Why didn’t Prime Minister Julia Gillard put a vote to the House of Reps on mandatory pre-commitment? Why did the government make the call before it could even be debated on the floor, in the full knowledge that the legislation would be defeated (thus saving their bacon in NSW and Queensland marginal seats) but with their moral high ground intact? Why didn’t they let Andrew Wilkie take the fall for a failure to garner the votes he needed instead of further fuelling the perception that Gillard’s promises can’t be trusted?

According to Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review today, it’s because “… the view at the top was firmly that Labor’s authority rests on the fact it has not lost a vote in parliament, despite its minority status”.

The government is desperate to avoid feeding Abbott’s line that minority government has left parliament in disarray, that democracy can’t function under these chaotic conditions. And truth is, they haven’t lost a vote. But is that fact cutting through?

Voters don’t like the idea of minority government as a rule. But they do like mandatory pre-commitment, as reinstated by yesterday’s Essential polling — 62% of voters support mandatory pre-commitment and 25% oppose it, a strengthening of support since October, when the figures were 61% and 30%.

So what’s worse? Losing a vote and potentially giving voters the idea that Gillard can’t run the government, or reigniting the issue of trust and the idea that, as Tingle puts it, “the government chickens out too easily on too many issues”?

*Insert chicken sound here* *

* Crowd sourcing produced chicken squawking spelling suggestions such as “bok bok”, “b’kairk”, “bkaw”, and @jonathonio’s “acookalookaloo” but we’ll defer to Mick the sub’s informed opinion.

Peter Fray

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