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A Hung Parliament

  • Present Position of the 2010 Federal Election – Sunday 22nd August 2010

    Our Federal parliament is made up of two Houses, the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House). The Lower House is made up of 150 Members of Parliament who represent the elected Members from every electorate in the country. The Upper House has a Constitutional requirement to be as close to half the number of Members in the Lower House as possible, and so the Senate is made up of 76 Senators; 12 from each State and 2 from each Territory.

    The Prime Minister and his or her government are members of the Lower House, while the Senate acts as a filter to scrutinize legislation before it is made into law. Nothing becomes law unless it is passed by both Houses. Every act of government is conducted with the authority of law and so this facet of our legal system is the cornerstone of legitimacy in government.

    The Lower House undergoes a re-election of members every 3 years, and in the Upper House State Senators are elected for 6 years with half the State Senators needing to face an election every 3 years. Territory Senators are elected for 3 years and undergo an election every 3 years.

    Conventions – Whoever controls support of the Lower House

    In our Constitution, there is nothing said about Prime Ministers. In fact, the Governor General is the Constitutional Executive who is responsible for the operations of the parliament. This is the product of numerous historical nuances but in essence, while we operate by law, we also observe a number of ‘conventions’. The most noteworthy of these right now is the fact that the Governor General conventionally selects an Executive Council to conduct the operations of government on his behalf. We know this to be the Cabinet, made up of the Prime Minister and Ministers of the major portfolios.

    By convention, the Governor General swears in the leader of the party in the Lower House (the Prime Minister) who has the majority of support. With 150 members, a Lower House party needs 76 seats to govern with the Governor Generals approval.

    While counting is still in progress, with 70-80% of counting already completed, in many seats it is possible to vaguely predict the result due to the sheer volume of votes toward a candidate. Still, until counting is completed the figures are prone to change. Many seats may look like the result is clear but may indeed surprise in the final result.

    Presently, neither the ALP nor the Coalition has enough seats to obtain a majority in the Lower House. Currently (on 22/08/10) the ALP has 72 seats, the Coalition 70 seats, 4 Independents have won seats, and 1 seat has been won by the Greens. A mere 3 seats are yet to be counted; Hasluck, Brisbane, and Boothby. Apart from these three undecided seats there are many more that are still prone to change.

    However, due to the seats being won by Independents and Greens, the seats attributed at present to the major parties favor the prospect that there is a ‘hung parliament’ i.e. no party has or is likely to have, outright majority with which to govern. In this event, negotiations will take place and support obtained from those with seats to bargain with. In return concessions are made to the person lending support to the would-be government. It may be the introduction of a policy, a ministerial position, or even the introduction of specific legislation to the parliament. The result is a hybrid government that is the result of cooperation between those that ordinarily would have differing political views. This outcome can be beneficial to the nation and of course to those parties cooperating, as they both receive part of what they desire politically.

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