Sunday, 26 September 2010

Thou shalt not lie, aka 'a man's word is his bond'

In my secularism on Saturday post, I drew attention to Opposition leader Mr Abbott's decision to renege on the deal he signed up to with the Independents to provide a 'pair' to the speaker, and the lack of integrity that this demonstrates.

Despite the Solicitor-General's clear advice that pairing raises no constitutional problems, others claim otherwise.  So herewith the actual advice the S-G provided:

"The question is:

Is there any necessary constitutional impediment to a pairing arrangement between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and another member from an opposing political party if that arrangement has a fixed operation irrespective of any particular vote?

...My answer is:

No, subject to two provisos. The first proviso is that the arrangement could not give to the Speaker a deliberative vote and could not deprive the Speaker of a casting vote. The second proviso is that adherence to the arrangement by the other Member could only be voluntary."
The provisos
The first proviso clearly rules out some of Mr Oakeshott's ambitions.  Clearcut.
The second proviso points out the obvious: all pairing arrangements, past and present, are voluntary.  That's because you couldn't pass a law binding the vote of an MP.
But equally you can't force them to vote. 
One can however enter into a 'politically and morally binding' agreement on the subject.  As everyone thought Mr Abbot had....

The S-G particularly notes that "I do not think it matters for this purpose how formally or informally an agreement or arrangement might be expressed."

 You can read the full text of the opinion here.

And I stand by my original position: there is more to 'manliness' than participating in ironman competitions; and Catholic politicians, just like everyone else, must demonstrate integrity in their dealings.


Salvatore said...

“The first proviso clearly rules out some of Mr Oakeshott's ambitions. Clearcut.”

No. The first proviso isn’t about Oakeshott* at all.

The S-G’s making the point that a pairing with the Speaker would be unusual in that, unlike an ordinary pairing where two members agree to abstain, the Speaker is a member who has no vote (ordinarily) except when the House is evenly divided, in which case he’s required by the Constitution to cast a vote. In other words no private ‘pairing’ arrangement can absolve the Speaker from his duty to cast a vote in these circumstances. This raises (as I pointed out below) the possibility of the Speaker’s pair’s abstention causing an even division which the Speaker would then be obliged to resolve by voting (i.e. one half of the pair voting and the other half not). Of course the S-G couldn’t address this point in detail because of the narrow focus of the question he was asked.

* My spell check insists it’s ‘Makeshift’!

Terra said...

I do think it is about Oakeshott - who seems to have been seeking to play a deliberative role as well as be speaker.

But either way, the intent of the agreement was clearly to help make a hung parliament more workable, viz not dependent on one vote.

You are correct in suggesting that in the event of an even vote the Speaker would still be required to exercise his casting vote. So what?

The proposed pairing arrangement does not affect the Speaker directly, it simply reduces the number of Opposition votes.

Hence the Government's attempts to find another way of achieving the same objective, such as having a Liberal MP as speaker.

What the pairing arrangement would have achieved is a two vote leeway for the Government. Without it, there is only a one vote leeway. So the likelihood of the speaker using his casting vote becomes more likely not less (though clearly it is always possible no matter what the configuration of the Parliament).

R J said...

If there is any evidence that Abbott fundamentally cares about anything except the survival of Abbott, I am unaware of it. This is, after all, the "Catholic" who approvingly quoted Bill Clinton in saying that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare":