NSW election 2015

Mar 25, 2015

Rob Oakeshott on #NSWVotes: We need another way

Croakey is running a mini-series on health and the NSW election, but this election analysis by a former NSW M

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

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.)



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18 thoughts on “Rob Oakeshott on #NSWVotes: We need another way

  1. Justin Harris

    It sounds like a good chat Norm, though I’m not quite as old as you but not far off from what I can gather here, i will throw you a good read since post WW2 this is when democratization was replaced corporatization and key figures involved, well I guess you may know them all to well. This started the rot in the UK and the rest followed suit as we fall further into decay. Hope you like it.

    Treason at Maastricht by Rodney Atkinson & Norris McWirter

  2. Norman Hanscombe

    Justin, I’ve been following politics as an involved observer, lecturer and hobby since WW II, and this included the politically astute actions of a diverse range of ‘independents’ including people such as Clarrie Martin who became one of NSW’s best Attourneys General and John Hatton who was arguably our most successful Electoral reformer. It certainly would be pleasantly surprised (assuming you actually DO know more about “what is going on behind the scenes”) if it became possible to discuss politics with you; but a blog site isn’t, of course, the best place for in-depth analysis.
    Rob Oakeshott badly misjudged the extent of the backlash or he’d probably have played his cards differently, and if you want to engage in hagiography, by all means enjoy it; but don’t risk spoiling your day by talking to those who were negotiating with him at the relevant times.

  3. Justin Harris

    Norman you got it wrong mate, I pay clear attention to what is going on behind the scenes, more than you know. Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor had much more to gain forming an unholy alliance with Abbott they also had to suffer the backlash from their respective electorates who were rusted on Lib over Labor voters, but both knew the respective electorates would suffer more under this tool called Abbott who has always been in the pocket of “bankster town” if you yourself are loathed to stop supporting this type of insidious government that is your choice, I am not saying Labor is any better either, they are both a toxic tag team. I recognized that 22 years ago if you cant see past this you will see the further destruction of society over the coming years and you will still be in denial as I was a rusted on Labor voter back then but seen through it, you owe nothing to these treacherous traitors in both parties, see through it and you will be all the better for it. Sorry for the lecture, just seek the truth and not an ideology.

  4. Norman Hanscombe

    Justin, anyone who has conned voters into believing can be satisfied when he or she receives plaudits from trusting voters. Windsor certainly deserves it far more than many others who played strange games behind the scenes looking for and ever ready to adapt if it meant they would derive perks from their flexibility.
    I’d recommend that if there’s an ‘independent’ [other than Windsor] politician whom you admire, consider talking to members of the two major Parties who would have been most likely to be given the role of facilitating the ‘persuasion’ of independents looking for advancement.

  5. Justin Harris

    Rob I remember back to that time, and I very much remember the pressure the “shadow men” from the fiberals put you and Tony Windsor under. It was unforgettable you both stuck to your guns and refused to be a member of the “big sixty shekels club” at least as you grow older you can walk around with your head held high and not carry that weight on your conscience as it obviously doesn’t bother the majority of those who call themselves politicians. Most of us here know who the good guys are and can easily pick out the pocket puppets of the anonymous elites.

    I for one would like to bid you and your family every success for the future it’s not often we see the good ones stand their ground and it’s further proof not all is lost in this world.

  6. shellbell

    I am not sure there was ever a basis for this assertion which has proved massively wrong:

    [In NSW this weekend, there is ‘buckleys and none’ of the Liberal and National Coalition winning the critical ninth Upper House spot]

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    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.

  8. AR

    ..damned dodgy N key, (Norm)… has NEVER had a positive.

  9. AR

    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.

  10. Ben heslop

    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.

  11. Norman Hanscombe

    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.

  12. robert oakeshott

    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…

  13. Norman Hanscombe

    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.

  14. Aethelstan

    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 …

  15. bushby jane

    Well done Rob, please go back into Federal politics, we need smart people like you.

  16. Anon

    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/

  17. CML

    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”!!

  18. KennyB

    Oakeshott lost me when he called Bambi “a good guy”.

    He shouldn’t have. He should have known better.

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