Thursday 25th of April 2024

Crikey's great idea on stopping/slowing Howard's Senate Majority

This is from

"An even more disturbing scenario for Howard could be a situation where the outgoing Senate suspends Lightfoot pending an independent, perhaps judicial, investigation. Although unusual, the Senate definitely has the power to suspend (although not expel) a Senator (see Halsbury's Laws of England, para 1027, and Commonwealth Constitution, section 49).

"A long investigation would deprive the conservatives of their majority for months, if not more than a year. The new Senate could perhaps lift the suspension, but the Coalition would need the support of the Family First Senator (Lightfoot being unable to vote while suspended). Would the Family First Senator vote to a) dilute his own power and b) undermine an investigation already underway?

"So there are reasons why Lightfoot's behaviour may still be causing John Howard some heartburn."

If Labor has the guts, they need to get this done.

Crikey and the Senate Majority

Interesting conjecture Lewisa! If the situation was able to be precipitated I don't think Howard and his ranks could stand it. Eminently feasible Lightfoot would be asked to resign and what an interesting bi-election that would be!

Hey Lewisa

I can see we are just going to get along fabulously! I read this and thought exactly the same thing.

Or almost - my thought was how could we, through our networks, organisations, and contacts, push for a long investigation into Lightfoot? I'm damned if I trust Labor to do it, although of course I'm more than happy to help push them!

Hi Myriad

Hi Myriad , I think an idea might be to make it one of our first pieces of online activism (in the flavour of If we can get a list of all the progressive side's email addresses and ask members here to email them - Upper and Lower house, the Lower house members may bring it up in conversation with a Senator.

I think both sides of the political spectrum on this board should get behind this, Australians deserve to know what is going on.

Myriad, do you know of a site that has all their email addresses neatly compiled by any chance?

There was also some web activism site in the US. I can't remember what it was, but all it needed was filling out the form and one click would send it to all the US Senators.

Email addresses for Senators and MPs

Email addresses for senators and members of parliament are on the aph website.

Thanks for that Mark

Thanks for that Mark.

That was easy, I've found a web form that has the automatic send to all members button - now all we need to do is decide on an issue, put the emails in the form's HTML, fill in the form/have it ready made, post it up and we're off!

Hi Hamish, if I pass on the html code, and we use it for an issue like the Crikey posting on suspending and investigating the Senator and Australian's right to know, would it be possible to stick it up on the main page?

One click by many members could result in their email boxes being flooded and taking the idea on board! What do you think? We could even post it to Crikey for some free publicity and more clicks! (And more people would join the site as they found out about it.)

Hamish: Great idea Lewisa, and thanks also Mark.

David? Nigel? Does it sound doable?

Great Idea

Great Idea? hmm. lol. Has it occured to anyone that 'organised' petitions will get you nowhere?

Once again we are at the point of NOT forgetting what we have learned, cos we already know it does not work! But we come up with the same old stories, the same old approaches.

I don't know what the solution is, but I know with all the brains in this group we can come up with something new, something different. If we don't, our grandchildren will still do what we have done, and get nowhere.

Great News!

Democrats leader Lyn Allison yesterday left open the possibility of
calling for the suspension of Liberal senator Ross Lightfoot from
Parliament over his recent alleged activities in Iraq.

Labor has referred Senator Lightfoot to Parliament's privileges committee for failing to declare that oil giant Woodside sponsored a trip to Iraq last July.

The trip first came to light on March 17, when he was forced to defend a second trip to the oil-rich area of Kurdistan, during which he allegedly took a $25,000 cash donation to a local hospital on behalf of Woodside.

The committee could recommend suspending WA Senator Lightfoot from the Senate for an unspecified period, which could wreck the Government's one-seat majority in the Senate from July 1.

Senator Allison said that, while it was rare for the committee to suspend a senator, it would be interesting to see what happened if it did.

"Firstly I doubt that it would be the case," she told Network Ten.

"It would set up an interesting situation if the Government then lost the numbers after the 30th of June."

Pressed on whether she would vote for suspending Senator Lightfoot, she said: "We'd have to see the evidence against Senator Lightfoot. I think he's been foolish at best."

Possible Draft Letter of Petition

Dear Senator,

My name is My Name and I am writing to you with regards to the allegations surrounding Senator Ross Lightfoot.

Like many other Australians, it disturbs me to hear the serious accusations against Sen. Lightfoot of corruption and smuggling in Iraq. What is perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Senator Lightfoot's story about his behaviour has been less than consistent. (

As a concerned member of the Australian public, I do not feel that it would be suitable for a Senator to continue to serve the Australian public when there serious questions over his integrity. For that reason I would ask that the Senate suspend Senator Lightfoot pending an independent investigation in to the accusations against him.

Whilst I realise that this would impact on the Government's majority, I do not believe the government should rely on someone with such serious allegations against his name to pass through their bills.




Hey Lewisa, I'm in. July 1 is coming fast. Just tell me when and it's done OK.

Great to hear Pegasus!Now we

Great to hear Pegasus!

Now we just need to hear from Nigel and David. What do you think?

Emailing pollies

Yes, it certainly is possible. In fact we're busy thinking about how to implement a whole range of 'actions' which will be associated with various blogs/forum posts/comments. E-mail and letter templates are amongst those. Our vision is that we have a menu associated with each blog/forum post/comment which allows you to:

  • send an email
  • download a letter template
  • get an appropriate phone number to make a call
  • get details of a meeting/demonstration/protest
  • get details to join an action group
  • attend a scheduled chat on the subject
  • any thing else any of us can think of

This is one of the main reasons we chose this particular software for the site rather than the other more tailored packages, some of which have been mentioned in other posts . With our current choice of software, we can actually develop functionality like the activism menu. However that all takes many hours of effort, and is probably months away.

I will discuss with Nigel the possiblity of a 'quick' solution so that e-mails can be sent, but even this will take a few weeks. There is one other consideration: we probably ought to think about the law with regards to spaming... ie flooding people's email with unsolicited material. I'm not sure of the law on this subject.

Now, of course pollies should all be dying to hear from the hoy polloy... So we should look into this and maybe even get a bit of guidance. Any lawyers out there? In the meantime, perhaps we shouldn't talk in terms of 'flooding' anyone? Or is it only me who's paranoid?

The law on spamming

Hey David, the law on spamming came in some time last year and effectively what it means is that you should not bulk email at all. Even if you disguise it so they only see one address they do talk to each other and their IT people will see it immediately. Obviously you can bulk email if all the recipients have consented to that as that is invited email, not spam.

On the other hand if you email each one, one at a time you could argue that is not spamming but is not a reality due the amount of time you would spend doing it. If all you do is copy and paste the same info into each individual email I would also think that would be classified as spam.

I don't have a problem with signing what has been designed for the Lightfoot situation as I think that is rather urgent.

However, I must agree with Wolf that these tactics are old tactics and have failed regularly in the past. We need new thinking, new strategies where we maximise the message and minimise the labour. Eg the internet.

I am not intending to offend anyone with those comments. It's just that probably everyone who has come to this site, as a member or a guest has already done all that stuff and simply ended up angry and dissatisfied. That's why they are here I believe, for new approaches and ideas.

It has become very clear to m

It has become very clear to me over the last week, that this site is on the right track. All it has to learn is to let go of what was learned in the past. ..........

  • send an email
  • download a letter template
  • get an appropriate phone number to make a call
  • get details of a meeting/demonstration/protest
  • get details to join an action group
  • attend a scheduled chat on the subject
  • any thing else any of us can think of

We done all that; got us nowhere. So I just will comment on the last point of yours. Maybe the website should be renamed to 'NEW democracy'. Let's forget what we know, and take it from there.

For me, and all the ups and downs I had in my own personal life, I have learned one thing: it might sound stupid to you people, but for me it's true, to be able to go on.

It's a very simple saying actually: 'When you are lost, it's more important to know where you are going, than where you have been'

Agree again Wolf

Hey Wolf, I was wanting to write something similar but you have found better words than I had in mind.

So far I fully agree with Margo's overall plan but I have seen little evidence of anything but debates about issues which have been done to death in so many different arenas already.

