared, and he was the Liberal leader and Prime Minister; the Liberals and the Country Party – the majority in the House of Reps; he’s gone, disappeared, taken out to sea, taken by a shark, taken by a Chinese submarine – who knows; gone. So who becomes prime minister? Well the deputy prime minister was John McEwen, the leader of the Country Party, so he became Prime Minister for a couple of weeks. He wrote to the Liberal Party and said, ‘I’m uncomfortable being Prime Minister; I think the Liberal Party should provide the Prime Minister, and the Country Party will support anybody, but not that bastard Billy McMahon. Those were Jack McEwen’s words, not mine. It gives you an indication how intense the internal hatred can be within these political parties. Don’t think that they’re all good bosom buddies in these parties. no, no, no, no, no. Sometimes some of the biggest enemies, the biggest antipathies occur amongst people on the same side of politics. Especially when the crucial issue of trying to get power comes into play. So the National Party might crop up; Greens? No chance. Australian Democrats? Forget it.

So the most important thing that political parties do is recruit candidates. They back them up. They also recruit individuals to the organisation – this is a controversial issue now because we feel that ordinary membership of parties is in decline. If this is the thing that defines a mass political party – a mass political party is defined as characterised by the fact that ordinary citizens join them. If any of you want to, you can join a political party.

You can’t join more than one. All of these parties have their own set of rules and regulations; their own party constitutions. I am going to make reference to party constitutions over the next five or six weeks. They are not to be confused with the official constitutions of the states and the Commonwealth. Each party, as every incorporated public association does, has its own rules and regulations; party rules and party regulations. All the parties have rules forbidding their members to belong to other parties.

My very great friend and mentor, David Meyer, who used to teach Australian politics in the ’70s and  ’80s, used to trick his students on this; because he’d come into a lecture theatre; he’d talk about the Labor Party and say ‘hands up if you think the Labor Party has Communists in it’. And lots of people would stick their hands up, because in those days there was that view around that Labor had Communists, and he’d say ‘well there may be people who share their ideas and philosophies, but, technically, there are no Communists in the Labor Party. Why? Because in the 1950s the Labor Party passed a rule that you could not be a member of another political party and be a member of the Labor Party. So you can choose to be a member of a party, but you can’t be in a number of parties.

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16.7      Recruiting individuals to the organisation

Political parties aggregate human and financial resources. Why? So that they can dedicate them to the task of running, and winning, elections. That’s the key. We will recruit you. We will socialise you. We will preselect you. You will be our party representative. And in the electorate of Chisholm, or the electorate of Deakin, or the electorate of Melbourne, you will be our party representative, and we will back you up with resources. We will give you money to run your campaign. We will print your how to vote cards. We will run television ads for you. We have a really popular leader who you can be photographed with. His name is Kevin Rudd. When you pick up your how to vote card, when you go to vote, there’ll be some bod – just an ordinary person in a suit – with the leader. The party gives these resources to candidates. Without the party you’ve got no hope of getting elected. Unless, of course, you’re Bob Katter, and you win as an Independent in Kennedy.

This is crucial: in exchange for giving people resources; giving people the wherewithal to become members of parliament, and to seek to yield executive power, the party expects loyalty. So we say that modern mass parties are characterised by high levels of party discipline. As we shall see as we look at the Labor Party, and compare Labor with Liberal, the way on which the parties insist on discipline can vary from one party to another. In the Labour rules it’s quite clear – if you break the party rules, the Labor Party will expel you. And one way to break the Labor Party rule is to break caucus – that is to act in an undisciplined way. The party will make a decision and you are expected to abide by that collective decision. If you don’t, you’ll be expelled.

The Liberal Party rules allow for conscience voting, in theory. But in practice, not too many Liberals remain around for a very long time if they break collective decision making. And there’s a reason for this; if people race off and start doing their own stuff, the whole system will fall apart. If you have a vote in the House of Reps, and suddenly everyone’s voting all over the place, you can’t get anything done; so the parties expect a high level of discipline. That is a feature of modern party politics; they are highly disciplined. Even the parties that claim that they’re not disciplined, are disciplined.

Now, the parties are socialising people. They’re recruiting people; they’re socialising them; they’re training them to be tomorrow’s leaders. How does the socialisation process start? People are recruited as young as they possibly can be – 17, 18, 19 – all of the major parties have a youth wing; Young Labor; Young Liberals; Young Nationals; and the idea is to try to recruit people at that age. There’s some debate as to whether this is happening or not; we’ll come back to that when look at each of the parties and we’ll deal with the problems they’re having recruiting people. The idea is that you recruit somebody from the very beginning. You get them to do party functionary work; go to internal party meetings; go to party committees; discuss policies; but most importantly of all – do some of the important party work – hand out how to vote cards; run a chook raffle on behalf of the party; it’s true they do – like any public association – they try to raise money; and of course the ultimate prize then would be to be preselected, and especially be preselected for ? seats. Every now and then I get rung up by journalists who say ‘ Fred Smith, who’s 15, … I got one of these the other day, out in the seat of Murray, way out in the west of Victoria country area; National Party stronghold,; and the journalist rings up … I can’t remember the person’s name, but some really young guy – 19 – Labor has preselected a 19 year old! Why? Why? Why is this? Well, presumably because the Labor Party branches out there are fairly weak, and they’re struggling, but I would suggest that the main reason why is that this person has said ‘look, one day I would like to get a winnable seat, somewhere, but first I’ll do the hard yards. I’ll learn what it’s like to be a candidate.

Now this will happen to some of you. Invariably I have students who end up running for the major political parties in various seats. Quite often they’re running for a side in a seat which they have no chance of winning. Liberals running in Dandenong; Labor people running in Kew. They’ve got no chance of winning it, but it’s seen as good form to go and get some practice, to be socialised in what it means to be a member of the party and to be running for office.

Not all, but most of the people who are in parliament now have all got a long history of being involved in politics at various levels, and in the party. There’s an interesting group of these – I went to uni with most of them – there’s a lot who actually learnt their politics in student politics, then taking it to grown up politics. So the socialisation role is important.

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16.8      Policy debate

And finally, debating policy. This is a feature of all parties. It tends to be done with more intensity in Westminster systems than in American systems, but parties will debate policy. That’s important for us because one of the paths we’re going to try to do – we’re going to try to understand what the parties stand for. What do they stand for? Is there such a thing as party tradition? Party values? Or, dare I say it? I don’t like this – I’m really concerned with the use of this word – our major political parties are NOT ideological. They are not. We have a very pragmatic political culture. Everybody in this country is clustered in the centre. The two major parties converge on a whole range of policy issues. Why? Because they’re trying to maximise their appeal to voters, many of whom are forced to go to the election under the compulsory voting system, and really don’t have a very sophisticated understanding of the system, at all.

Some of the writers in this field, refer to party tradition, party values, as party ideology. Some of them use it. I have a problem with that word, but acknowledge that it gets used. Some of my senior colleagues use it as a shorthand way of trying to refer to what it is that we think the parties stand for. And you’ll have noticed – you must think I have nothing to do but field calls from journalists – someone rings me today and says ‘what do you say about Labor – Mr Rudd doesn’t stand for anything’? I said ‘yes. So? What Labor leader has ever stood for anything, except for winning elections? If you’re going to go to a major party and say ‘I’m your leader and I’m going to stand for ideological purity; sure, we may never get into government for 1000 years but at least I’m ideologically pure… ’,  I’d give them the telephone number of the Communist Party, and say ‘move on, comrade. Leave us alone. Get out. Get out.’  This is an issue we’ll deal with – whether our parties stand for anything. Are they ideological or not? If they stand for something, what do they stand for? Has what the party stands for changed over time?

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16.9      The glorious workers’ party – The Australian Labor Party

Let me get a few things, about these guys, straight from the outset. I use the term ‘guys’ advisedly – it’s only in recent times that the ALP has feminised itself; it was considered to be the most blokey of the political parties until comparatively recent times, suggesting that, yes indeed, the Labor Party has experienced some transition over time.

A couple of things to say about the Labor Party: first of all, it’s a difficult beast to tie down. It is quite complex. It manifests itself in all sorts of different forms, because there is not one Labor Party; there are actually six state Labor parties, two territory Australian Labor parties, and there is a federal, or national, organisation to the party. I’ll explain what that all means in, as Kevin Rudd would say, due season.

But let me make a couple of comments from now. The first thing to say about the Labour Party is that it’s been an incredibly unsuccessful political party in federal politics. There’s no doubt about it: if you tally up the number of years that Labor’s been in power since federation, it pales to the achievements of the non-Labor side of politics, and that’s particularly true after the second world war. And we recall that there was a particularly long period of Labor failure between 1949 and 1972, and there will be some cruel people who would suggest that the period from 1972 to 1975 wasn’t glittering in its success either.

Which leads me to the second thing; gosh, those Whitlam years really loom over this topic, they really do. I wish I had a dollar for every person who has said to me, in a party in Fitzroy, ‘if only the Labor Party could be socialist, like it once was, under Gough Whitlam’. Excuse me! It was never socialist under Whitlam, never. Hugh Emy described Gough Whitlam as a ‘radical liberal, at best’. Gough Whitlam had no interest in socialism, per se; he was interested in state intervention and a whole range of issues that, today, many confused people think constitute socialism, but they don’t. I’ll try to sift through the Whitlam legacy and what it means for our understanding of Labor traditions as we go along. But I’d foreshadow – the Whitlam Labor years are a difficult set of years.

I should say that Labor’s been incredibly unsuccessful federally, but it’s been really successful in state politics, and you’d be surprised at some of the places where it’s been the natural party of government. It’s been the natural party of government in NSW since colonial times. In fact, there’s some debate that the Labor Party actually started in NSW in 1875. 1875 – Legislative Assembly – we find men, who consider themselves to be Labor representatives, caucusing in the Lower House in NSW; so NSW has always been a very strong Labor state. Queensland was always a very strong Labor state until the 1950s. Tasmania – this flummoxes many people – it looks like it ought to be, if not a Country Party hangout, what with all those farmers and timber workers and all that, at the very least it ought to be a very strong Liberal state, but the Liberals have hardly governed Tasmania at all. In fact Labor had an unbroken record of government in Tasmania from 1934 until 1969, they were out for three years, and then they were back again from 1972 until 1982. Long periods of state Labor government.

Labor was incredibly unsuccessful in WA, SA, and Victoria. Victoria was considered the Liberal jewel, until just recently; until the 1980s. Since the 1980s, Victoria has been a really strong Labor state. Why? Well, I’ll try to explain why as we go along. But the record of success at state level contrasts with the record of failure at the national level. And, in the text book, I urge you, when you think about Labor and the Labor tradition, to think about what it’s done at the state level. Because that’s where Labor’s tradition is actually formed and defined.

At the state level, Labor’s tradition is: state intervention to try to bolster the welfare state; to provide service to as many people in the community as it possibly can; and to try to assist private development and growth. This is hardly socialism. Which leads to two final things, before we talk about the Labor Party’s origins. The first question that’s always thrown at students is this: is the Labor Party a union party? Well, yes it is, and no it isn’t. Structurally, there’s a very important role for the trade union movement to play in the Labor Party, but does that mean that the Labor Party is simply the mouthpiece, the cipher, of trade unions? No, it is not.

There are many, many instances where a parliamentary Labor government has done things that the unions oppose or don’t like. In fact, we had instances, during the Second World War, of a Labor prime minister using the army to break strikes. And, in fact, that’s not just something in the annals of history. In the 1990s, before the Labor Party got rid of him, Bob Hawke, amongst other things, broke the airline pilots’ strike. And how did he do it? He used the air force to fly everybody around, while they were on strike. So you don’t have to go back to ancient Labor history to find instances of a Labor prime minister prepared to defy unions. They do it all the time. There is a complex relationship and I will try my level best to explain it to you.

The second question – is Labor a socialist party? The answer to this is – what’s your definition of socialism? This is where Gough Whitlam becomes a difficult person to tie down, because, in his earlier days he used to run around talking about the importance of socialism to Labor and the Labor tradition. The thing was, he didn’t mean socialism in quite the standard generic way that historians and political theorists consider socialism. Socialism is technically community ownership of the economy. Socialism is where the economy is not in the hands of private individuals; it’s in the hands of the community. You can achieve community ownership in a range of ways; you can do it through a political revolution, the way the Bolsheviks did in Russia, when they established a communist state, and they seized private property, and they held it in the name of the community; or you can do it by setting up government instrumentalities, government bodies, government corporations, public corporations that run things in the name of the community. And sometimes that may involve a government saying to a previously privately owned company, ‘you’re no longer a privately owned company; you’re a publicly owned company’. This is sometimes known as the process of nationalisation; the conversion of privately owned companies into government or community owned corporations.

I previously mentioned nationalisation when making reference to the High Court and the Bank Nationalisation case of 1947 – The Chifley Labor government tried to convert the private banks into public banks; passed legislation and the High Court knocked the legislation over. I think I said, and I stand by this; the bank nationalisation case of 1947 said that Section 92 of the Australian Constitution makes it illegal to nationalise anything. So you can’t have socialism in Australia; it’s against the law. You can’t have nationalisation; it’s against the law. So, at a technical level, Labor could be a socialist party but it would be, what’s the technical term – farting against the wind – because you can’t do it legally.

Now you can do it in state politics, and there were instances of Labor nationalising things in the dark, dark past. When the Tasmanian government was elected in 1934, Chas Ogilvie, the premier, led a government that nationalised the previously privately owned hydro-electric company, to become the Hydro-electric Corporation of Tasmania. Why did he do this – was he some kind of rampaging Trotskyite, socialist export to Tasmania from Leningrad, a commissar of the Soviet? No, no, no. The hydro-electric company was running out of money – it was in debt, it was going to collapse, and this was considered really important because they were providing all the electricity that kept all the lights going in Hobart, so something had to be done. So the government took it over. And what’s interesting about that is in the 1980s, the Liberal government, one of the few that Tasmania has ever had, sold the hydro-electric corporation back to a private company. That’s privatisation.

Nationalisation is when government takes over private companies and makes them into community companies. Privatisation is when governments sell these things back to the private sector. You’d be familiar with privatisation – that’s your generation. The older members of the community in here might remember nationalisation – it was very popular in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. There were Labour governments in Britain that passed laws to convert previously privately owned companies into public companies

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16.10      The Australian Labor Party – History


  • emerges 1891 in NSW
  • by 1901 organised to run candidates in first federal election, holds first Caucus in the new national parliament
  • Key Labor dates:
    • 1904 – first national Labor government in Australia / the world. First and last national government to have a non-Labor member of Cabinet (Henry Bourne Higgins)
    • 1910 – first Labor government with a majority in the HoR
    • 1912 – Labor adopts American spelling of party name
    • 1916 – Labor split over WWI and conscription
    • 1931 – Labor splits over the Great Depression and Jack Lang
    • 1954-55 – The Split (formation of the DLP)
    • 1975 – The dismissal of the Whitlam government
    • 1984 – The ‘split unions’ circa 1955 are allowed back into the Victorian ALP

 The Labour Party’s Origins

Most of the text books will tell you that Labor was formed in NSW and Queensland in the 1890s. We’re not sure about the date. There was a meeting at Longreach, in Queensland, in the 1890s, where a branch of the Labor Party was formed, but Falconer and MacIntyre, the great authorities on these things, actually date the formation of the first disciplined Labor Party in 1891 in NSW. It starts in NSW, and it takes a number of years for the other states to get their Labor parties organised. I think Tasmania was the last – about 1908. You could be technical and say when the ACT was created, and when the NT was created, in the twenties, in the ACT, and the 1980s, in the NT, there were territory branches of the ALP as well.

We think the ALP starts to emerge in the 1890s, and the interesting thing about it is that the organisation that they put together in the 1890s is more or less the same today. Some of the key principles of Labor’s organisation have persisted through from that time. Certainly by 1901, the very first federal election, Labor has candidates running for the House of Representatives. And there are Labor MPs in the first national parliament. And we know they are Labor MPs because they do this: they Caucus.

Now what does this mean? Caucusing is a technical Labor term. It means the parliamentary Labor Party gets together, they thrash out a common position on policy, they say ‘comrades, this is how we will vote in the Senate, and the House of Representatives’. They make a collective decision. They thrash out the position among themselves and, once a Caucus decision has been made, Labor rules say that the decision is binding on everyone; all Labor MPs. If you cross the floor, if you vote against your Caucus colleagues, you will be expelled. Not you might be expelled; you will be expelled. That’s Caucusing. All the Labour MPs get together and they make a collective decision.

This seems really important in early colonial politics, because politics up to that stage was all about good old boys coming into the parliament, having a few drinks, having a few agreements, and loose coalitions forming. Labor is the first party to be disciplined in its approach to the parliament.

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16.11      ALP origins; key dates

1904 was the first national Labor government. It was run by JC Watson. John Christian Watson.

1910 is the first majority national Labor government.

1912 the Labor Party changes its spelling. It was Labour – it is now Labor.

1916 the Labor Party splits over conscription in the First World War. This is the first of three major splits that are going to affect Labor over the years.

1931 the second major split over the Great Depression

1954 to 1955 the third major split.

So at various times in the party’s history the party has split. Each time it has seen the collapse of national and state Labor governments. These are disasters for the Labor Party.

From 1949 Labor loses office. 1972 it wins office again: 23 years in the opposition wilderness.

In 1975 – you know what happened! [BHP and the CIA got together…] the dismissal

In 1984 the Labor Party in Victoria brings back 4 unions that split from the Labor Party in 1955. This is one of the reasons why Labor suddenly becomes very successful in Victoria. Labor was a disaster in Victoria. From 1955 to 1982 it never wins an election.

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 17        Political Parties

17.1      British election results – May 2010

British election results, observed from last Friday (7 May 2010), Note – the first election of a Green candidate at Westminster!

Interesting because firstly, this is a classic example of one of the problems of First Past the Post voting, a simple majoritarian system of voting, in which a minor party can get up, even though we’re encouraged by the theory to say ‘ the majoritarian system is supposed to make it hard for minor parties to get elected’. And yet here’s a result that defies the theory.

The successful candidate won a seat called Brighton Pavilion.

Successful Green candidate: 16,238 votes, 31.3%; Labour 14,986, 28.9; Conservatives 12,275, 23.7%. Really close. The three candidates got almost 1/3 of the vote, each.

If we were to run this as an Australian election, with the preferential system, the Green candidate may or may not have won – there would have been a distribution of preferences. This is an interesting exercise showing one of the problems of First Past the Post voting. Here’s a candidate who’s clearly won, but with only 31% of the vote. So you could argue that 69% of the voters in Brighton Pavilion did not actually want the Green candidate – they wanted someone else.

Look at the total turnout: 51,800 voters. That’s only 70% of the eligible voters. I reckon the total enrolled in Brighton Pavilion is probably around the 70,000 mark. That is smaller than Tasmania’s federal electoral voting populations. The seat of Brighton Pavilion has fewer voters than the Tasmanian seats of Bass, Braddon, Lyons, Franklin, and Denison; probably smaller, too, than some of the state electoral districts in NSW. When you talk about a country of 55 million people, they’re very small electoral districts, aren’t they?

Interesting. And a bit of history. The Greens have won their first seat at Westminster. Whacko!

Back to the glorious workers’ party…


The ALP is the oldest of Australian political parties.

It is a mass party.

The idea that the Labor Party is the political arm of the broader labour movement is an important issue for us to deal with. It influences not only the things which the party says it stands for… it’s possible to id some recurring core themes which the major parties stand for, although I’m the first to concede that our major political parties tend to be pragmatic about matters of policy

The second thing – when a party calls itself a mass party and tries to incorporate ordinary people into its organisational structure, there are important consequences for the way in which the party organises its internal affairs. You may say ‘dull & boring; who gives a rats arse’ about party internal affairs’. Under our Westminster system of government, once an election is held, and one side has an absolute majority over the other, the defeated party becomes irrelevant until the next election. The party of government becomes very important. Sometimes major policy disputes will go on within those parties.

The way parties try to resolve their internal affairs has important consequences, 1/ for the policy debate; secondly, one of the most important things parties do is selecting candidates; we know that the vast majority of Australians vote for parties, without knowing who the individuals are. The choices that parties make about their candidates are crucial. If we take Johnson’s theory about the third, of majority system electoral pendulums ( a third won by Labor, a third won by coalition, a third at the bottom of the pendulum that the two parties fight over), those people at the bottom make or break governments.

The question of who’s going to represent those voters who live in those swinging electorates at the bottom of the pendulum, has to be decided by the voters. If Labor and Liberals have a 50/50 chance of winning a seat, then the question of which fat arse will sit in the House of Reps is going to be determined by the voters.

Let’s look at the very safe coalition seats, and the very safe Labor seats. The Labor voters in those safe Labor seats, and the Liberal and National voters in those very safe Lib and Nat seats, are simply going to ratify the choice made by the dominant political party. This means that the electoral process is not important in determining who sits in the parliament; it is the party selection process – the preselection process. Two-thirds of our MPs get into parliament because the parties select them. The big battle for them is winning party preselection. There’s a huge shit fight going on within the political parties to secure seats. This is why internal party politics is very important.

In the time ahead we will deal with the idea of parties having factions. Factionalism is very important to all parties; they are a reality in all parties, whether they are broad political parties, like the Labor Party, or the Liberal Party, or very small, narrow, and ideological parties, like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation; you still find factions within them. We are going to try to get on top of internal politics, not just because it’s an esoteric issue which helps delineate political scientists from the rest of the mob – we try to understand, but most punters don’t care – but in order for us to have an advanced understanding of what’s going on in our party system, we need to understand those internal dynamics.

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17.2      ALP national governments

  • 1904: J.C. Watson (minority)
  • 1908-9: Andrew Fisher (minority)
  • 1910-13: Andrew Fisher (majority)
  • 1914-1915: Andrew Fisher (majority)
  • 1915-1916 William Morris Hughes (split over conscription)
  • 1929-1931: James Scullin (split over the Great Depression)
  • 1941-1945 John Curtin (WWII: dies in office)
  • 1945-1949: Ben Chifley (loses in ‘Bank Nationalisation’ election)
  • 1972-1975: Gough Whitlam (done in by the Senate)
  • 1983-1991: Bob Hawke (done in by Paul Keating and friends)
  • 1991-1996: Paul Keating (done in by the voters)
  • 2007-?: The milky-bar kid

I want to mention the federal Labor governments we have had in Australia, and in so doing draw your attention to something very interesting about Labor; an important part of their early history, but something we don’t see so much these days.

John Christian Watson’s minority government of 1904 was the first Labour government in the world; the first trade-union based political party, social democratic party, to win a government anywhere – that’s Watson’s minority government.

In 1908-09 there’s another minority government; this time under the leadership of Andrew Fisher. He’s PM for a year. Then, in 1910, Labor wins an absolute majority in the House of Reps for the first time.  Andrew Fisher has the first majority Labor government. In 1913 Labor loses to a group called the Fusion Liberals put together by a chap called Alfred Deakin. Alfred Deakin falls out with his conservative colleagues, and Joseph Cook takes over as the Liberal PM; he calls a double-dissolution election – the first Australian PM to ever use section 57 of the Constitution – he says to the G-G ‘ I want to call this double-dissolution election because I can’t control the Parliament – I want to try to improve my position in the Parliament’. How about that – a moment of candour. He sent up a bill which Labor could not possibly do anything with other than reject – it was a bill to make it illegal to be a member of a trade union! So the Labor Party rejected it – they had the numbers in the Senate. Three months later, Cook did it again; they rejected it again. Section 57! Cook engineered this. The Conservatives were the first people to use section 57 of the Constitution to contrive a double-dissolution election – which they lose. There’s a bit of that about. I’m thinking about writing some of these out and sending them to Mr. K. Rudd, of no fixed address…

So Labor’s back 1914-15 – Those who study history will know this is an important time in world history – a minor matter of a world war happens here. A strange thing happens now. In 1915, the First World War starts; Andrew Fisher is PM, and he resigns the prime ministership. What he does is he resigns as leader of the Labor Party. He doesn’t dissolve his government; he just stops being Prime Minister. He goes off to be Australian Agent-General in London. High Commissioner. Some sort of bureaucratic thing. I don’t know why. Who knows!

He’s replaced by a very interesting chap; William Morris Hughes, otherwise known as Billy Hughes. Billy Hughes is a giant in Australian political history, but he is a force for disruption and evil. Some people are a force in Australian politics because they’re a force for good: Gough –sure, misguided, hopeless, couldn’t organise a piss-up in a Cascade brewery, but at least his heart was in the right place. Bob Menzies, whatever you think of him – a giant in Australian politics; Black Jack McEwen, the Country Party leader, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But Billy Hughes is a force for trouble.

