Tag Archives: Abbott’s preference for referendum date

The political culture of Australian government

Chapter 2 of Australian Political Institutions 10e explains the various influences on the organization and operation of our political institutions such as ideology, federalism, liberal democratic principles, the Westminster tradition and party government.  The purpose of this blog is to update the detail contained in the chapter,

The growth of government that has occurred since Federation is indicated in figures for NSW and federal ministries set out on page 27.  Recent data indicates that institutional growth in these arenas has stabilised.  The NSW ministry in 2011 and December 2014 remains steady at 22 ministers.  The Gillard government federal ministry in March 2010 comprised 21 cabinet ministers, 8 outer ministers and 12 parliamentary secretaries.  The Abbott ministry at 29 December 2014 comprised 19 cabinet ministers, an outer ministry of 11 made up of 3 ministers of departments and 8 assistant ministers, and 12 parliamentary secretaries.

The ongoing significance of the major political parties in Australia’s federal parliamentary system is evident from Table 2.1 ‘Total first preference votes for major parties’ (p. 28). However, the data reveals a decline in voter support in recent years.  Major parties in 2007 secured 85.47 per cent of total first preference votes, in 2010 this fell to 77.88 per cent and to 74.04 per cent in 2013.  On the other hand the  percentage of first preference votes for the major parties in the last two half-Senate elections remained relatively stable at 65.45 per cent in 2010 and 66.98 per cent in 2013.  The larger cross-bench Senate following the 2013 election was a function of preference swapping between minor parties to deliver a quota.

Multiculturalism is a factor in the make-up of  Australian society.  Migration continues to be a major contributor to Australia’s population growth.  Between June 1996 and June 2013 the proportion of the Australian population born overseas increased by 51.2 per cent to 6.4 million people (Australian Migration Trends 2012-2013 at a glance: http://www.immi.gov.au/pub-res/Documents/statistics/migration-trends-2012-13-glance.pdf).

The relevance is also evident from Table 2.3 ‘Overseas-born Australian residents: Top 15 countries of birth, 2006 Australian census (see page 31 of the text book).  The 2011 census (which reduced these rankings from 15 to the top 10 countries of birth) reveals movements in the contemporary mix of migrants resident in  Australia: 1. United Kingdom (previously ranked separately as England and Scotland); 2. New Zealand; 3. China; 4. India (previously 6); 5. Italy; 6.
Vietnam; 7. Philippines; 8. South Africa; 9. Malaysia; 10. Germany.  Greece, Netherlands and Lebanon included in the 2006 rankings were bundled into the general category of ‘born elsewhere’ in the 2011 census (http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@nsf/Lookup/2071.0Main+Features902012%E2%80%932013?OpenDocument accessed 27 December 2014).

There have also been changes to the rankings of the top 10 countries of origin of permanent arrivals to Australia since the figures for 2005/2006 contained in Table 2.4 (see page 31 of the text book).  The rankings in 2010-11 were: 1. New Zealand (previously 2); United Kingdom (previously 1); 3. People’s Republic of China (previously 4); 4. Ireland (did not rank in 2005-2006 table); 5. Philippines; 6. India (previously 3); 7. South Africa (previously 6); 8. United States of America (did not rank in 2005-2006 figures); 9. Vietnam (previously 10); 10. Malaysia (previously 8) (‘Net Overseas Migration by Citizenship’ http://www.immi.gov.au/pub-res/Documents/statistics/migration-trends-2012-2013.pdf).

The political representation of Australia’s Indigenous people at the federal level has been instituted by a series of different bodies established  in the context of the political agenda of the government of the day (see page 34 of the text book).  The Abbott government’s approach continues this trend with the establishment of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council charged under the Terms of Reference to ‘provide advice to the Government on Indigenous Affairs’ and ‘focus on practical changes to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’.  Council members, prescribed to be indigenous and non-indigenous and include representation from ‘private, public and civil society drawn from across Australia’ including ‘at least one representative from a remote area’ are appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2013-12-05/first-meeting-prime-ministers-indigenous-advisory-council).

The issue of constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous people discussed in the text book (see Chapter 3, pages 87-88) gained traction on the Abbott government’s political agenda when an interim report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples included a ‘strong view’ that the referendum should be held no later than the 2016 federal election (www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-16/committee-calls-for-referendum-on-indigenous-recognition/5748504).  However, prime minister Abbott expressed the view that he would like the referendum to occur on 27 May 2017, the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum (www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-11/indigenous-recognition-vote-could-be-delayed=pm-says/5962010).  This is an example of the prime minister shaping the issue in the context of his personal preference.

Dr Gwynneth Singleton

29 December 2014