Passing  bull 52 – Asking the wrong question


A simple way to go off the rails and descend into bullshit is to ask the wrong question.  As it happens, the law applied this technique to allow courts to interfere with administrative decisions of government.  Judges can’t override government just because they disagree with the decision, but they can set aside a decision if the government department did not have the power to make such a decision – and if the judges thought that the department had asked the wrong question, then they might find that it had acted beyond its powers in reaching its answer to that question.  On that ground, the court could set aside the original decision.

The FBI has just decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Hillary Clinton over her emails.  They plainly had power to make that decision.  They then added that she had been careless.  Where did they get the power – some might say ‘right ‘ – to ask a question that could lead them to decide to make and publish that judgment?

There is a clear trend away from the traditional two party system in Australia and the UK, and to a lesser extent the U S.  That being so, you might very well be asking yourself the wrong questions if you analyse current election results in two party terms.  Yet that is what most commentators have been doing after the federal election just concluded.  So many seats turned on the role of small parties and independents, and one major party is rejoicing even though it barely secured a little more than a third of the overall vote.

So far as I know, Laura Tingle of the AFR, who is in my view our best commentator, is the only one to have said so.

What happened in Eden-Monaro on Saturday night is once again a talisman for this election campaign, but not in the traditional sense.

For, like almost every other seat that has definitively changed hands so far in this election, the real story was not about a swing from one major party to the other but a complex story of shifting minor party votes and preferences.

Understanding what has happened in these seats – and we obviously won’t have a complete picture until the count is complete – is important to understand the lessons of the election.

But it also makes much of the commentary about the strengths and weaknesses of both major parties’ campaigns in recent days fairly farcical…….

What the primary votes suggest is that what was noted throughout the campaign – that neither side of politics had really been able to engage a lot of swinging voters – proved true on polling day; that a myriad of other, often very local factors, had as much of a role in determining the outcome as any national message, and that disillusioned voters turned very deliberately to minor parties instead.

Winning and losing candidates from both major parties report seeing an unprecedented level of local issues affecting votes from booth to booth, whether it be council amalgamations, mobile phone towers and in some smaller centres the ‘Mediscare’…….

Both sides – and both winners and losers – talk of all the voters who quite knowingly voted for minor parties in a vacuum of trust of either leader, and a vacuum which also extended to the Greens…….

In this environment, the election outcome became more of a lottery than normal as the differing preferences of minor parties played out, often against each other.

…….. much of the post-election discussion continues to be conducted as if it were a two horse race.

Poet of the month: Keats

Ode to a Nightingale – Part VIII

Forlorn!  the very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu!  the fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintiff anthem fades

Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

Up the hill-side; and now ‘tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music – Do I wake or sleep?

3 thoughts on “Passing  bull 52 – Asking the wrong question

  1. Hi Geoff,

    In a similar vein did you see the letter to The Age today where a voter in a safe seat writes that only his senate vote gave him a real chance to express his ‘views’ i.e. dissatifaction with the major parties.

    I helped a friend standing for the Senate (for the Sex Party). They have a lot of strange policies but she would have been good – principled, smart, savvy and a negotiator. There was no party (apart from the Greens) where I was happy with all their policies. And the Greens cherry picked their policies, leaving lots of gaps.



  2. Dear Geoffrey, I think you have to factor in the extent of choice that is offered up these days. If you like, the idea of niche buying. It could be supermarket shopping or selecting TV Channels. The trend away from the traditional is not confined to political parties. My second point goes to the essential qualities of preferential voting – the idea of achieving 50%+1 after each voter’s preferences have been fully allocated. This system surely beats first past the post, where a person can get elected with 40%, but the other 60% (30+30) of the electorate absolutely do not want that person to be elected. I agree that today’s politics is close to contemptable, and the level of dissatisfaction with the major’s is acute, but I don’t see how the LNP or the ALP can pitch their policies othwise than on a pluralistic basis. One significant improvement would be the establishment of a federal ICAC, together with a ban on party donations (because buying favours is another modern trend that has gone rampant).

    Incidentally, I also rate Laura Tingle as the best.



    • Interesting what you say about the major parties. They both look tepid, but I suppose that is nearly inevitable – as is the tendency of the minors to say what they like. When the press talk of voters rejecting the elite, the press forget that they are an essential part of what is being rejected.

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