Your point about trying the old methods is entirely true. The point with those approaches is that politicans, public servants and whoever else we may wish to try and change is used to those methods and have developed strategies to make those methods ineffective and a waste of time.

Contacting politicians is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Unless their party says they can do or support something they play the game and either don't answer, duck the problem, refer you elsewhere or simply abuse you.

I have no time for those methods and want to make use of the best tool there is, the internet and that is where our efforts should be focused. That doesn't mean emailing people etc. It means we use the internet to short cut the time span of gathering support down by using the internet as our communication tool.

I repeat part of your last line. " Where are we going?" as well as " Why are you here ?. That's a general question to all, not directed specifically to you Wolf.

I disagree

Contacting politicians is not useless at all - it's about the only thing they pay attention to, outside donations & business lobbying. I can tell you as a public servant that politicians absolutely respond to lobbying pressure. There are even formulas used to calculate what the 'weight' of a contact from a constituent is. IE from a politician's perspective, one constituent motivated enough to write to them on an issue equals a much larger number of constituents who feel the same way but couldn't be bothered to write - but they may well change their vote nonetheless. By a general rule of thumb, one marcher at a rally is seen to represent about 10 votes, 1 letter up to a 100, a phonecall somewhere in between.

To give an example, I've watched the ministers I currently work for react to public lobbying directly several times, changing policy, on 4 occasions in 18 months.

Where your frustration lies is in the fact that public lobbying often doesn't outweigh the business / vested interest lobby, particularly when we are talking major policy shifts. My ministers have responded in ways such as increasing funding for certain activities, altering grant application conditions. They have not gone and re-written the entire shebang - for starters they would need cabinet approval to do so.

So if we want to push for major policy shifts, we can't just rely on letters to MPs alone - we must also target the major businesses & interest groups that have significant lobbying power. With businesses, we must consider actions such as boycotting their products, and most crucially, writing to them and telling them why. For eg, say we all agree that a certain national newspaper has a massive bias. You'd target the major advertisers of that paper, writing to them and telling them you won't be buying their products because they advertise in that newspaper, which you believe is suppressing real news. And you cancel your subscription to the paper, telling them why, and encourage friends and family to do the same. IOW, we have to combine consumer power with democractic power.

With interest groups, you target the funds that support them, the pollies that do, and weak links in their organisation, and target counteracting their propoganda. We look to build our own frames around certain issues we hold dear, and we assemble a body of research to counter-act the endlessly funded right wing think-tanks that get passed off as 'independent' in our media. We target the media as above.

So agree that only writing to politicians is not enough, but by the same token we must never stop. We must have a multi-pronged attack.

The whole shebang

Hey Myriad, I thought we were discussing how to take our government back, forcing honesty and integrity into politics. In other words, the whole shebang.

Of course minor changes can be effected by mass mail campaigns and the like but I cannot recall any major issue which was reversed by demonstrations, petitions and the like. There may be some, I just can't recall them.

Perhaps if someone documented the effect those sorts of methods have had on various issues where change has been effected we can all then see where and when results have been achieved. See what campaigns were effective and why.

Of the widely used tactics I think talkback radio is the most effective weapon if you can get your opinion on air of course.

As to changing their vote, when did that last happen? Except when Howard allowed a conscience vote, when was the last Federal government member to vote against the government? If you are talking about changing their vote in Cabinet, it would take someone volunteering for the back bench to risk that currently.

I do believe there are many politicians who would like to change their votes on the floor, from both sides, but they won't risk it as they would lose preselection.

I agree entirely on a multi pronged attack. The more force applied the better the chances of a response are. As such I guess it wouldn't hurt to contact them by letter as well. As you have seen I'm prepared to write on the Lighfoot issue.

I just think there are more effective and less labour intensive methods which we could use if we all started thinking, not just accepting the standard approach

My frustration actually lies in my total disappointment with our political process. Both sides of politics routinely lie, avoid and misread as a matter of course. Both sides mostly disagree with each other simply because. Why they cannot support each other on issues which are in the interests of the community is something I cannot fathom. The only time you see them agreeing on anything is where they think it politically disavantageous to not do so.