Billy Hughes becomes Labor PM in 1915. In 1916 the Labor Party splits. In its history, the Labor party has endured three major splits. These splits have been a disaster. This is the first. It is over how to deal with the First World War. Billy Hughes, and a large number of Labor people, a lot of people, were very enthusiastic about the First World War – they thought it’d be over by Christmas. Australia was very pleased to be sending troops over to help defend the British Empire – things got off to a bad start at Gallipoli, and it all became very difficult.

There was a small group of Labor MPs who were against it from the start – they saw the First World War as being a capitalists’ war. They argued that it had been brought on by armaments manufacturers who wanted to increase their impact on the world’s economy. Whether that’s right or wrong – who knows? I point this out just to show that the Labor Party has always had a bit of a left wing in its membership, and in its Caucus; but they didn’t split the party. The people who split the party were Billy Hughes and some of the leadership team. What Mr Hughes wanted to do was to try to reinforce Australia’s contribution to the Great War by introducing conscription. Conscription is a law that requires able-bodied men, usually 18 years of age, to sign up for military training, and then be sent off to war. The problem was that at the time that Mr Hughes had proposed this idea there had been an uprising in Dublin; a number of Irish Republicans had sought to use what they thought was a power vacuum, occurring in the Great War, to press the case for Irish independence, and this was brutally put down by the British.

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So what? Well it just so happens that large numbers of Australians, especially clustered in working class areas in Melbourne and Sydney, are of Irish Catholic background. The NSW, Sydney based Catholics aren’t a bit of a problem, but the Victorian, or Melbourne, based Catholics are. This is because the head of the Catholic Church in Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, is a very strong Irish nationalist, and he opposes British policies in Ireland. Daniel Mannix uses his position as head of the Catholic Church in Melbourne to advocate a NO position on the conscription.

Billy Hughes proposes to have a plebiscite; he wants Australians to vote on whether or not they should have conscription. First of all, he wanted to impose conscription as a law – he was going to pass a bill through the two houses of parliament. The Irish Catholics on the left, in the Labor Caucus, opposed Hughes, who doesn’t have the numbers in the Caucus. So Billy Hughes leaves the Labor Party. He splits the Labor Party. He was a former Labor minister, he’d been in the Labor Party since the beginning back in NSW in the 1870s; he leaves the Labor Party – he goes to the conservatives; the other side, and he takes a large number of Labor MPs with him. That’s a split.

Students of the Australian party system will be interested in this for a number of reasons, one being that this is the first time (but won’t be the last) where the non-Labor side of politics is profoundly influenced by a split within the Labor Party. 19:05 Once Alfred Deakin tried to get the Fusion Liberals together and failed, thereafter the reorganisation of non-Labor politics in Australia actually starts with a split in the Labor Party.

Billy Hughes goes off and forms a new police party. The conservatives, the right-wingers, the old former Liberals, the protectionists, the free traders, are all brought in to a new political party, with this group of Labor people who have split, and they call it the Nationalists. (not to be confused with the National Party. These are the antecedents of today’s Liberal Party.

So there’s Billy; he was the Labor prime minister. The split over conscription was a disaster for the ALP. It’s so bad that they are out of government from 1916 to 1929 – 13 years in the wilderness  – and the only reason why they’re back in 1929 is because of the Great Depression, which begins with the Wall Street crash, in 1929. The Australian economy collapses because it is overly dependent on the primary sector [those who do not learn from history’s mistakes are bound, tragically, to repeat them], that is, we had an over-reliance on farming and agriculture. Today mining is the mainstay of Australia’s dependence on primary production, but in those days it was farming. When the Great Depression hit, suddenly nobody wanted Australia’s wool, meat, wheat, or fruit. We had nothing, and the situation was exacerbated by the Nationalists doing a trade deal with Britain that the British no longer wanted to partake of.

It’s a disaster for the Nationalists, Labor are back in power. Historical note: 1929 is the first time that a sitting Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, the member for Flinders and Nationalist Prime Minister, will lose his seat in an election. The second time being John Howard in 2007.

The Labor government stick around for three years; ’29, ’30, ’31, and then they split again. Historical note: This is the one and only time since about 1913 that a prime minister only gets one term. Mr Rudd might be on the verge of creating history but it might be a record he doesn’t want! At least Jim Scullin had an excuse for his defeat, after only three years in office: the party split over ideology. These were ideological times. Although I would caution you against using that concept of ideology, because the person who caused the problems for Mr Scullin was the Labor premier of NSW, Jack Lang, also known as ‘the big feller’. Jack Lang was no left winger; he was what we would consider today as a right wing Labor person. Jack Lang and the Australian PM fell out over economic policy.

Mr Scullin and the federal Labor Party wanted to bring in an economic policy that had been designed for them by Sir Otto Niemeyer, from the Bank of England. Like all good bankers, Sir Otto Niemeyer’s main objective was to make sure that Australia had enough money to pay its interest bill to the bank of England. This is during the Great Depression. We’re looking at unemployment rates, in Australia, of about 20 or 30%. Every now and then, the State Library of Victoria runs an exhibition: the Victorian government of the time commissioned a photographer to photograph the urban decay and the poverty caused in Melbourne by the Great Depression. On the rail trip between Nth Melbourne and Footscray you pass some river flats – the Maribyrnong River, on one side of the race-course. During the 20s and  30s, that was covered in shanty towns and shacks. We actually had the sorts of shanty towns that you usually associate with third world countries. It happened to Australia during the Great Depression. This is a major national economic emergency, and when these sorts of problems arise, there are huge disputes about how they should be resolved.

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Scullin wanted to impose fiscal discipline; cut government spending; cut salaries; and make sure that the Bank of England was paid what was owed. Jack Lang had proposed to suspend interest rate payments to Britain. He said he wanted to use the money saved to bring in a new idea – unemployment benefits, and government funded projects: getting people to work while they waited for the economy to turn around. For the idea of suspending interest payments to Britain, Jack Lang paid a high political price. The governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game, declared that to be an illegal act, and he dismissed the Lang government. So Whitlam was not the first Australian Labor leader to be dismissed by a vice regal representative; Jack Lang was the first.

Jack Lang built the Sydney Harbour Bridge. His government commissioned it, and he was supposed to cut the ribbon, but he was beaten to it by a right wing militia man – Captain van Groote, of a group called the New Guard. The New Guard were a paramilitary group that had guns buried around NSW; they were former WWI soldiers, worried that Australia would follow the Russian example, and suddenly turn to communism. If that happened, they’d be ready with their guns. At the official opening ceremony, De Groote beat Jack Lang to the ribbon, cutting it with his sword. He was arrested, the ribbon was hastily reconvened, and jack did it officially.

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I am trying to give a sense of how tense the political atmosphere was at the time. And the Labor Party really does split. It is, I think, one of the few times when ideology has a big impact on internal Labor affairs. Mr Scullin came up with an economic agreement embracing all of the premiers, many of whom were, at the time, Labor premiers; it was called the Premiers’ Plan – the commitment was that they would all pay restitution to the Bank of England. Jack Lang said ‘I’m not going to be part of this’, and the Labor Party split. The Australian voters know a party is in disarray when they see it, and in 1931 they got rid of Labor and they brought in a new political party. Before the election, seven or eight former Labor MPs, led by the former attorney-general, Joseph Aloysius Lyons, who was also the former Labor premier of Tasmania and is now a federal Labor minister, leave the Labor Party and go over to the Nationalists, where Billy Hughes awaits them. Billy Hughes is called ‘the big rat’ in Australian Labor politics, because the worst thing you can do, in the Labor Party, is turn on your mates. He did that, and Joseph Lyons did it as well. Joseph Lyons goes over to the Nationalists and they reorganise the non-Labor side of politics. The new non-Labor party is called the United Australia Party. 

Note the dynamic: Labor people splitting from the Labor Party and going over to reorganise non-Labor politics.

Joe Lyons becomes the Prime Minister of Australia, because the UAP now have the numbers; they win a landslide, and again, The Labor Party are in the wilderness for ten years. The UAP is the direct antecedent of today’s Liberal Party.

Any political party that’s going to include Billy Hughes is not going to be a bunch of happy campers. They didn’t mind Joe Lyons – he’s a ‘nice chap’; avuncular; a hero to Tasmania; the one and only Tasmanian to ever be Australian PM. If you go to Tassie on a holiday, you drive to a place called Stanley which is in the far north-west (think of me; I’ve carted hay all through there), you go into the main street and there’s a little timber house, four bedroom house, that’s where Joseph Lyons was born, and there’s a plaque out the front. Joseph Lyons, great Labor hero; goes to the other side; the conservatives don’t mind him.

But there’s Billy Hughes, being a bit of a pest, and the UAP has another problem: there’s another aspiring giant in Australian politics who has just turned up in Canberra. Another former state attorney-general, come from the Nationals, now part of the UAP; imperious sort of chap, short, comes from the back blocks of Victoria – a place called Jeparit – he’s been educated at Wesley, don’t you know, and the University of Melbourne, and he’s a bit of a legal sharpie, in fact an advocate in the famous ‘engineer’s case’. His name is Robert Gordon Menzies.

A party that’s got Menzies, and Billy Hughes, in it, is not going to be happy and that’s exactly what happens. Hughes can’t stand Menzies, and Menzies can’t stand Hughes. But this not a problem so long as Joe Lyons is leader and prime minister. Then, just before the Second World War starts, Joe Lyons dies of a heart attack. Bob Menzies is now the UAP leader, and he becomes Prime Minister, and Billy Hughes starts to white-ant him, straight away. As a result, in 1941 Labor forms a government.

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This is interesting. The government that’s formed by John Curtin is not elected as such. There’s been an election in 1940? and the numbers are very tight. There were two Independents in the House of Reps and they supported Joe Lyons and the UAP. They supported Menzies as well, but once Hughes started to agitate, the two Independents crossed the floor. Menzies had resigned as leader of the UAP by this stage. The Country Party was now running Australia. Can I say to you, if the Country Party is running Australia, we are in deep trouble! The Country Party only takes over the reins when there’s a major crisis, and if they hang on to the reins, the problems are very bad. Arthur Fadden was the PM at the time (reminds us of when Black Jack McEwen was made leader when Harold Holt disappeared).

The UAP government falls. The two Independents cross the floor. Mr Curtin gets agreement from the two Independents that they will support his minority government, so the first Labor government under John Curtin is a minority Labor government. There’s a subsequent federal election, which Labor wins in an absolute landslide, and the UAP falls apart, in absolute disarray. The non-Labor side of politics has never looked so weak; Labor has never looked so good.

In 1945, John Curtin dies, in office, when the Second World War is not quite over; Ben Chifley, who was the treasurer at the time, eventually takes over. There was a short period when the Labor premier, Frank Ford (that’s a trivial pursuit question – who was Frank Ford? Frank Ford was officially Labor prime minister for about a week, while the Labor Caucus decided who would replace John Curtin – because Curtin had died in office unexpectedly).

So Ben Chifley becomes Prime Minister. He’s Prime minister from 1945 to 1949. Interestingly, during that time, the UAP goes off to Albury, reorganises itself and rebrands itself as the Liberal Party of Australia. In 1946 there is a federal election; Labor versus Liberal, with Bob Menzies as leader. The Labor Party thrash these guys – absolutely thrash them. All the political commentators are saying “that’s it for Menzies. He’s finished. Labor will never be out of office. The Liberals are a joke”!

Ladies and gentlemen, can I say this about the Labor Party: Never underestimate the ability of the Labor Party to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! And never underestimate the ability of Labor, for reasons best known to themselves, to reach into the drawer of ideology and pull something out, from left field, which is designed to destroy everything.

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In 1947, for a whole range of complicated reasons, Ben Chifley’s government passed legislation, through the national parliament, to nationalise the banks. Nationalisation is the process where, by law, or government decree, something which was once owned by private industry is converted into a state corporation. Mr Chifley decides, as part of his post-war reconstruction program, that he will nationalise banks. As is happening currently with the mining industry and Mr Rudd’s proposed mining super-tax, the banking industry did not take this very well. They ran advertising campaigns. they took Mr Chifley and his colleagues to the High Court of Australia – the famous ‘bank nationalisation case’. The High Court of Australia rules that S.92 of the Constitution prohibits nationalisation.

You can’t nationalise anything in Australia. You can’t have socialism in Australia; it’s against the law – at least at the national level. 

So the Labor Party loses in the High Court. Does this satisfy the banks? It does not. They go after Labor in the 1949 election. So does the bank employees federation, a trade union if you will. So the workers, and the owners of the banks, are against Labor. As my good friend and senior colleague, Professor Brian Costa, would say, Labor was in more trouble than the early settlers. The 1949 election is lost, and Labor is in opposition until ‘you know who’ appears on the scene. “It’s time”. My fuckin oath it was time.

By the time the Goughmeister appears, in 1972, the Liberals are in total disarray. But they need not worry because, as I said before, never underestimate the ability of Labor to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

The 75 crisis elevated Whitlam to hero status. Now I don’t have a problem with that. Look, I do this at the mention of his name: [falls to knees and genuflects]. To meet Gough was one of my great moments of joy. I met Kevin the other day – not the same, not the same! But I will concede that, as far as running the country went, Whitlam was an unmitigated disaster! They were the worst government since … – you’d probably have to go to … well, who have been disastrous governments, in the modern era – from about 1910 onwards? Stanley Melbourne Bruce’s depression government – that was a disaster. Jim Scullin’s government was a disaster. Billy McMahon was a disaster – he’s the Liberal who lost to Gough Whitlam. And Gough Whitlam was a disaster. That’s about equal – I’ve given two Labor and two non-Labor disasters – I’m nothing if not balanced.

When they lost in ’75, we thought Labor would never come to power again, but they did – in 1983. From 1983 to 1981, the government was led by Bob Hawke, who was ultimately done in by Paul Keating and friends – not the people. It was a close run thing, but it wasn’t the voters who got rid of Bob – it was Paul Keating, and members of Paul Keating’s faction, to remind us, students of politics and party systems, how important party is. You become PM not because the voters have voted for you, but because the party that you lead has a majority of seats in the lower house. And what the party gives, the party can take away. And that’s exactly what they did to Hawke.

From 1991 to 1996 the leader was Paul Keating, and he was done in by the voters. Now this doesn’t  give me much popularity around the traps either: I think Paul Keating was an absolute unmitigated disaster as a prime minister as well. He’s right up there with Scullin and Whitlam as an absolute disaster. Loathed by the Australian people; I say this because Keating has never accepted it – he runs around telling everyone what he thinks – as if we fucking care. Do we care? I don’t care. I don’t care what Paul Keating has to say on anything. I don’t care what any ex prime minister has to say on current issues, because they’re losers. And he was a loser – in 1996, pound for pound, his defeat at the hands of John Howard, a person I still can’t quite believe was prime minister for as long as he was (one press gallery journalist described John Howard as the “unflushable turd” – not my words – Ian Fitchett wrote that), a man who alongside people like Bob Menzies, and Bob Menzies lost the leadership in 1939 – remember the press gallery saying “we’ll never see Bob Menzies again”? He became the longest serving prime minister – Paul Keating, pound for pound, that’s one of the worst Labor defeats. In fact it’s commensurate with Whitlam’s defeats in ’74 and ’77.

You wouldn’t know that from the way Paul Keating carries on. And Labor partisans too.  Jesus I’m sick of these Labor people telling me how great Paul Keating was. Just like they keep telling me that Gough Whitlam was on the left of the Labor Party – no he bloody wasn’t. He never was. In fact the left wing of the Labor Party hated Whitlam – they tried twice to get rid of him. Once through a national conference where they got the Victorian ALP to try to do him in, and once at a Caucus meeting where they tried to put Jim Cairns up as leader. That was just after cyclone Tracy. So don’t fall for that bullshit. Gough Whitlam was never on the left of the party. He was never a left wing leader. Ever. He had no interest in the trade union movement. He had no interest in socialism.

What Whitlam was interested in was reform. In fact Hugh Emy in that book The Politics of Australian Democracy – Fundamentals in Dispute, looking back at Whitlam, described him as a radical liberal, of the John Stuart Mills variety; hardly a socialist.

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If you want to find a trade union man – a prime minister who had strong connections with the unions and actually did believe in trying to redistribute a bit of wealth, you have to go to another right wing Labor leader, and that’s Bob Hawke. Bob Hawke did more than any Australian Labor leader to bring the trade union movement into the processes of government, through his Accord process. And yet I’m astounded when I read everything, from sensible people, to people like your good selves, writing on this topic. I wish I had a dollar for every time Whitlam was described as a socialist. He never was. He’s described as a socialist by the Liberals, of course; that’s how they like to impugn people, disparage them, and tarnish them.  Socialists! Admittedly Tony Abbott isn’t doing this yet, but some of his mates in the mining industry are: “Mr Rudd’s proposal takes us back to the days of the Soviet Union.” I couldn’t believe it.

In 2007: the Ruddmeister.

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17.3      The Australian Labor Party – organisational structure

They are the Labor governments. The most important thing to note is the impact of splits. I’ve mentioned two of the three really important splits.

There was a third split in the Labor Party, that occurred while Labor was in opposition. It occurs from 1954 to 1955. It’s right in the middle of that period when Mr Menzies and the coalition are dominant in federal politics, and as a result of the Labor split in the fifties, the non-Labor parties are going to consolidate their strength in WA, SA, Victoria, and Queensland, and they’re going to cause some damage to Labor in NSW. NSW is traditionally a Labor state.

The 1954 1955 split is the most difficult one of all to try to describe and to explain.  It’s referred to in text books as ‘a split over ideology – a split over the threat to Australia from Communism’. This is because in Victoria the split took on a rather peculiar form, because ‘guess who’ was running around causing trouble on the edges. Yes – Archbishop Daniel Mannix. By now he’s Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. Now remember Labor used to have a very strong Irish Catholic, blue collar support base, clustered in places like, Fitzroy, Carlton, Collingwood, and what have you, in Melbourne. And there’s a very strong sense of sectarianism in Australia in those days – not carried on by the political parties who try to mitigate sectarianism, but there were certain players, like Archbishop Mannix, who thrived on it.

We used to have St Patrick’s Day marches in Melbourne. That’s where Daniel Mannix would leave Raheen, that great big building in Kew, opposite Costa Hall – the Pratts live there now and run the Carlton Football Club from a turret above, so they can get the binoculars out and see what’s going on over at Princes Park; see who’s having a bit of a piss on in the car park – and Daniel Mannix would walk to St Patrick’s Cathedral, the great big cathedral across the road from state parliament, and to do this he would have to walk through the great Labor voting, working class Catholic suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood, where, of course, the congregation would join him, and there would be a big march of Catholics to St Patrick’s. This is all old hat, because we don’t have that sort of sectarianism anymore.

The reason I mention this  is because Daniel Mannix got involved in the Labor split. But the Labor split in the 1950s was NOT over ideology – it was not. It was over internal power struggles for control of the Labor Party organisation. It wasn’t an ideological split; it wasn’t Catholics versus Protestants; it wasn’t Socialists versus Communists – there are no Communists in the Labor Party. There are none – you’re not allowed to be. The Communist Party is a proscribed organisation in the Labor Party. If you belong to the Labor Party and it’s found out that you once belonged to the Communist Party, you will be expelled. So technically there are no Communists in the Australian Labor Party.

In fact the Communist Party and the Australian Labor Party hated each other’s guts. They hated each other more than they hated the Conservatives. Why? Because they were fighting with each other over things that mattered to the Labor Party. In particular, they would fight over the trade union movement. Why? Because the trade union movement provides the base of the Labor Party’s organisation. Trade unions can choose to belong to the Australian Labor Party. They can choose; they’re not forced to belong, and it’s certainly not the case that all unions are in the Labor Party. No, they are not.

Some have been in for a long time. Some come in and out, like the Education unions; the teacher unions. That depends on whether Labor is in opposition. When Labor’s in opposition the teachers’ unions think ‘arghh – the bloody conservatives: terrible. Let’s get them out – we’ll join the Labor Party’. Then two weeks after the election, the first union to say ‘don’t like the education minister ‘, will be the education union, and they leave the Labor Party. In and out, depending on whether Labor’s in government.

And then there’s a small group, who were kicked out of the Labor Party in the 1950s over the split, and then there’s another small group who were never in the Labor Party. No, no, no, no. They bankrolled a different party. They bankrolled the Communist Party of Australia. So there was a huge rivalry between the Labor Party and the Communist Party for control of trade unions.

Do not make the mistake of the ignorant, and the stupid, who work for the News Corporation Herald and Weekly Times conglomerate, and some in the Age, who come out and say ‘oh the Labor Party, the Communist Party; they’re all on the left – comrades together, aren’t they?’ No way. They hate each other’s guts, and fought with each other. In fact, Ben Chifley, was another of these Labor prime ministers who confound historians, and the witless, because one of the things he did was to use the army to break a strike – this is the same guy who tried to nationalise the banks, earning a big tick from hard-line, ideologue socialists (“Oh, Mr Chifley must have been a socialist”). But then, about a year later, he uses the army to break a crippling coal strike. Does that make sense? Well, to the witless – “no, no; isn’t the Labor Party the party of the trade-unions?” Well, yes – of the affiliated unions, but the mining union and the railways union, against whom Mr Chifley was pitted in the 1940s, belonged to the Communist Party. He used the army to break the communists.

Just like Bob Hawke used the Air force to break the pilots’ strike in 1990. Labor leaders will try to break trade unions, especially if they are not affiliated to the Labor Party. They will do it. They are not the patsy of the trade union movement.

There are a couple of things we need to know about the Labor Party. First of all, its structure is federal: that is, there are six state branches and two territory branches of the Labor Party. The Victorian branch, and NSW, etcetera; each state has its own organisational structure, and then there is a national structure (which is what the diagram is trying to show).

The rank and file, the ordinary members of the Labor Party: anybody can join the Labor Party, any individual, provided you agree to the Labor rules; provided you are not a member of a proscribed organisation – the DLP, the Communist Party, the Liberal Party, the Greens, any of those – so you can join, as an individual, at the branch level. That’s one source of ordinary members of the Labor Party.

The other source is the affiliated trade unions. In exchange for being a member of the Labor Party, and paying a fee (this is important because it’s an important source of revenue which pays for the operation of Labor Party; not so much the branches, but the affiliated unions – when a union affiliates with the ALP it pays an affiliation fee) in exchange the union are given a certain number of delegate positions to a body called State Conference.

State Conference is the supreme policy making body of the state Labor Party and state conference elects delegate to the National Conference. The National Conference has the power to discipline the state branches of the Labor Party, and is the supreme policy making body.

Important things to note:

These conferences are meant to more than just a gab fest; a love-in. They are also about making party policy. In theory [one thing I would like to ensure about you guys is that when you finish listening to me over the years in Monash, whenever you hear the words ‘in theory’ I want a cold shiver to run up your spine because theory is bullshit. The real world is clearly different] in theory, National Conference makes policy that is binding on all members of the Labor Party, including the Parliamentary Labor Party. It is binding on the parliamentary wing, including that little twerp with the glasses, running around losing the unlosable election. “I’m Mr Rudd and I’m running the country”. Are ya? Are ya? “I’ll beat the miners”. Will ya? Will ya? “I know what I’m doing”. Do ya?

In theory, everybody in the Labor Party is bound by decisions made by the National Conference on policy. This why National Conference is such an important body. It also deals with affairs of the state branches. In theory, what’s supposed to be happening is that Labor gets all its delegates together, they meet to make policy, and then the policy is imposed on the parliamentary wing, because, in theory, this is a mass party that is trying to empower the ordinary members.

The real world of party politics is a bit different. The history of the Labor Party in government is full of instances of where the parliamentary wing of the party, and especially the leadership, have defied the ordinary members, time and again. But I urge you caution on this – here’s a couple of examples:

Bob Hawke. Bob Hawke is often criticised by intellectuals for somehow being outside the Labor tradition. In fact there’s a very famous book, that you’re referred to, by Dean Jaensch, called The Hawke – Keating Hijack, and in it Jaensch outlines the crimes against Labor: reneging Labor traditions; a Liberal party in wolves clothing – this sort of stuff – turning its back on Labor traditions. That’s an argument which we don’t have time for today. We’ll touch on what Labor stands for tomorrow. But what this is a reference also to the idea that Hawke dominated the party leadership.  That may be true, but the way in which Hawke did this, was very interesting. The only time Bob Hawke, and his Cabinet colleagues, made a policy decision that was against the policy platform, the party organisation rapped Mr Hawke over the knuckles and forced him to drop his policy. The policy to which I refer is sometimes referred to in the books as the ‘MX missile policy’. The Americans wanted to test a new missile so they asked Mr Hawke if they could drop it somewhere where no one would notice, and he said “sure, drop it on Ballarat”, or something like that. When this got out there was uproar, but the party organisation forced him to change his mind.

All the other things that Mr Hawke did as prime minister; all the other policy changes, before he and his colleagues made changes at government level, first of all went to National conference where they initially changed Labor Party policy. They changed the party policy and then enacted the policy, so that at the end of the day they could say  “we are within the party platform”. So Dean Jaensch, and others, who say that Hawke was outside the party platform, are wrong: they may have been outside the spirit of the Labor tradition as they understood it but technically they weren’t – he only ever made decisions that had been approved first.

