Government to blame for boats

05 Jan 2012 Article

An opinion piece by Christopher Pyne published in The Australian on 27th of December 2011

The Constitution makes the only prerequisite to form a government in Australia the ability to control a majority of the elected members on the floor of the House of Representatives, guaranteeing passage of legislation through the lower house.

What is crystal clear over the matter of asylum seekers is the Government does not control a majority in the House and cannot implement its agenda.

This year the government was too scared to bring their Malaysian Solution Bill to the floor of the House of Representatives for fear of losing the vote.

Having introduced the legislation, the Gillard Government was forced to filibuster their preceding legislation to avoid the resumption of debate on the Bill. It was reported the Government’s own Members, including the Deputy Speaker, Anna Burke, were intending to abstain from the vote if it was put.

For the rest of the Parliamentary year, the Government could have brought forward their Malaysian Solution Bill at any moment for a vote. The Opposition was seeking to move amendments that the Government could have supported. This never happened and for the Government to now suggest this manifest failure is anyone’s fault other than their own is a disgrace.

To not bring on the vote of the Bill was an act of cowardice (one could argue to introduce it in the first place and was an act of political stupidity). It was also an admission that the Government was unable to guarantee the successful outcome of a Bill in the House of Representatives which is a very serious matter.

Since Federation a clear precedent has been established that where governments have lost votes in the House of Representatives they have gone to the polls.

As early as 1904 the Government of Alfred Deakin resigned after failing to stop an Opposition amendment on the floor of the Parliament and again in 1929 the Government of Stanley Bruce that failed to block an amendment felt it was necessary to go to the polls.

The Bruce Government was swept from office in a landslide defeat. Mr Bruce put the legitimacy of the Australian Government ahead of his personal power and ambition.

Under the Menzies minority Government of the 1960s, after losing 4 votes Prime Minister Robert Menzies declared that the country needed a government that could govern unambiguously.

The current Gillard Government has lost 25 votes in the House of Representatives in one year – a breathtaking absence of control by a Government in the Parliament.

These votes range from efforts by the Government to gag speakers to other historic losses such as a failed attempt by the Speaker of the House to suspend a Member for twenty-four hours.

In the past the Speaker of the House would resign if an attempt to suspend a Member was defeated, taking this rebuff as a vote of no-confidence in his Speakership, but in this case the Leader of the Opposition, not the Prime Minister, immediately moved a motion to save the Speaker and express confidence in him.

The government has lost a number of these 25 votes on very important matters, such as the Parliament condemning the government for their Malaysia policy and requiring the government to urgently address problems arising from their earlier changes to independent youth allowance for students in regional areas.

The truth is that all votes matter in the House of Representatives. It is a House that requires a majority and each vote is a test of the stability of the government. A Government that puts the national interest ahead of personal power would have gone to the people long ago.

But this Government is determined to cling to power, even if it means it must abandon it’s own policy to deal with asylum seekers and admit that it can’t secure our borders – the first responsibility of any national government.

Before abandoning the Malaysian Solution legislation in the Parliament this year the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said “I'm bringing the (Malaysian Solution) legislation to the Parliament” and that “Tony Abbott and every member of the Liberal Party and National Party should walk into the Parliament and have their vote recorded…They should record their votes name by name, person by person”.

Then the Government completely abandoned it.

Australia now has no border protection policies other than intercepting boats and processing asylum seekers on Australian soil. The sugar is back on the table and many hundreds of asylum seekers are making the perilous journey to this country. This recent tragedy off the coast of Java reminds us of how important it is to resolve this issue.

But will the Prime Minister resign for the complete failure and utter abrogation of her duties or call an election to have an unambiguous government? Will the Minister responsible for the policy, Chris Bowen resign? No.

It is a national disgrace that every Australian needs to understand. Our government is paralysed and blatantly ignoring the historical precedents established under the Westminster system of both ministerial responsibility and majority Government.

Australian politics is ‘through the looking glass’ in an unreality all of its own, where the Government blames the Opposition for all its woes and policy failures and Julia Gillard and her Ministers routinely say one thing and do the exact opposite without explanation or apology

It is little surprise then that Australians want an election.