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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

This needs to be said « Previous | |Next »
June 12, 2003

If we are going to talk about reform to federal Parliament --ie reducing the power of the Senate--- so as to improve governance, then the question of reform to the House of Representatives needs to be raised. The House of Representatives is a traversity of democracy. It has allowed itself to be muzzled by the political parties and dominated by the executive.

Debate is a farce. There is little substantive questioning posed by the opposition (it doesn't matter who) and little in the way of serious responses to by the Government (it doesn't matter who). It is political theatre, a stage full of poseurs playing to their own side of politics for laughs with an eye to the camera and the Press Gallery. The political reality is that the House of Representives has been rendered powerless. It is in the Senate where the substantive questioning of the executive takes place.

So it is good to see the Canberra Press Gallery acting as watchdogs. Mike Steketee makes the following comment about the House of Representatives:

"So thoroughly have they debauched its role that, were it not for the requirements of the Constitution, we could close it down tomorrow and it would make no difference. Party discipline has become so tight that legislation never gets blocked in the house and seldom receives proper scrutiny. The house does not fulfil its role of holding the Government accountable, as is obvious from the farce that passes for question time.

Oppositions in Australia regularly complain about the decline of parliament. But their enthusiasm for reform just as routinely flags when they get into office because they are reluctant to relinquish the control the present situation gives them. The Howard Government went through the motions after the last election of considering parliamentary reform and the Opposition advanced a series of proposals, including an independent Speaker – which is one reason parliament in Britain functions so much better – time limits on answers and provision for supplementary questions. But nothing of substance has happened since."

Spot on.

The image of the House of Representatives on national television is either one of watching the regression of adults into schoolyard bullies abusing one another in the schoolyard---you did it; no I didn't; yes you did etc; or it is entertainment of a theatrical farce with a bitter message. Take your pick. Either way it means that the House of Representatives lacks political creditabilty as the heart of democracy.

So lets talk about reforming the House as well as the Senate. But that involves a shift to good governance and not the current point scoring of calling the Senate's review of legislation function as obstructionist; or calling the refoms to make the Senate into an arm of executive dominance enhancing the role of Parliament. A federal democracy involves the give and take since the Seante exists to review the actions, policies and legislation of the executive.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:48 AM | | Comments (1)


They have a lot more separation of powers in the US between the legislature and the executive. Do you really think it's made a difference?