The article by Alex Mitchell in yesterday’s Crikey was one of the silliest pieces of half-information I have read in a long time. That is not to suppose the basic idea of the article is wrong. That idea of John Della Bosca becoming premier of NSW is sensible and I advocated it in an article I had published in The Australian on May 28, “From the Senate to the Lodge“.

The error in Mitchell’s article is this sentence: “To comply with the constitution he (Della Bosca) needs to vacate his place in the NSW upper house and move to the Legislative Assembly” — Wrong! There is nothing in the NSW Constitution (nor in that of any other state) to say that the Premier cannot be a member of the Legislative Council.

The further part of the article is even sillier. Mitchell suggests that Della Bosca should transfer to the Legislative Assembly by winning a by-election for the seat of Gosford. Who does Mitchell think he is kidding? Gosford is a highly marginal Labor seat. Neither Della Bosca nor any other Labor candidate would have any hope of winning a Gosford by-election held prior to the March 2011 general election.

There is nothing in the Australian Constitution to say that a senator cannot be Prime Minister. Nor is there anything in any state constitution to say that a member of the Legislative Council cannot be Premier. Commentators wrongly imagine the existence of such provisions, but none are to be found.

Where, then, does this notion come from? The answer is that the idea is pure prejudice which begins from the fact that so many people think we should copy British practices. There is common sense in the idea that a British Prime Minister should, these days, be a member of the House of Commons, because it is elected where the House of Lords is not.

However, there is no reason why we should copy that practice. Our upper house members are, in every case, democratically elected. Indeed, in the case of Della Bosca he was, in March 2007, elected by all the people of New South Wales whereas Nathan Rees was only elected by the people of his Toongabbie district.

Because of British practice John Gorton, in January 1968, resigned as a Victorian senator in order to contest the by-election for Higgins, the ultra-safe Liberal seat held by Gorton’s deceased predecessor, Harold Holt. Gorton won the by-election. There was no need for Gorton to do that but, in those circumstances, the gamble was safe.

For Della Bosca the situation is quite different. If he took Mitchell’s advice he would be Premier for two months because he would need to resign as Premier after he failed to win Gosford.

It needs to be remembered that former upper house member Barrie Unsworth in 1987 came within a whisker of losing a safe seat in the Legislative Assembly at a by-election. That memory has taught NSW Labor analysts to agree with me.

If Della Bosca is to be Premier it should take the form of his continuing to be in the Legislative Council. Then at the March 2011 general election he could seek election for a safe Labor seat in the Assembly.

The current Indian Prime Minister is not a member of the lower house, or Lok Sabha. He is a member of the upper house, or Rajya Sabha. He is the equivalent of an Australian senator. Consequently when he won the recent Indian general election he became the first Prime Minister since the Marquis of Salisbury in October 1900 to win a general election at which he was not, himself, a candidate.

As I said in The Australian, New South Wales has Nathan Rees as Premier when John Della Bosca should be Premier. Della Bosca is a member of the Legislative Council and has every bit as strong a claim to being democratically elected as Rees.

So let it be noted: if Della Bosca becomes Premier it will be recorded that it was Malcolm Mackerras who first mentioned the idea, not Alex Mitchell.