A long succession of very bad polls – with another reported today – has Liberals starting to talk about Opposition (I’m a pessimist; I started in January). One Liberal-supporting blog reader emailed me last week wondering about how the party would operate in the Senate under a Rudd government.
He was right that the good 2004 result would see the Coalition in less trouble in the Senate than the House of Representatives, but very optimistic that it would be in a position, on its own, to stop Labor legislation over its first term.
To do that, it would need 38 of the 76 Senators. Assuming that the 2 Senate places in each of the ACT and the NT will as usual go equally to the ALP and the Liberals/Country Liberal Party (in the NT), it will have the 21 seats it won in 2004. With half the seats in the six states going up for re-election, the Coalition would need to pick up 17 of the 36 seats up for grabs.
The one poll specifically on the Senate published so far suggests that the Coalition is assured of only 12, with perhaps another from Queensland – still four short. On some issues, Family First’s Steve Fielding will vote with the Coalition, but he still leaves them three short. With the Democrats due to disappear, the balance of power will be held by the Greens, who are well to the left of the ALP.
However, as the terms of the state Senators elected in late 2007 won’t actually start until 1 July 2008 the Coalition could be obstructionist for the first seven or eight months of a Rudd government. While this is a legal possibility, I doubt that it would be a political possibility on anything that the ALP had made central to its election campaign. Though ‘mandate theory’ has its conceptual problems, as the Senate exists as a brake on the House of Representatives, it is often used as an argument for the Senate passing legislation for which the government is said to have electoral support (there is a chapter on it in Stanley Bach’s useful book about the Senate). The Coalition parties, already electorally battered, aren’t likely to risk further alienating voters by obstructing key Labor bills.
Indeed, I’d expect Labor to have a pretty easy time in the Senate. Either the Liberals or the Greens are likely to broadly support most of what the ALP has announced so far.
Update: If I had been reading Crikey’s new blog, I’d have realised that Charles Richardson also discussed this issue last Friday.