Croakey is running a mini-series on health and the NSW election, but this election analysis by a former NSW MP, Rob Oakeshott, is a sobering reminder that any considerations of health and health policy must take account of the wider political context….
Rob Oakeshott writes:
Nothing matters in this NSW election. As soon as Premier Mike Baird, a good guy, and the likely winner of a majority in the lower house, said “We have no Option B”, this election became about absolutely nothing.
A bit like Canberra at the moment. For all the talk and all the hype of reform – the evidence is to the contrary. Progress has stalled.
And the reason NSW will stalemate is the same that Canberra has. No Option B.
Pre-election, everyone pretends we have a unicameral system. The Senate and the Legislative Council don’t exist. The Chamber-that-shall-not-be-named, or something.
Abbott promised he wasn’t going to negotiate with anyone. No compromise.
Baird is now having a referendum on his way, or no highway. No compromise.
Then post-election, light bulb moments flash everywhere. Mandate is screamed. Furious late night negotiation is attempted. And everything grinds to a ‘I have a constituency to represent’ halt. As if this was some kind of surprise, or something.
Everyone, from majority Government in a lower house to a solo, highly pressured, .5% elected individual Senator or MLC in the Upper House, is right to hold their ground. They are all just doing what they said they would do. Represent their constituencies, and do the best they can for their state and country, or something.
But collectively, the chessboard is out of whack. It’s stale-mate, not check-mate for the voters. And certainly no cheque, mate!
The Upper chambers in both Sydney and Canberra have become both reason, and excuse, for nothingness. And as a result, the show just stops.
In NSW this weekend, there is ‘buckleys and none’ of the Liberal and National Coalition winning the critical ninth Upper House spot. If they do, I eat my hat and Baird is away on his Option A. I wish him well if he pulls it off with one of the quietest campaigns I can remember.
But for him to achieve this, he has to pull a similar blue tie vote to 2011. And even hardheads within the LNP are conceding this is most unlikely. The background context is very different to 2011, thanks (or no thanks) to federal politics changing, and pushed along by a record 10 LNP MP’s through ICAC, and a Premier O’Farrell who stumbled on his own anti-Obeid platform of integrity.
More than likely, it’s about a 12-20 seat lower house swing to the Foley ALP. This seems to be the accepted mood on the ground in NSW. It is still a win for the LNP, but a lot smaller than four years prior.
And importantly for the politics of it all, (probably more important when it’s a referendum on a single issue), is that we’ll also see an Upper House that has a majority of constituents who want the 49% electricity lease blocked.
So let’s be clear. Only a minority of Upper House MLC’s will support the position of the majority in the Lower House.
With that result, who owns the word ‘mandate’ now?
It is why, without Option B, all the promises that hang from this non-existent leasing of electricity assets mean nothing. All the hospitals and nurses, the roads, are meaningless. No bells and whistles because there will be no poles and wires.
Predictions are dangerous, but here is mine for the coming weekend. Between 2015-2019, The Upper House will block electricity leasing in NSW. And nothing much will happen after that.
And the two major political parties, who are internally obsessed about ‘Americanising’ their campaigning and political styles, have achieved exactly what America have achieved as a consequence of their targeting of interest groups and the margins: A Parliament that cannot function. Well done you.
We have it Canberra, and we are about to have it in NSW.
All that is left are two questions.
The short-term one is for Mike Baird, the new Premier following next weekend. If he can’t deliver on one single promise he made to get elected, does he fall on his sword of integrity? Another election maybe? Or does NSW just stagnate for four years, in a game of “we urge the Upper House to respect our mandate”, blah blah bloody boring and predictable blah…..
Longer-term, the question is for each and every voter. At every ballot, local, state and federal, for ever more. And that is, once again, why oh why do we all say we don’t like pre-election promises, yet fall for it, or encourage it, (I am not quite sure which), every single time?
All we are doing is delivering our own self-fulfilling prophesy of electing Governments that talk the talk on everything, but can’t walk the walk on anything. We are creators of our own reform frustrations and inertia.
It is what we have in Canberra, and what we are about to have in NSW.
And we have nowhere to look but in the mirror when wondering how it all came to be.
Progress, much-needed progress, needs another way.
• Rob Oakeshott is a former federal and state Member of Parliament and author. (Declaration from Croakey: He is also Patron of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation, which Melissa Sweet chairs.)
To track Croakey’s NSW election coverage, see here.
Oakeshott lost me when he called Bambi “a good guy”.
He shouldn’t have. He should have known better.
