Bob Brown resigns

April 13, 2012

Senator Bob Brown today resigned from the leadership of the Australian Greens and as a member of the Senate.

It’s fair to say that this was the single most bloodless leadership transition in Australia’s recent political history. There were no poisonous comments from party MPs, no middle of the night ultimatums, no sense that a leader was being removed to allow a party to renege on earlier voting agreements.

And – most startlingly – there were no leaks to the media.

None. Not a one.

There was a party room meeting this morning, where Brown announced his decision to resign. His deputy, Christine Milne, was elected unanimously to succeed him. And then the party simply trooped out and handed the media the news.

And everyone was utterly blind-sided. For once, ‘Breaking News’ actually meant something. We weren’t subjected to days (if not weeks) of speculation, backgrounding, commentary and rumour increasingly being presented as fact. Instead, we had an initial announcement, followed by the extremely pleasant sight of watching pundits scramble to analyse the situation on the hop.

It was … civilised. About as far removed as it’s possible to get from the public spectacle of that terrible Rudd/Gillard stoush earlier this year. And a far cry from the eleventh-hour manoeuvres that stripped Malcolm Turnbull of the Coalition leadership in order to prevent Rudd’s emissions trading scheme from passing the House.

It was a smooth transition, even to the point of the Greens deciding that they would hold another party meeting today to elect their new deputy leader – allowing members to consider their positions, discuss nominations and make up their minds rather than force them to make an immediate vote.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, in characteristic style, gave his opinion on Brown’s time in Parliament. You couldn’t exactly call it a tribute:

‘The deal with the Greens has been an enormous problem for Julia Gillard. I think all too often Bob Brown has looked like the real Prime Minister of this country. I think that Bob Brown has been a very strong force in Australian politics in recent years … I would say too strong a force in Australian politics.’ (my italics)

Pure Abbott. Even a backhanded compliment comparing Brown to Australian Democrats founder Don Chipp didn’t soften his statement, especially as Abbott immediately followed that up with a confident prediction that ‘turbulent times’ lay ahead for the Greens.

I suppose it was too much to expect anything more gracious, or even decent, from someone who used the death of someone like Margaret Whitlam to score a cheap political point. But really

We’re not talking about a leader who was turfed out by his own party. We’re not seeing a political career end in disgrace and controversy. Brown’s resignation is a dignified exit from politics at a point when the Greens are at their strongest, accomplished with integrity. In the words of Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim, Brown ‘carried his bat’.

Compare Abbott’s words to those of Prime Minister Julia Gillard: she thanked Brown for ‘his remarkable contribution to state & federal politics over 3 decades’, and noted his contributions on the Franklin Dam, carbon pricing and how he ‘bravely used his own experience’ to work towards gay rights.

She went on to describe him as ‘a figure of integrity with a deep love for this country and its environment’, his career ‘driven by passion’.

No nasty little digs, no pronouncements of doom, and – most importantly – no mean-spirited opportunism.

Abbott probably commands more of the media cycle than any other politician. Sky and ABC News24 don’t cut away from his media conferences the way they did with Brown’s. His words are repeated, and repeated, (and repeated ad nauseam) and his slogans are slavishly adopted. He has plenty of opportunities to say what he thinks about the Greens, and Brown – and he takes them. It’s not like he needs to seize every moment to make a point.

It’s almost as though he’s incapable of that sort of gracious acknowledgement. Or perhaps he feels that if he gives even an inch, it would be a sign of weakness. Either way, it’s very, very poor behaviour.

Regardless of personal politics, no one can deny that Brown gave his heart and soul to bringing about reform on social and environmental issues. He took a one-issue state party and, with the help of like-minded people, built it into a true third party in Australian politics. The Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate, and have a representative in the House.

And that’s without looking at his personal contributions to social justice, both within and outside politics. The ABC has published a great – but short – summary of his work as a trailblazer, and I highly recommend it.

He deserves to at least have all of that acknowledged by our political leaders, not least the so-called ‘alternative Prime Minister’. It’s called statesmanship, and it’s something in which Abbott is sadly lacking.

