Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Living in Interesting Times - Guest Post

Gillard and Abbott
photo AP

Apogee, one of my very loyal readers, lived in Australia for many years and was there during the the problems of the 1970s. Since his return home he continues to keep an occasional eye on political matters and the following are his thoughts on the present situation:

Here you have a political time bomb, possibly atomic in nature. Australians were extremely unhappy the way the Whitlam episode was handled. Most saw it as a stitch-up by the Governor General and the Liberal-Country party and it was brought about by the senate voting down a budget.

The Liberal-Country party coalition had the numbers in the senate. Imagine the Lords with a Tory majority blocking a Labour budget here - but then the Lords cannot do that anymore, can they.

In case of any doubt, the Liberal party, at the time, was worse than the Tories here and the country party, (now calling themselves the National party), was to the political right of Gengis Kahn. It used to be said the Country party did not stand for one-man-one-vote but one-sheep-one-vote. It was so gerrymandered that a city seat could have an electorate of 67,000 and a country party seat as little as 5,000. The Liberals needed the country party to stay in power, so the Country party seemed to get anything they wanted. The Labour party of the time did have its problems and obviously a lot of Liberal-Country party supporters were happy with the result in their favour, but most people were unhappy with the way it was done.

It worries me that I can see the same thing happening in this country. If the Governor General intervenes again, like Sit John Kerr did the last time, the next Labour government will take Australia out of the Commonwealth. People here do not realise just how much hate there was for England interfering in an Australian matter in the 1970s and David Cameron had better be very careful or he will have a full constitutional crisis on his hands.

I should point out that the term 'Pommy bas***d' is not a term of endearment, although in earlier times the greeting of 'how ya goin, ya old bas***d', said in a friendly manner to a fellow Aussie friend (and in an Aussie accent) was. I know it is 35 years on but with the immigrant problems they have had, as we have, it is going to be an interesting time.

I will watch these 'interesting times' attentively.



Dioclese said...

I have an Australian friend who has reckoned for some time that Australia will become a republic but that they have too much respect for the Queen to do it before she dies.
It will be interesting to see if he is right. I don't want old jug ears for my King either...

Edward Spalton said...

The Australian Senate in 1975 was a body with democratic legitimacy and most of the powers which the House of Lords had before the Parliament Act of 1911. It used those powers, conferred by the constitution, to refuse a government supply Bill. Instead of negotiating an acceptable Bill the government tried to ignore the constitution. It ran out of money because it could not force the vote in the Senate. The Governor General intervened to dissolve both Houses and call a general election to settle the matter. Whilst this stirred up a great deal of controversy, it was an all-Australian affair with no instructions from Britain.

Many of our troubles in Britain arise because there is no effective counterbalance to the Commons. Whilst this is theoretically democratic, in practice it transfers a huge amount of Crown prerogative power and patronage into the pocket of the Prime Minister, thus weakening the Commons as a House against the party machine.

There are proposals for an elected upper chamber here too. Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour) asked what extra powers a democratically legitimate upper chamber should have to make an effective bicameral system. The government said none. So what is the point of conferring democratic legitimacy on an upper house whilst giving it no increased power against an over-mighty Commons?

The American system balances the House of Representatives against a Senate which is based on states' representation, not on head count of electors in states. Rhode Island gets two senators the same as California. This is a quite deliberate check and balance.

One of the American Founding Fathers expressed it well when he argued against too "democratical" a settlement
"else we will but have exchanged King George for King Numbers". The US constitution placed a deliberate obstacle in the way of the tyranny of an arrogant majority. So they did not see it in Cavaliers v Roundheads terms.

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Apogee said...

Hi Edward.
I do not disagree with your statement of the legal and constitutional set-up of the Australian senate.It is precisely because of this set-up that what was basically a coup was possible.The only way to force a government's resignation is to defeat them in a supply bill, or if you like , a money bill, a budget. It just so happened that the numbers in the Senate meant the opposition had the numbers, it was well known for weeks,for months even, they were just waiting for the chance, right or wrong to bring down the Government,on any money bill.And it just happened to be the budget.
All Australia knew the wires were running hot between Canberra and London,the whole time it was going on, to say it was a wholly Australian thing is something that depends on semantics and definitions, all Australia knew from reports that London was intimately involved in the goings on, constitutionally they had to be, and most Australians believed London said what happened.
The Elected government had a majority in the House of Representatives.If I recall correctly they lost it in the senate because of a by-election.The opposition saw a chance and took it. But while you have written as history, ordinary Australians saw the dirty tricks , the fiddles and all the other nasty things politicians do, and its all happening again, horse traders the lot of them.

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