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17.4      ALP organisational politics: key features

  • Two sources of mass membership: branches and affiliated unions
  • In theory (according to constitution) National Conference the supreme policy-making body in the ALP
  • National Executive runs the party in between meetings of Conference
  • Special Conferences can be convened to deal with extra-ordinary matters
  • National structure with capacity for national discipline over state branches
  • State Conference the supreme policy-making organ for state branches
  • Caucus
  • The Pledge

17.5      ALP National Conference: evolution

  • Basic party structure put in place at turn of century
  • Originally: separation between Caucus and Conference. Caucus subordinate to Conference
  • Original structure: equal representation from the 6 states (6 delegates drawn from the State Executive). No parliamentary presence.
    • 1963 – the ’36 Faceless Men’ crisis
    • 1967 – the Whitlam reforms: inclusion of parliamentary leaders
    • 1981 – the Hayden reforms: expansion of Conference to 99 delegates, proportionally divided between states and territories
    • 2001 – the Crean reforms: reduction of union delegation in some states
    • 2004 – the Latham reforms: expansion of Conference to 400 delegates

Table 1: ALP National Conference delegation composition

Party organ Delegates
Federal presidents 3
Federal parliamentary leaders 4
Federal Caucus delegation 6
New South Wales branch 111
Victorian branch 87
Queensland branch 71
Western Australian branch 43
South Australian branch 35
Tasmanian branch 23
Northern Territory branch 7
ACT branch 7
Young Labor 3
Total 400

 17.6      Labor factionalism:

The key to internal politics in the ALP

  • Factionalism a long-standing feature of the ALP: historical division between ‘left’ and ‘right’
  • Factional divides also have existed between states and national division, between ‘industrial’ and ‘non industrial’ Labor
  • Between Caucus and leaders, between Caucus and Conference
  • Factionalism: ideological difference or the pursuit of internal power
  • 1980s: formalised tripartite factionalism: Right, Centre, Left. Involves ALP at all levels including control of affiliated trade union executives

17.6      Labor and organisational politics

Theory versus practice

  • Labor as a ‘mass party’
  • National Conference: power in theory, but constrained in practice
    • Power of the parliamentary wing, and the parliamentary leader
    • Importance of the factional system: power of faction convenors
  • The Caucus
    • Power of the leadership
    • Role of the factions
  • The affiliated unions
    • Financial considerations
    • Factional arrangements
    • Popularity with the voters?

17.7      Labor and the policy debate

Part ideas and traditions

  • The notion of Labor as a ‘socialist’ party: the Australian approach to ‘socialism’
  • Labor and ‘labourism’
  • Labor and ‘social democracy’
  • The ‘middle classing’ of Labor’s policy approach: ‘catch-allism’ in action?

Party ideas and traditions and Labor in government

  • Labor in national government:
    • The Chifley ‘post-war’ reconstruction government
    • Whitlam and the expansion of social democracy
    • Hawke-Keating: liberal-corporatism and governing with the ACTU
    • Rudd?

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 18    Political Parties

18.1      Labor – summing up

Two brief things about the Labor Party before beginning on the liberals.

Firstly, about Labor factionalism: Labor had experienced a number of really bad splits during its history: during the conscription debate, then the ‘Premiers Plan’ debate, and most recent of the terrible splits was the split in the 1950s which, amongst other things, led to the creation of a minor party, the Democratic Labor Party, or DLP, which was to become a thorn in the side of the federal Labor Party for years after.

The main point to realise is that 1955 was the last time the Labor party experienced such a split. Since the 1950s, Labor has been a very cohesive party; it’s found a way of containing its internal divisions. One of the things that’s arisen from this is that the Labor Party seems to have perfected what we call formal factional politics.

This begs the question – what’s a faction? All parties have factions. The way they do factional politics varies from one party to another. Labor has a particular way of doing factional politics which reflects the way Labor does everything. Labor is a ‘mass party’. It aims to empower its ordinary membership. This means that forums where the Labor Party’s delegations get together and discuss what the party is about, what the party stands for, what the party policy will be, seems really important meetings. They are organs that are seen as the practical manifestation of internal party democracy. Can I just flag here a note of caution; a lot of the literature talks about this, and a lot of journalists talk about this as well – we’re not really looking at democracy inside the Labor Party. I don’t think the Labor Party is, or was ever meant to be, an internally democratic party. That is because power is not equally distributed within the party at all. What the party’s organisational structure tries to do is to decentralise power within the party; power over the key functions that parties perform.

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The important things they do is to raise money to run election campaigns; they preselect candidates to run for election; and in Australia they debate policy platforms. So these are three key functions, and the way in which they are done is highly political, and the parties rules are suppose to be trying to decentralise the power to do these things. The power to preselect is supposed to be decentralised. The power to determine the policy platform is supposed to be in the hands of the membership of the party as expressed by that body known as National Conference, the important policy making body of the organisation.

The real world of politics is not like that. It’s not easy for these trade union based, decentralising structures, to perform the way they are suppose to in theory, because the reality is that the ordinary delegates of the party are political amateurs. They are elected to go to Conference where they sit, make decisions, and try to impose their will on the political professionals. The parliamentarian wing is the professional wing of the party. They’re the ones doing politics and, arguably, the most important of them is the party leader. Today’s Labor leader is rock solid, isn’t he? I see the deputy leader has to say again, and again, and again, rather like disciple Paul, “no, no, no; I’m not going to run for the leadership” – how many times did Paul deny Christ? Three times? So Julia Gillard’s up to two. We’ll wait to see what happens after the third denial. Presumably Caucus will strike back. So the way the party’s supposed to operate in theory is not quite the way it operates in practise.

One of the things that happens in the Labor Party (and if you can get your head around this, you’ll understand how Labor works) is factionalism. Now Labor people understand the importance of collective politics; that’s one of Labor’s important values, philosophies, and ideas; that the way that you do things in politics is that you do it as a unified unit. That’s why the idea of party discipline is so important to the Labor Party. That’s why when you join the Labor Party, you have to sign a pledge of loyalty. As an ordinary member, you promise never to run against endorsed candidates in elections. If I were to join the Labor Party, as Joe Average, living in Blackburn, part of the form that I’d have to sign asks ‘Do you promise never to run against endorsed Labor candidates?’ And it’s a pledge that, if you’re a member of the parliamentary Labor Party, you are also asked to promise that you will never ‘break Caucus’.

When the parliamentary Labor Party meets, it makes a decision collectively, and all members of Caucus are bound by that decision. If you don’t agree with a Caucus decision; if you break Caucus – imagine we are members of the party and we are making a decision about our position on asylum seekers. Half of us want to turn them back and return them to Indonesia, the other half want to bring them in and resettle them in Carlton. We have a big argument about it, and this group has the slightly larger number; we have a vote and then ‘yes – Labor Party policy will be to turn the boats back to Indonesia’, and so for the group of slightly less than half, that’s too bad – they have to accept the majority decision. As Labor members, you would go into the parliament and you would be expected to vote, as one, for that position.

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18.2      Labor’s three factions

As a result of the way in which Labor organises its internal affairs, you get a break down of the party along factional lines. Just as the Labor Party’s organisational structure is full of rigid, disciplined meetings of various party organs, so what the Labor Party membership tends to do within the party is break up into two, sometimes three, factional groups.

In political science we describe a faction as a little party operating within a bigger party. This is particularly true of the factional system in the Labor Party. The Labor Party is broken into three broad factions. There is the so-called ‘Left’ – used to be called the ‘Socialist Left’ – there’s a group called the ‘Right’, and there’s another big factional group that is linked to one the affiliated unions – the Australian Workers Union (the AWU). In your literature; in your text books and some of the old academic journal articles that were written about the last time we had a Labor government – not the Rudd government, known as the Labor government that has no fucking idea what it’s doing, nor the crash brigade of the Whitlam years – most of the stuff written about factional politics talks about the Hawke years, from 1983 to 1996, which of course included Paul Keating – the Hawke-Keating years.

In those years the 3 factional groups were slightly different; the left was there – called the Socialist left, the Right was there, and there was also a group called the Centre-Left. The three factions would negotiate outcomes amongst themselves. A study has shown that only about 30% of Labour members are actually in factions, so the vast majority are not. However, almost everyone who’s in a position of importance in the Labor Party is in one or other of the factions. They are in the Right or the Left. People who go to National Conference – we look at the delegates and we understand which faction they come from. Members of Parliament – I could go through a list of members and tell you which faction they’re from. The Cabinet; the shadow Cabinet; even the Prime Minister.

The PM is there basically because the Labor Party’s right wing support him. It may be through gritted teeth as half of them don’t like him, but if there’s one thing that they’re unified on, it’s that they don’t like the left wing of the party, and they’ll do whatever they can to stop them getting into a position of power and influence. Which is going to be interesting, because the heir apparent to the PM, Julia Gillard, is from the left of the party.

We analysts understand this sort of stuff; what’s interesting about it is how rigid it is within the Labor Party. This factional system is very rigid and very disciplined. In fact, members of the Labor Party will meet as a factional Caucus, before they got to the big Caucus. If you’re in the Right faction, you will have a meeting of the faction before you go into Caucus. Same with the Left. Once every three years, before the National Conference meets (the big ‘love-in’ with 400 delegates), the factions have a factional conference – they go out for a ‘factional dinner’. They’ll go to different restaurants in town; the Left will go to one restaurant, the Right to another. They’ll break bread among themselves and discuss the enemy they loathe and detest – not the Liberal Party, but the other faction!

The factional system now is not quite as rigid and disciplined as it was back in the Hawke-Keating era, but it is still quite correct to say that the people who make decisions on important things like preselection; who will be in parliament; who will be in the ministry; who will be in Cabinet; even who will be the leader; these things are all subject to factional decision making. One of the ways we can identify who are the important people in Labor factional politics is to look at, first of all, who are the state secretaries and the state presidents – they’re all factional players – who are the deputy presidents, and of course, who’s in the various Labor Cabinets and Shadow-Cabinets. What we’ve seen over the years is that there are certain members of the parliamentary Labor Party who don’t usually figure in the public’s view as important, powerful people, but we analysts know they are, because they are factional convenors, and one of the ways in which Labor leaders try to keep the factions on side is by bringing the faction leaders into the ministry.

One of the important prerequisites to being a minister in a Labor government is that you are either a/ a factional convenor (leader) or, b/ someone close to factional convenors or, c/ part of the factional system. You won’t get into parliament if you’re not in a faction; you won’t get into the ministry if you’re not in a faction; fuck it, you won’t be leader if you’re not in a faction.

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18.3      What does Labor stand for?

I want to finish on the question of ‘What does Labor stand for?‘ What are the Labor traditions? Or, if you were reading Jim Jupp’s book, published in the 1980s, a discussion of ideology. As you know, I have a serious objection to the word ‘ideology’ in this context, when we talk about the Australian Party System. The Australian political parties are famously pragmatic – they are not ideological, and they have never been ideological. There’s a sense that if you think about Labor in the ‘old days’ then somewhere along the line there was a great change. There’s an image, in the old days, of people in cloth caps, and rags, working in factories, and people with banners with raised fists, and a sense somehow that Labor, in the old days, was about these workers trying to bring in socialism, and that today, the Labor Party has lost its way. These are romantic notions of the Labor Party.

The Labor Party was, and still is, what we in the profession call a ‘social-democratic, left-of-centre, union-affiliated, mass party’. It’s a ‘mass party’ so it’s got an organisational structure designed to try to decentralise decision making power within the party. It’s got a union base. We have trade unions associated with the party but they have to affiliate. Not every union is in the party. And thirdly – what does it stand for? Most of the literature will describe the Australian Labor Party as a socialist party. I would dispute that. I think that it’s not a socialist party; it is in fact a social democratic party.

Here, understanding what Labor stands for turns on your definition of socialism. To me, socialism implies community ownership of property. Community ownership of the economy. Socialism is the idea that there should not be private property – it should be owned by the community, and that there’s a small group that will run these things on behalf of the community. There are various ways in which socialism can be practised. In communist Russia, the old Soviet Union before it collapsed, also the communist state of China, the One Party State, a small political elite of the dominant communist party, runs everything on everyone’s behalf.

In liberal-democratic states, socialism usually manifested itself through what we call nationalisation. That is where the party in power, the Labor Party, would pass legislation converting previously privately owned companies into state owned corporations. We have spoken about privatisation.

My generation remembers nationalisation because it was practised in Britain, not in Australia. Ben Chifley, as Labor PM, tried to nationalise the banks and the High Court held that it was illegal. So you can’t have nationalisation of industry in Australian federal politics. You can in state politics. Labor was much more successful in nationalising things in the 1920s and 1930s, at the state level, but not federally.

So if Labor can’t nationalise anything, what are they there for? I don’t think that the Labor Party was ever seriously in the business of nationalising anything. A lot of students of history get confused because they look at the Labor Party’s policy manifesto, as drawn up at National Conference, and, in the 1920s, they note that Labor included something in their policy called the ‘socialist objective’. It was item number one on the Labor platform; the socialist objective – Labor will nationalise transport, banking, and etcetera. That looks like socialism. So the witless student, and the witless historian, and the witless commentator, takes this part of the platform and says “here’s your proof that Labor is a socialist party”. They fail to read the next section.

The next section of the policy platform, from the 1920s, had something called the ‘Blackburn declaration’ in it, named after delegate Blackburn, who moved it. And the motion reads, more or less, “We’ll only do these things to the extent necessary to prevent exploitation by capitalism”. In other words, the Blackburn declaration says “we’re not going to do item one”. How do we account for this? What’s going on here? These two motions were passed in the 1920s when the Labor Party was confronting the problem of the Great Depression. There was a definitive left in the party, that wanted to socialise things, but there was a very pragmatic right wing in the party, as well, that was suspicious of nationalisation.

The right wing of the Labor Party is not interested in socialism. It’s not interested in socialising anything; it’s not interested in nationalising anything. The right wing of the Labor Party, which, I would submit to you, is the dominant and numerically superior group in the Labor Party, and has been since the party was formed, sees Labor’s tradition not being one of nationalising anything, rather it talks about the redistribution of wealth. It wants to redistribute wealth from the wealthy and the powerful to the less wealthy and the less powerful. It wants to use the tax system; it wants to use ideas of state intervention to try to ensure that the workers and the less well off get their fair share of the economic pie, but the most important thing is that the Labor Party right wing accepts the role of private property ownership.

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The right wing of the Labor Party accepts the private market place. Social democrats see capitalism as a reality; they have no interest in doing away with capitalism. Socialism wants to do away with capitalism; it sees capitalism as inherently evil. Social democracy accepts capitalism. Social Democracy says, though, that capitalism can lead to gross social inequality, and the task of social democrats is to alleviate social inequality and to alleviate exploitation.

This sets up the division within the Labor Party of what it stands for, and the factional system replicates this. Those who are on the left of the party can talk about socialism, democratic socialism, and those on the right see themselves as social democrats.

What are the things that both sides do agree on? What keeps them together? Of all the things they disagree on, they agree on this – the importance of the trade union movement to the Australian economy and society, and that the alleviation of exploitation involves a cooperative effort between the trade union movement and the Labor Party in government. Some of the early Labor people understood socialism to be what we would call development of the welfare state, and in particular, the use of government policy to provide things for the community that would not be provided if it was left to the market place: universal health care; universal education; protection of those employed in vulnerable areas of the economy with thing like unemployment benefits; welfare benefits. These are the sorts of things that the entire Labor Party could agree on – both socialists and social democrats. And that’s really what Labour has stood for.

A couple of writers have made the point that if we talk about Labor’s tradition we talk less about socialism and more about ‘labourism’. In other words what the Labor Party has really been about in the public policy debate has been trying to entrench the idea of using public policy to protect workers. It started off with Jack Lang introducing the unemployment benefit during the great Depression, in NSW, in the 1920s. The Whitlam government took this even further. It argued that the abolition of university fees was a form of ‘labourist’ policy because it made higher education affordable to working people. Medicare health insurance is justified on the grounds that prior to the introduction of universal health care only the wealthy could afford good health care, so Medicare was an attempt to bring about a high level of equal outcome for all. Some of my colleagues have described Labor’s tradition as one which is less about socialism and more about what they call ‘labourism’. 25:30 Trying to ensure that the unions have a meaningful role to play in the Australian economy, and society, and ensuring that wage and salary earners are protected by the state; protected from the vagaries and potential exploitation of capitalism.

Over the years there has been substantial (what some call) ‘middle-classing of Labor’s policy tradition and this is the great ‘Whitlam legacy’. One of the things that astound me, over the years, is the misunderstanding of Whitlam and the Whitlam tradition. Australians love their tragic heroes. If only Malcolm Fraser had been patient, waited a couple of years, and gone to a normal election, then Labor would have been absolutely trounced, and Gough Whitlam would have been seen as being as bad as Stanley Melbourne Bruce, and that would have been it. But no, no, no; they all went off and forced an early election; the G-G did what he did; and suddenly Gough becomes a hero to all sorts of people. And everyone’s judgement about the Whitlam government has been clouded ever since.

The first thing to say about the Whitlam government is that it was hopeless. They could not organise a piss on in a Cascade Brewery. They were all over the joint. Everybody knew it – that’s one of the reasons that Fraser and his mates decided that they were going to tear up the Constitution and make a quick grab for power. Not because they thought they would lose the next election; they just couldn’t stand them and wanted to get rid of them – and I have to say that I think large slabs of the Australian community were in agreement – get rid of them any way you possibly can. But Whitlam is sometimes venerated as a great socialist, and that’s not correct; he was not interested in socialism.

He was interested, though, in trying to extend equal opportunity to a lot of people. Note his interest in Indigenous Australians, in Aboriginal Affairs. Prior to Whitlam very few Australian Labor Party leaders had any interest in Indigenous Australians what so ever. They never thought about them. Whitlam did. He saw this as an important issue about equity and equality of opportunity across the community, regardless of your racial background. One of Whitlam’s great enduring legacies was his recognition of Aboriginal rights.

The Whitlam government made a lot of statements about trying to improve Australia’s approach in environmental policy, and what have you. These are all ‘middle-class issues’. The interest in the Arts and all that sort of stuff. Middle-class issues – not traditional blue-collar Labor concerns. For that you have to look at the Hawke government. The Hawke government was, in some ways, closer to the Labor tradition in that they tried to incorporate the trade union movement into the decision making, through the accord process. The problem there is that the Hawke government did a whole lot of stuff that a lot of political writers describe as what the Liberal Party stand for: deregulating the economy; floating the Australian dollar; opening up the banking sector to international competition; and most controversial of all – selling off previously government owned instrumentalities. Privatisation.

A Labor government, privatising. It doesn’t make sense, does it? It doesn’t if you’re a dill and look at Australian politics as if it’s some sort of classic ideology. Because that just doesn’t work. There is no role for ideology with the major political parties. They are pragmatic. They always have been; they always will be. What do the parties stand for? They don’t stand for very much. What they stand for is winning elections. Winning the votes of the swinging voters.

If Labor is not a socialist party, what are we to make of the Liberals?

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18.4      The Liberal Party

N.B.: Liberals, Liberalism, Liberal philosophy, but NOT liberalist – no such word!

[Pictures of Robert Menzies, Harold Holt, John Gorton, Billy McMahon, Malcolm Fraser, and John Howard.

When Harold Holt disappeared while swimming at Portsea, in 1967, there was an enormous shit fight within the Liberal Party – with the Country Party, on the side lines, telling the Liberal Party that if they ever elected ‘that bastard McMahon’ (They were Jack McEwen’s words – not mine) they would walk out of the coalition. So they ended up with John Grey Gorton. [Has Australia ever had a senator as PM? – Yes they have! This is him] At the time that he was elected by the Liberal Party to be the leader, and thus the Prime Minister, John Gorton was a Victorian Senator. Holt’s seat of Higgins became vacant; there was a by-election, Gorton was preselected by the Liberal party as the candidate, he wins the by-election and goes to the Lower House. But in his first stint as Prime Minister, he was a senator. Which answers a whole lot of questions like can senators be prime ministers? In Australia – yes they can.

John Gorton and Billy McMahon had a terrible feud that went over a number of years and finished in the 1969 election, which the Liberals just won, when McMahon finally got the numbers to move a successful leadership spill against Gorton. In fact the man who was moving against Gorton wasn’t McMahon, it was Malcolm Fraser. Fraser had been around since Bob Menzies time. He supported Holt, didn’t like McMahon, but after watching Gorton running the show for a while, he decided he didn’t like him anymore and changed sides to support McMahon, and McMahon has a special place in Liberal Party history as the first Liberal leader to lose an election to Labor since Bob Menzies victory over Ben Chifley in 1949. So McMahon is the hapless Liberal leader who was defeated by Whitlam in ’72.

In 1975, Malcolm Fraser becomes leader and he’s Prime Minister. And this bloke [John Howard] was PM here in happier days: days of growth; days of stability; days when people didn’t come floating over here on leaky boats because they knew they’d be blown out of the water – John Winston Howard, the second longest serving Australian prime minister; he was defeated by the milky-bar kid in 2007. The person I’d like to speak to these days is Peter Costello; I reckon if Peter Costello, and not Tony Abbot, was Liberal leader now, the Liberals would be a shoo in at the next election.

18.5      The Liberal party: main themes

  • Debate about essence of party structure ‘By Menzies, of Menzies, for Menzies (Jaensch)
  • Complex organisational origins reflecting the party’s federalist nature
  • Part that perceived itself as ‘middle class’ and pragmatic. ‘Power without theory’ (Katherine West)
  • The main political party of the Australian ‘centre-right’, although this is a position shared with the National (formerly Country) Party
  • The importance of the politics of ‘Coalition’: importance of its relationship with the National Party (previously Country Party)

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 18.6      Evolution of the non-Labor parties

Origins of the liberal party and the National party

  • Federation: fragmented, disorganised and ‘elite’ type parties: Free traders (NSW) and Protectionists (Victoria)
  • 1909 – Alfred Deakin and the ‘Fusion liberals’
  • 1914 – Fusion liberals collapse
  • (1916 – Labor splits)
  • 1917 – The Nationalists formed: W.M. Hughes as leader and prime minister
  • 1919 – The Country Party formed: immediate HoR presence
  • 1922 – Country Party holds the ‘balance of power’ in the HoR
  • 1923 – first Coalition: Earl Page (Country) and S.M. Bruce (Nationalists)
  • 1931 – United Australia Party formed: Joseph Lyons as prime minister
  • 1934 – UAP forced to look to Country Party for coalition
  • 1939 – Lyons dies: R.G. Menzies becomes leader and PM
  • 1941 – Menzies resigns: Fadden (Country) as PM, UAP government falls

 Important splits: the rise and fall of the UAP

  • Tensions within the party: personnel
    • M. Hughes, R.G. Menzies
  • Lack of disciplined national organisation and interstate rivalries; the United Australia Organisation
  • External associations? The role of the Institute of Public Affairs
  • Problems of finance: concerns that donors demanded a say on policy formation and pre-selections
  • Electoral failure and disintegration. By 1943, the UAP had broken up into four political parties

 18.7      The creation of the Liberal party: process

  • State-based diversity:
    • Victoria, Tasmania, WA: remnants of the UP
    • NSW: The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Democratic Party (DP)
    • Qld: The Queensland Peoples Party (QPP)
    • SA: The Liberal Country League (LCL – established in 1931)
  • The Canberra Conference and the Albury Conference in 1944
    • Discussion of need to co-ordinate various non-Labor parties into a national organisation
    • Role of R.G. Menzies as one of the leaders of this re-organisation
    • Ne party organisation finalised and constitution approved
    • Distinctions made between parliamentary and organisational wings of the party
    • Unsuccessful attempts to bring Queensland’s DPP into the organisation
    • Party registered in 1945: unsuccessfully contests the 1946 election
    • Party wins the 1949 ‘Bank Nationalisation’ election

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18.8      The Liberal party organisation: key points

  • A federal structure, six autonomous state and one autonomous territory divisions of the Liberal party
  • Federal divisions cannot intervene in the affairs of the state or territory divisions
  • NO external interest groups: membership only possible by way of individual membership
  • The Northern Territory part is the Country Liberal Party (CLP): separate and different organisation, but federal CLP MPs meet with Liberal MPs
  • Note a role for Young Liberals. Party also has women’s auxiliaries. Federal Executive has a Women’s Vice President
  • Separation between parliamentary wing and organisational wing. Organisational wing as support for parliamentary wing. No power for organisational wing to impose its will on the parliamentary party.
  • Mass membership organs are advisory on policy (the ‘party platform’)
    • Federal Council debates platform, elect members to Federal Executive. Party people. Liberal Party of Australia
  • Federal Executive selects the Directorate and Federal Director (party secretary). Executive may establish ad hoc committees
  • Local branches have power over pre-selection
  • Assumption is that the parliamentary leader is the supreme authority on policy-formation

18.9      Liberal party: growth, consolidation and success

  • 1949 election: Menzies’ success
    • ‘forgotten people’ concept: appeal to the burgeoning ‘middle class’
    • Succeeds in consolidating coalition with the Country Party
    • Success of anti-socialism; rise of Cold War tensions
  • 1950s: Labor splits leads to Liberal success and consolidation in the states and in federal elections
    • ‘kicking the Communist can’: Cold War, Petrov Affair; Vietnam War
  • Long period of Liberal government in coalition:
    • G. Menzies 1949 to 1966
    • Harold Holt 1966 to 1969
    • John Gray Gorton 1969 to 1970
    • William McMahon 1969 to 1972 (first federal Liberal PM to lose an election since 1949)
    • Malcolm Fraser 1975 to 1983
    • John Howard 1996 to 2007

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 18.10   The Liberal party and intra-party politics

  • Ian Hancock (2007) outlined the three main sources of tension underpinning organisational politics:
    • Tensions between state divisions: note history of rivalry and antipathy between Queensland, NSW, and Victoria, in particular.
    • Tensions between the mass membership and the Executive/Directorate (usually over policy, but also over positions)
    • Tensions between the organisation and the parliamentary wing
  • Another source of tension: difference in ideas and philosophy
    • Progressive versus conservatives; free traders versus ‘welfare liberals’

18.11     Liberal Party: contemporary factionalism

  • Not formal or disciplined factionalism: no formal factions, but factional ‘tendencies’
    • Fluid; not long-standing; influenced by other organisational features
  • Ideas based: ‘moderates’ versus ‘conservatives’
  • Economy and society based: ‘wets’ versus ‘dries’
  • State divisional basis: Victoria versus New South Wales
  • Factionalism by personality: reflection of the importance of ‘leadership’

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18.12     The Liberal party: party ideas

  • Liberal party as a party of broad ideas: liberalism and conservatism
  • Liberal party and the economy: from ‘welfare liberalism’ to ‘market liberalism’
  • Liberal party and embourgeoisement: The ‘Menzian legacy’ and the notion of the Australian middle class (materialistic, pragmatic, protestant)
  • The Liberal party as a pragmatic party: eschewing ideology

What are the Liberal Party’s main themes? There is a big debate about the Liberal Party in addition to what does it stand for; what is it about? We know what the Labor Party’s about because we can see the connection between the rise of the Labor Party and the trade union movement. And there are some that would argue if organised labour is going to have a political expression, then business is going to have some form of political expression as well – and that’s not a bad rule of thumb. There’s no doubt that there are very strong ties of support and feeling between the business community and the Liberal Party.

