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

Senate Reform « Previous | |Next »
October 9, 2003

The Australian doesn't like democracy. It's editorial is full of animus towards the Senate:

"...the motley collection of minor party representatives and independents in the upper the upper house is a chamber of rejection and delay....Proportional representation means candidates with very small primary votes can hold the government of the day to ransom..... It is time to end the power of senators to sabotage the government of the day just because they can."

I should say the Murdoch Press not just The Australiansince their tabloid in Adelaide, The Advertiser, offers more of the same. It's editorial from Tuesday states that the Senate needs put its house in order. It says that the four independent Senators---Meg Lees, Len Harris, Brian Harradine and Shayne Murphy---

"...were elected with less than 10 per cent primary support in their respective states only to block the agenda of popularly elected governments...For a quarter of a century since [Malcom Fraser] Senate obstructionism has been a modern day political reality... A rebalancing of the Senate's power is needed to provide thoughtful checks and balances instead of blindly blocking the government's agenda."

This companion piece from The Advertiser's Canberra Press Gallery talks in terms of the above four Senators running the country! It's a rabid piece: Senator Murphy is a drunk; Senator Harris is ignorant; Senator Harradine is a renegade and Senator Lees is desperate.

Underneath the nasty polemic sits the firm view that the Senate, as the upper house, should be subordinated to the House of Representatives. However, the political reality is that Howard did not obtain a real majority in the Senate popular vote (43 per cent) and does not enjoy a Senate majority. As Geoff Kitney points out the talk about reducing Senate obstructionism comes from the politicians, not from the people. He says that the great complainers about Senate obstruction have always been the politicians, from both sides of politics. In contrast Australian citizens have acted to curb on the power for the governing party through the Senate.

The Australian rejects the view that Australian citizens use the constitutional powers of the Senate as a way to counter the hegemonic power of the executive. It is the checks and balances of federalism at work. The tacit argument is that the John Howard as the CEO cannot govern the country like a CEO can govern a corporation because of democracy. So let us clip the wings of democracy by reducing the powers of the Senate. More efficient governance is achieved by giving more power to the executive.

What is the argument to justify the power grab? As Malcom Mackerras says the Howard Government's argument is this:

..."the gist of [the PM's Senate reform] document is that the House of Representatives is a fully democratic body truly representing the people while the Senate is "unrepresentative swill". All true democrats, the argument goes, should believe in the assertion of the supremacy of the house over the Senate."

All true democrats should oppose federalism is the inference. This is not that far removed from what Paul Keating once called the "swill" in the Senate.

Is the proposed Senate reform a power grab by the executive? Harry Evans, the Clerk of the Senate, states the reality of power in Canberra bluntly. Referring to John Howard he says:

"He has the House of Representatives in his pocket, he has the sole power to appoint and dismiss the governor-general, and he can appoint whomever he likes to the High Court. That just about wraps up control of all the major institutions of government. The only one he doesn't control is the Senate, and now he wants to do that."

This is a recent speech Harry Evans gave to the national press club on April 24 on the agenda behind most politician's "reform" ideas for Parliament and the need for "reformation" instead.

There is lots more material on this issue by Margo Kingston over at Webdiary. She points out that Senate is vital to protecting Australia's democracy and ensuring that good, considered law is passed by the Federal Parliament.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:32 AM | | Comments (0)