It’s to be hoped, at least, that his sour, petty points-scoring won’t eclipse the tributes that are rightly due Senator Bob Brown and his accomplishments. He is a rare force in politics, and – whatever side of the fence you fall down on – he remains a man of conviction.

Senator Brown, for your contributions to social justice, raising Australia’s awareness of environmental concerns, helping secure protection for fragile ecosystems and bringing about carbon pricing initiatives … this writer thanks you. Your career exemplifies the service to the people that should be at the heart of all political representation, and you will be missed.

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The CIA, the Greens, and the time-travelling carbon tax

March 21, 2012

Sometimes, Australian politics is a gift that just keeps on giving.

By now, there’s probably not a person with access to any form of media that hasn’t heard about the Great CIA-Greens Conspiracy, helpfully revealed to us by mining magnate Clive Palmer. But just in case you’ve been hiding in a shack in the rainforest while wearing a tinfoil hat, here’s the gist:

The CIA wants to destroy the Australian coal industry. This would mean that the US coal industry could snap up our international markets. In order to accomplish this dastardly goal, they are funnelling money to groups like Greenpeace. And to the Australian Greens.

Via, of course, the Rockefeller Foundation, itself a long-time target of conspiracy wing-nuts, I mean theorists.

Because of this terrible situation, all Greens MPs should immediately resign. Conveniently, Palmer also demanded that those planning to run in Saturday’s Queensland state elections should withdraw their candidacy. This … this … dirty dealing, this funny money from international governments, must stop!

Shocking, isn’t it? Why, this could destroy the foundations of Australian politics as we know it!

Mr Palmer? You’re a significant contributor to the Queensland Liberal National Party, aren’t you? A vocal opponent of both carbon pricing and the mining super profits tax, which are foundational policies for the Greens? And aren’t you suing the management of one of your own hotels, alleging they’re – goodness me – illegally sending money to the US?

I think that’s known as seeing a theme. Or possibly smelling a rat. Or both.

Speaking of rats, the Opposition – recipients of Palmer’s largesse – is doing a fine job of impersonating them leaving a sinking ship, as the media descend upon them with glee. Tell us, they cry, what you think about Clive Palmer’s accusations!

Ever been at a party when someone has broken wind? Remember how everyone near them slowly edges away, while trying to look terribly casual?

Yeah.

They’re not doing themselves any favours. Really, the best thing to do would be to simply tell the media that Palmer’s entitled to his view, but it’s not one they share. Instead, they’re dancing around the question, looking for all the world like they secretly agree with him.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s response was particularly painful. He forced a laugh that actually sounded like it was causing him pain, and commented of Palmer: ‘he’s … (heh, heh) a larger than life character’.

Who presumably needs a larger than life tinfoil hat. Or, at least, a media advisor who can tell him it’s time to get off the podium and stop reading AboveTopSecret before bed.

But it gets better.

We all know that the Opposition believes the sky will fall when carbon pricing is introduced. It’s not like we can forget, after all – their elected members make a point of cramming their ‘carbon tax’ talking points into speeches on everything from superannuation legislation to grammatical corrections of current acts. It’s their favourite boogeyman, and they do so love to drag it out of the wardrobe for the purposes of frightening us whenever they can.

But guess what? Not only will this ‘carbon tax’ make the sky fall when it’s introduced on July 1 this year – it’s already doing so! In fact – gasp – it must have travelled back in time!

No, really. I’m not kidding.

The ‘carbon tax’ pushed up electricity prices starting from 2007. The ‘carbon tax’ forced any one of a dozen small businesses to lay off workers or close altogether months ago. The ‘carbon tax’ reduced our senior citizens to huddling around a candle for warmth because they couldn’t pay their gas bills. It’s driven up food prices! House prices! Petrol! Our international reputation, small country towns and trade – all in the process of collapse!

Yes, folks, this may be the single most powerful piece of legislation ever enacted. Forget SkyNet and its remorseless Terminators – it’s the ‘carbon tax’ that will destroy the world.

Sorry, is already destroying the world.

Or has destroyed the world? (looks out the window) Nope, there are houses still standing. Must be a work in progress.

What’s that, you say? There was a global financial crisis? Electricity prices started going up long before 2007? The price of petrol depends largely on the price of oil, set by Middle Eastern cartels?

