As I type this item, we are a few hours from the caucus meeting of the Australian Labor Party, where a decision will be made on the party leader. Current leader and PM, Julia Gillard, is being challenged by former PM (and until a few days ago, Foreign Minister), Kevin Rudd. Today’s caucus vote is a good case study in parliamentary vs. presidential democracy.
In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I make the point that Prime Ministers in parliamentary democracies are agents of their parties, whereas parties in presidential systems must select executive candidates who can succeed as agents of the electorate. We show that this fundamental institutional distinction has consequences for the types of leaders who are chosen under each system. We suggest this is because the qualities that make a potential executive leader a “good agent” of the party might be only loosely correlated with the qualities that make a potential leader sufficiently popular to win a separate election. Australia today is apparently going to give us an excellent case study in exactly why these leadership-selection distinctions matter.
It now appears, based on various news accounts, that Gillard has outmaneuvered Rudd and will survive the challenge, notwithstanding evidence that Rudd is favored by the voters.
If public opinion polls are to be believed, Rudd is vastly more popular than Gillard. For example a Newspoll survey, reported in The Age, has Rudd preferred over Gillard, 53% to 28%. Polls also suggest that he would run a closer contest, or even beat, opposition leader Tony Abbot, while Gillard would lose badly.
However, Australia does not select its executives by popular vote. The only voters who matter under the rules the Labor Party uses are the members of its parliamentary caucus. The Sydney Morning Heraldestimates that the 69 of the 103 caucus members back Gillard and only 29 Rudd.
That’s 67% Gillard in the caucus (and it may end up much higher), 53% Rudd in the public.
Rudd’s wife says the challenger’s campaign is “people-led“. Right; that’s the problem! Rudd and his backers are encouraging voters to contact their Labor MPs on Rudd’s behalf. I doubt many MPs will be swayed. This is their decision.
If the challenger is more popular with the public than the incumbent, one might expect that it would be the marginal seat-holders who would most tend to be in favor of the challenger. After all, they are the Labor MPs who are most vulnerable, and therefore would gain most from whatever additional votes a changed leader might bring to their party. Yet marginal members are actually more likely to favor the incumbent party leader and PM, Gillard, over Rudd. According to a count by the Sydney Morning Herald, only 5 of Labor’s 20 most marginal MPs favor Rudd. They are prepared to sacrifice their seats for the current leader. As the Herald concludes:
Another MP said marginal seat holders tended to support the leader because they got the most attention “Name me a leader who doesn’t listen to marginal seats and I’ll show you a leader who won’t win,” the MP said.
Evidently she listens to the selectorate that matters most to a PM’s career, an area in which Rudd has an ongoing failing.
If Rudd really is more popular, by such a wide margin as polls suggest, one might expect MPs and Senators to be persuaded. Of the many tasks a party leader has to perform, one of the most important is to be able to lead the party to electoral success. Quite likely, however, the caucus members simply do not believe the leader makes this much difference. There is little objective reason to think it would matter as much as the polling says, for when an election actually comes, voters in a parliamentary system will select their legislators based overwhelmingly on the party record, and not on images of the leader. Besides, before the election there is a government and a party to manage, and for Labor caucus members, they have been there, done that with Rudd.
From the point of view of the caucus, it can’t be a good thing to contemplate entering a second consecutive election with a PM who came to power due to an inter-electoral leadership “spill”. Divided parties rarely prosper–it is almost a political-science truism. Better to get this behind them–if they can–and get on with governing and repairing a record on which to run come the next election.
The Labor Party will undergo a leadership ballot on Monday morning after Kevin Rudd quit his post and flew back to Australia to challenge Julia Gillard for the job she took from him 20 months ago.
If Rudd wins, it may have implications for the current Labor-led minority government. At least two of the independent MPs have given some indications of doubt that they’d support a government under a changed PM.
In a previous thread it was established that Australia has a strange record of prime ministers being removed by their own parties at a far greater rate than anywhere else. We appear to be about to confirm that tendency:
Caucus members have been back in their electorates for two months and they have had plenty of time to soak up voters’ feelings. Now that they are returning to Canberra this weekend before the resumption of Parliament next Tuesday, some are admitting, away from the microphones and the cameras, that they cannot see how they can continue to support Gillard as their leader.
We may also be about to establish a record for prime ministers doing a Lazarus.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has withdrawn support from the Labor minority government in Australia over failure of the government to advance poker-machine reform. However, as noted in the Sydney Morning Herald, this development is not fatal to the government.
When, after the 2010 election, Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and the Greens agreed to support Labor, they gave just two guarantees: confidence and supply.
