We have a mandate

Tony Abbott says Labor should support the Liberals on repealing carbon tax because he won the election, and he has a mandate.  Labor says they will still support carbon trading.  Who is right?

Let’s think about it.  Assuming a large part of why people voted Liberal was to repeal the carbon tax – which was to become a carbon trading scheme under Labor – it appears a majority of people want carbon trading to go away.  That is the basis for the Liberal’s mandate argument.

Using the same reasoning, a significant minority voted to implement the carbon trading scheme by voting Labor.  So the significant minority wanted the Labor solution rather than direct action.  If you argue that a slight majority demand Tony Abbott implement direct action and dump carbon pricing, you have to accept that a significant minority demand Labor do the opposite.

Labor has only one course open to it.  It must represent the views of those who voted for Labor.  Oppose direct action and support carbon pricing.  If enough votes went to Liberals to give them a majority in both houses,  they would be able to pass legislation regardless of the views of their opposition.  The reality is they don’t have the numbers in the Senate.  In addition, one in ten votes went to the Greens who agree (albeit with reservations) with carbon pricing.  So the Greens must also reflect their electors and vote no to abolishing carbon pricing.

Claiming we have a mandate is a dangerous game.  You are actually saying we won the election so you – the opposition – should abandon all your beliefs and vote with us.  The beliefs held by an opposition are the reason they were voted into the parliament.  For government or opposition, to abandon your beliefs is to abandon those who voted for you.

Here is another twist on the mandate argument.  Assume Liberals suddenly decided carbon pricing was OK and dropped direct action.  The press and public would be crying foul.  You promised us you would implement direct action.  Now, after we voted for you, you have changed your position.  Alan Jones would need a full time spittle wiper to stop him shorting out his radio console.  So why should an opposition not face the same reaction if they change direction by 180 degrees after an election?

The thing with democracy is that the people decide what you can do.  They support or reject your policies when they vote you in or out of office.  The level of power they give you is contained by the margin of the victory.  Voters are usually wary of giving parties power to do what they like.  This is why there is a Senate or house of review.  You might be able to get legislation through the lower house because you have a majority.  You have to negotiate it through the Senate.  Usually that requires compromise.

Tony Abbott’s mandate argument has more holes than a mosquito net.