Sunday, November 29

My word is my bond. What a quaint idea.

Once upon  a time, children, conservative men regarded their honour as paramount. Proud men would face one another with pistols at dawn if somebody questioned their integrity.

Even today, the words dictum meum pactum (“My word is my bond”) feature as the motto on the heraldic coat of arms awarded to the London Stock Exchange in 1923.

Sadly, I have to tell you the world where a conservative's word was his bond has long vanished, if it ever did exist. Today lies and treachery are de rigueur, especially for senior right-wing members of Australia's Liberal Party.

You'll all know what I'm talking about – it's been in all the papers. Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull and his lieutenants have spend weeks in intensive negotiations with the Labor Government's Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, to achieve an agreement under which they would pass the Emissions Trading Scheme through the Senate before it rose for the year.

They obtained many concessions (too many, in this grumpy old journo's opinion) and the Liberal Party leaders had a deal they believed they could take to their party room to be quickly endorsed and passed by the Senate.

That's when the “Treacherous Ten” revealed their duplicity. Ten leading Liberal politicians who had previously indicated they would support the ETS legislation if the Libs could negotiate significant concessions – which was achieved – quit the front bench and made it clear they would never vote for an ETS.

In essence, the hard-liners had duped Turnbull into believing he could negotiate in good faith with the Labor Government.

Why would they do that? The answer is simple. It's part of the filibuster you have when you're not having a filibuster. The foremost of the Liberal rebels, Tony Abbott and Senator Nick Minchin, made this clear when they demanded Turnbull agree to have the ETS legislation referred to a Senate committee for consideration.

If Turnbull agreed to that, he would be welching on his deal with Labor.

But the strategy appeals to the hard-line climate change sceptics because it may allow them to defer the legislation for months while avoiding the risk of a double dissolution. It all comes down to interpreting one of the “triggers” the Australian Constitution provides for the simultaneous dissolution of the full Senate and the House of Representatives when they're deadlocked.

Section 57 allows the Prime Minister to ask the Governor-General to dissolve both houses if the Senate rejects “or fails to pass” legislation passed by the Reps, or passes it with amendments unacceptable to the Reps, and does so a second time if the Reps again passes the legislation after at least three months.

If the Senate's climate change sceptics used a plain filibuster to stall the legislation until the Senate rose for the year, it probably would give a double dissolution trigger. But referral to a Senate committee for examination could be seen as a normal part of the legislative process, and most likely would not be held to be a trigger.

This opinion was provided by Robert Ellicott QC, a former Federal Court judge and Coalition Attorney-General, in a Weekend Australian article last October. And it appears retiring Senate Clerk Harold Evans supports his view.

[I've just come across this opinion by ABC election analyst Antony Green, posted to his blog yesterday. It covers the “failure to pass” issues in detail. And in this earlier post, Green points out that whenever he received a trigger, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd could delay requesting the double dissolution until August 10, 2020, with the election taking place in September.]

Not that Rudd necessarily wants or would use a trigger to call a double dissolution, but it's handy to have one – or preferably, a handful of them – at the ready if required. That time might come mid-way through next year.

It sticks in the craw to admit the vacuous right-wing columnist Miranda Devine might have called something right. But even I thought she might be correct back in August when she wrote a column jeeringly headed, “Bring it on, Labor, pull that trigger.” which claimed the Government would be defeated if it called a double dissolution on the Senate's rejection of ETS legislation.

A few weeks later, The Australian's Newspoll contradicted Ms Devine when it reported strong support for climate change legislation, even among Coalition voters. Yesterday, The Weekend Australian relied on the September figures in its lead story, “Libs facing electoral rout.”

But that was September. Today, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph and other Murdoch Sunday tabloids around the nation reported a Galaxy poll taken last Friday night. The Sunday tabloids'  report said:

MALCOLM Turnbull's hopes of fighting off a Liberal rebellion over climate change to hold on to the Opposition leadership have been shattered by a poll showing a whopping 60 per cent of Australians are against Kevin Rudd rushing the Emissions Trading Scheme through parliament.
Despite Mr Turnbull insisting the ETS must be passed now - ahead of the UN's Copenhagen summit - the poll overwhelmingly backs his opponents - with 81 per cent of Coalition supporters wanting the vote delayed.
Incredibly, nine out of 10 Coalition supporters - and three out of four Labor voters - say they don't understand the ETS and want the Government to explain it better.
The Galaxy poll, conducted exclusively for The Sunday Telegraph on Friday night, shows a huge 80 per cent of voters do not believe the Government has provided sufficient details about an ETS with only 26 per cent now supporting the Turnbull-Rudd push for the Senate to pass it into law immediately.
Fewer than one in five Australians believe the Government has provided sufficient information about the ETS.
Even 73 per cent of Labor voters are in the dark over the ETS.

