Putting the handbrake on
If the Barry O’farrell-led Coalition wins the expected lower house landslide at this month’s election Mr O’farrell will have no problems forming a government, but governing will be much harder as the Greens will probably control the upper house.
Voters who choose to vote for change need to remember that legislation needs to pass both the lower house and the upper house when they cast their ballot on March 26.
Present indications are that a Liberal- National Coalition government will not have a majority in the NSW Legislative Council and will need to negotiate everything opposed by an ALP Opposition with the minor parties and independents.
The best result for an O’farrell led government would be for it to rely upon the support of the Christian Democratic Party, Family First and the Shooters and Fishers Party.
The alternative could be that the Greens hold the balance of power, as in the federal Senate.
A ‘hung’ upper house means the government must negotiate and change its policies and legislation, including funding, to get the support of the cross-bench members.
The minor parties and independents may also seek to achieve outcomes and funding for social, environmental or economic policies they favour in return for their support.
They can also force controversial issues onto the parliamentary agenda.
As a result, a government with a reform agenda can be seriously delayed and obstructed as bills are amended or blocked and hostile committee inquiries launched.
However, the NSW upper house is not able to block the budget and supply to create a 1975-type constitutional crisis.
The look of the house
The Legislative Council consists of 42 members (MLCs) elected for staggered eight- year terms.
At each election, 21 members are elected at large across the state.
The quota for election is 4.55 per cent.
Optional preferential voting is used, with voters required to give at least 15 preferences.
The Coalition should win either nine or 10 upper house seats, while the ALP vote has collapsed to possibly picking up only five seats.
If the Greens win more than four or the Liberal-National joint ticket fails to win 10 it is very likely the Greens will, as a result, hold the balance of power.
To get a majority in its own right the Coalition needs to elect 14 members, representing 64 per cent of the vote.
This is very unlikely.
One or other of the Christian Democratic Party and Family First should win a seat to rejoin the Rev Fred Nile, who is not up for re- election.
The Shooters and Fishers candidate should be re-elected to give a total of two MLCs.
One wild card is the decision of former high-profile anti-corruption campaigner and independent MP John Hatton to run for election to the upper house.
The current NSW ALP Government has been forced to rely upon Greens support to pass its legislation, just as in Canberra Julia Gillard has to rely upon the Greens and rural independents.