By Malcolm Mackerras

In this, my last article on the Switzer Daily website for the year, I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a bright, happy, prosperous and successful 2016. 

I also want to tie up some loose ends of my commentaries during 2015, beginning with the public conversation I had with Peter on the night of 25 November. In that conversation I gave Trent Zimmerman, the Liberal candidate, a 95 per cent chance to win North Sydney and that turned out to be a good assessment. 

Where I fell down was in not being emphatic enough about Clive Palmer. I offered the guess that he would lose his Queensland seat of Fairfax in 2016. I should have expressed it more strongly. Palmer WILL BE DEFEATED in Fairfax next year and his party will win no seats in either federal chamber. His party was, as I pointed out correctly, the fad of the years 2013 and 2014. It is now finished. If anyone doubted that obvious truth the North Sydney by-election should have put that doubt to rest. The Palmer United Party candidate, Robert James Marks, received a miserable 341 votes (0.46 per cent), placing him last in the 13-candidate-contest.

When Peter asked me about the leadership of Bill Shorten we both drew attention to the rules inserted at the suggestion of Kevin Rudd to stop the Labor caucus from removing a leader too easily. That makes it very, very, unlikely that the Labor caucus will remove Shorten before he loses the 2016 election. However, there is another factor at play. No one else wants the job. Thus Anthony Albanese, the likely next leader, would prefer to wait, thinking to himself: “Let Shorten lose in 2016 and I can win in 2019.” Neither Albanese nor anyone else wants to bear the burden of the setback caused by the near-guaranteed loss of 2016.

Throughout this term I have always insisted that the Parliament will run to its full term and I continue to insist on that. There is no attraction for Malcolm Turnbull to go early and every reason why he should stick to his statement that the election will be for the House of Representatives and half the Senate in September-October next year. Inferior journalists with nothing better to write about keep telling us of the possibility of an early election. 

Forget it. They should find something better to write about. For my detailed reasoning see my article, “There will be no early election.” It is true that Tony Abbott was prime minister at the time of that article. The reality is, however, that the change in that office has not affected the certainty that the 44th Parliament will run a full term.

As to the political morality of the early election idea I think it would be grossly irresponsible for Turnbull to call a double dissolution election. I say that for every reason but let me cite just one. There MUST BE a reform of the Senate electoral system in place next year. It is unthinkable that any responsible government would go to the polls leaving in place the present outrageous below-the-line option on the Senate ballot paper. Bearing in mind the difficulty of doing reform an early election is out of the question. 

An interesting controversy has arisen recently regarding the future of Ian Macfarlane. Essentially what we have seen is a struggle between the Liberal Party and The Nationals. The Liberal Party has won that struggle hands down. What the outcome has done is ensure that the Queensland Liberal National Party protects its position as a division of the Liberal Party of Australia. Had a member of the House of Representatives elected on the presumption of being a Liberal been allowed to switch to The Nationals there would have been hell to pay. It would have inflicted huge damage on Malcolm Turnbull. Consequently, he had to move heaven and earth to stop Macfarlane from succeeding. In that Turnbull triumphed. However, Liberals would be very wise not to gloat at the expense of The Nationals. So far they have shown that wisdom and I believe they will continue to be wise in that regard.

I believe Macfarlane will serve out his term and retire in September 2016. In that circumstance it does not really matter whether he is in the Liberal caucus, whether in that of The Nationals or whether he becomes an independent supporting the Coalition government. He will not be treated as the pariah which was the treatment meted out to Peter Slipper. While I agree with the Liberal Party on this there is one point about political morality they make with which I disagree. As far as the general public was concerned Macfarlane was elected as a member who would support the incoming Coalition government. I do not think the public really cares, or even has the right to care, whether his support for that government comes from being a Liberal, a National or an independent. That said Turnbull should not and, I believe, will not give a fourth cabinet place to The Nationals. In any event it is worth noting that only one of their three cabinet ministers, Barnaby Joyce, was actually elected for The Nationals. Warren Truss was elected for the Queensland Liberal National Party while Nigel Scullion was elected for the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party. Once in Canberra Truss and Scullion chose to join the party room of The Nationals.

Finally, another prediction which is important to me personally. There WILL BE a reform of the Senate electoral system next year. It will take the form I discussed in my articles on this website earlier this year. They are “Why ABC’s Antony Green is wrong about the ‘feral’ Senate”, posted on 27 April and “A proper reform of the electoral system” posted on 9 June. What it will do for the 2016 election is bring the Senate system into alignment, in principle, with the Victorian Legislative Council system. During the next federal parliamentary term debate could then be had about a permanent reform which will bring the system back to the Australian Constitution which commands in section 7 that senators be “directly chosen by the people.” At present senators are clearly NOT directly elected. They should be. With any luck Antony Green (who is very influential) will give up his support for his present outlandish party-list proposal and, over time, we can get together to promote a decent long-term reform.