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How big a problem is the Senate?

A mantra of the last few days' coverage has been that many pieces of legislation will have to wait until the Senate changes - but just how big a problem is really there? Of course, in the event that Gary Humphries' current 1.022 provisional quota turns out to be 0.97 (1), then the problem maybe isn't there at all (and Kevin et al should be bowing to Margo every time she walks past), but let's look at the more likely outcome.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that the Democrats, Greens and Family First can be persuaded onside, either because they're in favour of change anyway, or because the Government has a demonstrable mandate for change. So we are looking at a possible 39:37 vote against Kyoto, WorkChoices or whatever.

So, the question resolves down to this: can Labor peel off one or two Liberal or National Senators to vote with them on each significant issue? That nice Mr Joyce is an obvious candidate, at least on WorkChoices, and on each issue there are others who can be identified as having sympathetic views.

The commentariat seem to me to have missed one really important factor here: the Coalition no longer has their hands on the patronage and pork machines to buy or reward their support - Labor has. Particularly for a retiring Senator (2), how would he/she feel about going out with a smallish black mark for having voted for something that was going to be passed anyway in a few months time versus getting some favourite project up or going off in July to some nicer place than might otherwise have been the case ...

Anyone with more detailed knowledge than me prepared to finger the likely peelers on specific issues?


(1) has to fall that far, assuming that the LDP 0.007 and Shooters/Fishers' 0.0175 go to GH, and therefore possibly get him to quota before the rest get redistributed to Kerry Tucker.

(2) the Nat/Lib retirers are Sandy Macdonald, Rod Kemp, Kay Patterson, Ross Lightfoot, John Watson.


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I suppose it is possible that the Senate could be a problem for Rudd PM.  However, it is also clear that if the Liberals/Nationals blocked changes to IR legislation in the Senate, it would be, in the finest traditions of Sir Humphrey, a very courageous decision.  Currently the LNP have 39 Senators, probably 37 after 1 July.  A double dissolution election would in all likelihood reduce this to 33 at best on the weekend figures - a possible 6 in WA, 5 in each other state, and one in each territory.  And with the current mood of the electorate, they might do much worse.  Starting from that base, it would probably take the LNP a number of electoral cycles to get their Senate figures back up to post 1 July figures.

Of course, the opposing argument is that there is no point having numbers in the Senate if you do not use them.  But in reality, they want to preserve as many numbers as they can for when they are back in power, rather than using them now. 

Besides, an obstructionist Senate, while it is often good for the country from a public policy point of view, gives the Government of the day an easy excuse for not fulfilling its program.  From a political viewpoint, I expect firstly that the ALP would regard as priceless publicity being able to paint the LNP as trying to hang on to its voted out policies, and secondly that the LNP should thank the Senate pre 2004 for saving it from itself.

Senate easier if Libs abandon WorkChoices

SMH report:

SENIOR Liberals including the leadership contenders Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott say the party should dump Work Choices, the policy that cost them so dearly under John Howard's reign.

W.A example

In 2005 in Western Australia the then Gallop government who wanted to get its One Vote One Value legislation through a hostile upper house found a Liberal MLC who lost out on pre-selection to support them after stitching up a deal with the Greens. We now have a much fairer electoral setup here in the West.

Senate and the 1970s

The Senate could be a real problem for Rudd. It's unlikely Green support will be enough after July 1 2008 and the Coalition has a majority until then. The Greens have won a seat from Labor as well as undermining the Liberals and helping Labor in some states.

We may end up with an ALP govt coming in at the end of a boom with a majority of as little as 12 in the lower house, a difficult and obstructive Senate and of course a governor-general who greeted Howard in 2004 with the congratulations on his "well deserved win". Anyone ready for Skyhooks and bodyshirts again?

That crafty little preference deal in 2004 with Family First by the right wing of the Victorian ALP may now come back to haunt the Rudd government. That seat could easily have been a Green senator, the very talented David Risstrom from memory, not a DLP style whacko. Then again the DLP and Vic Lab right can be hard to tell apart.

I think Kyoto and even Workchoices will get through because the mandate is strong and the Coalition is still shellshocked. It also needs to reposition re Kyoto. Later though things may get tougher.

However let's at least welcome the death of a rubber stamp Senate and give at two cheers for some accountability coming back into the system.  

And also a moments silence for the Australian Democrats, their defeat in the end I think providing proof that in contemporary politics hard policy work and conscientious attention are nowhere near as important as leadership and celebrity.

Margo: Dems  end a tragedy,I agree. The reasons are complex - in the end a battle of female archetypes. Death. automatic. See

Female archetypes?

Crytpic Margo but intriguing, please explain. Jung Natasha and Cheryl? 

Margo: Female energy, Tony. Gender irrelevant.

Changes in the Senate

It was a great day for Australian democracy on Saturday. It is really pleasing that the Liberals no longer have the balance of power in the Senate.

The Senate was abused by the Howard Government and virtually became a meaningless institution. "Work Choices" was an early piece of legislation that had been rubber stamped by the Senate, the irony is that it came back to bite them. It may not have happened if the legislation had been scrutinised better in the Senate.

Hopefully, now the Senate will function as it did in the past. 

Thanks to Margo, and team, for having made this space available to those interested in politics and the development of our Nation.

Admin clean-out

Apology (not Sorry, though) for hijacking the thread, David, but there is a bit of urgent business before worrying about the Senate. I believe Rudd has suggested he will not be taking the axe to Departmental heads, but there is one he should get rid of today, though he will wait until his Ministers are installed. It's probably a little indelicate to name her, but the new Minister for Health should book an early appointment with Peter Shergold to discuss another transition. Preferably, out on her ear.

Same tune on the Xenophon?

Nick Xenophon might have balance of power?  Methinks the SA stunt jockey might have some very quick growing up to do.  Let's put it this way- as  a member of a family running one of the remaining dozen-odd non-pokie pubs left in Adelaide, we've had surprisingly few  interactions with him.  He was making noises a couple of elections back that I should be his running-mate, representing Pubs Without Polkies.  When I asked his office for some  stats  I was given everything but the number of pokieless pubs.  They were easy to count on his website... I lost interest.

 Xenopohon won two elections, and created his media profile, on a single-issue platform, and achieved bugger-all regarding that issue.  He has, however, pulled of the masterful trick of abandoning his voters after eighteen months while still keeping their support.  Whether his knack for photo-ops belies the ability to wade through the negotiations of a balance of power situation in a manner that's more than self-benefical remains to be seen.

As far as Senators for South Australia go,  I would have loved to have seen Natasha Stott-Despoja in Nick's situation.  Then I could have some faith.

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