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Denis Napthine's authority as Premier stripped away to nothing

Date

John Cain

The Victorian government's recent conduct is proof enough of the need for an election.

The Premier Denis Napthine should have visited Government House on Wednesday, either on his journey to Bendigo or instead of that journey. 

His duty as leader of the government is clear. The convention we observe in this country, and have for centuries in the Western world, requires that the leader of the government must be able to command a majority of votes on the floor of the lower house at all times. 

That support must come with certainty and integrity. It is not to be conditional or subject to trade, or on a contrary whim.

The Premier knows and has known for some months that he cannot do this.

He cannot give the Governor any assurances that he commands that majority. A governor so informed would then call the Opposition Leader, who would have to inform the Governor that he too is unable to command a majority.

With that advice from the leaders, the Governor could invite them to set in chain a process that formally implements the provisions of section eight of the state constitution, and satisfies those who say the black-letter law must be followed.

Alternatively, he could, following his consultation with the leaders, form the view that majority government in Victoria, as is required by our conventions, is frustrated, and dissolve the Parliament.

Advice as to the real politics of the moment from the leaders would surely so convince the Governor.

The consequences of a failure to get a stable government are profound. It isn’t just about the passage of legislation in the Parliament and commanding control of it. It’s also about the moral authority a premier must have to carry out his office.

There is perhaps some mystique or symbolism about the role of a head of government under our system.

If a prime minister or premier does not command authority, he or she cannot meet the administrative and executive pressures that are upon them every day.

Interest groups, the bureaucracy and lobbyists would be aware of their lack of authority and would take them on. Weak governments are what they like most.

People in all those groups and others know when a leader has lost authority and will act accordingly.

I know some say the legislation of 2003, designed to marry into the Westminster conventions, is at fault. That may be so but it is no reason to bow to the black-letter lawyers who will parade their wares.

Good governance demands the Premier has final authority on any significant issue, and no head of government can be without that. Napthine needs that to competently chair cabinet.

Neville Wran once said to me that “your standing in authority in government is like a sponge. It is squeezed out on a day-to-day basis by everything you do or don’t do.”

A head of government and his ministers are at the height of their powers immediately after an election or re-election.

Those powers fall away as the term comes to an end. In the past six months of this parliamentary term, like every other head of government, the authority of the Premier has diminished. He was not elected in his own right and took office when his predecessor Ted Baillieu lost his authority and resigned. 

While it is not ideal, the fixed (four-year) parliamentary requirement means a new government will serve a term of less than six months. This is preferable to the current government limping on, challenging critics and commentators to scrape it off the Treasury benches, which may well happen in a week or two anyway.

It may be inconvenient that the fixed-term concept is inconsistent with the Westminster system.

The convention that has served us so well should not be sullied and diminished by perceived political expediency. It has been said that this is the first challenge we have experienced under the amended legislation that gave us four-year fixed-term parliaments. It is therefore all the more important that our leaders should ensure an appropriate response to what has occurred.

A hung parliament will happen again and how we shape our constitutional structure and conventions will be largely determined by how the current leaders act now.

If the key is the Governor being assured that there is a need for a fresh election, the conduct of the Parliament and the government of the past few months provides that assurance.

The leaders can and should make the position clear to the Governor.

John Cain was Labor premier of Victoria from 1982 to 1990.

 

38 comments so far

  • Sound advice from Victoria's best ever Premier.