BUT a big warning here. As we’ll soon see, the way the Liberal Party is structured is very interesting. It’s a mass party, like the Labor Party, in that it’s got mass membership. It’s a major political party; it receives nearly half the votes that are cast at any election, so it’s like Labor in that respect. It has a mass organisational structure. Yet at every turn, for the things that are key features of the Labor structure, the polar opposite applies for the Liberal Party.

The Liberal Party has a big policy love-in meeting like National Conference that they call Federal Council, but it differs from Labor quite fundamentally, and the question about the Liberal Party’s relationship with business is a case in point. There are direct links between the unions and Labor: the unions can affiliate with the Labor Party. However, the Liberal Party’s rule forbids any external organisation from joining them. No business group; no think tank; no organisation like the Institute of Public Affairs, can belong to the Liberal Party. The IPA would love to be, and when the Liberal Party was percolating, in the early 1940s, they were saying to Bob Menzies ‘Let us come in. We will be for you, like the trade unions are for Labor’, and Menzies said ‘No’.

Dean Jaensch is the political scientist who has been the most reductionist describing what the Liberal Party is all about. As far as he was concerned, the liberal Party was a party set up by Robert Menzies to service Robert Menzies political aspirations. And what were Menzies’ aspirations? To be prime minister. Jaensch says ‘the Liberal Party is by Menzies, of Menzies, for Menzies’. There are others in the field who say that’s a far too simplistic view of the Liberal Party’s origins and its structure, but we do draw this important point from it: one of the key features of the Liberal Party, which separates it from the Labor Party, is the question of the power of the parliamentary leader.

In the Labor Party the parliamentary leader is thought to be subordinate to the mass party. He or she is answerable to Caucus, Caucus is answerable to National Conference, and National Conference is answerable to the members. In the Liberal Party, the rules and structure show that the parliamentary leader is supreme. Officially, the most powerful person in the Liberal Party is the parliamentary Liberal leader.

Here’s an interesting trick: There’s not one supremely powerful parliamentary Liberal leader, there are seven (out of nine):

The federal Liberal parliamentary leader is superior to everybody else in the federal division of the Liberal Party. The state Liberal Leader is the superior being for the state divisions, of which there are Tasmania, NSW, SA, and WA.   In Qld the Liberal Party is longer the ‘Liberal Party – it is now the LNP Liberal National Party; it has merged with the National Party. So the Qld Liberal Party no longer exists; it is now a merging of the Liberal Party and the National Party. The ACT has a Liberal division. The NT doesn’t have a Liberal Party either. It has a separate autonomous party called the CLP; the Country Liberal Party.

It’s a dog’s breakfast but it actually makes sense as the Liberal Party believes in federalism. It’s tied in with the Liberal Party’s view of Liberal philosophy of liberalism, which talks about the importance of decentralisation; decentralising power. What’s the best way to decentralise something? Federate it.

Another point of difference: all the Labor State branches are subordinate to the National branch of the ALP. The National Conference and National Executive of the Labor Party can discipline the State branches. Not so in the Liberal Party. All of the Liberal Party divisions [note the difference in terms: branches for Labor: State branches and Territory branches; Divisions for the Liberal Party: State and Territory divisions. The Liberal divisions are autonomous. Sometimes Liberal parliamentary leaders have terrible fights with each other. John Howard used to have a fight with Benito Kennett. Jeff Kennett, who did for Victoria what he is currently doing for the Hawthorn Football Club. Whiteboards. Strange things. ‘I’m in charge here.’ This sort of stuff.

Mr Howard and Mr Kennett would fall out all the time. There was a very famous moment in the 1998 federal election where a person called Pauline Hanson was doing the rounds. Remember her: “Please explain”. One Nation. She was running around. Mr Howard said “she’s a slightly dangerous person; I’ll deal with her by ignoring her”. He wouldn’t campaign in the same state that she was in, he wouldn’t take her on, and he would not talk about it. Questions were asked, he would say ‘they’re irrelevant; they get 1% of the vote, I’m a major party leader, etcetera, etcetera.

Jeff Kennett, on the other hand, said he was against Pauline Hanson; he accused Howard of cowardice for not taking her on, and then he (a state premier, during the 1998 federal election) decided to join the campaign trail too! And he flies up to Brisbane, gets on a bus or a taxi, and goes to Ipswich, looking for Pauline Hanson. Looking for a stoush! Very embarrassing for Mr Howard. Had he been a Labor premier, National Executive would have met, the factions would have got together, the right faction would have said ‘get this bloke under control’, and the state Labor Premier would have been told by National Executive ‘shut the fuck up and get the fuck back to your own state”. That’s the way that things are done in the Labor Party, because they have those rules, that power. But not the liberal Party.

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One day I’ll write a book on the times federal and state Liberal leaders have fallen out with each other – it’s amazing, and it exposes an interesting part of the Liberal Party’s organisational structure. Those state divisions are autonomous. The federal Liberal parliamentary leader is on top of the federal structure but he or she has no power to discipline his or her state leadership colleagues. It’s a very interesting feature of the Liberal Party. And Dean Jaensch says, ‘well, that’s because of the Menzies factor. The Liberal Party is complicated organisation, and that’s because it’s federalist.

Labor is reasonably easy to understand because it’s a very much centred and top-down organisational structure, in that the national branch of the Labor Party is, in theory, superior, and it rarely wades into affairs of the states for a range of obvious political reasons, but if it wanted to it could. The Liberal Party doesn’t have that sort of stuff.

The Liberal Party is also a political party that, in the 60s and 70s, is an extraordinarily successful political party, especially in federal elections. Since its formation, it’s been in government, federally, more often than in opposition, in Australia, and the way things are going, I expect it to be back in government some time later this year.

In its success, an interesting intellectual problem has arisen. There’s a huge amount written about the Labor Party. I have a theory that that’s what you do when you’re a social democratic party that fails all the time, and you’ve got all these intellectual hangers on, they like to write long books and articles about what’s wrong; so there’s a huge scholarly reflection on Labor. But there’s relatively little on the Liberal Party, and part of the reason for this is because the Liberal Party was, for a long time, seen as the ultimate pragmatic middle-class party. In fact my very good friend Katherine West, who used to teach politics at Melbourne University, once wrote a book called Power without Theory – that was the essence of the Liberal Party.

There’s been a bit of a change. You guys are trying to wade through a scholarly reflection on the Liberals where they were in opposition for a very long time; between 1983 and 1996 the Liberals were in opposition for the first time, federally [obviously between ’72 and ’75 they were in opposition, but they were in the game – they had the numbers in the Senate, they had Labor on the run, the Fraze had the G-G in his back pocket; they were in the game]. In 1983 when Hawke came in, the Libs were in disarray, and they stayed in disarray right up to the last moment. Even as late as 1995 they were still fiddling around with hopeless leaders – i.e. Alexander Downer – and were still being considered a joke. Part of the joke was that in a bid to try to terminate Alexander Downer’s appallingly poor quality leadership (where he’d made a series of really unfortunate jokes – ‘now we are going to release our policy on domestic violence; it’s called the things that batter’; he shouldn’t have said that… – they turned to John Howard.

John Howard had been opposition leader about 3 or 4 times during that period. He’d been defeated in elections a couple of times. To be fair he’d been defeated in 1987 and he’d had a really rough time trying to keep the National Party in the game when a chap by the name of Joh Bjelke-Petersen caused all sorts of problems. They recycled Howard and this looked like a bit of a joke, but what commentators didn’t factor into it was how loathsome Paul Keating was, and how much he was loathed and hated by the electorate. Mr Howard became leader, and this is a period where the Liberal Party is associated with a firmer philosophical and, some have said, ideological position.

I’ll put it on the record that the Liberal Party, like Labor, is a difficult beast to tie down, mainly because so many of our colleagues have sort to associate the Liberal Party with ideology. Again, I don’t think that’s right, although I do think it’s correct to see the Liberal Party as a centre-right party. If the Labor Party is a centre-left party, the Liberal Party is a centre-right party. It’s a position it shares with the National Party, formerly the Country Party; that means that coalition politics are very important to its existence. Also I’d point out that the Liberal Party is a bit like the Labor Party in that because it’s trying to be a broad church, trying to incorporate a range of philosophies and ideas, just like Labor is.

If you look at the Labor Party you can find all sorts of ideas, theories, and philosophies and ideologies at work. You can find hard-line socialists, you can find social democrats, you can find middle-of-the-road socialists, etcetera – the Liberal party has the same thing. They’ve got libertarian Liberals, economic Liberals, etcetera, etcetera. But the really big divide, if Labor has a division between philosophical socialists and social democrats which delineates its left and right, the Liberals have a left and right as well. The left tend to be the small l liberals [not liberalists, but liberals!], there are all sorts of liberals, but the right wing of the Liberal Party, the main body of fellow travellers on the right-wing of the Liberal Party, are called conservatives.

In other words, just like Labor tries to bring socialists and social democrats together, the Liberals try to bring liberals and conservatives together.

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John Howard is, I think, a very interesting character. He was very much like Bob Menzies in a lot of ways. I know Malcolm Fraser would dispute this – I’ve read his book; I know that Malcolm Fraser thinks John Howard is the devil incarnate, but I think it’s possible to make the case that Mr Howard is very much like Robert Menzies.

Menzies was an interesting mix of small l liberal economics, whatever the general Liberal approach to economics was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s – state intervention, ensure that industry kept ticking over, accepting that there should be unions but keeping them at arm’s length in the process – and conservatism; social conservatism. Mr Menzies was a conservative; a great believer in venerable institutions, the Queen, Presbyterianism, the University (Melbourne University).

Bob Menzies loved universities; he loved his time at uni and that’s why he was hugely committed to education; that’s why this building is named after him. This place, Monash, was meant to be nothing more than (and I think this would have been a terrible tragedy) an engineering college. That was the original intention. The original intention was that Dandenong would be the new industrial hub of Melbourne, where they’d be making things like cars, and this place would train the technocrats and spanner twirlers, who would make these things. And then Bob Menzies came along and said “no, no, no: there shall be universities; Monash will become a university”, and how do you make universities, how do you humanise the barbarians? You put an arts faculty in it, and that’s precisely what Mr Menzies recommended, and hence the naming of this building after him. That’s why we’re all here. So I shouldn’t bag him too much; but he was conservative on a range of issues.

Mr Howard, too, I think, replicated Mr Menzies in this way. Mr Howard was a great believer in the latest developments in economic theories, small government, let the market-place determine the allocation of resources (he was what we call an economic dry, and economic radical), but on social issues he was very conservative. He was a great defender of the monarchy; a great defender of religion; a great defender of Australia’s British cultural heritage; a great supporter of the idea of law and order; and, of course, the thing that binds all Liberals; a real disdain for the union movement.

That’s one of the few thing that the two major parties are in fundamental disagreement over. Fundamentally, Labor sees the union as an important part of the Australian, social, economic, and political fabric, where the Liberals see the union as a distortion of the political fabric and that there is no justifiable reason for it in society. Apart from that, the two sides have all sorts of issues in common.

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 19      Liberal Party

19.1      The Liberal Party of Australia: Organisation

We look at the organisational structure, so as to learn the key philosophies, ideas and values that underpin the Liberal Party. We can learn a lot about what parties stand for by looking at the ways in which they are organised.

We will try to get a handle on the internal politics of the Liberal Party, which we will call factionalism for now, but will discover that the way in which factionalism is manifest in the Liberal Party is quite different to that in the Labor Party, which partly reflects the great philosophical differences between Labor’s approach to politics, which is really about unified, disciplined, collective action, and the Liberal Party, which has a strong liberal tradition, drawing heavily from liberal philosophy.

We look at what the Liberal Party stands for and observe that the Liberal Party is more than a small l liberal party; just as Labor is a broad church, a mass political party (it’s possible to find a variety of philosophical positions within the Labor Party, with socialists on one side and social democrats on the other), a similar sort of thing happens in the Liberal Party.

‘Liberalism’ is a very varied, complex beast in its own right, so there are a number of competing perspectives within the Liberal Party about what constitutes Liberalism, Liberal philosophy, and the way Liberalism should manifest itself in the policy debate.

We also note that the Liberal Party has a very strong conservative element to it. It’s the party where social conservatives tend to cluster, and they are, presumably, on the right of the Liberal Party, in the way in which the democratic socialists tend to be on the left of the Labor Party.

We begin by looking at the party’s organisation.

We reiterate some of the key themes that contributed to the emergence of the Liberal Party. This is a relatively young political party. Labor’s the oldest. The Country Party, now known as the National Party, is the second oldest, and the Liberal Party is the third. The Liberal Party’s direct predecessor was the United Australia Party, the UAP, before the UAP were the Nationalists, before the Nationalists, during WWI, and just before the war, was a group called the Fusion Liberals. [Richard enters the lecture theatre, late]. As Richard comes in, wearing dark glasses, I’m reminded of a joke which a student made last year, in a tute – she said ‘Fusion Liberals, makes them sound like a jazz ensemble’, so I’ve just got this vision of Alfred Deakin on saxophone, and various other prominent Liberals running around. Of course it wasn’t like that at all. Alfred Deakin was a prominent small l liberal, who tried to bring some sort of unity and cohesion to the non-Labor side of politics.

Before the Fusion Liberals, the non-Labour side of politics had two broad camps. These guys come back to haunt us later on. If you can get your mind around these guys you’ll understand a fair bit of contemporary Liberal Party factionalism.

What’s really interesting about the Liberal Party, like the Labor Party, is that its history is there, even in contemporary internal politics. The two groups that were around, before Alfred Deakin tried to get the Fusion Liberals together, were the Free Traders and the Protectionists. The Free Traders were from NSW and they were, as the name suggests, interested in free trade. One of the things that they certainly didn’t want to see in Australia was the imposition of tariffs against imports. A tariff is a tax that’s levied by governments against imports in an attempt to make the import as expensive as, or more expensive than, the locally produced product.

There were two possible reasons for imposing tariffs – the first is that they want to raise revenue – a commodity comes in, you put a tariff on it and you’re going to make lots of money because it’s ‘demand in elastic’ (if you don’t know what that means, do economics). The second reason they do it, and the main reason in Australia, is for political reasons; to try to protect Australia’s manufacturing industry from overseas competition.

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19.2      Geographic specificity – Free Traders v Protectionists

There is a geographic specificity to this. The NSW conservatives, the NSW anti-Labor people, tend to be Free Traders. Sydney, as you know, is a bit of a wild town, and is into free movement of capital and what have you. The other side of the equation, the other group, were the Protectionists – they’re the really interesting ones. Alfred Deakin was a Protectionist. The Protectionists came from Victoria. Victoria in the 1890s, like Victoria today, is really just Melbourne. 8:25 It’s a city state called Melbourne; there are some peripheral players – the regional cities. 80% of Victorians live in Melbourne; it’s been like that since the 1890s. So when we say Victoria, really what we are talking about is Melbourne. And when we say NSW what we are really talking about is Sydney, because once you get outside of metropolitan Sydney, the other big movers and shakers in non-Labor politics tend to come from the Country Party.

More of that later – I can smell bull shit in the air; the Country Party must be on the way! The smell of diesel and shit; it’s like going to the Show. The Country Party tend to dominate non-metropolitan politics.

So we are talking a great Sydney – Melbourne rivalry. We‘ve dealt with this before in the context of Australia’s constitutional formation. In fact we have a monument to Sydney – Melbourne rivalry – it’s called Canberra; as King O’Malley once said “a waste of a good sheep paddock”. It’s sort of in the middle of nowhere; sort of looks like Monash writ large; dreadful 1970s building with freeways running around it.

That’s a legacy of the Melbourne – Sydney rivalry and here’s another; the great division in non-Labor politics. The Protectionists were in Melbourne, because Melbourne was, and still is, the great manufacturing city in Australia, and so what the protectionists were advocating were protective tariffs; impose a protective tariff against foreign imports, make them as expensive, or more expensive, than the locally made products, thereby protecting local manufacturing.

One group of people who were very enthusiastic supporters of the tariff was, of course, the trade union movement, because tariffs protected manufacturing employment. That’s true, but what’s often forgotten and should be remembered is that the Melbourne based Protectionists were also great defenders of the tariff because it protected their companies. Melbourne was the home of the small scale, entrepreneurial manufacturer, and the political group that was spawned by this group was the Protectionists.

The reason I am emphasising this is because there is a huge tension between the Free Traders and the Protectionists. That first Labor government that was formed in 1904 – John Christian Watson’s minority Labor government – was brought in why? Because the Protectionists supported it. We have instances of the Protectionists and the unions coming together. In fact, there was a non-Labor person in the first Labor Cabinet, a guy by the name of Henry Bourne Higgins, after whom the seat of Higgins is named; a prominent Victorian colonialist; a former High Court justice; and he was also the first justice on the arbitration and conciliation board. He is the one who brought down the famous ‘Harvester judgement’ in 1907. It was his legal statement that said, in Australia, people should get a fair day’s salary for a fair day’s work.

The point is that there’s a sense in which the Protectionists and the union movement can see eye to eye on a number of issues, and that there is a big tension between the Protectionists and the Free Traders.

As things went on, as the Labor Party got more and more organised and more disciplined, and as they started to win elections in their own right, the non-Labor side of politics felt the need to try to improve its organisation to counter Labor. That’s why Alfred Deakin, who had been a supporter of the first Labor government, as part of the Protectionists supporting Labor, decided that he needed to bring the Free Traders and the Protectionists together.

I’m going to suggest that the tension between the Protectionists and the Free Traders has never quite gone away in non-Labor politics. It’s evident in two ways in contemporary, internal, Liberal politics. It’s evident, first of all, in the debate between Liberals about what Liberalism is all about. The Protectionist Liberals, drawing heavily on the philosophical writings of John Stuart Mill, can see a role for state intervention in the economy. They’re sometimes called the ‘welfare Liberals’. The Liberals who say “we need the state to intervene in the economy to make sure that we get Liberal outcomes”.

That’s what the tariff was; the tariff was a public policy designed to try to protect manufacturing. Why? Because, surely that’s what small scale entrepreneurs are on about; making profits from manufacturing and contributing to the material progress of Australian society. That’s how they saw themselves.

The other Liberals are those who see no role, or a minimal role, for the state in the economy. They argue that state intervention in the economy simply distorts the market place and that the best sort of government is that which does not get involved in the economy of the society.

So there’s that tension. When we look at the contemporary Liberal Party, we see that that tension, which has been at work in the party, is still there. It’s the thing that differentiates economic radicals, in the Liberal Party, from moderates in the party. But the other one is that Melbourne – Sydney rivalry. It’s huge. It’s been there since Federation; it ran all through the United Australia Party; it ran through the Nationalists; and it still runs through the Liberal Party to this day.

As far as I can recall, the only non Melbourne or non Sydney Liberal leader, federally, would have been Alexander Downer when he had a brief period as opposition leader before John Howard took over just ahead of the 1996 federal election. Since the formation of the Liberal Party, the federal leadership has been shared between Liberal leaders from Melbourne and Sydney. Before John Howard came around the most successful Liberal leaders were Victorians: Bob Menzies, and Malcolm Fraser. In more recent times, it’s the NSW leaders who have been most successful. i.e. John Howard. So there’s an important state dimension to internal politics in the Liberal Party.

There’s a big argument amongst political scientists and historians about the nature of the Liberal Party’s organisational structure. Is it, as Dean Jaensch has suggested, a part which is ‘of Menzies, for Menzies, and by Menzies’, or is there something more complex to it? The reason why political scientists are caught up in that is because there is no doubt that Bob Menzies’ experience of the collapse of the United Australia Party was very influential in his thinking and in his activities in bringing the party together. It’s important to remember this as it does feed into this sense of state rivalry within the Liberal Party.

Bob Menzies was a funny sort of character; he had a lot of support in Victoria, in Melbourne. Sydney based UAP people were very suspicious of Menzies; they didn’t like him; they thought him a bit imperious. The people who disliked him most of all were the non-Labor people in Queensland. They actually had their own party called the Queensland People’s Party, the QPP.

A riddle which is around today is ‘why is the Liberal Party so weak in Queensland?’ It’s weak in Queensland because Queensland is a very big agrarian state. It only has 40% of its population in its capital city. Everybody else is spread out; there’s mining, there are cane fields, growing fat beef cattle, wheat and whatever else is grown there; the Country Party is very strong in Queensland. But Queensland has always been a very weak state for the Liberals. The people who were in the Queensland People’s Party didn’t like Menzies at all. When he helped form the Liberal Party in 1944, the Queenslanders stayed outside; they didn’t join the party until a couple of years later.

So we have that tension going on between Sydney and Melbourne.

One more thing about Menzies: one of the things he really did not like was the way that some of the captains of industry, the men who owned companies and were clustered in Pitt Street in Sydney, or Collins Street in Melbourne, would try to influence UAP affairs. This is how it worked: the Labor Party has affiliated unions, and one of the things that come from that is a huge amount of money in affiliation fees. So the Labor Party always had money. The non-Labor side of politics has always struggled on the question of internal party finance. This comes as a shock to some, as the general assumption is that if Labor is the party of the unions, then the Liberals must be the party of business. This means that if the unions are giving money to Labor, business is giving money to the Liberals. Well that may be the case but the source of revenue from business to the Liberal Party or, before that, to the UAP, was always spasmodic, and it tended to reflect whether the conservatives were in power or not. That is when the UAP were in government, sure, business was happy to give money, but when the UAP was in opposition, not so keen.

It’s a really hard job for the Liberal Party organisation to raise money. It’s a very serious problem, partly because of one of Menzies important decisions made in the context of forming the Liberal Party in 1944. When these business leaders were giving money to the UAP they demanded a say in how the party was run. Most importantly of all, they tried to influence preselection, and they tried to influence the party’s policies on tariffs and economic policy. Menzies hated that.

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19.3      Affiliation of external associations

So it wasn’t simply his aversion to trade unionism that made him argue the case that when we set up a political party no external organisation may be associated with the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party’s rules forbid external associations from affiliating with the party. It is a party based on individual membership only. This means it is dependent on membership fees for its finances which, in my view, makes the Liberal Party’s financial situation much more precarious than Labor. Labor, at least, can rely on affiliation fees. The Liberals have to rely on membership fees. In today’s politics this is a problem for the Liberal Party because we know that people don’t join political parties anymore. Ordinary branch membership is in decline, numbers are falling; it’s a real problem for the Liberal Party.

