How long can Abbott last?

Judging by the tone of media coverage, Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership has now entered its terminal phase. Everything he does and says is being judged on that basis, with every slipup a potential disaster.

But having just beaten a spill motion, and with at least moderately good news from the polls, he can scarcely be removed immediately. On the other hand, as long as he stays in office, the government is effectively in lame duck mode, with its every decision open to reversal by his successor. To take the most recent example, if Abbott were replaced by Turnbull, the attacks on Gillian Triggs would cease instantly.

The big timing issue relates to the Budget, due in May. It’s obvious that, if Abbott goes, so does Hockey, which would be highly problematic if the removal took place after the budget was delivered but before it got through Parliament. Yet some reports I’ve read suggest that a lot of senior Liberals want to give Abbott & Hockey a chance to make a success of this Budget, then dump them if it fails.

On a side issue, the fact that the Prime Ministership is decided only by the Liberal Party members of the coalition is quite a big deal. Abbott would obviously do better if the two parties merged, or even if the Queensland LNP were part of the federal Liberal party rather than the bizarre camel it is now.

136 thoughts on “How long can Abbott last?

  1. @wmmbb
    There was supposed to be a “not” to the attribution I made to Professor Triggs.

    The Abbott-Brandis attack on the President on THRC is a radical departure from the established norm of civility. There was an alternative approach as suggested by Jonathon Green. The sacking of Phillip Ruddock as chief whip was another example. This violent approach is guaranteed to deepen divisions in “the broad church”. It will prove to be easier to get rid of the wrecking ball than to repair the damage he leaves in his wake once Tony Abbott is in due course is despatched to the backbench to fester in his ignominy.

    I wonder why people like Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd, allowing for the very different context of their removal don’t just say: “If you don’t want me to lead you, I am out of here”. By adopting that approach they would retain their dignity and respect. Such an approach would never occur to Tony.

  2. @Megan

    I see that on the substantive points at issue you agree with me that Uncle Milton was wrong.

    Does Australia have a system of compulsory voting? Uncle Milton’s answer was ‘No’; yours is ‘Yes’, and so is mine.

    Does Australia have a system of compulsory attendance at polling places? Uncle Milton’s answer was ‘Yes’; yours is ‘No’, and so is mine.

    All the rest is froth on the surface.

  3. > I see that on the substantive points at issue you agree with me that Uncle Milton was wrong.

    There is no substantive dispute

    “Substantive” means “pertaining to substance”, and “substance” means — in this context — not the labels applied to actions but the precise

    Since everyone agrees entirely on the specific actions that people take — turn up or not turn up, get issued or not get issued ballot paper, find name marked off or not marked off, issue or not issue infringement notice — the dispute must be _entirely_ about labels.

    There is no dispute of any substance whatsoever. You cannot be on the correct side of any substantive dispute because no substantive dispute exists: your dispute is and is solely about what-to-call-things, not on what the things are.

    What you have advanced here is the exact and precise epitome of “semantic dispute”. A dispute not about the substance but about the meaning-of-words.

    [words are symbols, which means that the relation between the “sign” — word — and “signifier” — thing-referred-to — is arbitrary. A semantic dispute is a dispute about the “proper” signifiers that a sign points to… but because the relationship is arbitrary the notion of a “proper” meaning is vacuous. mkay? This isn’t obvious, it’s easy for people to not realise this, but it is nevertheless true; it’s a really good idea to learn to spot incipient semantic disputes so you can shortcut them.]

  4. “Substance” means not the labels but the [delete “precise”] acts under discussion.

    [A dispute of substance is “what happened” and “what should happen”; a semantic dispute is “what should we call it”. But because we call different things different names a dispute about “what happened” manifests as [inter alia] a dispute about what a certain event should be called; to tell the difference you need to check whether the act — not the label — is asserted to be different. Keep your eye on the ball — the physical-world acts — not the man, the words.]

  5. @J-D

    Unfortunately turning up is compulsory, given that using postal ballots is a form of turning up.

    Aged people will have a ballot box coming to them.

    I have yet to see any case of anyone being forced to vote. You would need physical force to achieve this. It would create a very unpleasant scene.

  6. @Ivor

    I have never seen anybody being physically forced to vote, but I’ve also never seen anybody being physically forced to attend at a polling place (which would be much harder): if that’s what is meant by ‘compulsory’, then neither is ‘compulsory’: but many things are described as compulsory even if people aren’t physically forced to do them.

    If at the next Federal election I attend at a polling place, get my name marked off by a polling official, and receive a ballot paper;

    and if I then in full view of everybody present, so that there’s no doubt about what I’m doing, tear up the ballot papers and scatter the pieces on the floor;

    and if the AEC subsequently sends me a penalty notice for ‘apparently failing to vote’;

    and if I dispute the penalty notice and the matter proceeds to court;

    and if I offer at trial the ‘Uncle Milton’ defence that in Australia it’s not compulsory to vote, it’s only compulsory to attend at a polling place and have your name marked off the roll, which I did, so that my subsequent actions are no concern of the law;

    do you think I would be acquitted or convicted?