    Commenter
    magoo
    Location
    can tho
    Date and time
    June 05, 2014, 12:44AM
    • LOL

      Commenter
      Marie McCray
      Location
      Keilor Downs
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 11:29AM
    • You have got a new election, finally a real one, as Palmer United will any day now announce it is contesting the State election in Victoria to finally give the people an alternative Government so as there is no longer the same two bad apples to choose from. Also they can finally send a lesson to current ones and maybe put one out into 3rd party status out of paid office, the decision shall be theirs. Those that will run in the election are ordinary politically untainted people whom have had enough. It is sickening to see Denis pander to Shaw UNTIL Shaw pulled out on him, it is sick seeing the ALP advertise only it will fix ambo problem knowing the ALP not only started it and refused to fix it, is that they never read the huge list of rightful ambo issues, many are deadly. Politics in Australia, has become a game of survival rather than governing, and the people suffer, and only one way to stop it, vote them both out. The best option for voters is to remove the ALP as it is far too out of touch even from its core constitution, and the leader is like a baby throwing tantrums with toys. It is no use people continuing to vote for parties they don't really want. I have created draft policy suggestions on all our neglected important needs, if adopted, they shall require us to really work, hard solid dedicated work and earn public respect as our employers.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Location
      Glenroy
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 11:41AM
  • well it is clear that the govt is in deep trouble and labor is also in trouble as they cannot form a stable govt in the lower house.

    why are they dragging this out to Nov? are things going to get better in the meantime? If they suspend Shaw then the trouble persists does it Not?

    Napthine and Andrews should go to the governor and request an election ASAP too simple.

    I am sure of one thing and that is this has gone on for way too long!!!

    Commenter
    BarbC
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    June 05, 2014, 1:11AM
    • They're dragging it out because
      1) Libs still want to be in government.
      2) If Labor calls no-confidence motion, they'd have to deal with Shaw (which I don't think anybody wants to do).
      3) Suspend Shaw and
      a) There will either be a byelection (which mean the new person will only sit for 3-4 months)
      b) Too close to the state election to have one.
      As stated somewhere before by somebody who studied our constitution, the governor acts on the advice of the Premier not the opposition leader. Also if they call an election now because of the fixed term agreements, it means that whichever party gets voted in office will have their term start from Nov 2013 not Nov 2014. I doubt either sides want a shortened term.

      Commenter
      Interesting
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 1:55PM
  • I think the power of lobbyists and special interest groups that sway government decisions have been largely responsible for the decline of politics in Australia. At present we have an extreme right push (Tea Party) that is only interested in providing benefits to the already advantaged (the monied, and the 5-percenters).

    Replacing this government will be a good thing - but not if it is with a Labor party that will treat the electorate with the same disdain, or who would push the same extreme right-wing agendas. We must bring our political landscape back closer to the 'centre'.
    We need a better focus on people - as it is they who make up 'society' and 'community' - not markets, and not money (to be shared only within a plutocracy).

    Commenter
    Jump
    Date and time
    June 05, 2014, 1:59AM
    • What a predicament. Trouble is our fellow citizens would not want two elections in six months! So no-one wants to go down that path. Sad really. Being eligible to vote carries both rights and obligations my friends. Saddle up - or face a further six months of non-government. Alternatively, two or three soon to retire Liberal MPs need to cross the floor and support the opposition forming government. Ken Smith, that means you.

      Commenter
      Drongomcmc
      Location
      Sunbury
      Date and time
      June 05, 2014, 8:17AM
      • Silly four year terms frustrating the usual Westminster process - time for an election I say

        Commenter
        Dale
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        June 05, 2014, 8:18AM
        • This farcical government MUST go to People, NOW. If Mr Shaw is willing to support a "No Confidence" motion, Opposition Leader Andrews should move it immediately - making clear that his sole purpose for doing so is to precipitate an Election (which must be held by November anyway). If Mr Napthine whines about Labor accepting the "tainted" vote of Mr Shaw, Labor's riposte would be simple - Mr Napthine has spent two years clinging to power via the same "tainted" vote, so what's the big deal? Election. NOW.

          Commenter
          Chris J
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          June 05, 2014, 8:40AM
          • The big deal is Daniel Andrews is the alternative Premier, hence the massive dose of hesitation.

            Commenter
            Green with Hypocrisy
            Date and time
            June 05, 2014, 3:21PM

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