The numbers game in a hung parliament

headshots of the 5 MPs who will now decide who makes the next government of Australia - Bob Katter (IND), Rob Oakeshott (IND) Adam Bandt (GRN), Tony Windsor (IND), Andrew Wilkie (IND)So neither the ALP or the LNP can make a government in their own right. As the predictions currently stand, the LNP will need to persuade 3 MPs to join with it in government, while the ALP will need to persuade 4 MPs.

Be clear on this: any independent MPs who agree to form a government with either of the major parties do not have to agree to vote with the major party on every single issue – they only have to agree to vote with them on matters of supply. If one side can demonstrate to Governor-General Quentin Bryce that a firm commitment exists with Other MPs to vote as a majority bloc on supply, then Bryce will be able to approve the formation of a minority government. If not, then a new election for the House of Representatives (HoR) will need to be held.

So, government in the end comes down to ensuring the flow of finance for existing government departments and programs, that’s the bottom line. Thus speculations on how Independent A and Party B couldn’t possibly come to an agreement on matter X, or issue P, or policy K are all pretty much irrelevant – they don’t need to agree on any of those, simply that together they will vote supply to keep the machinery of government ticking over. Debate in the House on all those other contentious issues will then become a lot more interesting and far less predictable.

3 of the “Others” who could decide who forms a government are re-elected Independent MPs, each of whom were originally elected as Nationals but who left the party years ago out of concern that it wasn’t doing enough for rural interests, and who have all seen vastly increased majorities since they went Independent. These three – Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor – are well known around parliament and know how to play the game, and having decided to bargain collectively in a hung parliament scenario they are a formidable minority interest group.

Most of the MSM is portraying them as “conservatives” but these three men are really radicals – they see themselves as true grass-roots politicians, not at all rusted-on to the Coalition’s coat-tails. Neither major party will be able to hold on to all of its campaign platform if they end up striking a bargain with the ex-Nat Independents – there are substantial chunks that they will have to sacrifice, namely ruling out cuts to immigration (they want more workers available for rural employers), winding back free-market policies (Katter in particular believes in big government support for agrarian interests) and increasing funding for regional health services, just for starters. They especially really want the NBN in its as-planned-by-Labor form, a demand which would make it impossible for Abbott to deliver his promised cuts in public debt, because all his election spending promises rely on having most of the budgeted $42bn for the NBN available for other things instead.

The other two “Others” – Adam Bandt for the Greens and Andrew Wilkie as an independent, are less well understood in terms of how they will work with others in the Parliament. If the Coalition can come to an agreement with the 3 ex-Nat Independents, then they will probably not even need to talk to Bandt or Wilkie about what they might want. But if Labor wants to form a minority government, they need at least one of these two to agree to join with them so that they can have the numbers with the ex-Nats. 3 + 1 + 72 = 76.

It’s probably in the Greens’ interest to caucus with the ALP on matters of supply – if they can help to form a stable ALP-led government in the HoR, then they get the chance to fully exercise their BoP in the Senate. Labor can likely be reasonably confident that Bandt will swing his vote behind them in principle, but I’m sure that the Greens will be actively cutting the best bargain they can get in terms of the tensions between what they want and what the ex-Nats want.

So what about Wilkie? There’s a lot of stereotype-juggling masquerading as “analysis” going on – as a former ASIO officer he’s supposed to fall in line with military conservatism, but he was a notorious whistleblower so he’s got a maverick streak, but then again he was a Young Liberal back in the day so he must be a social conservative, but he stood for the Greens in Bennelong in 2004 so now he must be a tree-hugging radical, but he left the Greens to stand as an Independent for this last election so that takes us back to the maverick thing. I confess I find it hard to imagine him swinging behind the Coalition, but again – if the ex-Nats decide to caucus with the LNP to get to 76 votes on the floor of Parliament then Wilkie’s opinions cease to matter right now.

Conclusion: Let’s hope that Tony Abbott utterly alienates Bob Katter?

Categories: economics, environment, law & order, parties and factions

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29 replies

  1. First thing this morning, I was on the phone to my family in Lyne, telling them to write to Rob Oakeshot about how much they support the NBN.
    I think we’ll have to wait for the postal votes to be counted before we really have a good sense of which minority government is likely to be formed — if Labor manages to scrape through to 73, then they have a good chance. If the Coalition end up getting 74, however… eeep!
    I really hope that the NBN is enough to make the Independents agree to form a minority government with Labor.

