By Malcolm Mackerras
Today I make reference to three subjects. First, in mid-October we shall know the decisions of the High Court in relation to the citizenship (and therefore eligibility) of various members of the federal parliament. I do not pretend to have any idea what those decisions will be but I do wish to make some observations about Barnaby Joyce. The first is that if he had asked me for advice I would have advised him to resign his seat of New England on Monday 14 August. That was the day when New Zealand prime minister Bill English announced that Joyce was/is a citizen of New Zealand. In matters of this kind it is usually better to take the initiative. Joyce would surely have won the by-election which could have been held quite quickly. That would have prevented the nonsense which is going on in federal parliament at present.
However, having not done that, he must now wait for the High Court judges to exercise their power over him and the others. He can thank his lucky stars (and his own good judgment) that he is a member of the House of Representatives. He would remember that he began his political career as a senator. Indeed he took his Senate seat (representing Queensland) on the same day as Fiona Nash took her seat as a New South Wales senator. The date was 1 July 2005, both Nationals having been elected in October 2004.
Today the positions of Joyce and Nash stand in great contrast. If Nash is ruled not eligible to stand for federal parliament her seat is confiscated from her and given to a Liberal Party candidate, Holly Hughes, whose term would last until 30 June 2022. That is because Nash was one of the top six elected for NSW in July 2016 and, therefore, is a long-term senator. The point is that with senators the voters are given no right to reverse the decision of the Court. Their seats are confiscated by the Court and that is that.
A contrasting situation arises with members of the House of Representatives. If Joyce has his seat confiscated he can appeal to the voters of New England who, surely, would re-elect him. In that regard the situation of Joyce has the precedents of Phil Cleary in 1993 and Jackie Kelly in 1996. Their electorates of Wills and Lindsay, respectively, did indeed reverse the judgment of the Court because both Cleary and Kelly could get rid of the impediment which the judgment of the Court discovered. Meanwhile Joyce, having made his choice, must stick by it and hope the sittings of parliament help to discredit Labor. There are signs of that happening.
Second, I predict that a Queensland state election will be held on Saturday 28 October. It will be on new electoral boundaries, there being 93 seats in the next Legislative Assembly compared with 89 at present. The result of the last election (held on 31 January 2015) was 44 for Labor, 42 for the Liberal National Party, two for Katter’s Australian Party and one Independent. My prediction for this election is 50 for Labor, 36 for the LNP, four for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, two for KAP (Hill and Traeger) and one for The Greens (South Brisbane).
The third subject I raise today covers my personal obsession – Senate reform. There has been a development in this area since I last wrote about it and, on balance, the development is welcome. There has been a reform of the voting system for the Legislative Council of South Australia. The important point is that the SA parliament rejected the view of the Liberal Party that the SA Legislative Council system should copy the (new) Senate system. That is a good thing – especially given that the view rejected by the SA Parliament was heavily promoted by Nick Xenophon. There was another plus in this development. It cost Xenophon his only supporter in the state parliament, a certain John Darley, who continues in the Legislative Council as an independent until 2022. In my opinion any development which weakens Xenophon’s influence is a good thing. While there is still a long way to go before we get a decent Senate voting system I record this SA development as a very small step in the right direction.
This will probably be my last contribution to Switzer for two months. The reason for my absence is that my wife and I have a son Patrick who is to marry his English lady friend later this month in the Cotswolds and we are not merely going to the wedding. We are taking a British Isles holiday while we are at it. Readers may, therefore, expect my next contribution to be on about 7 November.
(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.