Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Why I don't vote for a Prime Minister - and never have

The Australian Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party has changed its rules so that an elected Liberal Party prime minister in their first term cannot be removed unless there is a two-thirds majority of the party room voting for a change. These rules cannot be changed unless a two-thirds majority of the party room agree.

This followed a successful move by former labor Prime Minister Rudd’s to introduce a complicated, two-stage system that meant if the ALP caucus wanted to remove a leader, it would require a minimum of 60 per cent of the caucus vote if the party was in opposition, and 75 per cent if it were in government. Further, if there was more than one candidate for the leadership, either after a spill or an election loss, a temporary leader would be installed while there would be a month-long ballot process with the caucus and the rank-and-file each having a 50 per cent say in the outcome.

Both moves make me very uncomfortable for personal, constitutional and ideological reasons.

Under the Australian Westminster system, we vote for members of Parliament. The party that can command a majority in the lower house. the House of Representatives selects the PM. Perhaps more precisely, the person who can command a majority becomes PM and holds that position only so long as he or she, so far they have all been he, continues to command a majority.

While the question of who might become PM is an important factor in guiding many people's votes, people do vote for leaders, the constitutional position remains.

In my case, I can honestly say that I have never voted to make a particular person PM, nor do I normally regard my personal vote as important in this context. There are a number of reasons for this.

To begin with, I am voting for a person to represent my electorate in the lower house as well as people in the Senate. Slightly different personal rules apply in these two cases.

Like most Australians, I do have political affiliations. I describe my ideological position as New England populist, my traditional party affiliation as Country Party. My use of the term Country Party is revealing because that party no longer exists. While I supported the moves to broaden the Country Party base, while I am sympathetic to the National Party as successor party, I feel that the National Party as presently constituted no longer represents the things I believe in in quite the same way.

If you look at the simple description in the last paragraph you will get a feel for my discomfort. I am neither Labor nor Liberal. I do not regard the Country or now National Party as simply an agrarian or rural rump of the conservative side of politics. While the coalition agreement is long standing, I see the role of the Country/National Party as to deliver for certain sections of the Australian community independent of who is in power.

The commentary around the leadership in either Labor or Liberal Parties, or the media for that matter, almost implies that those parties have some god-given rights, that the Australian people vote to determine which of their respective leaders become PM and that the party in question must respect that choice.

Leaving aside the increasing proportion of Australians who do not vote for either of the biggest parties, both Labor and Liberal got just over a third of the vote at the last Federal election, we live in a parliamentary not presidential system. Labor and Liberal may choose to bind themselves in leadership terms for political and internal reasons, but that is a party decision driven by the ways in which their own internal instability had adverse consequences. Both seek to bind parliamentarians to prevent them acting in ways which for political or policy reasons might damage executive control or the perceived chances of electoral success.

Looking back over Australian political history, party instability is not uncommon. I think that's probably the nature of the beast in circumstances where power and prestige become dominant. Looking back over Australian political history, the electorate exercises its own corrective power.

Looking back over Australian political history, the most successful governments have generally been parliamentary rather than presidential, governments in which the prime minister or premier managed to control egos while giving ministers real power within the cabinet framework.  

Concluding, I am not very fond of Mr Shorten. Part of the reasons are personal, emotional, part policy. My views may well be wrong, However, I draw comfort from the strength of some of the Labor front-benchers around the leader, people I have developed a great deal of respect for.

I would be much happier with the prospect of a Labor government if Mr Shorten could be removed should he stuff up. This is now harder to do. That does not make me a happy chappie.


Anonymous said...

Oh, my darling, I hate to be a grammar pedant, but you just can't say 'a leader (pick your party) in THEIR first term of office. Singular is singular, and plural is plural and that's IT!!!! You can easily say 'leaders, in their first term of...' or a leader in his/her first term...' If you know it's a bloke, you say 'his'; if you know it's a female person, you say 'her'. 'Their' is a very silly, and highly incorrect cop out as a supposedly singular form.
I know your spelling is a bit howsyerfather, but I had no idea that your grammar was so badly compromised. I may (note the present subjunctive) have to remove you from my Christmas card list, so heavily have I been offended!
Your's in grammarspeak,
Guess Who

2 tanners said...

'Their' has been a valid singular usage for about 500 years according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Who might be viewed as authorities.

Jim, not sure why you are so upset at two electoral systems for which you have never had, nor sought, suffrage. Despite Tony Abbott's claims to have been elected as PM "by the Australian people", and despite the increasingly presidential nature of our election campaigns, the truth is that we, the people, have no say in the Parliamentary leader unless (in the Labor case) we are either Labor Party members or in the Liberal case we are Liberal MPs. I for one think a bit a bit of stability at the top keeps leaders looking forward, rather than through the rear-vision mirror waiting for their erstwhile colleagues to stab them in the back.

Jim Belshaw said...

I would, I think, defend my usage. And my thanks to 2t for his support. But, guess who, has one studied too much latin?

I don't know that I am upset, 2t, in quite that way. I agree with you about stability at the top - I think. That's not always clear. I think that I would say in regard to the upset, that it's more annoyance as well as a concern. Just trying to clarify

Anonymous said...

Also, one usually separates one's paragraphs with a clear line. But enuff of grandma, presentation, and presumption - the expression should've followed reality; thus "in his first term" is entirely appropriate, and historically accurate.


Anonymous said...

But turning to the point of Jim's post - while he is correct in the pedantic sense (I used to studiously follow same) this misses the natural human instinct to 'shorthand' mental processes - to resolve to the murky-crystal clear - one's voting intentions.

While I certainly understand that my vote only counts in my specific electorate, I vote assuming I am not alone in hoping that my preferred party will be in the majority, and thus the leader of same will take HIS rightful place as PM.

Which leads me to the thought that, if I am to so reduce my observation - in thought or conversation - to the 'shorthand' version "I voted for X for PM" then the Nats have the worst of all problems - i.e. just who the heck is X?

Myself, I lost interest after (or, more accurately, during) the leadership of that bump in the carpet fellow, who was superceded by that red faced fellow.

The names escape me; but I believe neither is their present leader - and that is assuming they are in fact still called "The Nats"?


marcellous said...

I vote for parties rather than candidates or leaders, at least when it comes to candidates likely to be elected (as opposed to individuals I want to encourage but whom I don't expect to be elected).

That doesn't stop me disliking leaders of parties I don't support. I wonder Jim if that's why you have such a set against Mr Shorten.

Jim Belshaw said...

I don't think so, marcellous. I thought Mr Hawke would make a good PM before he was elected, for example, and got quite excited by the election of that Labor Government. I cooled on Mr Rudd almost instantly after election, but had a considerable opinion of Ms Gillard. With Mr Shorten I have become more negative with time I can't explain clearly beyond saying that I have come to view him as sanctimonious and a moral bigot on certain issues while displaying infinite flexibility on some other issues. It seems to me he moralises rather than discusses.

Well, kvd, given my attitudes you might expect my voting patterns to be different from yours and m's!