The Liberals have the problem of trying to raise finances – an area in which they are a bit weaker than Labor and this is due to Menzies view that he did not want his party to be influenced by external associations. It’s on this basis that people like Dean Jaensch talk about the Liberal Party as being a party by Menzies, for Menzies, of Menzies.

Some of the features of the Liberal Parties structure revolve around the idea that the parliamentary leader is supreme. This is the essence of the Liberal Party.

We have a diagram explaining the Liberal Party’s organisational structure:

The Liberal Party of Australia: organisation

Parliamentary Leader
State Executive Council Council
State Directorate
Federal Executive Council
Federal Directorate
Parliamentary Party
FEDERAL COUNCIL  equal divisional representation
Branch membership
Young Liberals

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There are two big bodies, two big love-in arrangements:

19.4      State Council and Federal Council

The first thing to remember is that the Liberal Party is not one party; it is five autonomous divisions, plus a federal division. In the NT there is no Liberal Party; there’s the Country Liberal Party, and in Queensland the Liberal Party is an amalgamation of the Liberal Party and the National Party, called the LNP; the Liberal National Party. In all the other states there are autonomous Liberal divisions, and there is a federal division as well.

The Labor Party’s national structure can discipline the state branches. In the Liberal Party, the federal Liberal Party may NOT discipline the state divisions. The state divisions are autonomous. Like the Labor Party, if you want to join the Liberal Party as an ordinary individual you may do so at your state level. So if you’re an ordinary member of the Liberal Party, you join the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, or the NSW division, or the South Australian division. So there’s the branch membership. You can join them directly, and, if you’re young enough, you can join the young Liberals.

People are laughing, but you have no right to laugh; you’re too young. I can laugh because I remember the Young Liberals at their zenith in the 1970s. I lived in an affluent bay-side suburb; I went to an affluent private school, run by one of the protestant churches that originally had a campus in said affluent suburb, then moved off to just next door to a sewage farm down the road from here. We were expected to have dances with females from the other great bay-side suburb private schools, and we were all expected to join the Young Liberals. Some of us resisted this. But this was the general thing; the Young Liberals was the primary social organisation, especially in Victoria and especially in Melbourne.

My theory on this was that the Young Liberals were really big in Melbourne because Melbourne is the home of private education, and in those days private education was sexually segregated. Only a few hippy schools had co-education. Education in those days was the idea that boys went to a boys school, girls went to a girls school, and barbed wire would be put in between to keep them apart, except for at certain sanctioned moments, such as the annual ball, where teachers would supervise to ensure that no vodka was put in the punch and that there were no shenanigans out the back of the hall.

My theory is that Young Liberals are much weaker in NSW because they have much longer serving state Labor governments, and a really big state high school system. But in Victoria, after years and years of Liberal Party rule, and non-Labor rule, the state education system is quite weak, everyone who can afford it is sent to a private school, and the only way you could meet members of the opposite sex without teachers trying to stop you, apart from trying to visit the Marine Hotel, under-age, was to join the Young Liberals. And the Young Liberals ran radio station 3XY. To those who are saying ‘hang on – isn’t that run by the Greeks?” Yes, it is now. But before Gough Whitlam brought in FM radio, 3XY was like Triple M is today. So it was the youth station, and on Sunday night they had Young Liberal hour!

We listened to Young Liberals hour, because that was the only way you could listen to ‘albums’ man, and this would be interspersed with ad’s from the Young Liberals like this: (you’re listening to 3XY, you’ve been listening to a few tracks played from an ‘album’) there’s the sound of a barbeque ssssss-hissss, sausages being cooked, and the sound of two young men talking about life generally – “gee mate, this is a great party”. “Yes mate.”  ssss -hisss, glug glug glug (in those days we were allowed to drink). “But gee mate, I’m really worried about the state of this country”. “Well you should join the Young Liberals, mate.”

The Young Liberals were huge. I guess the Young Farmers were the same for the Country Party in the country. And they had a great slogan for the Young Farmers association: “You don’t have to be one to be one!” And I think that was tacitly understood in the Young Liberals; you don’t have to be a Liberal to be in the Young Liberals, but if you want to meet sheilas, and go to the best parties (these were the days when Melbourne would shut down at 10:00 at night – we were once described as the Aberdeen of the south), the only way you could go out and meet people was the Young Liberals. So they were an enormous organisation; very big, very powerful. It was a big money spinner. Lots of contemporary Liberals actually started their life in the Young Liberals.

I myself was the subject of an attempt at recruitment, and it happened at the Marine Hotel. This gorgeous young female, of the Firbank variety, was swanning around; we’d just run the gauntlet of the men at the front door – “How old are you son?” “18”, “Sign a stat dec.” That’s what you had to do. All my mates had to sign ‘Bruce Hodge, 11 Smith Street, E. Brighton.’ If the police ever coordinated their statutory declarations, Bruce Hodge must have been across the entire metropolitan area at the same time. So we’re in there at the Marine, and she comes along and goes, “oohh, hullooo, can I interest you in joining the Young Liberals?” And I said, and I’ve regretted it to this day, I said “I wouldn’t join your organisation if it was the last organisation on earth, now fuck off!” And I’ve been a sad, lonely, unsuccessful man ever since. That was the biggest error – if only you could have seen the hurt in her eyes – it almost brings tears to me now, thinking about it. The saddest moment in my life – so I regret that. Let’s move on…

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The young Liberals – I don’t think they’re quite as big today as they once were. These days it tends to be the place where people who are interested in student politics go. One interesting character in all this is Tony Abbott. You may think – Tony Abbott; was he in the Young Liberals? No. He wasn’t; he was in another youth organisation called the Young Liberals Students Federation who tended to be the very hard-line conservative element. Because one of the things the Young Liberals tended to be was a bit modern, a bit trendy; they would send delegates to state council, and to federal council, with motions like ‘let’s decriminalise marijuana, let’s lower the voting age to 18, and let’s have single sex marriages – that sort of small l liberal philosophical stuff tends to come from the Young Liberals, and the Young Liberals Students Federation tended to be much more hard-line conservative.

Basically these youth wings, which, by the way, there was a young UAP system, and basically the Young Liberals picked up the organisational structure of the Young UAP, so both political parties know the importance of recruiting young people and socialising them into positions. The difference is that back in the 60s and 70s the strength of the Young Liberal movement was that it had lots of people who really weren’t going to go anywhere in politics – they just the Young Liberals because it was the biggest social association going around.

These days the sorts of people who join would be aspiring politicians; young people who are going to get involved in politics early; they’ll join these organisations and then they’ll be recruited, or they’ll move into the ‘grown up’ section. So the Young Liberals are still there. And a lot of prominent Liberals came from there. Andrew Peacock; he was a former member of the Young Liberals; a chap by the name of Don Chipp, who later left the Liberal Party and went on to form the Australian Democrats; he was once in the Young Liberals, a chap called Tony Staley, who was a very big mover and shaker in the Liberal Party organisation; he was in the Young Liberals. So it was a very important organisation once upon a time.

Like Labor, the Liberal Party has two big love-ins: State Council and Federal Council. They look very similar to Labor’s State Conference and National Conference. But there are some very important points of difference. State Council and Federal Council can meet but they cannot make policy decisions that are binding on the parliamentary Liberal party. So the big question is what’s the point of these councils – what do they do?

They are a place in which Liberal delegates, elected from the branches, the Young Liberals, and also from the Women’s Auxiliary (there’s a women’s auxiliary)…

[Interruption from student Scott] Comment – State Council – can any member go? Of course they can. The point of Council is to allow the branch membership to interact with their parliamentary wing. That’s its main function. It’s a place where the parliamentary wing of the Liberal party is expected to turn up and take on board the views coming from below. It’s a curious approach to politics. The Labor approach is a top down disciplined approach: there shall be a National Conference. It shall make policy. It shall be binding on the parliamentary wing. That’s the way Labor does it, but not the Liberals. They don’t want to have that sort of authoritarian approach. That’s something that happens on the Labor side. So what the State Council effectively tends to do is to allow representatives from the lower levels of the party, the mass membership, to come along and discuss issues, and they thing that they produce at the end of these meetings is something called the policy platform; the party platform.

The party platform is a statement of general principles about what the Liberal party stands for.

Sometimes these Council meetings will make some specific recommendations on policy, but they are simply that; recommendations. In theory, they are not binding on the parliamentary wing.

That’s right isn’t it Scott? How do you like this guy? He asks a pertinent, difficult question and then falls asleep! You’re not in parliament yet! That’s what back benchers do.

It’s a place where the membership can discuss politics in general terms, and Federal Council will produce something called the Policy Platform. You will find it on the Liberal party web site. They are just general broad principles: the Liberal party believes in equal opportunity. Whacko. The Liberal party believes in a prosperous Australia. Well, fuck it; the Labor Party believes that too. So they are very general, broad things. The important thing to remember is that they can’t make policy recommendations that are binding.

But let me say this. In the real world of politics, it would be a very foolish Liberal leader who didn’t listen to what Council, the branch membership, were saying. Even though the rules don’t force the parliamentary leader of the Liberal party to follow policy that’s being debated at Council, the Liberal leader is expected to appreciate where the membership is coming from, and formulate the party’s policy response accordingly.

One of the big moments of Federal Council, which we get to see on TV, is when the Liberal leader, state and federal, comes and gives a speech. The Liberal leader will enter, all the members will stand and applaud, to the front, and the speech begins. “The Labor Party is a disaster”, much applause, “the prospect of Julia Gillard running this country sends a shiver down my spine”, more applause, and so on.

Labor does a similar thing, but there’s always a bit of an edge to a leader’s speech at National Conference, or State Conference, because the leader is clearly watching to see what the factional convenors are doing. Now, Kevin Rudd’s eyes have to go in two directions; he’s got to watch what the camera’s doing, but he’s also got to watch what the factional leaders are doing, especially when they’re hovering over by Julia Gillard’s table.

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19.5    Federal and state directors

State Council elects delegates to something called State Executive Council; this runs the party in between meetings of Council, and Federal Council does the same. The important people to note here are the directors. There’s a director at state and a federal directorate and a person is appointed as the director of the Liberal party. This is the Liberal party’s equivalent of a party secretary. These people are really important; they’re really powerful in the internal operations of the Liberal party. They do two things. Firstly, they oversee the raising of finances, even though there are party treasurers to do that – that’s a very important job in the Liberal party – but they are also responsible for doing all the market research, and opinion polling, and advising the parliamentary leaders of that sort of stuff.

[Question from the floor: “Is this the character in The Hollow Men?” I always thought the Hollow Men was based on a Labor government. There is a party secretary who comes in, and I’ve always thought … that’s Graeme Blundell playing that role, and he comes in and says “what the fuck are you guys doing?” – that’s a very Labor way of doing politics. A Liberal state director wouldn’t behave like that. I’m serious. A Liberal state director would say, “what are you chaps up to?” So I always thought that was … so there’s a party secretary, but if it’s the Liberal Party, that person’s called the State Director.]

There’s a federal director, and there’s a state director of the Liberal party, and these people are responsible for doing secretarial work.

A couple of other important things about the Liberal party’s organisational structure that we should know are that the Liberal party does not have anything like a ‘pledge’, or any rules requiring that anybody in the Liberal party is bound by any collective decision, because the Liberal party believes in freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. As we know, the Labor Party has a ‘pledge’; if you join the Labor Party, you must pledge loyalty to the Labor Party, promise never to cross the floor, and never to run against endorsed Labor candidates at elections. There are no such requirements for the Liberal party.

There have been very few instances of Liberals running against endorsed Liberals, but there have been some. Reference is sometimes made to a guy called Ian McPhee. He was a long serving Liberal minister in the Fraser government. He was the Liberal member for Balaclava which later became the seat of Goldstein. Around 1987 he lost Liberal pre-selection for that seat. A chap by the name of David Kemp won pre-selection. He became the endorsed Liberal candidate. Mr McPhee ran against Mr Kemp and got about 15% of the vote; not enough to win the seat.

The track record of Liberals running against their colleagues is not good, with the exception of that extraordinary election in 1996, where Pauline Hanson was a Liberal endorsed candidate, was disendorsed by the Queensland division just before the federal election, and won her seat. And there are two other former Liberals who lost pre-selection in WA; Alan Rocher and Paul Filing. They ran as Independents and they did win their seats. This sounds confusing but I think it’s symptomatic of the much greater fluidity that we find in Liberal party politics.

Labor internal politics is very rigid, very disciplined; we know where everyone’s going, which faction they’re in, who they’re supporting, and we know that if they transgress the collective decision making they’ll be punished. The Liberal party is much more fluid. It is possible for people to defy all sorts of things. Philip Ruddock, who is the longest serving member of the House of Representatives at the moment; former attorney-general, former immigration minister, loyalist to Mr Howard, is famous for crossing the floor and voting with Labor, back in the 1980s, over immigration. So there are instances of Liberals who have crossed the floor and survived, if not prospered.

The general rule of thumb for we observers is that if you’re the sort of person who goes crossing the floor, you’re not going to get anywhere. Parties tend to reward loyalists. The difference is that Labor has a rigid set of rules.

[Q. from the floor: If you’re in the Labor Party and you cross the floor, you vote against your Labor colleagues, you break Caucus, do you get kicked out?] Yes – you get expelled, from the Labor Party. You don’t lose your seat; you sit in the parliament as an Independent. You lose your seat at the next election, because the Labor voters just endorse whoever the Party puts up.

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19.5      Party Room Meeting (aka ‘caucusing’)

The Liberals don’t have caucusing, as such. (Caucus can be both proper noun and common noun.  It can also be a verb. It can be a technical term and it can be a general term.) Of course the Liberal party MPs get together and discuss what they’re going to do in the House of Reps. When Labor does this it’s called Caucusing. When the Libs do it, it’s called a Party Room Meeting. And everybody agrees to vote collectively. But, if you want to cross the floor, in theory you can.

Remember too, the Liberal party in Australia has only rarely been in a position to govern in its own right. It has often needed the Balance of Power holders, in the lower house, the Country Party, to vote with it, in coalition. Every now and then, the Liberal party and the National Party will meet together to decide what to do. These are called Joint Party Room Meetings. When there is a Party Room Meeting of the Liberal party, that’s the Liberal MPs, together; when there’s a Joint Party Room meeting, that’s the Liberals and the Nationals getting together to decide what the coalitions position will be.

The local branches of the Liberal party are really important. They have one power that their colleagues in the Labor Party don’t. Pre-selection is a matter for local members of the Liberal party. In the Labor Party, State Executive and National Executive can intervene in pre-selection. Pre-selection is the important process of selecting the people who will be party candidates at elections. The power to pre-select candidates is in the hands of the ordinary members; the local members of the Liberal party. They can sometimes frustrate the State Director and the State Executive because they have no direct authority, no direct power, over pre-selection.

The Victorian Liberals are really interesting in this regard. Similar to the Republican Party in America, they now have a caucusing system for their local members where all the members can get together and vote on who they want for their local member. You don’t have to know that – that’s for another day – but just bear in mind that the one power that the local, the ordinary, members of the Liberal party have is the power to pre-select, and that this can sometimes frustrate their friends.

1949 – Menzies makes a famous speech about the ‘forgotten people’, where he outlines the liberal party’s pragmatic, middle-class credentials. He makes a direct appeal to those people who feel that during the war Labor presided over a form of socialism. The other thing that Bob Menzies did which, I think, is an essential pre-requisite for a successful federal Liberal leader, is to work cooperatively and positively with the Country Party. Menzies was a great believer in coalition politics with the National Party, and all the successful Liberal leaders have been too, including John Howard. He was a great believer in coalition politics.

Menzies succeeded in exploiting cold war tensions. People feared that the Labor Party had been infiltrated by communists.

Menzies exploited the Labor split of the 50s, leading to a long period of coalition government. The Liberal party were very successful.

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19.6      Intra-party politics

There are three main sources of tension within the Liberal party. There are tensions between state divisions. Queensland, NSW, and Victoria, are in particular very powerful, very important, and very fractious. The Queensland division fights itself, and the NSW and Victorian divisions fight each other. There has been an undercurrent of tension between these two states throughout the party’s history. The party also sees tensions between the mass membership and the executive directorate. That is those people running the party in between meetings of State Council and Federal Council. And there have been tensions between the organisation and the parliamentary wing. That state division is the most important source of tension.

19.7      division over philosophies

The second most important division is that over philosophies.

Unlike the Labor Party, the Liberal party does not have formal factions, so trying to identify who is in what faction is a nightmare. They are fluid. Some of this factionalism is based on philosophy and, dare I say it, ideology (you know how I feel about that word). Ideology really has no role to play in the Liberal party; the Liberal party sees itself as a non-ideological political party. They see this as the essence of their success; that have been a middle-class party, talking to middle Australia; pragmatic, rather than ideological.

Still, you get some divisions, and there is no doubt that there is a division between small l liberals – libertarian types – and conservatives.

You can raise certain issues in the Labor Party and be guaranteed of a punch-up, like immigration policy; and here’s one you can always drag up which gets the Liberal party into an absolute frenzy: single sex marriage. Or, another one: that women should have the right to determine their own fate when it comes to reproductive technology. It causes huge divisions in the Liberal party, between its conservatives and its ‘small l’ libertarian Liberals. The ‘small l’ Liberals believe in the importance of individualism, and individual liberty; the conservatives believe in taking a hard line on certain issues, to protect morality, to maintain standards, and to defend civilisation as we know it.

I don’t want to overstate this, but it’s a fact that the Liberal party does try to bring liberals and conservatives together. They can agree on many things, such as how evil the trade unions are; the importance of venerating institutions like the Queen, and what have you.

But on certain issues, they will divide. They’ll divide over matters of sexuality, over women’s self determination, over matters like the role of religion in society. There are a lot of ‘small l’ Liberals who are very uncomfortable with the way Mr Howard tried to make religion such a big issue.

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19.8      ‘wets’ and ‘dries’

There used to be a division between the ‘wets’ and ‘dries’. The wets are the so-called ‘interventionist Liberals’ and the dries are the free marketeers. This goes back to the Free Traders and Protectionists.

But the really important division is between Victoria and NSW, and this is THE KEY to Liberal party internal politics. Because the role of the parliamentary leader is so important, the key determinant of who’s in what ‘factional tendency’ – that’s the phrase that we use for internal divisions within the Liberal party – is your alignment to the leader, and the aspiring leader. Because in mass political parties there is a leader and there’s somebody who wants to be leader. And because leadership is so important in the Liberal party what tends to happen is that the fluid factional tendencies revolve around who supports the leader, and who supports the aspiring leader. This was a feature of the Howard years: there was a big group of Liberals, who supported John Howard, and there was another significant group, but they didn’t have a majority, who supported Peter Costello as leader.

That’s the Liberals. We’ve touched on the main things: philosophy, and the division between liberals and conservatives. The jig-saw puzzle which I have tried to piece together for you is missing one very important piece and that is coalition politics. And that’s what we’re going to deal with in the next lecture when we deal with the moooooooo, baaaaaa Country Party.  And remember – you don’t have to be one, to be one!

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 20 Country Party

I believe there are only two political parties in the Liberal Democratic world that set themselves up to represent primary producers – farmers. One of them is ours – the National Party – and apparently there’s a farmers’ party in Finland, I think.

I mention this because I’ve been reading a lot of your essays and I’m always amazed that, when reading the various text books, people can gloss over matters of substance and pick up irrelevancies, and I have a funny feeling that Country Party chapters may contain some of these irrelevancies. Such as – and I don’t know why my colleagues do this – they talk about the Country Party in Australia and the rural party in Finland, and the interesting thing is that the Finnish rural party has formed an alliance with the Greens, ipso facto the Australian Country Party will form an alliance with the Australian Greens. Can I just say this now – I will bare my arse in Bourke Street the day the Country Party does a deal with the Greens. It won’t happen. Why people write this rubbish in their books I don’t know.

20.1      John ‘Black Jack’ McEwan

The Country Party. These are three men of substance [indicates presentation photo’s of Jack McEwan, Doug Anthony, and Tim Fischer]. John McEwan, otherwise known as Black Jack McEwan is one of the giants of Australian political history. He should be remembered alongside people like Bob Menzies and Gough Whitlam. Gough Whitlam, of course, is a bit like a supernova – he burst on the scene and then disappeared. But Black Jack McEwan was around for a long time. He had a very significant influence in Australian politics – not just because he was adept at playing coalition politics, but because he actually had a very important influence on policy outcomes in Australia.

Unfortunately we lack the time to examine Jack’s influence on public policy making. However, the fact that we had a highly regulated agricultural sector in Australia, right up until Labor was elected to power in 1983, when the Hawke government dismantled all this stuff; the fact that there was extensive state intervention in agricultural economics, designed primarily to protect the family farm, was a legacy of John McEwan.

John McEwan was also a giant because he was the one who reconciled Australia and the Japanese. You may recall we had a problem with Japan during the Second World War. They would come over and drop bombs on Darwin, and pop up in Sydney harbour, and they caused people a lot of consternation, a bit like the Germans were disrupting things in Europe. We were enemies with Japan, and it was John McEwen who pioneered the reconciliation of relations between Australia and Japan, and, most importantly, he was the one who signed Japan up to buy Australian coal and iron, which is the basis Australia’s economy, even to this day.

People talk about China being an important customer of Australian iron and coal, and it is, of course, but so is Japan. Japan is one of our biggest trading partners; it has actually sustained our economy since the 1950s, and John McEwen was the man who stitched up the deal. So he’s a very important and powerful figure in Australian politics. He’s overlooked because so many people overlook the National Party, formerly known as the Country Party.

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 20.2      Joh Bjelke-Petersen

We will look at its origins and some of the colourful characters who have been integral to CP politics. Be warned there is a certain stability to the Country Party politics that disappears around 1983. Some of the most turbulent times in non-Labor politics occur in, and around, 1983, and they’re caused by some leading lights in the CP and, in particular, a former Country Party premier of Queensland, one Joh Bjelke-Petersen. After he caused so much trouble for Mr Whitlam, in the 1970s, he was still around in the 80s, causing trouble for the Liberals and for the National Party.

In fact I’d go so far as to say that John Howard probably should have, or could have, won the 1987 federal election. He was denied it by the fact that the Country Party, or sections of the Country Party, turned on him in 1986 – 1987, probably denying the coalition victory. So the Country Party is an important party.

It’s interesting to consider whether the National Party, or Country Party as it was then, is a minor party, or not. In some ways it is, because it gets a small percentage of the national vote. In that sense, its national vote is commensurate with that of the Greens, the Democrats, and others. In fact there have been some instances where minor parties, like the Australian Democrats, have outpolled the National Party. However, the National Party enjoys one advantage over other parties that makes a big difference. That is that even though only a small percentage of Australians, nationally, vote for the Country Party, they are geographically concentrated. This means that the Country Party is able to win lower house electorates; lower house seats. Especially in the federal parliament, and in those states where the Country Party is important – Queensland, NSW, and Victoria.

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20.3      Lower house seats

Nationally, and in these three states, the Country Party is able to win lower house seats. No other party, that polls only 5 or 6% nationally, is able to do this. What this means is that even though the Country Party only has a small number of seats, they are strategically important. This allows the Country Party to play coalition politics. When we look at the Country Party, it’s different to all the other minor parties on a number of grounds, an important one of which is that it wins lower house representation.

As the Tasmanian Greens will tell you, or as the Liberal Democrats in Britain will tell you today, if you win a clutch of strategically important seats in the representative chamber, the chamber where government is formed, you are in a powerful position politically. You can play coalition politics. That’s where parties will come together and they will agree to share power. In exchange for giving a major party its support in the lower house, in the representative chamber, a minor party will insist on, and usually get, a position, or positions, in the ministry.

What you get in coalition politics is a political trade-off. The minor party says “look, we’ve got a strategically important number of seats. If we vote with you, the big, major party, we can help you attain government, but we want an exchange – there’s a trade-off. In exchange for having our support, we need to be in the ministry. And that’s exactly how the federal coalition works.

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20.4      Balance of power

The Country Party has, more often than not, held the balance of power in the lower house.

The reason why we’ve never made a big deal of this in Australian political science is because, in federal politics at least, the Country Party has always aligned itself with the major non-Labor party. It aligned itself with the Nationalists, it aligned itself with the UAP, and, of course, it aligns itself with the Liberal party. We tend to gloss over the importance of coalition and coalition politics because the two sides are a natural fit. But if you think about it, the sort of dynamic that’s been going on in British politics at the moment is the same as that which we’ve had in our system of politics since the 1920s, where the Country Party has a strategically important number of lower house seats and it uses this as a bargaining chip with the Liberal party, or the UAP. It says “we’ll support you, but you have to give us positions in the ministry. Not just the bloody junior ministry, right in there – in Cabinet.

