July 10, 2013

Horse 1510 - A Lot Can Happen In 30 Days

As announced on the 8th of July, a plan for the Labor Party which has been devised is to change the rules which determine both how someone becomes leader of the party and the mechanism by which they're elected.
As I understand it. When a spill is announced, the suggestion is for a thirty day period of "campaigning" and then the caucus and the membership, will each get a vote; then if there is a 75% majority, a new leader will be installed.
I can see several problems with such a scheme, the most two obvious being the logistics and the time-frame.

Firstly, how do they suggest that the leadership election would take place? Would it take place at branch meetings who would then tally all votes, and then allot the membership's vote on what basis? Would it be like the election of directors at a corporation, with postal votes and proxies? What of the public's vote, would they be represented on a proportional basis or a winner takes all scenario?
Does the weight of the caucus vary depending on the numbers of parliamentarians or not? What if there was a wipeout on the floor of the house; resulting in only a few handfuls of MPs? Would a 53 member caucus be equal in weighting against the branch membership in the same way that the current 102 caucus is, and what of a 130 member caucus?

The other question comes about as a result of the fact that the term of office is not fixed in Australia (which I think is an excellent thing). The thirty day timeframe seems to me to invite danger. Just because the Labor Party is having an internal election, is no guarantee that the Liberal Party would respect this; in fact there it can be almost guaranteed that they would not.
The precedent for such a thing was in 1983 when Malcolm Fraser called an election, 30 days after there was a bust-up in Labor ranks and he hoped to capitalise on this. At the time that the election was announced on February 2, Labor literally had no leader. Bob Hawke was hurriedly installed as leader and subsequently won the election on March 5 that the former leader Bill Hayden said that even a "drover's dog" could win.
Suppose for instance that there was such a system in place as suggested by Rudd, at that time. Would Labor have won the election with literally no leader at all? At the very earliest, the leader of the Labour Party would have been announced on March 6 which was the date after the general election. On that basis, wouldn't it also make good sense as the Liberal Party in Government to call an election every single time that there was a leadership ballot on the other side of the chamber?

I note this morning (9th July at time of writing) that all of the daily newspapers on sale in Sydney (The SMH, The Tele, The Oz and The Fin) all speak about Labor's "faceless men" as though the party is an evil organisation and that the equally anonymous ranks of the Liberal Party are somehow more noble of faculty and infinite of mind; conveniently ignoring the fact that that is precisely how Abbott himself came to be leader of the Liberal Party.
Currently the "faceless men" who actually vote for the leader of the party on the floor are the members on the floor. Every single person in the caucus from both the House of Representatives and the Senate is an elected member of parliament. Faceless? Possibly not.

I think that this all comes about because of either a political illiteracy by the general public and/or a deliberate attempt to destabilise the Labor Party by the Liberals, with the media tagging along because it helps to sell advert space.
For some reason the general public have this broad idea that they have the choice to vote for the Prime Minister; perhaps in the light of looking overseas and seeing how they do it in the United States. For a start, the position of the Prime Minister isn't even mentioned in the Constitution. Admittedly sections 62 and 64 provide that there shall be a Federal Executive Council who reports to the Governor-General and that it shall be made up of the Ministers of State but there is no mention of a "Prime" Minister; there certainly are no provisions whatsoever regarding the Leader of the Opposition. Actually to be totally blunt, the Constitution doesn't even care what party the members or Ministers are from. There is even nothing to prevent a Prime Minister being an independent member, running in coalition with a major party. 

To some degree, Labor itself doesn't really know what its supposed to be anymore because union membership which used to drive the party, isn't really relevant to the bulk of Australians any more.
I also think that the Labor Party sort of likes the pomp, circumstance, hype and ceremony of an American presidential campaign; certainly Kevin 07 was such a thing and from that time people in this country even started talking about "Brand Labor". Bear in mind though that:
Watson - resigned in '04
Fisher - was pushed out by the parliament in '13
Fisher - resigned in '15
Hughes - led three parties and eventually merged with the CLP
Scullin - lost a vote of no confidence in '29
Forde - was knifed in '45
Whitlam - was removed by the Governor-General in '75
Hawke - was knifed in '91
Rudd - was knifed in '10
Gillard - was knifed in '13
That's ten out of fifteen of the Australian Labor Prime Ministerships which ended in murky waters. Even in the so-called "good old days" before intense media scrutiny, Prime Ministers were knifed, deposed, forced out of their own party etc etc etc.

I guess that because both Labor and the Coalition are now so close in terms of actual enacted policy, they have to play politics on the basis of a personality cult, simply to differentiate themselves. I don't think for a second though, that simply changing the method and basis upon which the leader of the party is selected is going to instantly bring about a new wave of stability. Politics itself is too cut and thrust for that.

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