An example of that is yesterday's decision on an interest rate rise. Labor desperately wanted the rate to rise for their political advantage but publicly they said the opposite. You could hear the lack of sincerity.

Contacting larger business support and boycotting products are good thoughts which is where the numbers are required of course. As you say the more methods and numbers of objections the bigger the chance of change.

In summary I think we need to pick a realistic target, agree on an approach and demonstrate that we can effect change so we have some credence.

howdy pegasus

We are in broad agreement but I think some of the details merit a further exploration.

If you - we -  want to force honesty & integrity back into the system, a constant reminder to politicians that their actions are being watched, and will - not may - effect their chances of re-election is paramount. And nothing says that like letters from constituents (and yep Wiolf, they probably do weigh at 300 - it's going to depend on the topic and who you write to, like I said, general rules of thumb).

Pegasus you wrote, Of course minor changes can be effected by mass mail campaigns and the like but I cannot recall any major issue which was reversed by demonstrations, petitions and the like. There may be some, I just can't recall them.

Let me give you one - no wait, two - very obvious, clear examples:

1. consistent pressure organised by the Greens, carefully marshalling the evidence of popular opinion when the environment was our number one issue of concern, was directly responsible for Howard promising & delivering the now nearly $3billion of funding for environmental works (NHT & NAP).

2. consistent lobbying, letter writing, polling, campaigning resulted in both liberal and labour parties standing up last election and promising to 'save Tassie's forests' - a major policy shift on both sides.

"See what campaigns were effective and why"

What works is is targeted, sustained campaigns. An example of one that wasn't well-sustained:

About 500-600,000 Australians marched against Australian involvement in the Iraq invasion - using polly calculations (1 marcher = 10 voters), that equals what, about 85% of the Australian voting population? So why no change? Because there were much larger & more powerful interests influencing Howard, it wasn't close to an election, the economy was strong, and he bargained -correctly - that the public pressure would be effectievly flash-in-the-pan. It was. He bargained that come election time people would vote with their hip pocket - especially if he controlled the media exposure of Australians in Iraq, and ran a nice little fear campaign about interest rates. He was correct.

Of course it also helped that we don't have an effective main opposition at the moment, the Democrats have imploded and the majority of the media is Murdoch owned and thus refuses to take the Greens seriously - unless slandering them of course.

In this vein, letter writing campaigns are too often scatter-gun ('write to every politician'), unsustained and disorganised, and not linked to a tandem public and vocal effort. But let me tell you for a fact that when a politician starts getting a steady stream of letters from either his/her consituents and/or particular to the portfolio they hold, clearly stating opposition / support for an idea, backed up by personal lobbying, phonecalls, emails, they start listening, and talking to each other ('are you getting this?') and lobbying behind the scenes.

I also think your dismissal of 'small changes' is telling. It makes me wonder how much you know about the workings of government, because government is slow, and really important shifts in policy frequently result from incremental adjustments as the result of public pressure. Also, lobbying for small changes is the only way to empower bureaucrats to push for important changes - whereas writing to bureaucrats and demanding large changes is almost totally useless as an exercise. The message must be tailored to the power weilded by an individual.

The Howard government like all good quasi-fascist states relies heavily on propoganda and apathy. Consistent, concerted letter writing campaigns are a direct foil to a complacent regime thinking it can slip anything it likes through- especially, as we have been agreeing on, tied to a multi-faceted approach that also raises the public awareness of the issue, the different sides of the debate etc.

Yes, absolutely Howard has hand-picked his front bench from those who are known to be willing to sacrifice their principles for power. Vanstone is a classic - it's well known in Canberra that her attitudes to asylum seekers are considerably softer than what she espouses, but she's sold her soul to the devil and she's not about to recant. A consistent stream of letters does ensure she doesn't sleep well at night, adds considerable weight to the efforts of back-bench lobbying, and arms her to on occasion to find a spine in Cabinet. The recent small but significant shift on long-term detainees was telling. Howard is hoping it's enough to make the issue go away and buy back voter apathy. Which is why it's absolutely critical the to keep the pressure on now, both pubclily and privately.