20.5      Coalition

If we were to be technically correct (and who doesn’t want to be technically correct in these challenging times?) when we talk about federal Liberal governments they are actually Liberal – Country coalition governments. Every non-Labor government we have had since the 1920s has been a coalition government. It has been a coalition of the Country Party and the Liberals, or, before it, the UAP, or before it, the Nationalists. The Howard government, the Fraser government, the Menzies government; all coalition governments. They are really important.

Remember this; this is the holy grail for minor parties. It’s one thing to get the balance of power in the Senate (you can cause all sorts of trouble up there – look at Steve Fielding, Nick Xenophon, Brian Harradine), but in normal circumstances that won’t determine who will or won’t be in government. It wasn’t the minor parties that brought the Whitlam government down in 1975; it was the Liberal and Country Party coalition. They got a majority of seats in the Senate, and they used that majority to bring Whitlam down. No minor parties were involved in the ’75 brouhaha.

Minor parties may get into the Senate – that’s one thing. But what they would dearly love to do would be to get into the lower house where governments are made, or broken, because they may be in the position where they can play coalition politics.

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20.6      Doug Anthony

That was Black Jack McEwan; this is Doug Anthony, another famous Country Party leader. Under Doug Anthony’s leadership, and Doug Anthony is usually associated with Malcolm Fraser’s long period of coalition government, between 1975 and 1983, Mr Anthony tried to modernise the Country Party. As we shall see, as we go along, the Country Party faces a serious demographic problem. Mr Anthony tried to resolve this, perhaps not very successfully. But he’s the moderniser; he’s the one who oversees the transformation of the party’s nomenclature from Country Party to Nationals. That’s part of the attempt to change the image of the National Party.

20.7      Tim Fischer

And this is Tim Fischer. I like Tim because he’s a pretty decent bloke and, like me, he’s a trainspotter, and thirdly, he was a leader of the National Party when Mr Howard won in 1996, so you could argue that Mr Fischer is the leader who brings the National Party back into government. The other thing that is important about him, too, is that he’s the National Party leader who stabilises the party after the infamous Joh for PM fiasco, which starts in about 1987 and reverberates through 1990 and 1993 as well. These are disastrous years for the Country Party or National Party. Tim Fischer leads a back to basics approach. He is also interesting as he’s the leader who had to deal with another problem the Nationals had after. Would you believe – they got into power in 1996; you would have thought ‘happy days are
here again’ … but they weren’t – because of this dreadful woman in a place called Ipswich, in Queensland. Her name was Pauline Hanson. “Please Explain”!!

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20.8      One Nation and the demise of the NP in Queensland

And she was to cause the National Party some real palpitation. Now she, and her party, One Nation, didn’t destroy the National Party federally, although they gave it a red hot go, she destroyed the National Party in Queensland, the home state of the National Party. When Pauline Hanson appeared on the scene, the National Party was the party of state government in Queensland. She had a go at the 1998 state election, where One Nation won eleven seats, at the expense of the National Party, and this brings down the Borbidge government, and that’s the last time the conservatives govern Queensland.

That was the end of the National Party in Queensland, really, because about a year ago the Liberal party and the National Party decided to merge resulting in a separate entity called the LNP – The Liberal National Party.

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20.9      The Country Party: origins

  • The Country Party was the first of the non-Labor parties to put a ‘mass party’ membership structure in place
  • Country Party formed from farmer, settler, grazier organisations (called ‘leagues’) established in the late 1800s
  • First ‘Country Party’ MP elected in WA in 1914
  • Federal Country Party organisation put together in 1919: several former Nationalist MPs joined the new party
  • Federal Country Party’s first election in 1922: 12.5% of the vote, 14 seats won (balance of power in HoR)
  • Formation of coalition with the Nationalists in 1923

I think the Country Party is interesting because I think it’s the first non-Labor party to put a ‘mass party’ membership structure in place. Some of my colleagues say that the appearance of Alfred Deakin’s Fusion Liberals was the beginning of the modern party system, but I don’t agree. The Fusion Liberals were a terrible mess – they fell apart very quickly. Non-Labor politics, you may think, was put together by Billy Hughes, when he left the Labor Party and formed the Nationalists, but, before that happened, the Country Party appeared. So I think that the Country Party, amongst its other important legacies, is the first non-Labor party to put a mass party structure in place. They go out of their way to create a party which will have a membership out in the regions, tries to recruit members and back them with resources, and run them as party endorsed candidates.

20.10     The Country Party and Preferential Voting

Also, the appearance of the Country Party is an important catalyst to the development of our preferential voting system. The Country Party appears in 1921, preferential voting appears in 1924.

This is something we should bear in mind – it is wrong to say that all of Australia’s farmers vote for the Country Party. That’s not correct. Rural and regional Australia, farmers and agri-business people, are a constituency that the Liberal and the Country parties share.

When the Country Party appears in the 1920s, we have the first past the post voting system, and one of the problems with that is that it splits the non-Labor vote. That is why you actually get a number of Labor MPs elected in rural constituencies – counter-intuitive to our understanding of electoral behaviour. So in order to ensure that the non-Labor vote isn’t split like this, Billy Hughes and the Nationalists, with the connivance of the Country Party, bring in the preferential voting system, which was designed to accommodate the interests of non-Labor politics. They ensure that the split anti-Labor vote would come together.

I’ll just remind you of this: often politicians, when they reform electoral systems, dress up reform in altruistic rhetoric – (“it’s important that we have a fair, and democratic, system …”). Bullshit! As Tony Abbott reminded us, on the 7:30 Report, last night, politicians are bullshit artists [this is an allusion to Abbot’s admittance, to Kerry O’Brien, that he is less than truthful in the hurly burly of animated discussion; when his conversation is not scripted]. Why’s the press ringing me at 5am to say “awwgh, did you hear what Tony Abbott had to say?” “No – what the fuck did he say this time?” “politicians are liars”, “why the fuck are you ringing me about that? Big Deal!”

What we see about electoral reform is that often it is done for partisan party advantage. The reason we have preferential voting was to make sure that the non-Labor side of politics didn’t have its vote split between the rural party and the Nationalists.

The Country Party has interesting connections with farmer (what we call today) ‘interest groups’. Back then they were called ‘leagues’; a colonial term for ‘interest groups’.  Farmers and graziers associations, and what have you; they were very strong advocates of the need to form a political party do that the policy making process could be used to service the policy needs of primary producers.

There is a tendency in some of the literature to cast the Country Party as a conservative party, and in some ways it is, of course, because rural Australia is a conservative place, and conservative ideas are important. But I think we should remember the view of some other writers in this field – Verrill, and people like Dennis Woodward, who make the point that the Country Party is probably the least ideological of the Australian mainstream parties, and that the real reason for the Country Party’s existence was to use the policy making process to service the policy demands and interests of their constituents.

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20.11   Practical outcomes oriented

They are a pragmatic, practical outcomes oriented party.

The strength of the Country Party lay in its willingness to use policy to service the needs of their constituency. I am trying to avoid the use of a journalistic term, but I will use it to illustrate what I’m getting at: I’m talking about ‘pork-barrelling’ here; the idea that you use the policy making process to ensure that the people who vote for you get something. And there’s one thing that Country Party voters want: they’re not interested in philosophy, they’re not interested in ideology, they’re not interested in that bullshit – what they want from the Country Party is practical outcomes – roads, railways, decentralised industry, universities, colleges, dams, race-tracks; practical things, things that can buttress regional and rural life. That’s what they wanted from the Country Party, and right up until the 1980s, that’s what the Country Party used to deliver.

For the record, the first Country Party was elected ion WA in 1914. The federal Country Party organisation was put together in 1919, and a number of Nationalists, seeing the formation of a new country party, left the Nationalist party and joined the Country Party.

There’s an interesting reason why this is an important year. Of course this is after the First World War. There are a huge number of former soldiers coming back to Australia. These are very difficult times in Australia; there was a very serious recession after the First World War, there was also a very serious health problem; influenza was imported from Europe and caused a lot of health problems in Australia. The Nationalist government, led by Billy Hughes, came up with a scheme to try to employ returned servicemen. It’s called the Soldier Settlement Scheme. The idea was that government would put infrastructure in place, and send people out to intensively produce things like fruit, and dairying; very intensive small scale family farming was encouraged by the government.

They opened up all those irrigation areas. During the drought last year they were talking about the viability of places like the Goulburn-Murray Valley, the Mallee, and irrigation around Mildura, and what have you – these were places opened up by the soldier settlement scheme. What happened was that these guys went out there to farm, they found it very difficult, and they were very dependent on state intervention. They were dependent on government to keep the infrastructure going. So they formed a political party to ensure that they got their fair share of infrastructure.

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20.12     State intervention

Some of you may have read some of the humorous writing about the parties, like Cyril Pearl who wrote that book So you think you want to be an Australian, which my father mistakenly thought was a serious guide to being an Australian, when he got here from Greece. He was the sort of person who wrote on the parties. He said that the interesting thing about the Australian party system was that the names were misleading. He said that the Labor Party isn’t about work at all – it’s about trade unions who don’t want to do any work. The Liberal Party, he said, is not about freedom at all – they want to ban people, like the Communist Party. And he said the Country Party claims that it’s a capitalist party, but it’s not – it’s a socialist party, because what it wants is for the state to regulate everything. The Country Party, Cyril Pearl said, is a party that believes in socialism for the country, and capitalism for the city. Basically what he was trying to get at is that the Country Party were great advocates for state intervention in the economy. This wasn’t an ideological position, but purely pragmatic. In order to protect and preserve the family farm, especially in these marginal agricultural districts, you needed to have government policy that directed resources and revenue to those programs.

So up until the 1980s it was the Country Party, not Labor that was most responsible for state intervention in the Australian economy. This was all dressed up, of course, in the philosophy of free enterprise. Free farmers believe in free enterprise, except for the tractor subsidy – we’d like that thanks, and the rubber boot subsidy …

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 20.13     Beginning of coalition politics

The federal Country Party contests its first election in 1922, it wins 12.5% of the vote, and 14 seats, and it gets the balance of power. So what happens next? In 1923, after the Country Party say “Get rid of Billy Hughes”, Earle Page and Stanley Melbourne Bruce (the sort of chap the Country Party could deal with – a good, old-fashioned conservative, who believes in Empire, and thought the trade unions should be run into the sea) form a coalition.  In 1923 the Country Party form a coalition with the Nationals, and this begins coalition politics in Australia (at least federally).

From Country to National:

20.14     Significant dates

  • 1923-1929: Country Party (leader: Earle Page) in coalition with the Nationalists
  • 1934: forms coalition government with UAP (Earle Page leader)
  • 1949: forms coalition government with Liberal party (Arthur Fadden; John McEwen)
  • 1972: brief suspension of the federal coalition: resumes in 1974
  • 1975: party changes name to ‘National-Country party’
  • 1975: forms coalition government with the Liberal party (Doug Anthony leader)
  • 1982: party changes name to National Party

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20.15     Country Party – Labor coalition in Victoria

There’s one important regional variation to this stuff. The Country Party has always operated in coalition with the Liberals federally. It has always operated in coalition with the Liberals in NSW. Relations between the Liberal Party and the Country Party in Queensland have been really poisonous.  And relations between the Country Party and the Liberal Party in Victoria were not very good either, because in the 1920s and the 1930s the Country Party formed a coalition government with the Labor Party, in state politics in Victoria.

Don’t get too bogged down in that (state politics), but it does point to something. When I said previously that we often find that things that have happened in the deep historical past still resonate today, we find that the Liberals who sit in the federal parliament, who come from Victoria, are the ones who are least comfortable with coalition politics. They are the ones who always advocate that “if we can, we should govern on our own”. Or they say “why don’t we merge with the Country Party”, meaning “Let’s take em over”. There has always been a residue of bitterness and suspicion between the Country Party and the Liberal Party in Victoria.

The only person who has resolved that effectively, for a short period of time, was – no, not Jeff Benito Kennett, no, no, no, no, no – before Benito Kennett became uber-Premier of Victoria, in 1992, the Liberal opposition leader, a chap by the name of Alan Brown, actually finalised a coalition agreement with the National Party in Victoria. So, when Mr Kennett governed Victoria from 1992 to 1999; that was actually a coalition government as well. And the current opposition to Mr Brumby’s government – that is also a coalition. So they have managed to get over the bitterness of the 1920s and 30s.

You may not recall Henry Bolte; he’s the bloke after whom that bridge, which Jeff Kennett built, was named; everything he built was a bit dodgy – have you noticed that? There are two things about Kennett built buildings. First of all notice how many of them have that [does a Nazi salute with a stiff right arm] – all the buildings built when Jeff Kennett was premier, they all have that in them! The museum near the Exhibition Buildings, Jeff’s shed (heaps of those); I was on the school council of a state primary school that burnt down just before the end of the Kennett years, and the Education Department approved the plans for the new building, now as luck would have it, it was opened by a Labor MP because it was around the time of 1999, but the building was built first, and would you believe the bloody building had, at the front, a patio like that [gives another Nazi salute]!!

I used to be a member of South Melbourne Hellas Soccer Club, down at Bob Jane stadium; I swear the roof there goes like that as well, and can I tell you it’s no bloody good. Whenever it rained, the only people who got shelter were the people in the corporate boxes. The rest of us got wet

Jeff Kennett governed in coalition with the Nationals in Victoria.

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20.16     Evolution of the Country Party; National Party name

From 1923 to 1929, the Country Party, with Earle Page as leader, were in coalition with the Nationalists.

In 1934 Earle Page forms a coalition with the UAP. Earle Page really liked Joe Lyons but he did not like Bob Menzies. When Joe Lyons died and Bob Menzies became UAP leader, Earle Page started saying things like “never ever in a million years will I be in charge of a coalition with these guys”.  So the Country Party got rid of him, and they put Arthur Fadden in as leader. So the Menzies UAP / Country Party coalition had Arthur Fadden as its leader. And then when the Liberals win in ’49, Fadden joins the Liberal Party in coalition. So from 1949 until the current time we have coalition politics.

There’s a brief suspension of the federal coalition in ’72 when they’re in opposition. It resumes again in ’74. In 1975 the Country Party changes its name and becomes the National Country Party. In ’75 it forms a coalition again, and one of the last things that Doug Anthony does as Country Party leader is to change the name of the party once more. Originally, they were the Country Party, then in 1975 they became the National Country Party, and finally, in 1982, they become the National Party.

We’ll agree to call them the Country Party from here on. You may think I’m being disparaging, and maybe I am, but it’s very confusing so we’ll stick with the Country Party, even though, since 1982, they are no longer called the Country Party, just bear with me!

The story actually goes on. A couple of years ago the Victorian division of the National Party changed its name to VicNats. I presume that some wanker from marketing weaselled his way into the federal executive and said “hey man, wow, National Party – boring – let’s think of something groovy. VicNats!” There’s the door, my friend. Go through it!

I don’t know if they’re still called VicNats. I must ring Peter Ryan up. I only hear from Peter Ryan when it’s election time and he rings me and gives me both barrels. (What a terrible name dropper I am. Get on with it son).

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A couple of things we should know about the Nationals:

20.17     The Nationals and the electoral system

Electoral basis

  • geographic concentration of National support/vote: the ‘Murray-Darling basin’ party
  • ability to win lower house seats crucial: allows scope for politics House of Representatives Division First Preferences
  • shared constituency: rural voters tend to be conservative, but vote Liberal in certain regions (South Australia, Tasmania, western Victoria) House of Representatives Division First Preferences
  • impact of coalition agreement: Senate ‘joint tickets’; no three way contest in seats with sitting Liberal or National members
  • declining seat share, but strategically important: the ‘balance of power’ in the HoR and the Senate

[invokes map of geographic concentration of National support/vote: the ‘Murray-Darling basin’ party ]

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20.18     Regional specificity

This is the point I’m trying to make about the regional specificity of the Country Party vote. We sometimes call it the ‘Murray-Darling basin’ party because its votes tend to be concentrated in the Murray-Darling basin. That is parts of outback Queensland, outback NSW, the Mallee district in Victoria, and Gippsland is the other place where they are very big. The map would have looked better in the 1980s because there would have been a big green blob in here as well [indicates an area on the NSW / SA border]; that’s the seat of Farrer, which the Country Party held for a very long time, and this big yellow blob [indicates a large area in Queensland, running between the east coast and the NT border]; that’s held by a chap named Bob Katter, known in politics as ‘Mad as a Katter’.

Bob Katter is currently an Independent, and holds the seat as an Independent (that’s why it’s in yellow), but used to be in the Country Party. He was a National Party minister in the Bjelke-Petersen government, then he got federal preselection, and he held the seat of Kennedy as a national Party MP. In 1998, he resigned from the Country Party because of the coalition’s decision to privatise Telstra.

Ring, ring, “the number you want is disconnected. That will cost you a hundred dollars.” You know them – bastards. They’re just as bad now as they always were. I’m older than most of you; much older, as you know. I remember the days when Telstra / Telecom were a monopoly, and they were an absolute fascist organisation. They’d send you a bill: “you will pay us $459,000 dollars”. What, what? – Student houses; you know – 20c into the kitty for the phone bills. Then the bill would come – who rang their stupid g/f in London and spoke to her for ½ an hour? We assumed this was happening because Telecom would never provide an itemised bill. That was it; you had to pay. If you didn’t, they’d come and cut you off, and you’d never be able to get a phone line, ever again. They built a headquarters office, in the city, which had no front entrance; no other visible marking. Talk about a fascist, Orwellian organisation!

[Fascism n. 1 extreme totalitarian right-wing nationalist movement in Italy (1922–43). 2 (also fascism) any similar movement.  Fascist n. & adj. (also fascist). Fascistic adj. (also fascistic). [Italian fascio bundle, organized group]]

Rational people wanted to get rid of Telecom, but not the Country Party, because what Telecom used to do was to cross-subsidise the cost of telephone calls. If the market place was to apply, all your poor saps living out in the middle of nowhere would be paying a King’s ransom every time they picked up the phone. And in those days you could make local calls in your own STD area, and the adjacent STD area, because the Country Party had required those sorts of things. Those were the days when Telecom had a social justice policy. Thankfully, with privatisation, this bull-shit’s been thrown out the window, and now people pay the full price of their telephone call. Bob Katter objected to this (the coalition had made the decision) and he left the Country Party, won the seat of Kennedy as an Independent, and he stills holds it today. You don’t see Bob much these days because the coalition’s in opposition, but he’s a sort of Barnaby Joyce type character; he loves to get around in a ten gallon hat.

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20.19     Coalition agreement

Remember that the Country Party shares its constituency with the Liberal party. In some parts of Australia the rural vote is for the Country party, but in other parts like South Australia, Tasmania, the western district of Victoria, and large swathes of WA, the farmers and agri-business people tend to vote Liberal. Why is that important? Because there are electoral consequences in the coalition agreement.

The Country Party’s biggest threat is not the Labor Party, even though it’s not uncommon for Labor to win seats off the Country Party, especially in places like Queensland, but when Labor wins a seat off the Country Party, the Country Party can sometimes win that seat back. BUT there’s a problem for the Country Party when they lose seats to the Liberal Party. Under the coalition agreement the two parties agree not to run a candidate against a sitting member. So if there’s a Country Party member in a seat and there’s an election, there’ll be a Country Party candidate and a Labor Party candidate, but no Liberal candidate; that’s part of the coalition agreement. If, however, the Country Party candidate resigns, retires, or is rolled over by his Combine Harvester and falls off this mortal coil, we have what is known in the trade as a ‘three-cornered contest’ – Labor, Liberal and Country Party. As you know (recall the example of the MacMillan preferential contest), the Country Party candidate knows that he or she will get the second preference of the Liberal candidate, and vice versa, but what we’re finding is that when the Country Party faces a three-cornered contest against the Liberals, so far in most federal elections the Liberal Party has succeeded in winning the seat.

So in fact the big threat to the Country Party is the Liberal Party, and it makes it worse because once there’s a sitting Liberal MP, the Country Party has to wait for the sitting Liberal MP to be run over by a Combine Harvester before he or she can contest.

If we go back to the map and recall that I drew your attention to the seat of Farrer; that big, long seat, sitting just north of the Murray River, in NSW; Tim Fischer’s old seat; a Country Party seat since it was created in 1910, or whenever, and then Tim Fischer retires from politics, a Liberal Party candidate runs, A Country Party candidate runs and a Labor Party candidate runs; the Liberal Party candidate is elected on Country Party preferences, and now Farrer is a Liberal seat and will remain a Liberal seat until the member, a woman, a former councillor from Albury whose name escapes me now, until she retires, when the Country Party can have another go at getting it back.

See how difficult this coalition agreement is for the Country Party, and how really, although this seems counter-intuitive, the Country Party’s biggest threat is the Liberal Party?

The Nationals and the electoral system:National performance: HoR
Election year per cent No. seats status
1983 9.0 17 opposition
1984 10.6 21 opposition
1987 11.5 19 opposition
1990 8.4 14 opposition
1993 7.4 16 opposition
1996 8.2 18 coalition
1998 5.3 16 coalition: balance of power
2001 5.6 13 coalition: balance of power
2004 5.9 12 coalition: balance of power
2007 5.5 10 opposition

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I just want to show you this because I want to reinforce the idea that, even though the Country Party’s over all representation, the number of seats, is falling, look: in 1983 when the coalition lost to Bob Hawke, the Nationals won 17 seats; in 1984 they got 21 seats – now before you start to get too excited about that can I just remind you – look, journalists what’s wrong with them! You may have heard the 1984 election referred to as the one that “Bob Hawke nearly lost”; it’s often put about, “why should governments not have an early election?” “Because in 1984 Bob Hawke had an early election and he nearly lost it.” No, no, no, no, no! 1984 is the election that was held after the big electoral reforms in 1983. We’ve dealt with them previously. One of the other things that the electoral reforms did was to increase the size of the House of Representatives. It went up from 122 to 147, a big increase in size. We also had an increase in the size of the Senate which went from having ten senators per state to twelve senators per state. So in 1984 the number of seats in the House of Representatives increases, and the Country Party’s representation increases accordingly.

So don’t get too excited about that leap in representation. What’s more exciting is the decrease in their seats over the following years. Down she goes; down, down, down. But, what’s interesting is that even though they are getting a decreasing share of the vote, and the decreasing number of seats, look at the ‘status’ column. This shows what their position was in parliament. Opposition, opposition, opposition… In 1996 the Australian people, and I have absolute faith in the Australian people – they get it right every time; they said to Paul Keating “fuck off”, right? “Fuck off”. This is the biggest defeat Labor ever had. And the Liberals are in that rare situation where they could govern in their own right.

Certain Victorian Liberals, [whispers] like Peter Costello – he hates the Country Party, hates them: “bloody socialists, state interventionists, slimy One Nationists, get rid of ‘em”, say “well, we’ll get rid of the Country party and govern in our own right”, but John Howard, and this was one of his great strengths; he was a great leader in the Menzies mould; a good combination of economic radical and social conservative and, above all else, if you want to be successful in Liberal Party politics, you have got to be a coalitionist. You might not like them, but you need them.

Look (at the table). The Liberals need them in 1998. Boy, did they need them in 1998. They needed them in 2001. And they needed them in 2005; they hold the balance of power. And so they are needed. They hold a declining number of seats, but they are strategically important. That’s one of the reasons that they’ve always been in the Ministry and in the Cabinet even though there numbers are declining.

The Nationals and the electoral system:

National performance: HoR

  • threats to electoral position:
    • demographic changes
    • Labor party (struggles in regional cities in Queensland, north coast NSW)
    • Liberal: picking up seats in three-way contests
    • Independents: Bob Katter (Queensland), Tony Windsor (New England), late Peter Andren (Calare)
    • Abolition of ‘rural weightage’: end of rural-based malapportionment


In 1983, when Labor comes to power, Bob Hawke brings in the electoral reforms. One of the things they do away with is ‘rural weightage’. Sometimes people are asked about malapportionment and they suggest that there was still a plus or minus 10% rural weightage.  It’s true that that there is a ten per cent plus or minus tolerance of variation in what are considered to be equal electorates, but it is no longer the case that this is done on the grounds that these are rural electorates.

Prior to 1983, the only seats that were allowed to be substantially under what was considered to be equal were rural seats; it was part of the Electoral Office’s brief to offset lack of voter numbers by considering sparsity of population, size of electorate, and so forth – Bob Hawke got rid of all that. Parties will change the electoral system to advantage themselves. Labor felt disadvantaged by the rural malapportionment so rural weightage is gone.