Pshaw. You’re just not looking hard enough. For those in the know, the ‘carbon tax’ can be easily spotted lurking in the background of old photos, leaving behind traces of its nefarious activities.

It’s possible, even, that the ‘carbon tax’ was responsible for the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt. After all, he was a Liberal PM, and this agent of destruction – sorry, Agent of Destruction, it really deserves capitals – is a creature of Labor’s making.

(Oh, sorry, Senator Eric Abetz, the ‘Labor-Greens Majority Alliance’s making’. Let’s not forget that little bit of space-cadet scripture – the idea that Labor and the Greens are in ideological lock-step.)

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight. The Greens are taking CIA money to kill our coal industry, while the ‘carbon tax’ travels back in time to destroy Life As We Know It. (Really, it’s a wonder the Greens bother – they could just sit back and let the ‘Carbon Tax of Doom’ do the job for them.)

Really, none of this sort of thing is new. You don’t have to travel far on Teh Interwebs to find someone claiming Elvis is alive, the Moon landing was faked, Satanic messages can be found by playing rock and/or roll music backwards, and 9/11 was an attack mounted by the US on its own citizens. And that’s without needing to go anywhere near David Icke and the Lizard People That Rule The World. (I’m looking at you, Your Majesty.)

The difference here is the profile, and the amount of power these people can command. Palmer is a billionaire, and money buys a lot of influence. The Federal Opposition are elected representatives who have their speeches preserved, repeated and interpreted by the media, the public, and our international trade and alliance partners. That makes these notions of a CIA Conspiracy and a Time-Travelling ‘Carbon Tax’ of Doom not only ridiculous, but potentially damaging in financial and trade markets.

Not to mention the howls of derisive laughter directed towards us.

Do Clive Palmer and the Opposition have the right to say what they believe? Sure – although I’d question the ‘right’ of anyone to deliberately spread lies. But, why not? Let’s grant them the right to free speech.

As long as we have the right to mock them mercilessly for the dingleberries they show themselves to be.


Marriage equality bills to hit Parliament today

February 13, 2012

Today ALP backbencher Stephen Jones will introduce a bill into the House of Representatives calling for marriage equality. Greens MP Adam Bandt and Independent Andrew Wilkie will introduce a similar co-sponsored bill, containing a specific provision that will exempt religious ministers from solemnising marriages between a same-sex couple.

I’d like to be optimistic, even enthusiastic, about this. But I’m afraid I really, really can’t.

Because unless Opposition Leader Tony Abbott loosens his stranglehold on the Coalition’s consciences, the bills will fail.

We’ve already seen what happens when Bandt or Wilkie tries to introduce ‘controversial’ legislation. The major parties fall into lockstep against them. Granted, the ALP passed the resolution at its last conference to make marriage equality a matter of conscience, so perhaps there might be a few more bums on seats sitting with the two minority MPs this time around. But there are enough Labor members determinedly opposed to same-sex marriage to ensure the bills suffer a resounding defeat.

Jones’ bill may fare more kindly. After all, he’s a Labor man, and even those who won’t support Bandt and Wilkie on principle might vote for one of their own. Again, though, the bill runs up against the Coalition’s refusal to allow its members a conscience vote.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has already signalled her intention to introduce a marriage equality bill later in the year. This is as clear a signal as she could send that she expects today’s bills to fail – and probably her own as well. At this point, the strategy appears to be one of simply flooding the Parliament with similar bills in the hope that it will wear down MPs’ resolve – and that in the end, they might vote for it just to get the issue out of the way.

That this strategy should even have to be considered, let alone employed, is shameful. It’s a matter of civil rights – human rights – that are denied to Australian citizens. Worse, it’s a matter of a privileged majority not wanting to have that privilege ‘sullied’ by having to share it.

Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the numbers will be there. Maybe some Coalition members will defy Abbott’s decree and cross the floor to support marriage equality – or at least inform him privately that they intend to do so, at which point I predict a swift reversal of the ‘no conscience vote’ stance. Maybe the rest of the ALP will realise that clinging to privilege and discrimination flies in the face of everything that party supposedly stands for, and support a bill.

It’s possible.