Good on you, Rob Oakeschottt! That must be about the best article I’ve read on the NSW election.
Of corse you are absolutely correct – elections have become an emotive ‘beauty’ contest. No one is interested in reality. You know, stuff like good policy that works for everyone.
The individual voter has become their own worst enemy. Probably won’t stop them from whinging after the event though, when it seeps into the consciousness of most apathetic voters, that there is no “Plan B”!!
There’s an interesting post at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog on gridlock, by Stanford University’s Morris Fiorina http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/02/25/gridlock-is-bad-the-alternative-is-worse/
The article makes the argument it may be better if it is difficult for government and legislators to implement their agenda.
A bit on why this might be relevant for Australia here http://shaunratcliff.com/2015/02/11/why-legislative-gridlock-may-be-better-than-well-politicians-actually-legislating/
Well done Rob, please go back into Federal politics, we need smart people like you.
As I said elsewhere, if Mike Baird wins this election and (big “if??) if, one way or another he gets upper house support for privatisation of electricity system assets … Then BIG one off spend up … BUT … what happens when the money runs out and there is nothing else to sell …
… problems … solved in the only way Liberals know how … set of budget cuts that mainly fall on working people?? … only too possible …
Isn’t anyone aware before they start praising Oakeschottt (sic) of how he made desperate efforts to be taken into various folds on all sides of the spectrum where he would receive positions in return for his vote? Even if people have forgotten all that, it’s easy to research.
Loath as I am to comment, the allegation by Norman H does deserve correction. His allegation that I am/was a lost little lamb forever looking for a flock of party to hide in is incorrect. It needs correction because my sin was the complete opposite. With simple research, my sin – rightly or wrongly – was to reject the warm bosom of party. With simple research, my sin – rightly or wrongly – was to reject the personal benefits, and policy contribution, that could come from being part of Executive Government. I am not sure if Norman could name too many other MP’s who have sinned on both fronts. Now I am not claiming this was smart, or right. Nor am I trying to claim higher moral status as a consequence of my actions. But it was my journey to try and stay truly free in a highly aligned world of adversarial politics in Australia today. And that is why I might be a bit precious/twitchy when I read re-interpretations of history. This is all outlined in a very good book called “The Independent Member for Lyne”!! (Norman, please read it). I did feel this needed correction as Norman H is making the direct opposite allegation to reality. This may be being done to damage reputation and weaken an author’s argument, or it may be a genuine misunderstanding of history. If, on the outside chance it is the latter, I have taken the time to correct it. With that, I’ll stay out of future comments – I just felt it had to be said, and Norman had to be called on his cheapshot…
Robert, clearly there are differences between how you present the events and how others with whom you dealt from time to time have recounted the story. Whether I believe you or those whose stories made absolute sense is up to you; but I am aware of how people often genuinely subconsciously remould events when their involvements play a major role in their self-image.
Like you I see little value in us continuing the conversation, although each of us probably for very different reasons. Off now to do something a tad more productive.
I have an idea for the Lower House that stops the problem of safe and marginal seats.
The percentage vote in EACH seat in which a candidate is stood receives the OVERALL AVERAGE across all seats in which the party stands a candidate.
If a party contests 3 seats, and receives 20, 30 and 40% of the vote respectively, the average is given to all three candidates (30%)
If the party go for too many marginal seats, their percentage may fall too low and they lose the majority of their seats.
This means that a vote in a safe seat is as valuable as one in a marginal seat. In swinging seats, smaller parties and independents will have an advantage as major parties will not risk standing for fear of dragging their AVERAGE vote lower.
There is therefore NO ADVANTAGE to pork barrel in marginal seats. Within a party, marginal seat holders will be more likely to speak up, because if their party removes them they can just go independent themselves.
To pass legislation, a party will still need a majority in each house; meaning scrutiny is much greater as the government will likely be coalitions of smaller parties (since large parties are too much at risk of losing too many seats).
But overall, I like this idea as it allows for large changes in fortune, and new parties to arise. With new faces.
In terms of the Upper House, an increased quality of debate would in the Lower House would put pressure on Senators to move with the times, and stop these special interests from holding up sensible laws to appeal to their base.
Rob – Norm is our resident old man shouting at clouds, he has ever had a positive thing to say about anyone or aything since he began infesting Crikey threads about a year ago.
Ignore him, everyone else does.
..damned dodgy N key, (Norm)… has NEVER had a positive.
AR, the day you can absorb the simplest material, let alone subtle points, will be the day you might understand a positive comment staring you in the face
But I accept you’re genuinely trying.