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The Nationals Party:

20.20     Themes and issues in internal party politics

  • Key organisational features
    • Federal structure: note the importance of Queensland and NSW organisations
    • Strong local membership numbers: Nationals reputed to have the largest ordinary membership of any Australian party
    • Federal Council: made up of delegates from Central Council, Women’s Council and parliamentary wing from each state
    • Federal Council has no directive power over parliamentary wing in theory: in practice, Councils are a crucial interaction between membership and parliamentary wings
    • Federal Council elects a Federal Management Committee: this appoints a Federal secretariat The Nationals – Federal Executive

20.21     Themes and issues in internal party politics

Now, internal party politics; the way it’s organised:

The Nat’s are organised like the Liberals; they have a federal structure, so each state division of the National Party is autonomous. There is a federal body – I’ll show you a flow chart of that. But I thought I’d bring your attention to this, because it also runs against the idea of the National Party as a minor party. In fact, we don’t know, because the parties are not good at releasing information, but we suspect that the National Party has the largest branch membership of any of the political parties.

Some people make jokes about this because, in a sign of rural conservatism, if I were a farmer, with a wife and children of voting age and I sign up to the Country Party, then my wife would automatically become a member as well, as would my children – it’s a family thing; it’s a bit like a football club allowing you to sign your dog up as a member [an allusion to something written in the Age]. They reckon the Country Party has something like that as well – your dogs are members, and your Massey Ferguson tractor, and that hundred head of Friesians out the back… (No, no, no – joke).

Like the Liberal party, as a rule, the National Party’s organisational structure is not allowed to influence policy directly. Like the Liberal Party’s Federal Council, the National Party’s Federal Council, which meets a couple of times a year, is a love-in; a get together that has no power to direct the party on policy. But my good friend and senior colleague, Brian Costa, who’s a real expert on this, tells me that there’s no need for this sort of stuff because that’s not how it works in real life. In real life he reckons that everyone in the National Party knows what they stand for. There’s no need for them to have big debates about philosophy or even on policy. What they do at these meetings is to talk with each other, and the parliamentary Nationals are expected to turn up to these things. Parliamentary Liberals are not required to turn up to Liberal party Federal or State Councils; they can if they want to, but they don’t have to. They don’t have to in the National Party either, but they do. Brian says to me that these are quite interesting meetings of like-minded people where he says the local branch members will stand up and they’ll bucket the parliamentary Nationals, who’ll sit there and take it, and say “yeah, I understand what you’re saying”; he says it’s a quite interesting, positive exchange. I think what this tells us about rural life is that the National Party is really important as one of those social organs that regional and rural Australians are happy to belong to.

It’s hard for us, in the city, to understand these things because we have so many alternatives to party politics as a way of meeting people and getting out and about, talking about things.

The National Party: organisational structure

Federal Parliamentary Party
Management Committee
Federal Secretariat
Federal Women’s Council
Federal Young Nationals
STATE ORGANISATIONS        Central Councils         State Parliamentary wings State Women’s, YN

Each of the State Organisations has a Central Council which sends delegates to Federal Council. There’s a Young Nationals organisation as well; a Women’s Council; and the Parliamentary Party comes along. The important thing is that they elect a Management Committee who, in turn, appoints a Federal Secretariat. The National Party, like the Liberal party has a federal party secretary; there’s a federal executive, and they run the party’s affairs between meetings of Federal council. But what they’re mainly doing is just taking care of the nuts and bolts and dealing with matters like raising finances and ensuring that the membership lists are OK and, of course, doing pre-selection. Like the Liberal party, the power to pre-select is in the hands of the local branches. And that can sometimes turn into a terrible fight, as Brian, if he were here, would remind us; there have been occasions in the past where voters in rural seats have been confronted with two, or even three, Country Party candidates, depending on how bad the split in the local branch was.

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20.22     The Difficult Years

  • 1983: short-term suspension of coalition during period in opposition: party under attack from the NFF
  • 1987: Joh for PM campaign splits the National Party (Ian Sinclair leader)
  • 1990: Nationals federal leader Charles Blunt loses his seat of Richmond to Labor

 In 1983 the coalition is defeated by Labor and this is the first long period of opposition for the coalition, and I’m afraid the Country Party doesn’t cope very well. It is suddenly under siege from external interest groups, including a body called the National Farmers’ Federation. The interesting thing about the National Farmers’ Federation is that at the time it was headed by a chap by the name of Andrew Robb. Yes; the Liberal member for Goldstein. We saw a picture of him in yesterday’s lecture; later, he became the Liberal party secretary. There’s a tension in rural political economy between export oriented agriculture and local producers. The export oriented farmers are into free trade. Which is the party of free trade? It’s the Liberal Party. The National Farmers’ Federation is trying to recruit framers to the Liberal party.

In 1987; a moment that shook the world: the Joh for PM campaign. This is the same Joh Bjelke-Petersen who was Country Party premier of Queensland. After kicking Labor around the park, comprehensively, he turned on the Liberals and the federal Nationals. The point of the Joh for PM stuff – what was it all about? No one really knows. It defies rational explanation. Except we do know one thing, and that is it was quickly caught up in a fight between the Queensland Nationals and the rest of their colleagues in other states. Why? Because the National Party was so strong in Queensland they were trying to take over the party overall, and failed. And this caused all sorts of tensions.

Out of time, but we’ll return to the Joh for PM thing because I think it is a catalytic event that spawns Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party. So we’ll come back to Joh next week when we talk about Minor Parties and the Minor Party System.

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 21      Minor Parties


Having read some of the essays on this topic I see that there are clearly some misconceptions, about some of the minor parties that go around in the Australian system, that need to be clarified. The most important of all of these concerns the Greens. So we’ll look at them today.

First, however, I want to outline some general principles about minor party politics in the Australian system.

21.1      General principles

Every now and then things arise which pose great intellectual challenges. Trying to get your head around the minor party system in Australia is one of these because we all try to neatly categorise things; it’s easier to analyse things if you’ve got them neatly categorised, but one of the things that I reckon we should know about minor party politics is that the types of parties that come under this rubric are very diverse.

21.2      Minor parties defined

It’s hard to come up with a couple of hard and fast rules to help us define what constitutes a minor party. Most of the literature that deals with the Australian party system makes the distinction between the two big parties, Labor and Liberal, and everybody else, although as we noted last week, when we made a trip down the rural byways of Australian Politics, they’ve got the slight problem of the National Party which looks like a minor party, because it only gets 5% of the vote nationally, but the fact that its vote is concentrated geographically means that it’s able to do something other parties outside the Labor / Liberal configuration can’t do, and that’s win Lower House seats. Once you’re winning Lower House seats you’re in a position to try to exert some influence on the outcome of who forms government.

Notwithstanding the contribution made by our friend Sir John Kerr, it’s still the general assumption that the party that has the majority of seats in the Lower House will form government. When we talk about parties outside the Labor / Liberal / National configuration we’re left with this other group: minor parties.

A couple of interesting things about them:

Firstly, if you were to look at the book produced about them by Dean Jaensch and Bruce Mathieson, called A Pox on Both Your Houses, which tells you about where they’re coming from, they list the minor parties in Australian politics going back to 1949. I think I made Zareh count how many minor parties Jaensch and Mathieson came up with and there were well over 100.

By the way, greetings from Canberra; I was there on Thursday and Friday and let me just tell you, sure – everyone thinks Kevin Rudd’s a dud, but they’re also saying that there’s one person worse than Rudd and that’s Abbott. So for those who are thinking about punting at the next federal election, my spies tell me, “Yes, the double dissolution election is still on”, and they still reckon Labor to win it. Just thought I’d throw that into the mix.

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21.3      Duverger’s Law

So Dean Jaensch and his friend came up with over a hundred minor parties, but I’m here to tell you that the number of minor parties, in Australia, that count, is probably about six or seven. What I want to show you is that the performance, the success rate, of minor party politics in Australia, is actually very low, even in the Senate. We are conditioned to think that when we have a system of proportional representation, minor party politics should be dealt into the equation. That’s true, and this goes back to our study of electoral systems; we go back to Maurice Duverger’s Law – majoritarian electoral systems will give you two party systems; proportional systems will give you multi-party systems, if you smoke enough Gauloise you’ll die of lung cancer – these are all part of Duverger’s Laws – berets should be left to right, not right to left; the important things we learn when in France; the metro goes one way…

We should expect minor parties to do really well in a proportional system. We should expect to see a lot of minor parties in the Australian Senate, but what I hope to demonstrate today is that that is, in fact, not the case; we actually don’t see a great variety of minor parties.

Interestingly, the trend in minor party representation in the Senate is changing a bit; there’s much more diversity in types of minor parties being elected to the Senate, and much more volatility. We can actually track this. It starts in 1984. From 1984 on, we start to see an increase in the number of minor parties being elected to the Australian Senate. Prior to that, the record of minor party success in the Senate is very poor.

This draws our attention to problems with the electoral system. There’s a very strong relationship between electoral systems and party systems. This is born out in the Australian context. To cut to the chase now, one of the problems we have in the Australian party system is that our Senate system sets a very high threshold for minor parties to try to achieve to win seats. If you lower the electoral threshold you can actually get substantial minor party diversity in your electoral outcomes.

This is esoteric and you don’t need to know it; it’s something I’ve been working through on another project. I was looking at state upper houses; state Legislative Councils, where we have them (everywhere except Queensland). Tasmania’s Legislative Council is out of the equation – they use a preferential single member electoral system. The four other states all use proportional representation for the upper house. The most interesting is NSW. The NSW electoral system has a state-wide election filling something like 20 or 25 seats. To get elected to the NSW Legislative Council, you need to get about 6 or 7 per cent of the vote, which is not all that high, and they have an amazing variety of minor parties including One Nation, and Fred Niall’s Call to Australia Party.

I was not only in Canberra, but also in Cooma over the weekend. You know what that means? It means you have to go to NSW. Let me tell you, NSW is different to Victoria. First of all, I don’t know what the fuck goes on up there, but they play this ridiculous game of football that has no bearing or relation to football as I understand it at all; the most important thing that happened over the weekend was Geelong versus Collingwood, but there was not a mention of it! Not a mention. And the other thing is that NSW politics today is all a flitter, because some poor bastard was filmed by channel 7 coming out of a gay club, which, apparently, is a hanging offence in NSW. I didn’t realise this. So NSW is a very odd place, with lots of odd political parties. There’s a shooters’ party; yes there is. A shooter’s party! You know what; I’m not going back to NSW ever again. I think it’s a bit of a nasty place. That’s it. From now on the furthest north I’m going is Mill Park, and then I’m coming back. So they have much more diversity in their upper house.

You contrast that with Victoria; in our Legislative Council elections you need about sixteen per cent to win a seat, and most of the seats are won by Labor, Liberal or National Party. There are a couple of Greens and there is a DLP representative in the Victorian upper house. So, much less diversity when the electoral threshold rises; there is clearly an important correlation there.

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 21.4      The ‘minor party’ system: some core themes

  • Parties that contest elections but fail to win representation to the HoR or the Senate
  • OR parties that contest elections and win representation to the Senate but fail to win representation to the HoR
  • Examples of organised parties: parties with extra-parliamentary organisations designed to contest elections nationally or sub-nationally (as distinct from ‘Independents ‘: Independents are not minor parties)
  • Importance to normative democratic theory: contribute to notions of choice, diversity of political opinion, contributing to ‘multiparty’ liberal democracy

The ‘minor party’ system: electoral considerations

  • Alternative Vote: minor parties as ‘preference wheeler-dealers’
  • STV-Proportional: lower electoral thresholds (14.4 per cent; 7.7 per cent)

Minor parties and the Senate:

The limits to proportional representation

Table 1: Senate contest 1949-1983: % National Primary Vote and Seats Won by party
19 49 51* 53 55 58 61 46 67 70 74* 75* 77 80 83*
ALP vote 44.8 45.8 50.6 40.6 42.7 44.7 44.6 45.0 42.2 47.2 40.9 36.7 42.2 45.4
Seats 19 28 17 12 15 14 14 13 14 29 27 14 15 30
LNP vote 50.3 49.6 44.3 48.5 45.0 41.9 45.6 42.7 38.1 43.8 44.0 45.2 43.3 39.7
Seats 23 32 15 17 16 16 14 14 13 29 34 17 14 27
DLP vote (6.1) 8..4 9.8 8.3 9.7 11.1 3.5 2.6
Seats (1) 1 0 2 2 3 0 0
LM vote 0.9 1.0
Seats 1 1
AD vote 11.1 9.2 9.5
Seats 2 3 5
NDP vote
Greens vote
PHON vote
FF vote

Minor parties and the Senate:

The limits to proportional representation

Table 2: Senate contest 1984-2004: % National Primary Vote and Seats Won by party
19 84 87* 90 93 96 98 01 04 07
ALP vote 42.1 42.8 38.4 43.5 36.1 37.3 34.3 35.0 40.3
  Seats 20 32 15 17 14 17 14 16 18
LNP^ vote 39.5 41.8 41.7 42.9 43.7 37.5 41.6 44.9 39.5
  Seats 20 34 19 19 20 17 20 21 18
DLP vote 0.9
  Seats 0
LM Vote
AD Vote 7.6 8.4 12.6 5.3 10.8 8.4 7.2 2.0 1.3
  Seats 5 7 5 2 5 4 4 0 0
NDP Vote 7.2 1.0
  Seats 1 1
Greens Vote 0.4 2.8 2.9 3.1 2.7 4.9 7.6 9.0
  Seats 1 1 1 1 0 2 2 3
PHON vote 8.9 5.5 1.7 0.4
  Seats 1 0 0 0
FF vote 1.7 1.6
  Seats 1 0

*- denotes double dissolution election

^ – denotes Country Liberal party in NT

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  21.5      The Australian Democrats


  • Membership lists obtained from former South Australian based minor parties: the Australia Party; the Liberal Movement
  • Recruitment of former Liberal MP Don Chipp as leader
  • Developed in the post-1975 constitutional crisis period:
    • General voter disillusionment with major parties
    • Some community concern about the use of Senate power in the crisis
    • Appeal of the ‘Keep the bastards honest’ slogan employed by Chipp to appeal to voters for support in Senate contests: the Democrats as a Senate-oriented party
    • Don Chipp’s antipathy towards Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser

Australian Democrats: electoral performance

Table 1: Senate electoral performance – the Australian Democrats 1977-2007
19 77* 80* 83* 84 87* 90 93 96 98 01 04 07
National vote 11.3 8.3 8.6 7.6 8.1 12.6 5.3 10.8 8.4 7.2 2.1 1.3
  Seats 2 3 5 5 7 5 2 5 4 4 0 0
NSW vote 8.3 6.3 7.8 7.3 9.1 11.8 4.9 9.5 7.3 6.2 2.2 0.8
  Seats 1 0 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0
Vic vote 16.2 10 10.7 6.9 8.5 14.2 3.9 10.8 9.8 7.8 1.8 1.6
  Seats 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 1 0 0
Qld Vote 8.9 9.0 7.2 9.2 7.5 12.5 7.0 13.2 7.8 6.6 2.2 1.8
  Seats 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0
SA Vote 11.2 11.8 10.7 11.2 11.2 16.4 9.8 14.5 12.4 12.6 2.3 0.8
  Seats 0 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 0 0
WA Vote 12.5 8.3 6.2 4.8 5.7 9.4 4.0 9.3 6.4 5.8 2.0 1.0
  Seats 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 0
Tas Vote 5.8 2.9 6.3 6.1 6.8 7.9 1.6 7.1 3.9 4.6 0.8
  Seats 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0


*-denotes full Senate elections

The Australian Democrats: party organisation

  • Overarching theme: commitment to internal party democracy
  • Organisation: key features
    • Federally organised: state and territory branches and branch membership
    • State executive and a federal executive: secretariat function
    • Parliamentary wing: no official caucusing, free conscience votes
    • Parliamentary wing can initiate leadership spill, but not elect parliamentary leader


  • Party democracy: empowering the membership
    • Membership plebiscites on party policy
    • Membership to directly elect parliamentary leader
    • Membership has power to bring on leadership spill (membership petitions)
    • Local branches pre-select HoR candidates, state executives determine Senate tickets

 The Australian Democrats: problems (and decline)

  • Failed aspirations to win HoR or state lower house seats
  • Rivalry with emerging parties: NDP, WAG, Greens
  • Lack of solid electoral base
  • Serious recurring leadership problems
    • Haines and the failure to win a lower house seat
    • Janet Powell and amalgamation with the Greens
    • Cheryl Kernot and defection to the ALP
    • Meg Lees and Natasha Stott Despoja rivalry
  • Serious failure of the democratic party organisation model
    • Near failure in the Senate in 1993
    • Internal division over the GST 2001
    • Failure in the Senate 2004, 2007

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21.6      The green parties: WA Greens, Tasmanian Greens, the Greens

  • Two source of ‘green’ politics: the ‘new social movement’
    • Peace, disarmament and anti-nuclear: Western Australia (NDP to WAG)
    • Nature conservation: Tasmania
    • Link with ‘new social movement’ politics
  • Early features of ‘green’ politics
    • Fragmented along state lines and ideological lines
    • Organisationally dysfunctional: many parties, few organisations, no national coordination until 1998, no single national structure until 2003
    • Dependent upon charismatic leadership (Bob Browne) even though the parties were normatively opposed to leadership
    • Dependent upon fall in ALP vote but favourable distribution of ALP GTV
    • Dominated by two states: WA and Tasmania
    • 2003: confederation to accommodate state diversity of green politics

The green parties: WA Greens, Tasmanian Greens, the Greens

Table 2: ‘Green’ electoral performance – federal elections 1984 to 2001 (1)

  1984 1987(2) 1990 1993 1996 1998 2001 2004 2007
NSW 9.7 2.5 3.7 3.3 3.2 2.4 4.6 7.3 8.4
VIC 7.3 1.1 1.5 2.4 2.9 2.6 5.9 8.8 10.0
QLD 4.4 1.1 1.8 3.2 2.4 2.1 3.3 5.4 7.3
WA 6.8 4.8 8.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 8.0 9.3
SA 4.6 0.9 2.1 1.6 2.0 2.2 3.4 6.6 6.4
TAS 2.9 4.8 6.8 8.6 5.8 13.7 13.2 18.1
National 7.2 1.9 3.1 3.2 3.2 2.8 5.0 7.6 9.0

 Notes: (1) – ‘green’ vote includes votes cast for all parties listed in table 1

(2) – 1987 ‘green’ vote is cast for NDP, the Greens, and Valentine Peace Group only.

Source: AEC 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998

Green party politics: political consequences

  • Western Australian and Tasmania state politics
    • Electoral success translating into parliamentary representation where Proportional Representation in use
    • Experience of role in government formation: Tasmania
  • The Greens as a Senate party
    • Strength of support in Tasmania and WA the basis for election to the Senate
    • Beyond ‘the environment’: the breadth of issues under ‘green’ rubric
    • Redefining ‘left of centre’ politics: New politics and socially progressive agenda
    • The Greens: New politics or ‘mono issue’ politics?
    • Fragmentary impact of Senate vote for the ALP and the Australian Democrats
    • Radical or conventional? Green parties and the process of negotiation and accommodation in the Senate
    • The politics of preference exchange
  • Classifying One Nation
    • Fragmentary or ‘secessionist’ party? Liberals
    • ‘right populist’ issues-oriented minor party?
    • ‘anti-system’ minor party?
    • Charismatic leadership: leader-dominated party
  • Origins
    • Proximity of the 1996 federal election: defeat of the ALP
    • Dis-endorsement of Pauline Hanson at 1996 election
    • Ms Hanson’s maiden speech to the HoR
    • Formation of One Nation: 1997 Queensland election; 1998 federal election
    • Unique organisation: ‘business model’ – separation between leadership and mass membership

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21.7      One Nation: a special case

 One Nation: electoral performance

Table 1: PHON performance, Australian Senate

1998 2001 2004 2007
National 8.9 (1 seat) 5.5 1.7 0.4
NSW 9.6 5.5 1.8 0.4
VIC 4.1 2.4 0.7 0.4
QLD 14.8 (1 seat) 10.0 3.1 0.1
WA 10.3 7.0 2.4 0.9
SA 9.7 4.5 1.1 0.5
TAS 3.7 3.2

One Nation: performance and impact

  • Impact upon policy debate
    • Racial and indigenous affairs – strong impact
    • Anti-globalisation / popular reaction to liberal economic reform – strong impact
    • Taxation debate – weak impact
  • Electoral success and failure
    • Success in Queensland state election 1997; WA state election
    • Limited Senate success in 1998: failure in Blair 1998, other Senate contests
    • Failure post-1998
    • Victim of major parties deciding to put ON last on GTVs
  • Organisation
    • Splits and fissures within the party: Hanson’s defection from the party 2004
    • Pursued by state and federal electoral authorities re public finance

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21.8      Minor parties: some conclusions

  • Many minor parties, few minor party electoral successes
  • Impact of the electoral system: preferential voting reinforces major party domination; proportional representation geared to multi-party representation
  • Diversity of minor party types; diversity of minor party organisation
  • Importance of charismatic leadership
  • From ‘secessionist’ to ‘issues oriented’ minor parties
  • Emerging importance of social movement-based minor parties

I’m going to outline some of the core themes in minor party politics.

First, I’ll try to define what we mean by minor parties. The vast majority of minor parties contest elections, but I don’t know why some of these people do it! Every election there will be a whole raft of minor parties. Parties that will register themselves with the Australian Electoral Commission with all sorts of weird and wonderful names; Unity Party, Freedom Party, Confederate Action Party, Abolish Child Support Party (it’s fairly straight forward where they’re coming from), there used to be one called the Hope Party which ran in election after election – something to do with some sort of meditation group. God knows why they do it.

To register with the Electoral Commission you have to demonstrate that you have five hundred bona fide members, and when you put nominees up to run for election, you have to pay something like $500 deposit, per candidate. If you win 4% of the vote you will get your deposit back, and you are also entitled to public funding, so you get $2.50 for every primary vote that you get above 4%. Some have argued that minor parties are doing this to try to earn money from the electoral system but that claim can be discounted because the vast majority of minor party candidates who run in elections, Senate or Lower House, never reach 4%. The vast majority don’t get to the point where they even get their deposit back. I really don’t know; it’s one of the enduring mysteries of Australian political science; there’s work to be done – a PhD thesis in the making for one of you!

Why do they run? We’re not quite sure, but they do. It gives our elections the feel of democracy – they put the multi in multi-party, these guys. But their performance is really weak.

So, minor parties are parties that contest elections but fail to win representation in the House of Reps or the Senate. There’s a whole raft of these parties that are being formed, putting up candidates, running for election, and not really getting anywhere.

OR they’re parties that contest elections and win representation to the Senate, but fail to win representation to the House of Reps.

We have a small number of minor parties that do win parliamentary representation, but they’re winning representation in the Senate; they’re not winning representation in the House of Reps.

We know the reasons for this because we’ve studied the electoral system; we know that 50% + 1 is a threshold too far away for most political parties, but a 7.7% threshold in a full Senate election, or 14.4% in a half-Senate election, is much easier for minor parties to achieve. So that’s one of the reasons why we see them winning seats in the Senate but not in the Lower House.

This is a handy definition because it excludes the National Party. The National Party is winning seats in the Lower House; it can play coalition politics; it can influence who holds executive power.

These minor parties cannot influence who wields executive power from the Senate.

You can’t influence executive power from the Senate. Just because you hold the balance of power in the Senate does NOT mean that you are in a position to deny a place in the ministry of a coalition government. To be able to do that, you have to be in the Lower House. Minor party politics, in Australia, is more important in the Senate than it is in the Lower House simply because these minor parties can’t get in.

I’ll stake my reputation, such as it is; you’ve got to go back a long way to find minor party representation in the House of Representatives. The exception being that we had a Green win a Lower House seat in 2002, I think it was. The seat of Cunningham was won in a by-election. By-elections are those held mid-term in the general election cycle. When a member falls of the twig, resigns, or is dispensed with, whatever; a vacancy arises and there’s a complex process by which the Speaker of the House of Rep’s will issue writs for a by-election, and the by-election will be held.

Why are minor parties winning seats in by-elections and not in general elections? Because what we’re seeing in Australian by-elections is a tendency for one or other of the major political parties to not put up a candidate. By-elections usually occur in seats which are very safe for one side or the other; very safe Labor seats or very safe Liberal seats. What happens is that if a seat is safe for Labor, the Liberals won’t run a candidate, or vice-versa. We had the Higgins by-election recently, when Peter Costello retired from federal politics. There was a by election in January; the Labor Party did not run a candidate. When one of the major parties doesn’t run, it frees up about 40% of the primary vote. It’s got to go somewhere, and in this environment a minor party’s chances of winning a seat are greatly enhanced. So we’ve had some instances of minor parties winning seats in by-elections. The Greens did it. They didn’t win in Higgins, by the way.

