There will be a brief moment of bad headlines for the government that will soon fade away. This is short-term, but the slow bleeding of the government’s authority continues, writes The Mandarin‘s Public Sector Director Peter Debus.
The fact that the Coalition government lost a vote on the floor of the House yesterday is not the end of the world, nor even the end of the government’s ability to govern.
Several commentators have been quick to point out this was not a tipping point. As the Opposition was careful to excise any money provisions from the bill, it represents no real vote of no confidence. Anne Twomey, one of Australia’s pre-eminent experts in constitutional law, has pointed out: “Now that it is no longer a money bill, and given that the government did not declare it to be an issue of confidence, the government can continue governing.”
This vote doesn’t change the slow bleeding of the government’s authority: the optics look a little worse but change very little.
“The government will continue to look weak on several fronts and the long-term trend of limping towards defeat in May has not changed.”
There will be a brief moment of bad headlines for the government that will soon fade away. This is short-term, but the underlying dynamics don’t change. The government will continue to look weak on several fronts and the long-term trend of limping towards defeat in May has not changed.
Indeed, if the coalition had to govern for two to three years with these numbers they could quite possibly make it. There are enough cross-benchers with a sense of responsibility to stable government that Morrison, Pyne, Corman et al could keep governing and shaping a legislative agenda in much the same way that Prime Minister Julia Gillard was able to do for so long.
With our adversarial, two-party system, we tend to overly dramatise a lack of a majority in Parliament. If we look at it comparatively, we see that minority governments in countries throughout Western Europe run routinely for several months after an election and before a new coalition is formed.
In Denmark, 28 of the 32 governments since 1945 have lacked a majority. The Netherlands routinely has a minority government for three to six months following a national election, while Germany had one for quite some time after its last federal election. Both Sweden and Spain too have recently had stable minority governments.
So while a technical defeat on the House floor is unusual, it’s not time to panic just yet.
Top image: Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference after the government lost the vote on the medivac bill in the House of Representatives in Canberra on Tuesday. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas