THERE are so many reasons to get angry. Water security, marriage equality, coal seam gas mining, public transport, employment, education …
Where to start – indigenous issues? Some weeks ago a 10-year-old girl committed suicide in the Kimberley, where at least 19 people have committed suicide since December. Last week a group in the Kimberley wrote to the Prime Minister pleading for help.
Or what about refugees? Let them stay? Everybody knows the way we are treating asylum seekers is abhorrent.
So, as they pack for autumnal leave, what do Federal MPs decide to get angry about? Their own job security, voting to change the Senate electoral system to stymie micro parties elected under complex preference deals. Who'll switch off the light on the hill? Senators in pyjamas, trading Monty Python jokes and merrily abusing each other through the night as self-interest subverts public service.
The Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party's senator Ricky Muir has surprised many with his willingness to consider issues.
“After 29.5 hours straight debating in Parliament and only one hour sleep, I am finally starting the journey home (passenger) to see my little girl for her seventh birthday.”
Ricky Muir, Facebook post.
Even setting the date for a federal budget has become an act of political opportunism. This coercive manipulation of election dates and procedural inconveniences, such as a recalcitrant Senate, are compelling reasons to mandate fixed terms for Federal Parliament.
Like them or not, senators are elected for a six-year term. To threaten Victorian Senator Ricky Muir with dismissal if the Senate won't pass particular legislation constitutes unfair dismissal and puts him on the list of victims of shameless power grabs alongside Whitlam (1975) and Lang (1932). He’s simply doing what he was elected to do. The Senate exists as a house of review. Constitutionally it should reflect the views of the voters within each state. Muir has often been an impressive voice for the Victorian people.
According to electoral guru Anthony Green, if these changes had been enacted in 2013, current senators Ricky Muir, Jacqui Lambie, Bob Day, Sarah Hanson-Young and Wayne Dropulich would not have been elected.
A double dissolution might change the outcome of a particular vote but it will still only deliver a bunch of politicians into the Canberra bubble. Opening up the entire Senate for re-election halves the number of votes required to put each bum on a seat. So it’s easier to get Non-Big-Party people elected as long as they have widespread support. Why settle for one Nick Xenophon when you can have two?
Morally, it is now much easier to vote for good folk like Ricky, Nick or Jacqui and still maintain our old loyalties. We, the people, have control over the preference flow. We can put Ricky at 1 or 2 and put Team Red/Blue/Green/Brown at 3 or 5 or 12 and not worry that our vote will unwittingly elect the unacceptable.
And this is where the issue of who to vote for arises. We have to choose 12. Sure, the top order usually merits retention but lower-order Big-Party folk are ... well, on the dairy we kept a herd of “seconds”.
Regular readers of Hansard will be aware that Senator Muir was one of the few to ask sensible questions in the face of incessant bullying during the electoral reform debate. He has supported a lifetime health care card for people with type one diabetes and rode in the Gippsland Black Dog Ride the weekend after the marathon sitting.
Compare that with this excerpt from the maiden speech of Senator Patterson – appointed to fill a casual vacancy by “a democratic decision of 403 Liberal Party members who participated in the process yesterday” (his words last week): "... I propose that instead of one national curriculum, the federal government should license multiple competing private curricula with a set of basic minimum standards. This will not only allow schools and parents to select a curriculum which reflects their values but would also open up the school system to much more diversity.”
Our children's education a Darwinian experiment. That's an odd sort of Liberalism. A second’s thoughts? In the week they “gutted” (their word, not mine) the Safer Schools program.
And what will constitute a formal vote? The new Senate ballot paper will require a minimum of six numbers above the line or 12 below the line in sequence, starting with a “1”. A large number of formal votes will exhaust before electing a candidate. It will be hard to argue the validity of senators selected by preferences 7, 8, 9, if there is a smaller than usual pool of such preferences.
Do we need to improve the quality of politicians who brought us pyjama party government? The only certain way to achieve this is to participate in the development of policy and preselection of candidates.
If the race to the bottom continues, elections will become mere raffles as real people lose their voice. Join the Big Party you think reflects your values and own it. They all have active branches in Bass Coast and South Gippsland. To end the age of entitlement in Canberra we all need to actively participate in politics.
That will take time. For the next several weeks we can contemplate reasons to give Senator Muir what he merits: three more years. Put Ricky first and a politician second.
Imagine what an elected head of state of an Australian republic would look like right now. God save the Queen.
Geoff Ellis is a member of the ALP's Gippsland branch.
April 1, 2016
An inarguable point was made in regards to an individual member's inability to influence the party of their choice. Decreasing membership numbers only make it easier for "the machine" to control outcomes.
In answer to the question of "where to now" for the Put Ricky 1st campaign: What about a Facebook page like the cool kids have. Ricky shouldn't bother with twitter, you reach a lot of people but only for a moment till the next twit arrives.
Then why not get him into a red two door car, preferably an older model with baby boomer appeall and get pics onto the cover of every motoring magazine distributed in Victoria. Every newsagent and supermarket magazine rack is a billboard. A "Ricky1" number plate could be probably be found.
After that ? Greg Hunt walks the length and breadth of Flinders to raise money for charity and meet his constituency. His performance as Minister for Environment speaks for itself but he still gets elected. Chris Buckingham and his caravan are clocking up the kms in McMillan to good effect. Ricky represents all of Victoria; that's a lot of wide open road ... he only needs 7.5% of us to put him first or second or third.
Geoff Ellis, Wattle Bank
March 27, 2016
Thanks Geoff Ellis. I agree – a voter backlash is in order and Ricky Muir has earned respect. From a startled rabbit he has shown a maturity and independence that we do not see from the big party people. The old Senate election system delivered an odd lot but relatively free thinkers that saved us from the worst of the Abbott excess. It sure beats voting for a lawyer in a dark suit who has probably never worked outside the political system or large party related law firm, the type the major parties throw up all the time.
I think you nail it when you point out the second stringers in the parliament and the Senate. They are the party drones that present reliable numbers and contribute nothing to the nation. We are better off with the real people we have now.
I would like to think that, as you say, you could join the big party and own it but the machines are too strong for that. They do not fail to disappoint. On this occasion Labor opposed the voting changes but only because they favour the Liberals – if Labor was in power, the roles would simply reverse.
You mention Xenophon – he would not have been elected the first time with the new system. His role is disappointing in that he is prepared to ride the advantage of being well known now. As for the Greens, well, what can you say?
Michael Whelan, Cowes
March 27, 2016
Geoff makes some good points about Ricky Muir. He is both a nobody and an everyman. The ridicule initially heaped on him has turned to widespread respect.
It makes me wonder if the Senate shouldn’t be selected by means of a raffle among the 20 million other nobodies who make up Australia.
In The Conversation, Professor John Dryzek from the University of Canberra recently wrote of Ricky Muir “It is his very ordinariness that makes him such a good senator.” (The proposed Senate voting change will hurt Australian democracy.)
He contends that while the role of the House of Representatives is to formulate and justify policy (thus requiring a high level of political skill), the role of the Senate is to listen to the arguments on both side and reflect on them with an open mind.
While party politici
ans are good at justifying, most have no ability to reflect.
The changes to Senate voting, Professor John Dryzek wrote, “will ensure the Senate is composed almost exclusively of career politicians, who are unrepresentative in the sense that they do not reflect the social composition of Australia, and also ensure that one of the last vestiges of reflection is purged from our parliamentary system.”
So Geoff, how do we promote a “Put Ricky First” campaign?
Catherine Watson, Wonthaggi