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.