With Alex Somlyay cutting a deal with Labor to become deputy Speaker – giving the government support for no confidence bills and budget supply as part of the agreement, but retaining his right to vote on legislation – we end up with a tale of two majorities on the floor of the House.

The first majority is for government existence itself – the ability to withstand no confidence motions that could change the government without needing an election.

All of the independents (and I’m not counting Tony Crook here in the mix, who I suggest will behave as a Coalition member regardless of how loudly he proclaims otherwise in his pursuit of shoring up his local constituency in O’Conner) have stated that they will not support trivial motions of no confidence unless something akin to corruption has occurred – and that includes Bob Katter. Even though Katter declared his hand for the Coalition as his preferred party of choice in the post-election negotiations, he’s also stated the government should be allowed to run its course.

To look at the way the numbers for this majority play out we have Labor starting with 72 seats. We subtract Speaker Jenkins from that to bring it down to 71. We then add Alex Somlyay to that number as part of his deal with getting the deputy Speaker gig, bringing it back to 72. We then add the 5 independents pushing it out to 77.

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On the Coalition side, they start with 73 but lose Somlyay, bringing them down to 72.

A relatively strong 77-72 government majority against no confidence motions suggests that in the absence of some form of corrupt government activity, only a new election could change the government over the next 3 years. This makes the government’s existence pretty safe.

Yet, the second majority – the one needed for the government to pass any legislation in the House – is of such fragility that we can’t really call it a majority to begin with.

On legislation, we have Labor starting at 72 seats on paper, but which falls to 71 seats in practice as Harry Jenkins is Speaker. So to reach the magic number of 75 that is required to pass bills, Labor needs to get 4 of the 5 independents to support any given piece of policy.

When you look at the disparities in the world views of Katter, Windsor, Oakeshott, Wilkie and Bandt – getting 4 out of those 5 to agree on something will often become a very interesting exercise.

The other issue that will pop up is managing government business in the House. When the Opposition gets snarky and disruptive in the Reps – a standard tactic deployed by every Opposition to create havoc and push political barrows – the government can usually use its majority on the floor of the House to suspend standing or sessional orders, so that they can knock those sorts of political games on the head.

Yet with no real government majority here, not only will Gillard be reliant on 4 out of 5 indies to pass legislation, but also reliant on 4 out of 5 indies to simply manage the business of the House. That could well become a proposition even more difficult for the government than passing their legislative agenda.

So we a tale of two majorities – where the government has a robust majority on its existence and for its budget, but no majority at all for managing the business of the House and passing legislation. That is neither a good nor bad thing, but it is certainly a difficult thing.

Let’s hope that the government provides the resources necessary for the indies to be able to manage their new found responsibility. Even though the government has already increased the staffing levels and resources for their offices, I would be surprised if it ends up being enough considering that the indies have to be across every single piece of legislation entering the House – something I’m sure we all wish was the norm for every Member, but in reality, is rarely the case because of the complexity and enormity involved.

The last thing we need is legislative drag being created by an unusual electoral circumstance getting T-boned by under resourcing. While other members of the House may get a bit pissed off by the Independents receiving the sort of special treatment and resources they could only dream about – a functioning Parliament should take a higher priority than partisan politics and petty grievances.

UPDATE:

Now Somlyay has backed out of the deal as of Saturday lunch time.

So the Somlyay deal was on yesterday, then the Coalition issued a statement on Somlyay’s letterhead yesterday afternoon stating that Somlyay would nominate for Speaker but with no Labor deal, then yesterday evening Somlyay stated that the Coalition media statement was incorrect and there was a deal, now he has backflipped to a no deal position and he is not nominating for the position.

We could have another 3 or 4 episodes of this drama before Tuesday.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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