On the first, they would support a no-confidence motion against the government only in a case of serious misconduct or corruption. And, while they would guarantee supply, they reserved the right to vote against individual budget measures and other policies.
In announcing he was withdrawing support, Wilkie reaffirmed that this did not imply he would join the now-certain no-confidence motion to be brought by the opposition.
Wilkie’s threat to bring down the government if it did not meet his demands lost potency in November when Harry Jenkins was nudged from the speaker’s chair and replaced by the Liberal turncoat Peter Slipper. This gave Labor a two-vote buffer on the floor.
Wilkie would lose all influence if he voted to bring down the government, anyway. The tail can’t wag the dog if the dog is dead. And the Wilkie Wag [TM] now looks to be a weaker influence on the Labor party than that of the poker clubs’ lobby.
That’s the War Memorial (also a fantastic museum, by the way) at the bottom of the picture. Then the ANZAC Parade. On the day we left (which was not the day of this photo), ANZAC Parade was lined with alternating Australian and US flags, as Barack Obama was arriving for his visit that day.
The Premier of New South Wales (the state in which Sydney, Australia, is located) has received “expert” advice to introduce a system of recall elections in the state. From the SMH:
an early election could only be called with the support of 35 per cent of eligible voters, including at least 5 per cent from half the state’s electorates [districts.]
The article says the the expert commission’s report says that:
recall systems operate in 19 states of the US, the Canadian province of British Columbia, parts of Switzerland and Germany and in Liechtenstein, Bolivia, Venezuela, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.
However, if I understand the NSW proposal correctly, it would allow the petitioners to demand an early dissolution of parliament. Is there anything like this among recall provisions elsewhere? I thought all other recalls were directed at individual legislators or directly elected executives, not at a legislative chamber as a whole (and thus at any government responsible to said legislature). Would the NSW proposal, if adopted, be an innovation?
This sign says that a conscience vote is not enough. The Labor-led government plans to allow such a vote, meaning that the vote will not be whipped as government policy. Which likely means a proposal for leagalizing same-sex marriage will be defeated, which suits PM Julia Gillard just fine.
Here is a sign announcing a demonstration against the refugee policy.
And here is a view of one of the rallies outside the Convention Centre on Sunday, taken with the telephoto from the 40th floor of the Meriton Serviced Apartments on Kent St.
Australia’s House Speaker, Harry Jenkins, is resigning out of “frustration” with the role, which requires impartiality. Jenkins wants to resume participation in Labor Party policy debates. He will be replaced by his deputy, who is from the opposition Liberals. This change positively affects the balance of the closely divided House in favor of Labor. And it may undercut independent Senator Representative Andrew Wilkie’s leverage. Wilkie, one of four non-Labour MPs providing Labour with confidence and supply, has threatened to withdraw support over reform of poker machines (yes, really, “pokie” reform is his big issue).
Meanwhile, one of the other four MPs providing confidence and supply, Green MP Adam Bandt, has been named Australian politician of the year by GQ. The Sky article says GQ “mistakenly” refers to Bandt as the first Green ever elected to the House. But wasn’t he the first? I thought so, and Wikipedia says so. Wikipedia trumps GQ for me, unless someone convinces me otherwise.
The Australian House of Representatives has passed the government’s carbon tax bill by a vote of 74-72. To paraphrase Joe Biden, this is a B.F.D.
The measure still must pass the Senate, but there the Labor government and Greens combine for a large majority, so it is not in doubt. The House, where Labor has a minority and there is only one Green MP, was where the result was uncertain.
The Green leader, Bob Brown, has claimed that his party was right to block the previous Labor PM Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme, because the now-passed measures offer “so much more” than the previous proposal.
On the other side, opposition leader Tony Abbot has made a “pledge in blood” to repeal it if his Coalition wins the next election. Brown, the Green, does not think the threat is credible. “We’ll be winning more lower house seats, and we’ll be winning a stronger hold in the Senate,” he predicted.
The Australian government this week introduced to parliament a package of bills to regulate carbon. The government is a Labor minority, backed by Greens and independents. Labor is not doing well in polls (this is an understatement), and would lose to the Coalition (of Liberal and National) were there a new election for the House of Representatives.
The Coalition has promised to scrap the laws if they have passed before the next election (which is, presumably, likely). The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, has pointed out that the Coalition’s promise is “silly“. As reported in News.com.au:
The business community would be likely to be telling Mr Abbott [Coalition leader] once the legislation was in place and the scheme had commenced that carbon pricing was necessary to understand the nature of investment decisions and gauge expected returns, Mr Combet said.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4