It’s also possible politicians will stop lying in Parliament, abandon mindless party loyalty in favour of the good of the people, and remember that they are our servants, not our masters.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Tell her she’s dreaming.


Gracious in defeat on carbon pricing? Hardly.

November 8, 2011

The government’s package of carbon price related bills has finally passed both Houses of Parliament. Despite months of scare campaigning from the Opposition, hundreds of column inches given over in editorials and opinion pieces, astro-turfed rallies on Parliament House lawns, and hours and hours and hours of hysterical lies, the bills have passed.

Even at the last minute, the Opposition tried every possible tactic to delay the final vote in the Senate. They tried for amendment after amendment, which were designed to render the bills useless and which had no chance of passing. Senator Eric Abetz led a desperate charge to suspend standing orders after debate ended, arguing that there hadn’t been sufficient time to examine the legislation properly.

Of course, he carefully didn’t mention that of the nearly 30 hours allotted for debate, almost all the Opposition’s speeches boiled down to nothing more than, ‘Gillard lied to us and we should have an election’. Virtually no substantive debate whatsoever.

When that failed, votes on the last amendments were held up by Opposition Senators leaving the Chamber to force longer-lasting divisions. And what did they gain from that? Around 12 minutes in total.

In the end, though, the vote was called. Even during the vote, there were objections. Could the Opposition hear the question again? Why were they being asked to vote on a whole group of bills at once? (Never mind that this was agreed upon when the bills first came before the Senate.) They did everything but sneak out and set off the fire alarm – and I’m not sure it didn’t cross their minds.

The vote was decisive – 36-32. And a packed Senate gallery erupted with cheers and applause.

So that’s it. End of story, right?

Foolish optimists.

Within seconds, Abetz was on his feet again wanting a suspension of standing orders. The reason? He wanted to have a chance to condemn Labor politicians for their ‘betrayal’ of the Australian people. By name. At length. It was all about the ‘will of the people’. Why couldn’t Labor just accept it?

Accept what, exactly? The result of the 2010 election, when we voted in such a way as to bring about a minority government? The dozens and dozens of polls showing popular support for pricing carbon dioxide emissions? Oh, of course not. The ‘will of the people’ is what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says it is, apparently.

Senator George Brandis thundered that it was the ‘most infamous day in politics’ in Australian history. He railed against the government’s ‘alliance of infamy’ with the Greens, and contemptuously dismissed the ‘ragtag bunch of people in the gallery’ who’d applauded the vote. Finally, he warned that, come the next election, the Australian people would make sure that Labor wore ‘the crown of thorns’ and would crucify them.

That particular metaphor might have worked better had not Senator Barnaby Joyce been – at the same moment – telling the media that this was in fact, the ‘biggest betrayal since Judas betrayed Jesus’. The part of Judas, it seems, was played by Independent Tony Windsor. ‘Jesus’ was presumably the mythical ‘forgotten families’ so beloved of the Coalition of late.

Not to be outdone, Senator Ian MacDonald practically frothed at the mouth in his condemnation of the government. In a stunning display of utter hypocrisy, he objected violently to Senator Evans referring to the Opposition as being ‘wreckers’ – and then went on to name the Members for Corangamite and Deakin as ‘gutless wonders’ who were too ‘cowardly’ to speak on the bills. To add insult to injury, he referred to the Prime Minister as a ‘liar’, and when asked to withdraw, he argued with the Chair that he had a right to say it because ‘it’s been said a thousand times’. And besides, he muttered, it was ‘true’.

(Incidentally, this is what the Prime Minister actually said before the last election: ‘I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism … I rule out a carbon tax.’ And what do we have? An Emissions Trading Scheme. Not a tax.)

And so it went. Speaker after speaker, all contributing nothing of substance – in fact, throwing a tantrum worthy of a room full of three year olds.

I used to help out at my local university Co-Op childcare centre. If any of those kids tried behaviour like that, we’d have put them in Time Out. It’s a great shame there wasn’t the same disciplinary option available in the Senate chamber today.

The upshot? The vote was defeated on voices alone. The Opposition didn’t even try for a division. But it wasn’t over. Out they trotted to front the media with their dire predictions of imminent doom for the government and the Greens, and the End of All Employment in Australia. Those left in the Senate chamber bravely soldiered on, pulling quorum to interrupt debate over some of the related bills (such as those designed to assist the steel industry) and regurgitating the same tired old arguments.

