By Malcolm Mackerras

Towards the tail end of each parliamentary term I work out my favourite politician of that term. For the 37th Parliament (1993-96) it was John Howard (Liberal, NSW), the 38th Kim Beazley (Labor, WA), 39th Tony Abbott (Liberal, NSW), 40th Senator Brian Harradine (Independent, Tasmania), 41st Julia Gillard (Labor, Victoria), 42nd Daryl Melham (Labor, NSW) and for the 43rd Parliament it was Bob Katter (Independent, Queensland). Of those names only Katter and Abbott remain in their seats and I predict Katter will retire this year and Abbott in 2019, perhaps sooner.

The present is known as the 44th Parliament. It was elected on 7 September 2013 and will, I predict, be dissolved in August for a spring House of Representatives plus half-Senate election., The nomination as my favourite politician in the 44th is Senator Bob Day (Family First, South Australia) and I make my case below. Before I do, however, I hope readers will forgive me if I say that there is one thing I have in common with him which makes me proud of both of us. We have in common the letters AO after our names – though with very different citations. He was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia three years ahead of me and his citation reads: “For service to the housing industry in Australia as a major contributor to policy development and member services issues, to social welfare, particularly through the ‘Housing the Homeless’ program, and to the community.” Our AO was each made public on Australia Day, his in 2003 and mine in 2006. 

Bob would have no objection to anyone who described him as a “conservative”. Clearly he is that, on almost every score. By contrast I do not describe myself that way – except on one scale. When it comes to the Australian Constitution I definitely am a conservative. That is how I first met Bob. In 1999 I was asked by the Samuel Griffith Society to give a paper on “Thoughts on the 1949 Reform of the Senate” and I decided to become a member of this society whose motto is “Upholding the Australian Constitution”. Bob and his assistant, Joy Montgomery, have been the organisers of Samuel Griffith Society meetings ever since and that is how I have met them – until he became a senator in July 2014, that is. Among his many other achievements he is an accomplished musician as well as having an unrestricted pilot’s licence.

Being a conservative it is not surprising that Bob would first join the Liberal Party, of which he was an active member from 1987 until 2008. He was the unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Makin in 2007 and I have no difficulty in arguing that his was the best performance by a South Australian Liberal candidate that year. He lost the seat but his performance was very creditable. I have no difficulty in proving that statistically. In July 2008, following the resignation of Alexander Downer he sought pre-selection for the federal seat of Mayo and was endorsed by former federal treasurer, Peter Costello. However, the selection committee passed him over in favour of that fool Jamie Briggs who enjoyed what I describe as a “humiliating win” at the by-election in September 2008. Being a blue-ribbon Liberal seat Briggs has held Mayo ever since but faces possible defeat at the hands of the Xenophon candidate this year.

Following that pre-selection Day resigned his membership of the Liberal Party citing “manipulation of the pre-selection process to ensure the pre-selection of one particular candidate” over the other candidates. His allegations were backed up by other Liberal Party members. Immediately after his resignation Bob was invited to become a member of the Family First Party for which he stood at that Mayo by-election. That is how he later became a senator with a term beginning on 1 July 2014 and expiring on 30 June 2020.

Last year I decided to pick a fight with Senator Nick Xenophon who has been squealing ever since the last election about the “injustice” that Bob Day and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young should win seats that Xenophon asserts should have been won by Stirling Griff (Xenophon’s second candidate) and then Labor Senator Don Farrell. It is true Bob received only 38,909 primary votes and that was 3.75 per cent of the South Australian primary Senate formal vote of 1,038,434. However, a psephologist like me has no difficulty in proving that 3.75 % of the vote is actually a respectable share. His position is not comparable to the unique case of Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party whose share of the Victorian vote was only 0.51%.

So why do I admire Bob? A simple answer really: I have always believed that the Turnbull-Greens-Xenophon Senate “reform” is unconstitutional and that it is the duty of the High Court to strike it down. I lack the space here to explain why. If any reader wants details just write to me by e-mail. I tried to persuade every cross-bench senator to take up the challenge to the new “law” which I denounced in my last contribution to this website. Only Bob had the gumption to take me up.

My prediction above (no double dissolution) and my assertion that Bob has a six-year term may yet be falsified. It depends on whether I am correct in predicting the Senate will pass legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. I would say this, however. I predict Muir and Dio Wang (Palmer United Party, WA) will vote for the ABCC bill to avoid a double dissolution and their own premature defeat. That will not be the case with Bob. He has always been in favour of it and his case proves the political benefit of the virtue of consistency based on principle.

In the unlikely event there is a double dissolution and he is defeated Bob could always go back to the building industry where he has made his name. His favourite photograph of “Bob the Builder” appeared recently on the front page of “The Australian” (30 March) in connection with his efforts to persuade the Senate to pass the ABCC bill. He was shown as a bearded young man on an Adelaide site in 1981. So his various efforts are getting him some good publicity. I am only too happy to help him with that by assisting his case in the High Court where the full bench will hear the challenge in Canberra on Monday 2 May and Tuesday 3 May.