What tends to happen in the text books is that minor parties and Independents get rolled into one. I think this is sloppy scholarship. Independents are NOT the same as minor parties. Political parties are organisations and they are trying to contest elections across a jurisdiction, whether it’s across a state, or national. Independents are not the same thing. They are what the word independent means: someone who runs as an individual. They do not have an organisation beyond the region that they are running for. I mention this because we have had instances of Independents winning Lower House elections even when up against Labor, Liberal, and National parties. Now they are not the same thing as minor parties. The reasons why these Independents are winning are quite complex. Some of them are former party people who have left, or been kicked out of, their parties, and then win their seats as Independents for the obvious reason; they’ve been disendorsed or expelled, or something; we’ve had a few of these – Graeme Campbell won Kalgoorlie, and of course the most famous, currently, would be Bob Katter, who holds the seat of Kennedy, and used to be in the National Party. He left them on a matter of principle, over policy, and he’s won two elections as an Independent in that seat; a great achievement. There is, mercifully, no Bob Katter organisation trying to get Bob Katter clones elected in other places. I presume that a man with too much to say, a ten gallon hat, and cowboy boots, would not go to well in Higgins…

We have also noticed that Independents tend to do very well in rural electorates, but are not so successful in urban electorates.

But note especially that they are not the same thing as minor parties, which are political parties which have organisations. Also interesting about the study of minor parties is that they have a diversity of organisational arrangements. Some of the most interesting and innovative organisational arrangements occur in minor party politics.

The Australian Democrats, for example, was a minor party which was very successful from 1977 through to 2001. It had an interesting, innovative organisational situation. The financial members of the party chose the party leader, for example. In the Labor, Liberal, and National parties, the power to determine the leadership is a matter for the party room, but in the Democrats, the ordinary members were able to play that role. This is seen by proponents of decentralised organisational systems or proponents of the Australian Democrats as democratic and innovative. Personally, I think it was crap. I actually think that that’s one of the reasons that the Australian Democrats collapsed as a party. They had a bit of a problem. After the Australian Democrats decided that they’d support John Howard with introducing the goods and services tax (and those in my tutorial classes will know what I think of the GST. To the rest of you – thank you; you pay for the tax cuts I received). Funny isn’t it? I would never vote for them in a thousand years but, geez, the Libs are good for high income earners. Maybe they’ll come back. Who knows? The way the Ruddmeister’s going we could be having more tax cuts, for the rich, in just a few years. I’m looking forward to it; I’m not going to vote for them, but I’m looking forward to it. – Once the Australian Democrats helped bring in the GST, the party imploded.

One of the problems they had was that they needed to select a party leader because the party leader that had brought in the GST lost the confidence of the ordinary membership. It took the Australian Democrats almost two years to work out who they wanted as leader, and they ended up selecting somebody who was in the minority faction in the Democrat party room, who had voted against the goods and services tax. So they ended up with quite an inappropriate leader, and the party fell apart as a result.

My very good friend, Zareh (LeeB’s tutor), in his PhD thesis, has been studying the organisation of One Nation. You know – Pauline Hanson, ‘Please explain’ – that lot; the racist party. Sure, they tried, but their attempt to rebrand themselves as the ‘disillusioned farmers’ party’ collapsed. Their real impact was thatthey were racists; they were trying to advocate racially based differential policies.

Zareh points out that the organisational structure of One Nation was very interesting. They were not interested in internal party democracy at all. He found that the party’s organisational structure had two parts; there was a holding company, made up of three people, who ran One Nation, then there was this other part that was registered with the electoral commission, and which the ordinary members belonged to, but they had no power to influence the three people who were running the One Nation executive. This is the organisational problem that One Nation had, that got them into trouble with the Queensland Electoral Commission.

When they did very well in the 1998 state election in Queensland (remember, they won eleven seats and helped bring down the National Party government at that time), they picked up about 25% of the vote in Queensland. Queensland has public funding for elections as well, so the One Nation organisation picked up quite a lot of money – 2 or 3 million dollars of tax-payers money as part of the payoff. The Queensland Electoral Commission took One Nation to the Queensland Supreme Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, and said that it was not a legitimate party and two of the directors were sent to gaol; a guy called David Ettridge, and Pauline Hanson. Remember Pauline Hanson was in gaol? Why was she in gaol? Was she in gaol because she had no dress sense? No. Was she in gaol because of that stupid “please explain”? Should have been, but no. Was she in gaol because she was a nasty racist? Should have been, no. She was in gaol because her party organisation was in breach of the Queensland electoral laws. She appealed to the Supreme Court and they overturned the original decision and she got out of gaol.

The point I’m trying to draw your attention to is that, when we look at the minor parties, we note that they do have organisations, that the organisational arrangements are quite complex, and sometimes, just like when we were looking at the Labor or Liberal party’s’ organisation, we can learn something about the key philosophies that drive these parties from the way in which they are organised.

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21.9      The Australian Democrats.

Chaps. Dear people. What ho. You know; the beautiful, middle-class party. It came to us in 1977, when Don Chipp formed it. Why? Remember the 1975 constitutional crisis? Major party politics stank after 1975. You couldn’t trust them; Labor was trying to ddeals with Tirath Khemlani; the Liberals would do anything to get into power; there was a very strong sense of disillusionment in the electorate about major party politics.

Don Chipp was against major party politics, and the fact that he been hoping for a ministerial position in the Fraser government and didn’t get one, also contributed to his decision to piss off out of the Liberal party. He had been the Liberal member for Hotham in the days when Moorabbin used to be a Liberal voting area. That’s where Hotham was. Hotham’s moved over to Clayton now, so it’s a very safe Labor seat. He’d been in the Liberal party; this is the very same Don Chipp who was challenging Malcolm Fraser for the leadership, and had probably forced ‘the Fraze’ to use the Constitution and his Senate numbers to force a double-dissolution election, so as to get rid of the ‘beautiful socialists’ from the Labor Party, who are clearly in bed with the middle-east, and also to cement Malcolm Fraser’s leadership, and get the prime ministership,  before that dreadful Don Chipp chappy took over.

Don Chipp disappears and returns in 1977 as part of a rebranded minor party called the Australian Democrats, and they are going to be the ‘anti-major party’ party. They are going to be there to ‘keep the bastards honest’. This is interesting because the Democrats are the first minor party to identify the power of the Senate as a chamber that checks and balances the executive; the first party to say “we will use the Senate for liberal-democratic purposes- we will keep the bastards honest with checks and balances’. This resonates with a percentage of the electorate.

The Australian Democrat vote rarely fell below five (refer to slide on electoral performance), and got as high as eleven or twelve per cent. There’s always a differential between their Senate vote and their Rep vote; the Senate vote was always higher than the Rep vote. It fell to critically low levels in 2004 and 2007, when they didn’t win any seats and they fell out of the Senate, but for a long period, from 1977 to 2004, they were in the Senate, sometimes holding the balance of power.

They made a number of promises. They promised they would never block supply (there’s that 1975 thing). The other thing they said they do and I want you to take note of this because the sub-text of today’s lecture is the important correlation between electoral systems and party systems, and I think this is the thing that killed them off: they said “we will never direct preferences to the major political parties. If we are a check and balance, an ‘anti-major party’ party, keeping the bastards honest (and remember, Labor bastards and Liberal bastards and National bastards are all bastards together – bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard; does this mean that my speech won’t get through the internet, net-nanny will stop it for too much swearing? Is bastard not strong enough? What about this; fuckin’ bastards; that might stop it), bastards, bastards everywhere, so we’re not going to direct preferences to bastards. What we’re going to do is to issue what we call a ‘split ticket’.”

They wouldn’t direct preferences to Labor or Liberal. How do they do this? As luck would have it, I have a copy of a Democrat How to Vote card, from the good ol’ days. The 80s were the good ol’ days – I had finished my honours degree and was a Master of Arts student at Melbourne Uni, which meant you could turn up any day you liked, living in Albert Park; those were the happy days. As luck would have it, I was living in the electorate of Melbourne Ports, and this is a How to Vote card from 1990. Here are a bunch of interesting Australian Democrat people. These are all senators; Janet Powell was a senator from Victoria, Sid Spindler was Victorian, and Jeanine Haines was a South Australian senator and leader of the party. Jeanine Haines was not actually running for the Senate in 1990; she decided she would run for a lower house seat and this changed their dynamics. The reason I show you this is, first of all, here is the Group Ticket Vote for the Senate in those days (Just like Democrats these days voting above the black line). They told the electoral commission that they could count up the Democrats primary vote for the Senate and, if they were distributing preferences, 50% of their vote would go to Labor and 50% to the coalition. That is a ‘split ticket’. So they’re not directing preferences to major parties.

What’s interesting about the Australian Democrats is that the question of where they sent their preferences was not relevant to them; what was more relevant was where the major parties sent their preferences. What we found in Australian electoral politics was that from about 1984 onwards increasingly it would be the ALP giving the Democrats their preferences, and this was crucially important to the Australian Democrats getting seats. Very few Australian Democrat Senate candidates ever managed to win enough votes in the Senate to achieve a quota in their own right. From memory, the only people who ever did were Don Chipp, in Victoria, and I may be wrong on that, but I’m certain of this; the only person who used to be able to get a quota in their own right was Natasha Stott Despoja from South Australia. All the other Australian Democrat candidates failed to win a quota on primary vote. They had to get preferences from somewhere and they came from the Labor Party.

What happened to the Democrats was that by 2001 there was another minor party, trawling around for votes, called the Greens, and the ALP chooses between the Greens and the Democrats. In some states they direct their preferences to the Democrats, in some to the Greens. Where Labor directs its preferences to the Greens, the Green candidate wins the seat. Where Labor directs its preferences to the Democrats, the Democrat wins the seat. The point here being that we must remember that in Australian Senate elections the really crucial players are not the minor parties, but the major parties. It is they who determine which minor party will get into the Senate through their direction of preferences. This only doesn’t work if a minor party candidate gets a quota in their own right.

The candidate, Heather Hill, was One Nation’s Queensland candidate in 1998, One Nation’s very best year, in an election where all the major parties had decided to put One Nation last in their Group Ticket votes, on their lower house How to Vote cards.  They say, “Put the One Nation person last”; this stops One Nation from winning Senate seats they were probably entitled to in SA, WA, and NSW. Had One Nation done a deal with the coalition and managed to get their preferences, One Nation would have won seats in NSW, SA and WA. They didn’t because they couldn’t get enough preference, enough surplus, to reach the quota. The only state where they got a Senate seat was in Queensland because they got 14.8% of the vote (just over the quota).

Very few people get a quota in their own right. Heather Hill is one. Natasha Stott Despoja is another. And the other is Bob Brown, the Green’s senator in Tasmania; when he runs he gets 18% of the vote, well over the quota.

In 2004, the last time Christine Milne, the second Green candidate in Tasmania, ran, she got 13.8% of the vote, just short of the quota. Do you know what happened there? The Tasmanian Labor Party, strange beast that it is, like its Victorian and South Australian colleagues, had decided that, for whatever reason (and no one is sure what the truth is – we have to rely on Labor Unity faction people to tell us what happened, and telling the truth is against factional rules), in their infinite wisdom the Labor Party decided that they would give their preferences not to the Australian Democrats, not to the Greens, their fellow travellers on the left (shame on you if you think politics is a rational business where all lefties are together against the evil common enemy, the right of centre; no, no, no, no, that’s not how it works); the ALP in South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria, decided to direct their preferences to another fledgling minor party, a Party that most people were taking little notice of, a party called Family First. We all know now, that as a result of this decision, there’s a Family First senator in the Senate – Steve Fielding.

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Now, fuck me (that’s a political term), if you look at the Senate result in Victoria in 2004, what do you find? Has Mr Fielding, the putative senator, achieved 14.4% (this was a half-senate election)? Nah. 10%? Nah. 7%? Nah. 6%? Nah. What the fuck! 3%? Nah. 2%? Well, no; 1.8% of the primary vote. What! How the fuck does this work? See how difficult our Senate electoral system is?

Actually, a number of political commentators worked it out. Tim Colebatch, in the Age, saw how the major parties had allocated their Group Ticket Votes (which they have to do about 3 weeks before the election’s held; they have to lodge their group ticket vote with the electoral commission).Once this happened, (I can’t remember who the Australian commentator was but) Tim Colebatch looked at them and he said “look, I think that Steve Fielding is going to win a seat and there may be others, because they have Labor preferences. Labor has directed its preferences to Family First ahead of the Greens and the Australian Democrats.

Mr Fielding was lucky, and I have written something in the AJPS about this; if you’re interested, you can read that – it explains how it all happened. He was lucky; he got a couple of lucky breaks, and he got in, with Labor preferences, with 1.8 per cent of the primary vote.

The person who was unlucky was a woman called Jacqui Patrusma. She was the Family First candidate in Tasmania. She also received Labor preferences but the difference was that in Victoria 99.9% of Labor voters vote above the black line. Labor people don’t think for themselves. They’re happy to let the party executive vote for them. Now in Tasmania, the rate of Labor voters voting against the black line is only 80%. There’s a 20% differential. We think that this is because Tasmania has proportional representation, Hare-Clarke proportional representation, for its lower house elections, and there are no black lines in Tasmania; you have to fill out all the squares (five or six squares).  So what happened was that a percentage of Tasmanian voters voted Labour and they gave their second preferences to Christine Milne, and that got her elected. It was really close. She nearly failed to win the seat because this big swag of Labor surplus went to family first.

I reiterate the important point: minor parties depend on the major parties, even in the Senate, even in the system of proportional representation. Very few minor parties can win seats in their own right; they have to get a favourable flow of preference.

Electoral systems are very important. The third slide is a graph showing the voting behaviour in federal elections from ’49 to 2001 and it shows the Labor and Liberal parties getting the majority of the vote. There’s the Australian Democrats vote starting to flat-line, and the others, and there’s certainly not enough vote there to win lower house seats, and barely enough primary vote to win senate seats. What tends to happen is that they rely heavily on the major parties.

This also reminds us of something that Henry Mayer, former political scientist, very famous in Australian political science, once talked about, and that was the idea of minor parties as preference wheelers and dealers. Our preferential voting system does deal minor parties into lower house elections through the preferential system. Minor parties can sometimes say to major parties, “look, we may be able to help you strategically in exchange for receiving your preferences in the Senate, or maybe in exchange for getting some commitments on policy from you, we will direct our people to vote for you with their second preference.

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21.10     The Democratic Labor Party (DLP)

We’ve had proportional representation in the Senate since 1949.The Chifley government legislated for it in 1948; in 1949 it comes in, and look at the massive impact it has on minor party politics in the Senate: [Blows a raspberry] 2/3rds of fuck all (another technical term). Don’t you agree? Zilch, zilch, zilch. We don’t start to see minor parties appear until 1955. And look who we’ve got: the Democratic Labor Party. Who are these people?

The DLP is the minor party that was formed by the Labor splitters. Labor split in 1954, and in 1955 they ran candidates against the Labor Party, and they got pretty strong levels of support in NSW and Victoria and they win Senate seats. Technically, the DLP had the balance of power in the Senate the whole time that they were there. The coalition didn’t actually have an absolute majority in the Senate. Most students of politics don’t take much notice of that because the DLP split from the Labor Party. Again you may think that politics is rational and that, surely, as they’re former colleagues, and despite their falling out, they must have things in common and vote together. Don’t you believe it. As is usual when splitters emerge, the DLP and the ALP hate each other with vehemence and passion. The DLP’s single stated political objective is to keep Labor out of office. And what the do is to issue HTV cards that direct their preferences to the coalition.

Some of our colleagues, writing on this in the 60s and 70s, say that this is one of the reasons that Labor was in opposition for twenty-three years; the Labor vote was split. Sure, it wasn’t a big split (8, 9, 11 per cent), but enough to a/ bring the Labor Party vote in lower house elections down, so they can’t win seats that they would have if those DLP voters had voted with them, and b/ Labor loses its position in the Senate to the DLP. It’s enough to get the DLP senate representation. Because the DLP voted with the coalition all the time, and were really committed to the coalition, there’s no sense of the DLP bargaining with Menzies, or Holt, or Gorton, although (this has come up in some of my tutorials and we’ve argued about this regarding education policy) there was a big controversy in Australia in the 60s about whether the federal government should be giving tax-payers money to religious schools. The Menzies government had made the decision that it would do this. And why did it do it? Because the DLP asked it to.

The DLP had very strong connections with the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Community, and was sometimes described as a Catholic party, and they were out there batting for the Catholic education system, much of which, in those days, was providing private alternative education to state education, in Labor electorates, in very strong working class areas. So some historians have argued that the DLP were preference wheelers and dealers; they did exchange preferences and support in the Senate for certain policy outcomes.

By 1974, for the DLP, it’s ‘all over red rover’. 3.5 per cent, 2.6 per cent, zilcho, zilcho, and Gough could say “well I didn’t achieve much comrades, but at least I got rid of the DLP”. And, in fact, the DLP collapses after 1975, but they’re reformed, in Victoria, in 198? something or other (I can’t recall the exact date). I mention that because there is now a DLP legislative councillor in the Victorian parliament, so they’re still around, but technically they’re not the same people. The original party organisation collapsed after 75, they disappear off the scene, and someone comes along fifteen or twenty years later and reregisters the name with the electoral commission. So they’re a bit different to what they were, and what they really were was the splitters of the Labor Party.

Now, in case you think that splitting is something exclusive to Labor, and I hope that you don’t think that as we’ve seen that the non-Labor side of politics could split as readily as the next person, here’s another manifestation of ‘splitting politics’. 1970 was the last time the DLP won anything. ‘74 was a double dissolution election, and the DLP failed, but look; here are two non-major party successes: 74 and 75; something called the LM. But what is this? I hear you cry, in your thirst for knowledge. This is a party called the Liberal Movement. Who the fuck are the Liberal Movement? Well, this the inner city (you’ll get the joke in a minute), chardonnay drinking, small ‘l’ liberal, anti-Vietnam war, members of the Liberal party in South Australia.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but the South Australian Liberal party is a loose collection of warring factions; basically two big groups: a bunch of rural conservatives (like that Cory Bernardi guy –  down with the burqa, close the borders, Tony Abbott for PM, God is a Liberal Party senator), and your trendy inner city Liberals (like Christopher Pyne – freedom of thought, freedom of expression don’t you know), and they hate each other’s guts. This goes back to the big tension that existed in South Australian Liberal party politics – we don’t have time to go into this intriguing stuff in detail at this point. We do look into this in detail in some second and third year subjects because the appearance of the Liberal Movement also has a very important influence on another minor party that’s going to come a little bit later. Yes; it’s the Australian Democrats.

The Liberal Movement was a splitter group; it’s a splitting group of the South Australian Liberals who call themselves the Liberal Movement. A chap by the name of Steele Hall, a former Liberal premier, leaves the Liberal party and forms the Liberal Movement. He gets elected to the Senate. He is there during the ’74 and ‘75 brouhaha. After 1975, Steele Hall comes back to the fold. He’s back in the Liberal party. But the Liberal Movement membership, along with another minor party that was around at the time, called the Australia Party, merge into a new party. The Australia Party were huge opponents of the DLP. (The DLP; right-wing, labour, Catholic people, who were venerators of conservative viewpoints, and one of the things to which they were firmly committed was the Vietnam War – round up the 18 years-old men, train them for military service, send them out to fight America’s war, if they die in Vietnam – so what? It stops communism – that’s the DLP view). The Australia Party are trendy South Australian Liberals who are against the Vietnam War so they form a party called the Australia Party.

Rebecca is having apoplexy here – she’s probably related to a chap called Gordon Barton, who owned a company called IPEC Transport. Gordon Barton bank rolled the Australia Party. This was a party that was a real pain the arse to the Liberals.

Again, it’s all over by 1975. Fraser is back. The Whitlam experiment has failed. Everyone is miserable on the trendy, chardonnay sipping side of politics. Then along comes Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats are formed out of the Liberal Movement and the Australia Party. The Australian Democrats are the splitters of the Liberal party. The Liberal party had split; a group of them had buggered off and gone to form the Australian Democrats.

This may come as a shock to you because the press, and your literature, encourages you to think of the Democrats as some form of trendy, lefty, Trotskyites, running around through the forests, saying how awful everything is, and urging you to recycle. That’s later, because what they’re trying to do when they’re doing that is to appeal to disillusioned Labor voters.

I’ll leave you with this final thought, and tomorrow, I’ll do a forensic dissection of the Australian Greens:

What we are seeing here is minor party politics in Australia that is mobilised on fragmentation of the major parties. In 1984, the dynamic changes. In 1984, what we start to get are many more minor parties, and they are not splitters; they are parties mobilised on issues. The Nuclear Disarmament Party, The Greens, Family First, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. The nature of minor party politics changes.

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22      Minor Parties


23      Interest groups

23.1      Interest Group politics: overview

  • Interest groups as another organisational form of political mobilisation
  • Interest groups seek to influence government: policy-making
  • Debates about interest group activity underpin debates about key concepts in the study of liberal democracy
  • Role of ‘the state’
  • Power
  • Study of interest groups underpinned by important theories about the distribution of power in liberal democratic society:
  • Pluralism
  • Elite theory;
  • Marxist theory
  • Public Choice

 23.2      Interest group theory: basic themes

  • ‘linkage’ theory: interest groups help link citizens to the institutions of governance
  • Interest groups permit mobilisation on the basis of issues, or pursuit of material interests
  • Constraint of state power: group politics permits citizens mobilisation to oppose government decisions
  • Interest groups provide an alternative to political parties as the basis for citizen mobilisation

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 23.3      Interest groups: typologies

  • ‘sectoral’ interest groups: representing material interests of members, linked to the economy (unions, producer groups, business groups)
  • ‘promotional’ interest groups: mobilised on the basis of broad issues (also sometimes referred to as ‘pressure groups’)
  • ‘insider’ groups: work with government in the formulation of public policy (unions, producer groups, professional bodies);
  • ‘outsider’ groups: seek to apply pressure on government through public opinion – protests; lobbying; public campaigns; election campaigns
  • ‘umbrella’ groups: clustering of like-minded or related groups to aggregate exercise of leverage on government (ACTU, ACCI, ACOSS)

 23.4      Interest group politics and political theory: the state, democracy and power

  • Interest group politics = the politics of public policy-making
  • Theorising about ‘the state’: the institutions that make policy and apply policy (government, legislature, administration)
  • Study of the way groups ‘influence’ the ‘state’ becomes the study of societal power:
    • Harold Laswell: “Who gets what and why”
  • Interest group leaders and ‘professional parties’: recruitment of interest group leaders as ministerial advisers

 23.5      Theories of interest groups and power: Pluralism

  • Emerged from the US in the 1950s: based on features of the US political system
    • Federal system with very strong local government
    • Weak party system
  • Theory placing interest groups at the centre of US liberal democracy
  • Interest groups: organisational mobilisation of citizens as a means to accessing political power
  • ‘the state’: apolitical, neutral, responsive to citizen demands (applying market theory to politics)
  • Power: decentralised to the citizenry: everyone has access to some political power (Robert Dahl)

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 23.6      Pluralism’s Critics

  • Neo-Marxist critique:
    • Society divided along class lines
    • Power relationships are an expression of class relationships
    • The ‘propertied’ class will always be more powerful, even in a liberal democracy
    • ‘the state’ is aligned with property: state power equates with the power of capital
  • The ‘elite theory’ critique (C. Wright Mills)
    • Modernisation of classical ‘elite’ theory
    • Society stratified strategically: political power tends to be held by society’s ‘elite’
    • Broadening out the meaning of ‘elite’: C. Wright Mills argued that a range of social elites may be identified beyond economic elitism
    • Wright Mills was interested in the ‘military industrial complex’: identification of ‘the state’ as an elite in its own right
  • The debate about ‘power’ (Stephen Lukes (1974) Power: A Radical View)
    • Criticised Pluralism for failing to understand power
    • Argued Pluralists saw only ‘one face’ of power: a theory that dealt with the powerful
    • Drew attention to the limited nature of ‘the agenda’ in liberal democracy
    • Link between power and agenda: what does NOT get on the agenda is as indicative of power of those who influence government away from public view
  • Public Choice theory
    • Associated with the rise of the neo-liberal ‘New Right’ in liberal democracies (especially the Thatcher government in Britain)
    • Critique of relationships between government and sectoral interest groups as a distortion of the political debate
    • Sectional interest groups will pursue self interest: system that incorporates interest groups will result in narrow interest policy
    • The art of government: make decisions without interest groups

 23.7      Interests Groups – Conclusion

  • The study of interest groups involves the study of the interaction of groups and government over the creation of public policy
  • Interest group politics provides an insight to the exercising of power in liberal democratic systems:
    • Link between political power and societal power
    • Power understood in terms of policy outcomes
  • Interest groups pose a challenge to normative democratic theory
    • ‘linking’ citizens to government: freedom of association: democratic
    • Oppositional potential as constraint on state power: liberal
    • But potential to distort the allocation of influence: undemocratic
  • Pluralism under challenge: neo-pluralism and ‘polyarchy’
    • Concession of argument about corporate power
    • Pluralism becomes prescriptive theory
    • Polyarchy: a diversity of poles of concentrated economic and political power

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