Tuesday, November 10

I love praise, but is this a bit stiff?

Like any other blogger, I love praise. So when this notification of a new comment turned up in my Inbox today, I was chuffed:
I don’t know if I said it already but … I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say great blog. Thanks! 
Naturally I hit the button to publish the comment. Then I opened Grumpy Old Journo to admire the comment at the end of a post I put up last July. I want to know more about the comment's author, so I click the highlighted link which should have taken me to the author's blog or website.

Guess what it opened up? A website offering generic Viagra. 

Kill the comment? Perhaps I should have. Instead, I posted my own comment right underneath.
I was chuffed to receive this comment months after the post went up. But all is not as it seems. Readers should not click on the Lipitor link above unless they want to be directed to a website which offers generic Viagra from an unknown supplier with the ethical values revealed in this duplicitous comment.


Monday, November 9

Remembering the republicans' defeat

Where is the passion we felt ten years ago when we argued about becoming a republic? The 10th anniversary of the republican movement's defeat in the November 1999 referendum passed with scarcely a ripple the other day.

That's to be regretted, because it means Australia continues to be headed by monarchs who inherit the throne according to laws which should have no place in a modern nation (even if we do manage to accommodate the idea of an inherited monarchy).

Succession to the English throne is still governed largely by the Act of Settlement of 1701, which specifically excludes not only Roman Catholics, but anyone who marries a Catholic. The monarch must be Protestant, and become part of the Church of England communion.

In addition, the monarch carries the title Defender of the Faith, and is automatically Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This may be appropriate for England, if you accept the idea of an establishment church.

In Australia, our founding fathers were determined not to import sectarian nastiness from the old world, and wrote this into the Constitution:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

No religious test required – except, that is, to inherit the position of King or Queen of Australia.

In another provision which should be anathema in a modern nation, the Act of 1701 bases succession on the rules of male primogeniture. A woman cannot inherit the throne if she has a younger male sibling. (In Britain, this is unlikely to be a practical issue for many years, if ever – but it's still a relic of times when women had inferior status.)

Over recent years in Britain, there have been moves to change these rules but nothing much has happened.

Contrary to monarchists' claims today, a decade ago most Australians did support a republic – but a majority of them wanted nothing short of a republic in which the public elected the president. They declined to vote for the “minimal change” model put to them in the referendum, under which the president would have been elected by a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the Federal parliament.

For the then Prime Minister, John Howard – a committed monarchist – it must remain a proud achievement. As Grumpy Old Journo wrote in this post in February last year, Howard used a brilliant “wedge” strategy to halt what appeared to be Australia's inexorable loosening of ties with the “mother country”.

First, he set up a Constitutional Convention which argued for a couple of weeks before agreeing on the “minimal change” model which was put to the electorate. With a small majority, it supported a parliamentary vote to select the President, rather than a national election, because it would not disrupt constitutional arrangements which were working well. And that's where we lost.

Tony Abbott and other Liberal leaders said the position of President would be far too important to be decided by politicians. We should vote no to a republic so we didn't have the President elected by politicians.

It worked. It seemed Australians didn't know that under the existing, continuing arrangement, one person – the Prime Minister, possibly but not necessarily in consultation with a few cronies – chooses the Governor-General. The British monarch must accept the Australian Prime Minister's nomination.

Howard was also able to exploit two weaknesses in the republican cause. As historian Stuart Macintyre wrote in the second edition of his Concise History of Australia:

The first was the very celebrity of the republicans. [Malcolm] Turnbull's movement used prominent writers and artists, recruited television personalities, business and sportspeople. Their enthusiastic advocacy could be dismissed as an example of the estrangement of the elites from the practical concerns of the battlers.

The second weakness was to campaign for the minimal republic.

Their chief argument turned out to be no more than an appeal to national prejudice: Australia should not have a foreigner as its head of state. Since an Australian governor-general already exercised the functions of the head of state, this allowed monarchists to divert the republican debate into an arcane argument over constitutional law.

It also did not help the republicans that Howard also drafted a new preamble to the Constitution, and put it to the electors in the same referendum. The electors duly rejected both questions. As Macintyre wrote:

. . . he produced a preamble of startling banality that invoked mateship, refused to recognise Aborigines' prior occupancy of the land, and took a gratuitous swipe at political correctness.


Thursday, November 5

Merry makes a tidy Cup profit

A nice triumph for my wife. She backed the third placegetter, Mourilyan, giving me the pleasure of going down to the pub to collect $36.50 for a $5 place bet on the NSW TAB (yeah, we're the last of the big-time punters).

So does that make her a particularly gifted judge of horses? Decide for yourself > > >