Many of us had parents or teachers who counselled us to be ‘gracious in defeat’. Certainly I was always told that the grown-up thing to do when you lost was to congratulate your opponent and to move on. Perhaps the Opposition wasn’t as fortunate. Nonetheless, it’s not too late for them to learn.

Mr Abbott? Mr Truss? Mr Abetz? Opposition members? GROW UP. You lost the vote. Accept that. We’re not asking you to congratulate the Prime Minister, although it would be the gracious and adult thing to do.

If you still want to repeal all this legislation, you’ll have your chance to put your case to us at the time the next election is called. And if we don’t vote you in, perhaps you might finally accept ‘the will of the people’. Do us all a favour, and hold your water until then.

* * * * *

Dear Diary,

Day 1 of our oppression under the Socialist Green Carbon Tax of Doom. Sky not fallen. No anarchy in the streets. Dishes still need washing. Cat still needs feeding. Opposition still complaining.

Same old, same old.


Carbon price a certainty, but the campaign rolls on

October 12, 2011

Well, it’s happened.

Despite a frantic, near-hysterical campaign of fear mixed liberally with lies …

Despite hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of dollars spent on saturation advertising …

Despite Coalition members flying around the country to government and cross-bencher electorates to campaign furiously …

Despite Sophie Mirabella’s tantrum in the House last night when she was not permitted to table a petition allegedly containing 12,000 signatures (which she had to know would be refused – there are times set aside for petitions) …

And despite all the rhetoric – ‘toxic tax’; ‘tax on weather’; ‘Socialism by stealth’; ‘million of people out of work’; ‘pensioners won’t be able to afford to use their heaters or turn on their lights’; and my personal favourite, ‘this will make emissions go up‘ …

The government’s Clean Energy Bills package – including legislation to establish a carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme – passed the House this morning. It goes now to the Senate, which is also certain to pass the bills.

There’s no doubt it’s a significant victory for the government. This is the issue that brought down Malcolm Turnbull as Leader of the Opposition, and contributed to Kevin Rudd’s resignation as Prime Minister in the face of a revolt from his own party. It won’t make us world leaders – we’re woefully behind in that respect – but it will contribute to a growing global effort to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Tony Abbott promised ‘in blood’ (yes, he actually said that) to repeal the carbon price scheme, as well as all the associated compensations and provisions, if he wins the next election. That would presumably include lowering the tax-free threshold, reducing pensions, reducing household assistance and small business; because you see, without the carbon price, there’s no revenue to offset those costs.

Unravelling legislation like this is the equivalent of trying to unravel the GST (which, incidentally, is a tax) – exactly what Kim Beazley promised to do during the 2001 election campaign. There was little chance it would happen, though – most agreed it would simply be too hard to roll back such a pervasive tax once implemented.

Compared to the carbon price legislation, rolling back the GST would have been simple.

Abbott’s only hope, then, is to somehow force an early election before the new legislation can be put into practice. He could cross his fingers and pray for a retirement from one of the government or cross-bench seats. He could try to force a resignation – and I predict we’ll see a resurgence of the accusations against Craig Thomson, possibly with accompanying phone calls from Senator George Brandis to the Victorian Police Commissioner. If he doesn’t succeed with Thomson, he’s certainly not above digging for dirt – either real, or confected – on other MPs and Senators.

The option he had before July this year – of blocking government bills and forcing a double dissolution – is now highly unlikely. There’s no love lost between the Coalition and Greens, who hold the balance of power. They might agree on blocking the proposed amendments to the Migration Act, but the Greens are diametrically opposed to almost every other Coalition policy. Add to that the fact that a double dissolution election contains the possibility that the Greens might lose the balance of power, and Abbott looks to be out of luck.

So, it looks like the carbon price is here to stay. And it’s all a bit anti-climactic, really. A few divisions, a round of applause here and there, and a gracious moment when Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd congratulated the Prime Minister with a kiss on the cheek, and it’s done.