Finally, I think our only hope of puttting a spine and a distinctly alternative position back into the Labour party is to convince them the popular support to do so is there. At this point all they try and be is 'Howard-lite' - there is no choice is Australian politics right now except between demonic and incompetent. One way we can change that is to start lobbying campaigns to each of our Labour representatives. Give them the spine to carry them into caucaus. Give them clear policy positions.

Finally, I utterly, totally, wholeheartedly understand your frustration and disappointment with the current political process and lanscape in Australia. It's a joke, a tragic joke. And we are fast on the slope to becoming another little America, where only corporations and money speaks, not people.

But you know what, in the USA where they already have that situation in spades, they are organising, and they are doing it two ways. Both involve mobilising the grass-roots. One way is taking the fight to the Republicans by putting a spine back into the Democrats. It is working. Another is they are taking back the public 'debate' - debunking the right wing noise machine, holding people and organisations accountable, organising campaigns with specific targets and goals, creating alternative media.

I believe we can do all that too. And I note that they have never, ever stopped writing to their political reps - and it's definitely working.

Yours in optimism, 'cause I'm so damn sick of being all despairing ;-)

nice to meet you too. :-)

(edited for way too many typos - and dammit lost all my formatting again!)

Contacting politicians

Hey Myriad and Lewisa, Sorry I lost touch with this thread.

Point made about long term change on the issues mentioned. I guess I'm trying to look for faster, better and more effective ways of creating unrest in the politicians ranks rather than dargging them kicking and screaming over many years. If that's the only way to do it then OK. I just want them to realise they are not in charge and I believe there are ways to achieve that if we all get out thoughts together and nut out some new approaches.

One thing I am not and that is disinterested. I was. Now I'm not so lucky.

But, it has been done on many other topics with no change. Iraq for instance. How many have written, spoken and shouted how many words about this over the last couple of years. And to what effect? Howard sends more troops and commits us further.

I think I'm trying to find a way of shocking the politicians as I know, and you do too, that a high proportion of voters want to vote anything but Liberal or Labor. They will only react to potentially losing power and /or superannuation in my view.Neither party offers what we want today. It's just which is the least contemptible really. Not a choice I enjoy.

Individually politicians may well be open to change but they will not make that public from fear of being sent to Coventry, or worse, the back bench.

I am aware of the workings of government and have seen up close and personal the contempt many voters are held in by politicians, both Federal and State. It ain't pretty. Media pressure may work but when will Kerry or Rupert ask for change to our current standards of government? Never.

I see the internet as the better avenue as you can reach so many so quickly without expense. The methods of using that are what we are trying to discover I think.

We can't afford to take a black & white approach to what works

I agree with Myriad - we can't afford to take a black and white approach in terms of what works and what does not. Just because one thing did not work for a particular occasion, does not mean that you can cross it off entirely and that's the end of it.

Having worked in a poly's office I can tell you not only do they listen, but they carefully tally up the opposition - but don't necessarily change their position all the time because there are other factors.

In the case of suspending Lightfoot, this is much more likely to work than getting troops out of of iraq, because it is in the progressive party's interests to do so - what we are doing is (as Myriam has said in relation to Democrats in the US) trying to put some backbone into them to take risks!

These people have a lot on their plate and they need constant reminding. The more we communicate with them, the more they listen.

Hi Lewisa

I was wondering if you would drop me an email? - address tenar at mailpuppy dot com

Hi Myriad

Hi Myriad, shame we have not the option here yet, to email in private, cos there is something I really wanted to tell you. Anyhow, I think you missed my point.

I make my point again in short: "We done all that; got us nowhere. - 'When you are lost, it's more important to know where you are going, than where you have been'.

And I am sad to learn, that my letters and emails only mean 100. I was convinced the ratio was 300.

Hiya Wolf

I guess what I'm saying back is - yep we did all that, but not well. We were disorganised, untargeted, unsustained, and unplanned. I feel in short we are blaming the tool, like a bad workperson, as opposed to looking at how the tool was used.

Yes, we have to work out where we're going etc. I agree. But I don't think starting fresh should mean not carefully considering tools available before discarding them.

You can email me in the interim tenar at mailpuppy dot com.