    • There’s been some (mischievous?) speculation on ABC-24 about the possibility of the Independents asking for the Speaker’s position as part of any bargain.
      It would make Question Time more interesting, I think!

  2. Haha, that would be excellent.

    One thing that I do hope comes out of this is that we get some proper debating in Question Time, rather than just posturing from MPs who already have to vote along party lines.

    • A relevant comment at LP about the Westminster conventions for hung parliaments:

      Amused says: We have three hundred years of Westminster tradition that the GG needs to follow. She has no choice but to follow that. She is above such concerns as two-party preferred vote, or what Andrew Bolt thinks, or the coalition believing they have a divine right to rule (surely that’s what you mean when you write “half the population up in arms”).
      What matters is who can command the confidence of the HoR. The convention is that the GG invites the current prime minister to try and form a government. If the PM knows she is unable to or tries to and and loses a no-confidence motion, she either resigns or is sacked. Traditionally, the PM resigns and advises the GG to call on the leader of the Opposition to see if he can form a government. If he can’t she may ask the Speaker if there is anyone else she should invite to form a government. She may (at arms length) facilitate negotiations for the formation of a new government. The very last resort is another election. She will do almost anything to avoid that.
      The opinion of a few partisan hacks on Insiders cuts absolutely no ice. All that matters is who can gain the confidence of the majority of the Representatives.

      Whoever can deliver 76 votes on matters of supply gets the nod, and the incumbent PM gets first crack of the whip.

      • New article on ABC: Independents prepare for major parties’ pitch
        Although the 3 ex-Nat crossbenchers have agreed to deliberate together on approaches from the majors, apparently there’s no agreement on them necessarily acting as a bloc, thus complicating the picture further.

      • Have now read quite a few folks pointing out that the cross-benchers are finally in a position to have their moment in the sun, and the last thing they want is a Double Dissolution sometime within the next year, which is probably what would happen with a minority Abbott government once the current Senate terms are up, since once the Greens BoP is actively in place the Coalition won’t have any chance to push through its legislative agenda.
        It’s in the individual self-interest of every single cross-bencher to align with Labor if they want to serve a full term of office.

  3. I’ve met Mr Bandt and heard him speak a few times – he’s said repeatedly that if there’s a hung parliament and Tony Abbot wins it then he’ll quit.
    I mean, he won’t, but the Greens are going to be pretty keen to keep the House of Reps in ALP control.

  4. The game today/this week is certainly interesting, but aside from matters of constitutional law and Westminster convention, I really don’t know what to think. In the last 6 months, everyone whose opinion I read has made at least one very convincing but radically incorrect prediction about Australian federal politics.

    • In the last 6 months, everyone whose opinion I read has made at least one very convincing but radically incorrect prediction about Australian federal politics.

      Guilty, m’lud.

  5. Guilty, m’lud.

    I can’t see how it could have been avoided: if I were in the habit of making public predictions about party politics, I would not be saying “see? SEE? told you so” today either.

    • My big prediction that I got totally wrong was that there wouldn’t be a Lib spill moved against Turnbull last year, or at least that it wouldn’t happen exactly when it did. I’ve been a bit more cautious about predicting that “they couldn’t possibly be that silly/take that risk” since.
      Nonetheless, the various risks and silly moves that have been made since then by all sorts continue to surprise me. I’m definitely not going to start trying to predict which way Bob Katter will jump, and although the other Independents might not make such a blatant show of being mercurial and iconoclastic, they’re playing the cards close to their chests on their options here (and who can blame them?).
      The phone lines must be running hot in all directions, and one prediction I will make: I bet a few too many of the people trying to get something cobbled together are running on too little sleep and too many stay-awake pills (not just the one who made a publicity stunt of sleep deprivation). It’s these sort of situations which end up with somebody making miscalculations that end up giving too much away for too little in return – I just hope that whoever stuffs up worst isn’t one of “ours”.

  6. Turning sleep deprivation into a stunt has presumably come back to bite Abbott now: sometimes you need to be in good form the day after an election, it turns out.

  7. Great article tigtog, because it reminds us exactly how the Westminster system operates.

    • Once again, Grog’s Gamut has a great article – forget the media spin – concentrate on the difference between what we think, what we know, and what we acn prove about the possibilities arising from the hung parliament situation.
      I’m also fretting about the possibility of the Libs + Fielding playing silly buggers with blocking Supply in the Senate if an ALP-led Coalition gets up, hoping to force a DD. Methinks the only thing stopping them would be the dead cert that the electorate would punish them terribly in the subsequent polls for bringing back the spectre of 1975.

  8. I’m feeling a bit more hopeful of a Labor alliance after reading the article. (Although I don’t like the ALP, they look OK by contrast with the alternative.) Thanks for the sensible analysis.

  9. Rob Oakshott’s first parliamentary speech:
    Seems an interesting sort of character. I particularly like his comments on VAW.

  10. The ABC now has Denison listed as an ALP retain, so Wilkie looks to be out of the equation.

  11. I have mixed feelings about Wilkins too. Still undecided, but looking unlikely.
    Oakeshott’s first speech to Parliament in 2008.
    Acknowledges traditional owners, urges Parliament to adopt this practice. He’s no Katter on many issues. I’d be interested to know what he’s voted with the ALP for (60%), and what he’s voted with the Coalition for (40%).

  12. *Wilkie, d’oh.
    Although Katter amusingly doesn’t think CO2 helps global warming, the other two independents are very concerned about it. This is a good thing.
    Abbott still pretty much thinks it’s a fairy tale used to frighten mincing nambie-pambie lefties, doesn’t he? Can’t remember what lip-service the Coalition might have given to the issue recently.

  13. @ Kite
    Last I heard he was still pretty much sceptical, though he’s said a few times that if there’s a global agreement on climate change and every single other country gets an ETS, his government would introduce one as well.

  14. As far as I can tell from what’s been on TV so far, Katter wants to light more fires, and likes making jokes about ‘mongoloids’. Brrrrr.

  15. Making the numbers game even more interesting, Tony Crook (O’Connor, replaced Wilson Tuckey), is saying he may consider backing the ALP if they drop the mining tax:
    While this may largely be grandstanding, depending on how likely you think it is the ALP will drop the mining tax, it does suggest that there may be an inclination to cross the floor on some things.

    • Sounds like the classic opening in a horse-trading scenario to me. I wonder what he’d be really willing to settle for?

  16. It seems that the GG’s potential conflict of interest (her daughter is married to Bill Shorten) is going to be taken seriously:

    An ethicist, Leslie Cannold, and a Melbourne barrister, Peter Faris, QC, have said Ms Bryce’s family connection is a clear case of perceived bias and Mr Faris has suggested she hand her role to the Chief Justice.
    But a legal academic, David Flint, said there was no obvious conflict of interest and a barrister, Greg Barns, said it was ”important that she shows that the office is above influence from any quarter” by exercising her powers.

    Elsewhere in the article it says that Robert French and other High Court justices cannot advise her in case they end up having to rule on her decision. Presumably the same applies to actually taking the decision actively themselves.
    It all sounds worrying, because there’s no obvious way that a successor could be appointed without having an even more obvious conflict of interest in being appointed on the advice of Julia GIllard as caretaker PM, or the Queen having to act without advice from Australia. As a complete armchair observer only, I can’t see that she has any choice but to exercise her powers: very lucky her actions are so well-defined by tradition.

    • Mary, I see it as a beat-up that some people who ought to know better are buying into or ostentatiously washing their hands of in order to score points.
      You probably know all this by now, but bear with me while I lay it out: the GG’s procedures are clearly defined – the incumbent PM must be offered first chance to demonstrate that she has “the confidence of the House” i.e. can deliver a working majority of votes on the floor of the House of Representatives for issues of Supply. Thus there is no bias in the GG asking Gillard first rather than Abbott – it’s what she is supposed to do.
      At the point where Gillard has to demonstrate whether or not she has “the confidence of the House” it’s a simple numbers game – she either has the numbers or she doesn’t, and Bryce proceeds accordingly – if Gillard has the numbers, then Bryce gives her approval for Gillard to form a government. If Gillard does not have the numbers, then Bryce repeats the procedure with Abbott. If he has the numbers, then Bryce will give her approval for Abbott to form a government. If he doesn’t have the numbers either, then Bryce has to continue the caretaker government mode and initiate procedures for another election to be called.
      Since Bryce has no actual discretion involved in her judgement here, then there is no opportunity for any putative bias to influence how she will decide.

  17. tigtog, yes. So I was surprised that she is seeking the advice of the Solicitor-General about the conflict of interest in particular (or so the radio news had it this morning).
    I suppose it is in the spirit of “the right thing must be done, and be seen to be done”, and so it should, but it seems to be very hard to do any such thing in Australian politics without giving considerable credibility to your critics.

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