Andrew Wilkie is playing a clever hand with his anti-pokies policy auction by promising a decision before the other three independents have barely started sweeping deliberations with department heads and senior big party politicians.
Julia Gillard met with Wilkie for an hour on Saturday and was given until today to respond to his letter listing 20 key areas of interest with the two so-called deal breakers being meaningful pokies reform and some funding for the long neglected Hobart hospital.
Tony Abbott is meeting with Wilkie today to receive the same letter and then the famous intelligence whistleblower expects to announce his decision by Wednesday.
Whoever wins Wilkie’s support gets into the driver’s seat by moving to 74 seats, assuming you allocate WA National Tony Crook to the Coalition and Green Adam Bandt to Labor. My money is on Wilkie’s choice determining the government because the successful applicant would then only require two of the three rural independents to form a government.
Whilst Katter is a wild card, Oakeshott and Windsor will probably stick together and pursue an outcome than retains their key balance of power position. Unless all three are emphatically behind one side or the other, the only way to take Katter out of the equation is to follow Wilkie’s decision.
If Wilkie supports Gillard, it is very hard to see how the three rural independents could prop up an Abbott Government which served for more than a few months.
For starters, various renegade Nats could bring the house down, although the two most voluble – Barnaby Joyce and John Williams — are in the Senate and irrelevant to any vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives.
The other destabilising element is the coming High Court challenge to two new Coalition MPs who foolishly failed to resign their positions on local councils before being elected.
Former Campbelltown mayor Russell Matheson, the new Liberal member for Macarthur, is even promising to stay on Liverpool council despite serving in the Federal Parliament.
And George Christensen, the new CLP member for Dawson, only formally quit the Mackay Regional Council last week after it was clear he’d scored a political promotion.
Both these chaps could fall foul of section 44 (iv) of the Constitution which prohibits anyone enjoying an office of profit under the crown from nominating for Federal Parliament.
Independent Phil Cleary and Liberal Jacqui Kelly both faced by-elections after coming a cropper in court challenges relying on this constitutional provision, but the High Court has never been asked whether this includes councillor stipends.
As a councillor in Victoria running for the Senate, I received very strong advice to quit before the election but this was ignored given there was no prospect of success.
The Coalition holds Dawson by just 2.08% and Macarthur by 3.17% so Labor sympathizers would definitely have a crack at the High Court given success would trigger two by-elections in winnable marginal seats that would bring down a minority Abbott Government.
As the major parties contemplate just how far they push the pokies reform agenda to secure Wilkie’s support, it is worth considering a report in the Fairfax broadsheets today which quotes an academic study showing John Howard’s guns buyback policy reduced suicides using a fire-arm by 200 a year.
If you can buy back guns and water licences, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t buy back pokies licences.
Sure, it will be expensive to compensate State governments, but think of the benefit to those citizens who are currently losing almost $10 billion a year playing the pokies. A whopping $4 billion of those losses are estimated to come from Australia’s 100,000 problem gamblers.
No other country on earth has comparable statistics, so why wouldn’t Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott take up the challenge and commit to things like the $1 maximum bet as the Productivity Commission recommended?