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24 March 2014

Whiney Pyney's fury at 'illegitimate' SA government smacks of sore loser

Christopher Pyne refuses to be swayed by the facts

Minister denounces Jay Weatherill's winning alliance with an independent, even though it's a well-worn Liberal tactic

Christopher Pyne, clearly deeply unhappy with independent Geoff Brock's decision to back Labor to form a government in his home state, has declared that South Australian premier Jay Weatherill leads an illegitimate government and added, threateningly, he will be treated that way.

The Liberal party won the popular vote and Jay Weatherill presides over an illegitimate government, the Liberals achieved 53% of the two party preferred vote. They won 51.5% of the two-party preferred vote in 2010 ... Jay Weatherill's government is an illegitimate government. He presides over a parliament where he holds on with the support of a conservative seat independent in Frome, which is a seat that has always been traditionally held by the Liberal party, Pyne fumed.

This sore-loser response to the failure to secure support from independents after a line ball election might sound familiar, because we heard exactly the same thing after the federal election in 2010, when Labor leader Julia Gillard formed government with the support of independents, even though she had won a narrow majority of the two-party preferred vote.

Senator George Brandis claimed back then that most Australians wanted a change of government. Your government has as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team (who were embroiled in a betting scandal at the time).

And Christopher Pyne himself said it's fair to say this government doesn't have any legitimacy.

Journalists tried to point out to Pyne that Labor won the South Australian election based on the existing electoral rules, that a government is formed by whomever wins support from a majority of members elected from single-member electorates, but the education minister would not be swayed by these facts.

Weatherill, despite winning the election based on the law of the land, was in fact illegitimate, or, according to the dictionary, not authorised by law or improper.

It is a legal interpretation the Coalition seems to apply selectively.

In 1998, for example, John Howard won 48.9% of the two-party preferred vote but won a majority of seats and formed government. There's no record of Pyne calling him illegitimate.

And, of course, neither Tony Abbott nor South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall were shy in trying to form government by winning the support of independents for themselves.

When challenged further, Pyne switched to an implicit attack on the South Australian electoral commission.

Well then, perhaps the electoral commissioner in South Australia should look at the way they are drafting the boundaries, we won 53% of the two-party preferred vote and the Electoral Commission draws the boundaries and they drew the boundaries in a way that appears to have favoured the Labor party.

The electoral commission has an act of parliament that requires that if 50% plus one of the vote goes to one party they should win 50% plus one of the seats. In the last six elections Labor has won two-party preferred majority once and yet been governing since 2002. Now, either the Electoral Commission has had a whoops moment on several occasions or they don't know how to draw electoral boundaries in order to fulfil the requirements of the Act.

SA does have a fairness clause, which hasn't delivered its desired result, but that is almost certainly because of the concentration of conservative votes in very safe seats, rather than any deliberate misdeeds by the electoral commission.

It is open to the Coalition to propose changes to the fairness test, or to the entire South Australian electoral system, but many alternative systems would favour minor parties or would be more likely to deliver close, hung parliament results.

Alternatively, it could use the alleged illegitimacy of the government to take the same approach to opposition that Tony Abbott did federally, which might be close to what Pyne is suggesting.

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