November 25

NSW…a solution?

“Sydney is sliding from a joke to a disaster, and it's taking the rest of us with it,” declared Andrew Bolt in  “State of chaos drags us down,” The Herald Sun 14 November).  Sydney’s Daily Telegraph liked the piece so much, they republished it prominently, just in case its NSW readers had not noticed what is happening in their state.

Andrew Bolt said that not since Premier Joan Kirner’s Victorian government has a state been led as catastrophically as is NSW.

“Sydney,” he wrote “is just the tawdry measure of its astonishing decline.”

He then corrected himself. The current NSW government  (not only by its words but by its record  the most republican government in Australia) made Mrs Kirner’s   look “a model of propriety”.

 At least her ministers”… were honest – and fully clothed – as they drove Victoria into the ground.”

Then came the punch line: “They weren't murdering each other, dancing half-naked in Parliament, molesting boys, sleeping with developers bearing gifts or walking over the bodies of men shot just 90 minutes earlier.”

NSW is an “all-round disaster,” agrees Adelaide based seasoned political commentator, former newpaper proprietor and publisher, Christopher Pearson.

“The NSW Government is in terminal decline.”

Part of a “patronage network,” they have lost sight of the rudiments of service delivery. Worse, they have no idea of how to fix the problems.

“ The sooner they're out of office, the sooner the (Labor) party can start the process of reinventing and rehabilitating itself.

“The longer the delay, the likelier that the state party becomes unelectable in any but its safest seats for a generation and unable to field a competent Opposition.”

The Opposition is hamstrung, “kept in a holding pattern until a lot closer to polling day, watching as things go to pot.”

Absent the government losing its majority or triggering the Governor’s power to dismiss by behaving illegally or unconstitutionally, there is no solution.  Unlike the Senate, the Legislative Council  cannot deny supply.



 …a solution?…



“Nick Greiner, a former premier of NSW, and David Flint, an authority on constitutional law, recently have suggested a mechanism for precipitating a dissolution, “ writes Christopher Pearson. 

California famously allows recall elections, but British Columbia in Canada is a more helpful precedent for Australia in that it combines recall elections with the Westminster system.

“According to Flint, ‘This is typically a three-stage process, with the final two stages taken simultaneously. The first stage is a petition signed within a prescribed time by a minimum percentage of electors, say 10 per cent or 12 per cent. This is followed by a vote open to all electors to determine whether an election should be held. For convenience a ballot for the election is held at the same time, although this could subsequently be found to have been unnecessary.’

“Some may cavil at the idea of combining the state's citizens voting as a single constituency for or against a recall and at the same time electing individual members of parliament if it turns out that the second stage proposition is carried. The process is cumbersome and recall elections are infrequent. Sometimes they end up registering a level of disquiet that is enough to lame an administration without decently dispatching it.

“However, if the mechanism were available in NSW, on present showing it would have no trouble in attracting the necessary 10 per cent support in short order and resolving the impasse.

“Of course, a recall election would not of itself diminish the reserve powers of the governor to dismiss one ministry and commission another, in the event of illegal or unconstitutional activity.

“They are enshrined in the Constitution Act, although Flint thinks that in the wake of the Whitlam government's sacking in 1975 they have in a sense become wasting powers.

“If you think about the secretive and melodramatic way that events transpired in 1975, the outcome was sub-optimal and deeply divisive, even though strictly speaking proper.

“Had a recall been available, he thinks the Coalition would have ‘concentrated on its availability rather than in refusing supply. The legitimacy of its use, successful or not, would be difficult to challenge.’

…and Westminster?….




“Some constitutional conservatives are inclined to view with suspicion anything that smacks of direct democracy, such as citizen-initiated referendums, and to say that even recall elections compromise a fundamental Burkean principle.

“ The principle in question is that democracy under the Westminster model is not direct but representative. Edmund Burke said in his famous speech to the electors of Bristol: ‘Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’

“ If citizen-initiated referendums seem like too much of an override on the judgment of MPs, recall elections can be justified as an opportunity to confirm existing representatives or choose new ones.

“Arguably, the rigid Australian party system, which is much more of a procrustean bed than the British House of Commons, has already thoroughly subverted Burkean principle.

“Although a provision allowing for recall elections in NSW would be in the best interests of everyone, not least the state Government, it's hard to imagine even the best of its members supporting such a bill if the Opposition were to introduce it.

“ Nonetheless, Labor risks annihilation if it stumbles on in office until the 2011 elections, irreparably damaging its brand in the process and thinning out an already depleted pool of talent.

“On Tuesday, only nine weeks after taking office, Rees was forced to fend off speculation about his leadership. His chances of surviving in the job, even in the absence of a self-evident successor, must be reckoned as slim.”


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