Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No rubber stamp for post-election Senate

Democrats leader, Senator Lyn Allison, has rightly affirmed the prospective role of minor parties in the new Senate in scrutinising the legislation of whoever forms government after the forthcoming Australian federal election.

The affirmation comes in response to Deputy Opposition Leader Julia Gillard's assertion of a mandate for Kevin Rudd's new IR package should he be elected prime minister. While the ALP's IR package is a marked improvement on WorkChoices, a Senate role for minor parties should be welcomed as signalling greater debate and accountability for an ALP positioning itself too close to the conservatives for many progressive voters.

A Rudd government sans Senate control would be forced to reveal itself either in its willingness to negotiate with progressives or to deal with the conservatives. That would be the acid test for a new Labor prime minister. Should the latter scenario eventuate, voters would be entitled to brand Labor hypocrites after attacking the Greens in Victoria with false claims of dealing with the Liberals over such issues as the Nuclear Plebiscite Bill.

Here in Northcote, the nuclear issue has a particular resonance for Batman's pro-uranium ALP federal member, Martin Ferguson. Given his own position, it is curious that the Victorian ALP is attacking the Greens by insinuating nuclear complicity with the Liberals contrary to clearly stated Greens anti-nuclear policies. I wonder what Ferguson thinks of this strategy, and the fact that the local ALP State member for Northcote has been promoting it in the front window of her electorate office?

I don't think it's a defence to say that the ALP doesn't support domestic nuclear power, when it is willing to export nuclear risk overseas – despite some minimal restraint in selecting its business partners.

In the end, it is examples like this that show the need for some Senate brake on the power of government. The prospect of that happening following the imminent federal election is most welcome.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Minister Andrews stands on a shrinking iceberg

Today's judgment of the Federal Court places Kevin Andrews on a shrinking iceberg of his own making. The Court's Justice Spender has found not only that Andrews applied the wrong test to cancel Haneef's visa, but that his interpretation of 'association' was dangerously wide, and would, for purposes of s.501(6)b of the Migration Act, cause a battered wife to fail the character test by her mere association with a wife-beater.

To pursue the wide definition of 'association', the Government's counsel was forced into the ludicrous position of claiming that the 'character test' in effect had nothing to do with character: in essence, that the required association would be satisfied by factors extrinsic to the person in question rather than intrinsic to that character. Justice Spender rejected this position, stating:

[At 205] I simply do not accept that the words "the character test" are not words to be read as having a meaning; they are not "just a convenient definition".

He went on to state:

[At 208] The submission that the words "the character test" are not words to be read as having a meaning, starkly reveals the distance between the scope and object of s 501(3) of the Migration Act and the construction that the Minister wishes to make of s 501(6)(b).

That is to say, Andrews interpretation, and counsel's argument supporting it, betray the yawning gulf between the rationale of the legislation and the minister's exploitation of it.

This was a victory for commonsense that I hope will be upheld by the Full Bench of the Federal Court. To be tarnished by association, there should need to be some degree of complicity in the wrongdoing with which the person concerned is associated - whether that be knowledge or direct involvement. Insinuation by a politically motivated minister is not enough, Kevin Andrews, and you should resign.

The full judgment is available from the AUSTLII website.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Roads need more than roundabout solutions

A letter in this week's edition of the Northcote Leader highlights the fact that the Government's obligation to provide safe roads extends beyond showcase projects, as the St Georges Road roundabout seems destined to become when it is finally properly addressed.

While there is absolutely no doubt that the roundabout is a dangerous blackspot – especially for cyclists – Nick Hurle's letter highlights the Westgarth Street–High Street intersection as another, possibly more serious, risk to pedestrians, cyclists and traffic.

Then there is the issue of appropriate speed limits along sections of High Street itself. As cars continue to fly through local shopping strips, often running red lights at pedestrian crossings, the Government drags its heels with trials in largely industrial sections where pedestrians are few and far between.

From north to south, protection in the form of clearly signed and vigorously policed forty-kmh zones needs to be in place where the people are – where children cross High Street to go to school, where elderly people and families need safe access to shops on either side of what should be more than a stream of smog and excessive speed. So fix the roundabout by all means, but let's not have our politicians pretend that, by paying limited attention to any one problem, they have done their bit for roads.