    I am confident that in such a case the ‘Uncle Milton’ defence would fail me entirely (I expect the judge would give it the shortest of shrift) and I would be convicted.

  7. @J-D

    Given your crazy behaviour, the AEC would never send a penalty notice.

    They would just laugh at you.

    There is no provision under which a notice could be sent. You compiled with all compulsory elements.

    A police officer may arrest you for destroying Commonwealth policy as ballot papers remain the property of the government.

    If it went to court, and you continued your stance, you would end up in jail or community service like Derryn Hinch.

  8. @Ivor

    There does exist a provision under which a penalty notice could be sent to me in the circumstances I have described: section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. If you have not read it, I am happy to quote the exact words for your edification.

    Whether the AEC actually would send me a penalty notice in the circumstances I have described, I don’t know; I don’t know if there’s ever been a case like that. However, even if the AEC happened not to send me a penalty notice, that would prove nothing about the legality of what I had done. People are often able to get away with breaches of the law, but that doesn’t mean they stop being breaches of the law.

    You suggest that if I took the stance I have described in court, I would end up in jail or community service, but the only way that could happen would be if I were convicted, which is exactly what I said would happen. The ‘Uncle Milton defence’ would not save me.

  9. As I have explained – the AEC would not send a penalty notice.

    They would just scoop up the torn pieces, and deal with them as a “discarded paper”.

    You are quite within you rights to not action a ballot paper.

    There is no penalty.

    Your partial reading of the Act is not relevant.

    Everyone knows that you only end up in jail etc if you are convicted and this is the penalty.

  10. alfred venison :
    this might be of interest:-

    Exactly right, the test to initiate a penalty notice, is the result of computer scanning of certified lists.

    Provided you get your name crossed off, it is not possible to get a penalty notice because you would not be classified as apparently not voting.

    Presumably this was the intention behind the amendment to the Electoral Act to provide for discarded papers.

    Only those with a totalitarian mindset would ever go down the path of compulsory voting.

  11. If you “tear up the ballot papers and scatter the pieces on the floor” then your vote would be “discarded” and section 238A of the Act would apply:

    (1) This section applies if:
    (a) a ballot paper has been issued to a voter; and
    (b) an officer is satisfied that the ballot paper has been discarded by the voter.
    (2) The officer must:
    (a) immediately cancel the ballot paper; and
    (b) write “discarded” on the back of the ballot paper; and
    (c) place the ballot paper in an envelope, seal the envelope and write on the envelope an indication of the type of ballot paper enclosed and that it is discarded; and
    (d) sign the envelope.
    (3) The envelopes containing discarded ballot papers that have been cancelled under this section must be:
    (a) sealed up in a parcel; and
    (b) given to the Divisional Returning Officer for the Division after the close of the poll.

    Since you got your name marked off you would not be caught up in the penalty provisions.

    End of story.

  12. @Megan

    Yes. I hope our slow learner catches up.

    It is necessary to have some compulsory element so that people who do not vote at least get their name crossed-off so others cannot use their vote elsewhere.

    This is necessary as Australia does not have national ID cards.

  13. @Megan

    Yes, section 238A would apply. But section 238A does not exclude the operation of section 245, which would still also apply.

    Rather than quote parts of section 245, which anybody can read online, I shall quote from two emails I received from the AEC in response to email enquiries I made last year:

    ‘The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) requires an elector to place their completed ballot papers into a ballot box and staff are allocated to each polling place to ensure that electors do not exit the polling place without having done so.
    ‘Staff are instructed to remind any electors who are observed leaving the booth without depositing their ballot paper(s) in a ballot box(es), of the requirement to do so. …
    ‘In those cases, which seem similar to the incident you have described, the officer in charge would record as many details as possible and report back to the Divisional Returning Officer. …’

    ‘If the non-voter’s name is recorded by the OIC, the DRO would proceed with the non-voter notice …’

  14. @J-D

    Obviously, having picked up a ballot paper – you cannot take it out. It is Commonwealth property.

    You can place a ballot paper, with no vote, in a ballot box, or you can hand it back to an electoral officer, or you can tear it up into little pieces and throw it on the floor.

    Such papers are then dealt with as discarded papers or, if they end up in the box by whichever pathway, as informals.

    A discarded ballot paper is not a completed ballot paper. Everyone would want strict controls over completed ballot papers.

  15. @Ivor

    Provided you get your name crossed off, it is not possible to get a penalty notice because you would not be classified as apparently not voting.

    While we’re splitting hairs, it is possible to get a penalty notice even after your name has been crossed off, which is what happened to me.
    However, the remedy is very simple. On the back of the letter is a declaration which, from memory, you can complete with details of where you voted. I presume AEC officers check the rolls from that booth since I have received no further correspondence.

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