September 8

What reform?



I was asked by one of our leading media reporters last Friday (5 September,2008) whether the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, exercising the powers of the Australian Crown, could order an early election in NSW because of the disarray in the government.

In the midst of this disarray, we can rely on one institution which provides leadership beyond politics, and which is a check and balance against the abuse of power: the Australian Crown.

My reply was that this was out of the question, provided  the Labor Party chose a leader who had the confidence of a majority in the Legislative Assembly.

If the Labor Party did not split, the question would not arise.

I added a second proviso.

This was that the Governor had no notice of any illegal or unconstitutional behaviour on the part of the government which would, under established constitutional conventions, justify her withdrawing the  commission granted to Mr Rees, the new Premier.

There is no evidence of this.

In 1991, the people, assured by the politicians and the commentariat that this would vastly improve the quality of government, agreed to a change to four year terms in NSW.

In 1995, they agreed to further constitutional changes, now in section 25B of the Constitution, which  restrict the early  dissolution of  the Legislative Assembly to four cases. 

These follow.

The first is the passing of a motion of no confidence as prescribed in the Constitution.

Second, the rejection or failure to pass a supply bill by the Assembly (note that the NSW Legislative Council cannot do what the Senate can – it cannot bring down a government by withholding supply)

Third, where there may be a clash with a federal election, a holiday period or some other inconvenient time, the election may be held up to two months earlier.

Fourth, where the Governor could dissolve the Assembly in accordance with established constitutional conventions.

There, the  Governor may act in her own discretion, and does not need and may act contrary to “any advice of the Premier or Executive Council.”  

This would allow the Governor to act in cases such as those which surrounded the dismissal of the Whitlam and Lang governments.

…so called “reform..

Politicians and the media often refer to changes they want as  “reforms.”

In this case they assured the people that this “reform” would improve the quality of government.  

Of course it didn’t.

Indeed, rather than fewer elections, some people say we should be entitled to recall politicians.

(I have previously proposed instituting recall elections to answer the political situation which prevailed in 1975.

Rather than refusing supply, an opposition would then put its efforts into obtaining signatures to a recall petition to trigger a new election

Joseph Poprezeczny will be talking about this in the context of Citizen Initiated Referendums at the ACM National Conference in Perth, 19-21 September, 2008.)

When politicians and the media tell the public some reform, particularly some constitutional change will improve things, the public should always be sceptical.

Politicians are too often guided by what principally drives them, being re- elected.

And when the commnetariat gets it wrong, they never apologise. They  just move on to the campaign.


We are now being lectured by the commentariat that the immediate privatisation of electricity in New South Wales is a good thing and that the government majority and the Leader of the Opposition Mr. O’Farrell have somehow failed the test.

Private enterprise is usually more efficient than publicly owned enterprises.

But this is subject to the market being competitive; a private monopoly, for example a privately owned airport, may be no improvement on a publicly owned airport.


The presence of a publicly owned or co-operatively owned bank and insurance company can offer competition to the privately owned firms, and restrain prices.

And a relevant consideration in proposals to privatise is what the government will do with the money. Can it be trusted to spend it wisely?

Has that government in previous years extracted so much from the publicly owned entity that it could not maintain and improve it services?

Note that in their strictures on privatisation, which the once socialist commentariat are now demanding, they exempt our publicly owned broadcasters.

Indeed when Fairfax reduce the number of journalists on their papers, there was a serious suggestion for an ABC style taxpayer funded newspaper.

These are matters on which ACM takes no position, but the electors will be wise to treat demands for “reform” by the usual suspects with some suspicion.

An independent assessment is important.



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