Don’t think the hysteria is over, though. Abbott hasn’t stopped campaigning since the Independents agreed to back Labor for government last year – and a little setback like this won’t stop him now. Sure, the Coalition might have been defeated on arguably the biggest piece of legislation to ever come before the Parliament. Sure, all Abbott’s exhortations to the cross-benchers and rural Labor MPs to cross the floor fell on deaf ears. And sure, passage of the Clean Energy package brings the total of successful government legislation to well over 200.

Abbott won’t even break stride. The carbon price issue will fade to the background, to be trotted out whenever he can find an excuse to do so, but Abbott thinks on his feet. We’ll see a renewal of attacks on asylum seeker policy, tax reform, the deficit, the ‘assassination’ of Kevin Rudd, and – most of all – the proposed Mining Resources Rent Tax. He’ll maintain his rage, and we’ll be the ones who have to suffer through a one-sided election campaign until Gillard finally calls a vote – which she’s unlikely to do before the full term is up. Remember, part of her agreement with Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor was a guarantee against an early election.

It’s a risky tactic. Already, the media have started to question the Coalition’s message. Already, there’s a sense that people have lost patience with both major parties. If Abbott treats the next two years as an election platform, it might well backfire – especially if the Coalition repeats its strategy of not producing policy until the eleventh hour, and refusing to have it costed.

On social media, there’s growing confidence that Abbott’s defeat will see him replaced as Opposition Leader. I don’t think that’s likely – the Coalition rides high in the polls, and, with the example of the Labor Party before them, they know full well the probable negative consequences of replacing Abbott with, say, Malcolm Turnbull. As with Labor, though, the perception that the Liberal Party are dissatisfied with their leader could contribute to a loss of popularity in the electorate.

All of this is speculation, though. The reality is that Abbott, while soundly defeated on carbon pricing, has no intention of conceding anything to the government. He’ll dodge the question in interviews and deflect attention onto other, proven points of attack (such as the failed Home Insulation Scheme or the Coalition’s misrepresentation of the BER outcomes). It’s the equivalent of shouting, ‘Look over there!’ while hurriedly burying anything inconvenient or uncomfortable under a pile of empty rhetoric.

So settle in, get comfortable, and possibly have a few kittens to pet for when the frustration and stress gets to be too much. We’ve got a long, long campaign ahead of us – and that’s before Gillard calls an election.

But it’s worth re-stating: Australia has passed legislation through the House of Representatives to establish an emissions trading scheme, pricing carbon, supporting development of renewable energy and easing tax and cost of living burdens on lower to middle income earners. That same legislation is certain to pass the Senate.

And there’s no sign of the apocalypse happening any time soon.


This is not bipartisanship

August 22, 2011

I think we all owe Opposition Leader Tony Abbott an apology.

There’s been so much criticism of the Opposition for refusing to work with the government to pass significant reforms. As each bill comes up for debate, they propose a raft of amendments or try to push the bill back to a Senate committee. They push votes wherever possible, calling for divisions as a way of gambling on the reality of minority government to perhaps deliver them an unexpected win. At every turn, they’ve made it clear that they’re just not interested in co-operation.

And the government doesn’t exactly have clean hands on this issue, either. For all the talk of offering olive branches and a seat at the table for Opposition MPs, they’ve carefully manoeuvred to ensure that if this did occur, it would undermine policy positions.

But really, we’ve judged them too harshly. Last week we saw a heartwarming display of bipartisanship. Two, in fact, one right on the heels of the other. We saw what happens when major parties work together.

What we saw was the major parties banding together to kill two Private Member’s Bills on the second reading.

Just what were these bills, that they could prompt such a lockstep response?

One was from Independent Andrew Wilkie. The other was from Greens MP Adam Bandt. Both addressed the issue of live exports. Wilkie urged the government to – at a minimum – ensure that Australian standards of humane slaughter be insisted upon as part of contracts with other countries, while urging a permanent ban on trading with countries that did not meet these standards. Bandt called for the outright abolition of the trade, insisting that it made both economic and compassionate sense for slaughter to take place in Australia, under Australian standards.

