October 16, 2013

Horse 1554 - I Don't Believe In Mandates

“We are confident that the public pressure on the Labor Party will be such that they will not defy the mandate of the Australian people”
- PM Tony Abbott, 15th Oct 2013

"He has a mandate to form a government of Australia, but there is nothing in Australian democracy that says that Labor has to be a rubber stamp for every Coalition proposition,"
- Bill Shorten, 15th Oct 2013

Isn't it funny now that Tony Abbott has become Prime Minister, he's started to use words that his old master John Howard taught him, like "mandate". 
A mandate according to the OED3 is "the authority which is presumed to given by electors to a government". I like that word "presumed" because is suggests that something is to be taken for granted. That might be fine and dandy for an incoming government but it overlooks the rather obvious label which is given to the other side of politics, the "Opposition".

The big problem that I have with any declared mandate in politics is the presumption that such authority even exists. Governments are elected not on specific policies but usually an entire raft of them. The electorate at no stage gets to decide or suggest which policies that they agree with or find repugnant. I think that it is incredibly cruel of any incoming government to just assume that they have the tacit support of the electorate for their polices.

If you just look at first preferences, then the current government only gained 45.55% of the popular vote (and if you then include informal voting, this drops to 42.51%). Does this mean to suggest that more than half the population don't give their tacit support to the government and its policies? If so, how then can any government simply assume that it has a mandate to necessarily do anything? 
It could have merely been that the previous government was sufficiently loathed enough to collectively dump it from office. 

"The danger as we go into the last hours of this campaign is people will dilly dally with independents and minor party candidates. Sure they might be fun, sure they might be different but they will damage our country and damage our government if they play the same role in the next parliament that they played in the last parliament"
- Tony Abbott, 7th Sep 2013

What role might that be? Is the role of checking legislation in the Senate, that is the Senate doing its job as a house of review, a bad thing? Should the Senate simply stand aside then at let legislation pass like it did the last time that a party had had control of both Houses of Parliament? That resulted in things like the sale of Telstra (which we can never get back now - gee, thanks for selling us all down the river and pushing our heads under until we drown) and things like Work Choices.

Would Mr Abbott have said just three years ago that “I am confident that the public pressure on the Liberal Party will be such that they will not defy the mandate of the Australian people”?
If he was to apply his own logic to his own time as Opposition Leader, does he mean to suggest that he and his party absolutely should not have opposed the introduction of a Carbon Tax? That's all a bit weird considering that it was him who initially proposed the policy in the first place.

- Tony Abbott, disagreeing with Tony Abbott

I don't think that a normal incoming government necessarily has a "mandate" on anything. It is incumbent on them to negotiate on legislation with the parliament; whatever its composition. In fact I would argue that any Opposition that doesn't oppose legislation and lays down and dies, is failing at its job.
The exception to this though is the first sitting of parliament following a double dissolution. Such a thing still isn't necessarily a mandate either but should a piece of legislation pass a joint sitting of parliament then I suppose that the mechanics have pretty much the same outcome.

Mr Shorten's comment that the Prime Minister "has a mandate to form a government of Australia" and that there is nothing in Australian democracy that says that an Opposition has to be a rubber stamp for every Government proposition, is a more general comment that applies to all incoming Governments and Oppositions. Mr Abbott would have agreed with that three years ago and the only reason that he suggesting otherwise now, is that his new postal address 1 National Circuit Barton - The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.


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