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.


  1. The Greens Party might "clearly state" their anti-nuclear policies, but they also clearly voted against the nuclear plebiscite that would have given Victorians a voice if a Federal Government tried to put a nuclear plant here - and their winter newsletter pretty clearly stated that this was because they thought Victorians might "inadvertantly" vote for a nuclear plant.

    So they're against nuclear power, but they're also against Victorians getting a say in whether Victoria has nuclear power, because clearly we're not to be trusted, and only the Greens Party is trustworthy enough to make such decisions!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rebekka. The Upper House Greens voted against the Nuclear Plebiscite Bill in the context that nuclear power plants are already prohibited under existing Victorian legislation. What I believe they were voting against was the fact that, under the Bill proposed, the minister of the day would get to draft the plebiscite question, and it would not go before parliament. Though the plebiscite would not apparently be legally binding, the question would be of a seriousness that its wording should be drafted in the most transparent and accountable manner, and not at the whim of a party-political agenda. I believe that's what the Greens were basing their vote on, and this seems to be confirmed by examination of Hansard, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

    I haven't read the Greens winter newsletter, but, given the above, my interpretation would be that they feared a plebiscite vote corrupted by an inappropriately drafted question that would not be a true test of the will of the people. If you have a reference to the newsletter, I'd be pleased to take a look. Any Greens reading these comments are also most welcome to comment.

    Aside from the issue of the Nuclear Plebiscite Bill, the banner of the Gotcha campaign website clearly insinuates nuclear complicity with the Liberals in its depiction of a Liberal and Greens logo on a nuclear cooling tower. In my view, there is no excuse for such misleading propaganda.

  3. I can't believe Labor also want to treat the Senate as a rubber stamp , it's a disgusting attack on our constitution and on democracy! But hey, that's the Australia we live in.

    I hope that between the Greens and the Democrats, we can have a good third voice reviewing legislation. The Greens look like they'll get a couple Senators, but for the Senate to not be treated like a rubber stamp, we'll need a few Democrats!

  4. Thanks for your comments, Clinton. I agree. I also think there's benefit in comparing what's going on in parliamentary upper houses at federal and state levels.

    While the need for a Senate strengthened with Greens and Democrats is highlighted by a multitude of issues including WorkChoices, and the Northern Territory intervention, in Victoria we see on a state level the resistance of an incumbent government to a newly strengthened upper house.

    A topical example is implicated former premier Steve Bracks' dismissal of a parliamentary enquiry into gambling licences as a 'political witch-hunt'. If the government had controlled the legislative council after the 2006 state election, the enquiry would never have got off the ground, despite facts which on their face indicate the enquiry is very much needed.

    Rather than a 'witch-hunt' the enquiry, initiated by the non-government MLCs, points to the value of upper houses as instruments of democratic accountability. I hope this potential is realised federally in the Senate following the election, whoever is returned.


Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.