If nothing else, Eric Abetz has adroitly seized the
agenda during the current political vacuum. He can hardly expect to achieve
his electoral reform agenda, finally spelled out in detail last night in his
Sydney Institute speech. But you can’t blame him for trying.

Certainly, some senior Government figures are aghast at
the Special Minister for State’s push for voluntary
voting. Those who’ve gone public – like Ron Boswell
– believe voluntary voting might work against incumbency. But we’d have to
suck it and see; and that’s not something John Howard, who suffered long years
in Opposition, is likely to welcome. Unlike today’s young thrusters with “born to
rule” tattooed on their shoulders.

Like some of this government’s previous constitutional
frolics, the suspicion is that the Abetz agenda is a smokescreen, and not
something meant to succeed. But this discussion does offer the handy side-effect
of internalising serious debate into the Liberal party. For once, Liberal talk
is not about leadership, but about re-electing the government.

Cracking down on electoral fraud would certainly benefit
the Liberals, simply because historically the ALP has been better at it, if no
more enthusiastic.

But ultimately, Abetz appears to be using voluntary
voting as an ambit claim to be discarded as soon as he achieves his more modest
goals – like tightening the electoral roll.

Until then, the Abetz reforms appear just another throwaway to one of the Coalition special
interest groups. It makes them feel good, but Howard’s cautious comments tell
the true story; there is no public push for the Abetz agenda.

The “reforms” the government thinks will
help them will be the ones that get pushed through parliament – and that doesn’t
include four year terms, or voluntary voting.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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