For a man who spent almost his whole political career in opposition,
it’s remarkable that Gough Whitlam has such a pro-government approach
to the Constitution. Every change he’s ever proposed, as far as I can
recall, has had the purpose of centralising power, strengthening the
hand of the government and removing checks and balances.
This morning he’s at it again, with a call to reduce the number of elections, specifically by holding state and federal elections on the same day.
To fully implement such a plan, of course, would
require fixed terms all round, which would be a step forward, and
four-year terms for the House of Representatives (which wouldn’t). But
the basic idea of synchronising state and federal polls is a crock. It
would tend to align state and federal governments more closely,
reducing the likelihood of maintaining a balance between them. There
would be one less way of measuring voter discontent mid-term, and one
less opportunity to send a message to Canberra.
State politics, overshadowed by concurrent federal
campaigns, would get even less coverage than it does today, and lack of
scrutiny would give incumbent governments a free run. It is likely that
synchronised elections, already held in most states in the US, are one
of the reasons for that country’s amazingly high re-election rates for
incumbents: there is simply a limit to the number of things a voter can focus on at
once, and faced with information overload the default option is to vote
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But that’s always been Whitlam’s line: weaken the
states, weaken the Senate, weaken (of course) the governor-general, and
concentrate power in the prime minister. Those views weren’t surprising
when he was in government, but it shows a remarkable consistency that
he sticks to them through thick and thin.