5 August 2016 | Author: Mark Spencer
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has finalised counting in both the House of Representatives and Senate following the 2 July 2016 Federal Election. While some of the formalities are still yet to be completed, and there remains the unlikely possibility of legal challenges in the Court of Disputed Returns, we now have a fairly clear picture of what the 45th Parliament will look like when it sits for the first time at the end of this month.
House of Representatives
As we are all aware the Coalition government has been returned with a significantly reduced majority.
The ‘Other’ category includes the re-elected Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan as well as Rebekha Sharkie of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) elected in the South Australian seat of Mayo. Clive Palmer did not recontest his seat and both former MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott were unsuccessful in their bids for re-election.
While these raw numbers alone suggest a significant change in the composition of the Parliament this election was also significant for the number of resignations and retirements from both major parties. We are seeing a significant period of generational change in the House of Representatives.
In addition, some key Christian MPs have lost their seats with two members of the executive committee of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship losing their seats, one being the former President, Louise Markus. Mrs Markus has been a strong supporter of Christian schools and instrumental in ensuring greater involvement by student leaders in significant National events like the Australian National Prayer Breakfast.
There are around 40 CSA member schools who will have a change of Federal MP as a result of this election. CSA is writing to each of them and will be seeking meetings with each of them over the course of the sitting weeks during the remainder of this year. We will also be contacting affected schools and providing you with relevant details for your new MP.
With the Government having a bare majority in the House of Representatives the approach taken by the Opposition during this Parliament will be critical. If the Opposition seeks to be obstructionist, making regular calls for a quorum in the Chamber and refusing to grant ‘pairs’ for MPs seeking to be excused from attending Parliament during parts of sitting periods the business of the Parliament will be very difficult. This approach also tends to engender considerable ill-will and exacerbate partisan differences. We should certainly pray that this will not be the approach taken for the sake of the good government needed by our Nation.
The unusual ‘double dissolution’ election resulted in a ‘full’ rather than ‘half’ Senate election. While recent electoral reforms were said to favour parties over individual candidates or ‘micro-parties’ in the Senate the ‘quota’ for election in a ‘double dissolution’ election is lower. In addition, in a ‘double dissolution’ election it is more difficult for any single party to gain six seats in an individual state, a factor will affected the Coalition as you can see below.
In the former Senate the Coalition held 33 seats, Labor 25, the Greens 10 and the cross-bench consisted of eight. As you can see the Coalition held six seats in three states.
Four of the previous cross-bench Senators lost their seats in this election:
- Lazarus (Ind)
- Madigan (DLP)
- Muir (AMEP)
- Wang (PUP)
The Senate for the 45th Parliament shows a loss of seats to the Coalition and Greens and a slight gain to Labor, along with an expanded cross-bench:
Four existing cross-bench Senators were re-elected:
- Bob Day (FF, SA)
- Jacqui Lambie (JLN, TAS)
- David Leyonhjelm (LD, NSW)
- Nick Xenophon (NXT, SA)
In addition there are seven new Senators who will take their seats on the cross-bench:
- Brian Burston (PH One Nation, NSW)
- Rodney Culleton (PH One Nation, WA)
- Stirling Griff (NXT, SA)
- Pauline Hanson (PH One Nation, QLD)
- Derryn Hinch (DH Justice Party, VIC)
- Skye Kakoksche-Moore (NXT, SA)
- Malcolm Roberts (PH One Nation, QLD)
While there is some suggestion of a challenge to the election of Rodney Culleton in Western Australia if he was declared to be unable to take his position he would most likely be replaced by the second One Nation candidate, Peter Georgiou.
As 39 Senators constitutes a (bare) majority the Government will need to get the support of either Labor, the Greens, or 9 of the 11 cross bench Senators. With the One Nation, four Senators, and NXT, three Senators, groups anticipated to have far more ‘party-discipline’ that the Palmer United Party exhibited after the last election it is obvious that the support of one of these groupings will be vital if obtaining the support of the cross bench is needed to pass legislation.
CSA is making contact with all the new Senators to provide a briefing on education issues and ensure that the views of Christian schools are understood.
Impact on Christian Schools
The Coalition went to the election promising to address inequities in the current school funding distribution and end uncertainty about future funding, with a model to emerge from consultations with the states and non-government sector by “early 2017”. The Government has underlined that its funding will be based on “the principles of being affordable, needs based, stable, simple, fair and transparent”.
As we have previously noted the Coalition’s decision not to continue the Gonski transition beyond 2017 leaves some states, notably South Australia, at a significant disadvantage. In their response to CSA prior to the election the Government indicated that “A re-elected Coalition Government will seek to achieve equitable treatment across jurisdictions and sectors as quickly as possible and certainly within a two year period post 2017”.
Funding for students with disabilities remains a vexed issue with the Government retreating from previous commitments in relation to the role of the NCCD data until such time as the Commonwealth and States and Territories are “in agreement and satisfied with the robustness of the NCCD data”.
Full details of their response was in our briefing here.
In order to achieve these goals the Government is looking to amend the current legislation, the Australian Education Act 2013. While passage through the House of Representatives should be assured it can be fairly safely assumed that Labor and the Greens will oppose the Government’s amendments in the Senate. This will necessitate negotiations with the cross bench, including the One Nation and NXT groups.
While One Nation does not have a specific education policy it is addressed briefly in their aims (item 5) – ‘Our children are the future leaders of our nation. They must be given every opportunity to a decent affordable education.’ In addition they indicate in their aims a belief that ‘we are a Christian country’. It could be inferred that this will result in a favourable reception for policies that support Christian schools.
The NXT policy principles, see here, are more expansive and include the following examples of aims in relation to education:
Implement and fully fund Gonski to address the inadequate and piecemeal approach to funding for our schools. Currently schools in South Australia receive less Federal Government funding than if they were in any other state or territory. If this funding inequity continues, South Australian independent school students will receive on average $400 less in funding each year, increasing each year from 2017 compared to students in other states. This funding discrimination against South Australian schools and their students must be reversed as a matter of urgency.
Further support for students with special learning needs including students with disability and high achievers.
Once again these would seem to be positions broadly supportive of Christian schools, but possibly not as closely aligned with the Government’s position.
CSA will continue to work hard during this Parliament to ensure that the Government, Opposition, Greens and key Senators are conscious of the needs of Christian schools. We will keep schools informed of further developments.