The two MPs supported each other, which was why they were able to call for a division when the second reading came to a vote. It was a pitiful sight, however, to see Wilkie and Bandt sitting together to the right of the Chair, while the major parties crowded in to sit shoulder to shoulder on the Opposition benches. The scene wasn’t helped by an apparent technical problem which shut off half the lights in the Chamber, casting a rather dismal gloom over already depressing proceedings.

With less than five Members voting for the bills, there was no need to take a count in either case. Wilkie and Bandt got their names recorded in Hansard, but that was it.

A futile gesture? Perhaps. Certainly Bandt was well aware that the major parties had no intention of supporting his bill, and remarked on it in his second reading speech. Both he and Wilkie sat with rueful yet resigned expressions during the division.

But was it simply a waste? After all, this isn’t the first time that the major parties have joined forces to shut down the minority members. In the Senate, for example, the Greens suffer this on a regular basis. Just ask Senator Sarah Hanson-Young how often she’s tabled a bill on same-sex marriage, or protection for asylum seekers. In every case, Labor and the Coalition have killed those bills. In fact, it’s a wonder that Bandt’s motion calling on MPs to canvass their electorates on same-sex marriage was passed at all.

But then, that was a non-binding resolution. A toothless tiger, effective only to the extent that anyone felt like going along with the recommendation.

Minority government has the potential to open up Parliamentary proceedings. One vote can make all the difference, as we’ve seen a number of times (notably when Rob Oakeshott nearly provoked a crisis by voting against a Speaker’s ruling). Some feel that there’s an imbalance at work there, that these ‘balance-of-power’ Members wield influence far above their actual representation.

Yet no one provides commentary on a minority government where there is little difference between the major parties. For all the Opposition is out there trying to erode confidence in the government on matters as diverse as carbon pricing and plain packaging for cigarettes, they are quick to close ranks when a minority Member proposes a socially liberal or environmental policy. In fact, the major differences between Labor and the Coalition on such matters are largely a matter of detail. Both are committed to mandatory offshore detention; both are resolutely opposed to same-sex marriage; both have no interest in overhauling the live export industry. Ultimately whether one supports Nauru and the other supports Malaysia as an asylum seeker destination is irrelevant; both oppose the idea of on-shore detention, or even doing away with a mandatory detention system at all.

So when the Greens pop up with a bill challenging these essential statuses, the differences melt away to nothing, and suddenly we have a united Parliament. It’s arguable, in fact, that much of the Opposition’s obstructionist stance towards Labor stems from purely ideological opposition to the presence of the Greens and Independent support of the government. The rhetoric’s a dead giveaway at times – remember ‘Labor may be in government, but the Greens are in power’?

It says something about a government when bipartisanship is something that gets employed not for the good of the country, but primarily to silence minority voices. What we have now is a far cry from the united efforts of successive government to dismantle the White Australia Policy. ‘Opposition for opposition’s sake’ is not simply an accusation to be levelled at the Coalition; the government appears to enthusiastically embrace that stance when it comes to matters as diverse as gambling machine reform and live exports, despite a lot of high-flown rhetoric about caring for animal and human welfare.

But hey – on the bright side, at least we know the major parties are capable of working together. I’m not sure you can call it bipartisanship, though – more like bipartisan bullying. The equivalent of two schoolyard gangs banding together to make sure the little kids and the nerds don’t get to the canteen before the bell rings.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had real bipartisanship? If we had elected representatives that worked together for the good of the country instead of simply using their majority to silence minority voices?

Yeah, I know … tell her she’s dreaming.


Waiting for tomorrow all of my life

July 1, 2011

So, it’s been a long time between posts. Part of that is due to illness and deadlines … but let’s be honest here. Most of it is simple disenchantment.

And that’s something I thought I’d never say about politics. I’ve lived, slept and breathed political issues and events for as long as I can remember. In fact, the whole reason for starting this blog was to communicate that love (the unkind might say, obsession) to others – because political engagement is important. It’s not a matter of turning up once every few years to tick a few boxes – or worse, simply voting ‘Mickey Mouse’ and then complaining until the next time that things haven’t got any better. It’s about doing something to shape your world.

But dear God, the current state of Federal politics is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.

