When is not voting a vote?

The vote you have when you’re not having a vote

The silly season started early — as soon as the election was over.

Latest contributor of an amazing non-sequitur is Senator George Brandis — often a bloke who seems to have his head screwed on, compared with many in politics.

This week he needed to have the screw threads checked, with his opinion that the granting of a pair to the Speaker (whoever that may be) is a breach of Section 40 of the Australian constitution.

Let’s get this clear. Section 40 reads:

Questions arising in the House of Representatives shall be determined by a majority of votes other than that of the Speaker. The Speaker shall not vote unless the numbers are equal, and then he shall have a casting vote.”

Meanwhile, back at the Parliamentary ranch, the arrangement of pairs (not specifically covered by the Constitution) is a semi-formal (read “conventional”) system under which agreements are made on different sides of the House as to who will not vote when someone else is not voting. (It’s assumed to be an act involving consenting adults. )

Did you get that bit about not voting?

Apparently George and a few others have come up with this fascinating idea straight out of Lewis Carroll that if the Speaker is paired, and neither he nor his pair will cast a vote, this is a breach of the Constitutional provision which says “The Speaker shall not vote….

So if the Speaker doesn’t vote, he breaks the provision which says he shall not vote ?

“To extend pairing arrangements to the speaker would, in effect, be to treat the speaker’s casting vote, proleptically, as if it were a deliberative vote, which is a plain violation of the prohibition in [Section] 40.”

Whaaattt ??!! Come again, George?

What happened to common sense ?   Yes, we know you’re a lawyer, but that isn’t an excuse, even if you have invented a new version of the English language. No, not the “proleptically”* bit — the bit that says agreeing not to do something is inconsistent with not doing something!

*In case you needed to know, “proleptical” is a reference to something happening in anticipation of the events that would bring it about (as in, “Vote the wrong way, and you’re dead”). The only trouble for George is that the events involved imply consensual agreement not to vote. So if the Speaker agrees not to vote, he’s — well, not voting. And if he’s paired, someone else isn’t voting.  So ?  Where’s the breach? (Voting isn’t compulsory in the Parliament. You’re allowed to abstain.)


About petermaus

Former journalist, political and current affairs reporter/producer. Former media adviser to ALP and later Senior Adviser to Federal Minister. More recently, 20 years as technical writer in the computer industry, so entitled to claim to have demonstrated evidence of true penitence.
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