Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Abbott’s Plebiscite Another Stunt

Tony Abbott has suggested a National Plebiscite to determine whether Australia should have a Carbon Tax.

Plebiscites and Referenda are somewhat different. In Australia, we use the term ‘Referendum’ when a question of Constitutional change is put to the people. If it passes by a majority of Australian voters, AND a majority of voters in a majority (4 –6) states, then the Government is bound to implement the change. A Plebiscite, or Advisory Referendum, has no requirement for Government action, regardless of the voting result.

Independent MP’s and Senators, the Greens, and the Labor Government have been critical of Abbott’s proposal. They have generally cited:
  1. the $80 Million estimated cost of a vote that does not require Government action
  2. it is just a political stunt, being nothing more than an opinion poll.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon (SA) was less critical, saying the question to asked should be “neutral”, avoiding the word ‘tax’. You can almost see Tony Abbott, and his faceless advisers, wince with pain.

There have been only 3 other national plebiscites:
1916 Conscription LOST
1917 Conscription LOST, but Billy Hughes introduced conscription anyway.
1977 Change National Anthem Anthem Changed to Advance Australia Fair

Tony Abbott has produced a media stunt derived purely from his own political pursuit of power. It would contribute nothing to debate about good policy: he wanted a question that effectively would have asked “Do you want to pay more tax? He did, however, admit that he would ignore the voice of the people if the vote went against him, while he would have insisted the Government follow the vote if it went against the Government!

While researching for this post, I came across the following sites. The third one, about Billy Hughes, is an interesting, because he tried to use Plebiscites to change the attitudes of his own (Labor) party, and opposition Senators.
  1. Australian Electoral Commission information, at http://www.aec.gov.au/Elections/referendums/Advisory_Referendums/
  2. article from Peter Brent, in The Australian. You can see it at http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/mumble/index.php/theaustralian/comments/fielding_does_abbott_a_favour/
  3. Information about Billy Hughes’ plebiscites on Conscription at the Museum of Australian Democracy – Old Parliament House, at http://billyhughes.moadoph.gov.au/conscription/