It’s not like the wheels are falling off. Legislation’s been passed, resolutions made, the Budget funded. On the whole, government infrastructure is barrelling along merrily – pensions paid, building projects underway, the NBN rolling out. You only have to compare Australia to the United States to see that we’re far better off – after all, we’re not calling emergency Parliamentary sessions to try to raise our credit limit just to keep functioning.

But to hear the Opposition and the pundits talk, we’re one step away from social collapse and riots in the streets. The flood levy will take food from kiddies’ mouths! The mining tax will destroy our major primary industry! The carbon tax will cause the sky to fall and civilisation as we know it will no longer exist! Plain packaging on cigarettes takes away our freedom of choice and turns us into a nanny state! And let’s not forget the oft-repeated lie that any moment now, the Greens will seize the balance of power in the Senate and we’ll all be forced to go back to horse-and-cart travel and hand-grinding our wheat for bread.

The polls show that Tony Abbott is leading Julia Gillard by one per cent! More people want Kevin Rudd to be Prime Minister than Julia Gillard! The government is failing, and we’re all going to hell in a handbasket. But wait – Abbott will bring back WorkChoices, install notorious climate change denier (and some say, troll) Lord Monckton as his official science adviser and give the richest people in the country even more money while taxing the poor right out of their homes!

The Greens! The Greens will save us! But wait, incoming Senator Lee Rhiannon wants to destroy the coal industry. Bob Brown will drag us kicking and screaming to the altar of Marx! People will get gay married! Only an early election will save us! Only a plebiscite will save us!

The hysteria goes on … and on … and on.

And there’s only so long you can battle that sort of thing. You can speak out, you can write blogs, you can contact your local member or relevant Minister, hold protest rallies, but after a while it starts to feel that no one who’s in any position of power cares. Because the loudest voices are the ones with the most money, right?

The Minerals Council mounts a campaign to tell us that mining companies will be forced to close, leaving thousands out of work and whole towns bereft of the income they need to survive – while they close yet another deal guaranteed to bring them millions in selling coal for steel manufacture to China.

Big Tobacco waves lawsuits at the government to try to frighten them into dumping the idea for plain packaging while filing record profit statements and intimidating into silence people whose loved ones are dying because of their products.

The gambling industry lies through its teeth to panic venues and patrons into opposing any form of strategy that might mitigate the harm of problem gambling that is any stronger than a sign saying, ‘Don’t gamble too much’, also while recording huge profits.

GetUp puts out statement after statement, but sinks to the same level of attack and just looks amateurish and bolshy in comparison.

Pro-carbon price ads suffer from having dared to put a known face to the campaign – and the simple argument that ‘hey, this is a good thing’ comes across as ridiculously weak against the fear-filled rhetoric it tries to counter.

And then there are the election ads. Yes, not even a year after the last election, we already have to put up with the kind of rubbish that usually only litters our viewing in the run-up to a national vote. No substance, just clever-clever lines, half-truths and catchy phrases designed to bypass critical thought and stick in the mind.

Meanwhile, one in five Australians doesn’t want either Gillard or Abbott to lead the country. No one knows what to think. No one knows who to believe. Should we blame the minority government? The Independents? Surely things wouldn’t be this bad if we had a clear majority? To the polling booths! Let’s elect a government with a mandate! That’ll fix everything!

I wrote back in September last year that:

‘We have a government. We don’t have to endure another election campaign. The Independents and Adam Bandt have secured strong Parliamentary reforms that will change the way business is done in the House. Local members will find that their voices are louder, and more likely to be heard. We’ll see election advertising closely scrutinised, and some actual information communicated to the People via both advertising and Question Time in Parliament. We have a government committed to serving out a full term, and that will have to seek consensus to pursue its legislative agenda.

Whether you’re left- or right-leaning, this can only be a cause for celebration.’

How wrong I was.

Maybe things will change when the Greens take the balance of power in the Senate. Maybe the big reforms – carbon pricing, tertiary education, mental health, water, human rights, asylum seekers – will finally happen. Maybe we’ll even see Parliament itself get the shake-up we were promised – more substantive questions, less abuse of process and less outright bullshit being flung around in the name of scoring a couple of political points and maybe getting your head on the evening news.

Yeah, maybe things will be better tomorrow – but then, I’ve been waiting for tomorrow all of my life.


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