September 21

The Government loses its majority: is a vote of no confidence necessary to bring it down?

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The answer is no.

Professor Twomey points out that an opposition amendment to a government bill (in 1904 and again in 1929), an amendment on the address-in-reply (1905), a motion to alter the hour of the next meeting of Parliament (1908), a motion to adjourn debate (1909 and 1931), and an amendment reducing the budget by £1 (1941) have all been treated as an expression of no confidence.

Professor Flint suggested in another question that apart from the latter motion – a traditional way of moving no confidence – in the ultimate analysis, it is the Prime Minister who determines that such a vote is about confidence in the government.

As Professor Twomey says, these often insignificant-looking defeats can be extremely important, because once the government loses control of the business of the Parliament, the finances of the country or its capacity to pass legislation central to its policies, it cannot adequately perform the role of a government.

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Accordingly, the effect of the Greens and the independents joining with the opposition to pass any laws that take their fancy, and to take from the government control over the business of the Parliament, may well be the same as a direct vote of no confidence in the government.

These matters are determined by established conventions applied by the Governor-General as part of our sophisticated and resilient constitutional system.

Professor Anne Twomey answered this and other questions posed by Professor David Flint in a Conversazione held at Parliament House Sydney on 16 September, 2010.


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