Mackerras versus McGauran

The earlier post on Senator Julian McGauran’s defection from the Nationals to the Liberals generated a productive discussion in comments, in sad contrast to subsequent efforts fingering the entrails of the WA Labor Party. Professor Malcolm Mackerras, recent recipient of the Office of the Order of Australia for services to psephology, offers an erudite contribution in today’s Crikey email replete with a number of choice words for the Senator.

Now that Julian the Apostate has completed his journey of treachery it is time to consider this in historical terms. Before I do, however, it is worthwhile to ask this question: why, oh why, would the Victorian Liberals actually want to poach this scumbag? I believe the explanation goes back to the Victorian Coalition agreement of 1989. The Liberals have been looking for an excuse to tear it up, hoping to ensure the Nationals never have a Victorian senator again.

Let me begin at the beginning. In July 1987 there was a double dissolution election. In the Senate election for Victoria Julian McGauran was elected on a separate National Party ticket. He was elected as one of the 12 senators. He was also elected as one of the six senators in the re-count under section 282 of the Electoral Act. These senators should have been given the six-years terms. However the Senate itself (under section 13 of the Constitution, with Labor and Democrat senators combining to outnumber Liberal and National senators) decided to relegate McGauran to a three-year term …

A note of attempted clarification. Since an entire Senate is elected after a double dissolution, the 12 Senators in each state must then be divided into two halves – six who will face election again at the end of the normal three-year election cycle, and six who will serve six-year terms and contest the subsequent election, thus setting in place the normal Senate cycle. The constitution leaves resolution of the matter up to the Senate, but the rules have been codified in the Electoral Act so that the order of election after a "recount" determines which is which. I do not claim much authority on this matter, but it appears that the result of the "recount" at the 1987 election pleased Labor and the Democrats less than the original order, and their collective Senate majority gave them the power to do something about it. McGauran was reduced to a three-year term and ended up with the unwinnable fourth place on the Coalition ticket at the 1990 half-Senate election, before returning from the number two position in 1993. Back to Mackerras:

In 1989 the Liberals and Nationals drew up an agreement for a joint ticket in Victoria whereby the Nationals would take the fourth place in 1990 and the second place in 1993. And so on. It is clear what the Liberals are determined to do in the future. In 2007 they will offer the Nationals the fourth place on the joint ticket because that is what the agreement provides. However, at the following election, presumably in 2010, they will tell the Nationals that they are being unreasonable in asking the Liberals to give one of their senators up to the National Party …

As hard as it is to see McGauran winning a significant spot on the Liberal ticket in 2010, he evidently considered it a better chance than the existing agreement being renewed beyond the next election. Mackerras says this will be the end of the Victorian Nationals in the Senate unless one of four hypothetical scenarios plays out:

First, Labor may win the 2007 general election. If so then a double dissolution of the parliament would be highly probable. The National Party would have no trouble in winning one of 12 places on a separate ticket at a double dissolution election. Second, the Liberal Party might relent from its present bloody-mindedness and agree to keep the joint ticket agreement going into the future. Third, McGauran might be run under the proverbial bus. In that event the Nationals would be entitled under section 15 of the Constitution to choose his successor. Fourth, McGauran might be shamed into doing the right thing, resign from the Senate, and give his seat back to its rightful owner.

This last possibility is what Cheryl Kernot did in October 1997. However, McGauran and the Liberal Party are so shameless I rate the chance of that at about one in a thousand.

UPDATE (13/2/06): Antony Green has much, much more on the future or otherwise of the Nationals.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

4 comments on “Mackerras versus McGauran”

  1. I’m slightly surprised that Mackerras is so adamant that the seat belongs to the National Party and is so indignant about the whole affair.

    It’s the sort of reaction you’d expect from disgruntled Nats or from the more uninformed commentators.

    But Mackerras knows full well that the Nationals would be incapable of winning a Victorian senate seat in their own right in a normal half-Senate election. So what’s the big deal?

  2. I understand the line that the Nats don’t ‘own’ the seat due to a divine mandate from electors. But I don’t understand the claim that they aren’t entitled to the seat: they have a solemn agreement with the Libs to share resources/spots! The only purposes of that agreement are to (a) minimise division (and hence maximise the Coalition vote all round); and (b) entitle each party to pre-select candidates in certain winnable positions.

    Yes, the agreement is not strictly a binding contract (for junkies of the law of politics I can send you a paper on why). But it is a serious agreement. That it is their partner in the agreement who is complicit in and benefiting from the breach makes it even more galling than if McGuaran had say done a Colston (who really did dud Labor voters in Qld).

  3. How strange to be discussing an actual moral obligation in politics. Do the Liberals (including McGauran) actually owe any consideration to the Nats if the Senate deal is no longer a net benefit? Who was actually ‘represented’ by McGauran anyway?


    Who cares if Julian McGauran defected? He has just moved his uselessness to another party. Hopefully, the Liberals will have the courage to free his spot for someone that actually wants to work for the people of Victoria, rather than someone who has enjoyed a minimal effort life on the political gravy train.
    Julian McGauran is not a people person, and he probably doesn’t know or even relate the sufferings and concerns of the average punter.
    A newspaper article stating that he can point to no road or bridge that he has inspired the construction of, is a fair assessment of him and his capacities.
    Julian McGauaran is hardly an animated reformist with reputation for making change to improve governance and policy. His strategy for maintaining power is not action, but to use his own words “to get through this term with as little ripples as possible” — political speak for more inaction!

    De-forest the dead wood of politics to make way for the new inspired, motivated people-caring engaged politicians. Let’s start with lazy McGauran!

Comments are closed.