I said this in comments on a previous post regarding the NT Indigenous Emergency Plan, and I want to expand on the theme, as it feels like some electoral scales may have fallen from my eyes.
I really want all the political actors working against Howard to Not F*ck Their Response Up. He’s made the big bold public move, this is a chance for Labor, Greens and Democrats to loudly assert and credibly back up totally defensible claims that a Labor Government and a Senate where Dems/Greens hold the balance of power is the best way for the Federal Government to best implement and be held accountable for the actions required to effectively attack the need to protect these vulnerable children.
With the current composition of the Federal legislature, Howard’s 6 month plan is pretty much a done deal. The extra police and troops will be on the ground, the restrictions on grog and porn will be in place, the health checks will begin and the indigenous lands entry permit system will be at least partially dismantled. The question is, how do we make sure that it’s not the Liberals still calling the shots at the end of the 6 months, so that the necessary measures can be continued and the counterproductive measures can be curtailed?
Obviously, many people are pushing Labor as hard as they can simply to get rid of Howard and his likeminded Libs. Ideally, the Liberals losing government in the next election will at least mean that the worst-case land-grab scenario will be totally off the table, and that a more measured, collaborative approach to the sexual abuse crisis can be implemented.
But what if the Libs squeak it in in the House of Representatives? It may well come down to Rudd’s leadership on this issue on which Howard has staked such a large throw. Kim at LP has a post up detailing why her disappointment with Rudd’s response means her vote will be going to the Greens. Many people are attacking her for this choice, and nearly all of them are underplaying the importance of the balance of power in the Senate. Brian Harradine succeeded in having some extraordinarily socially-conservative (even reactionary) legislation passed as an Independent Senator because his vote held the balance of power. Andrew Bartlett recently posted on the vital importance of a balanced and independent Senate, a Senate that can actually fully debate and scrutinise the legislation drafted by the lower House without having procedural fast-tracking foisted upon it by a government Senate majority.
My concluding observation contains some obvious self-interest, but fortunately its accuracy is backed up by history. The risk from a change of government is much reduced if that government is overseen by a balanced Senate which is able to function independently and take a common sense, evidence based approach to scrutinising what the government is doing and proposing. Similarly, the chances of change being more balanced and properly thought through also increases with the greater checks and balances that an independent Senate can bring. So regardless of whether we change the government at the coming election or not, we need to change the Senate to return it to a balanced independent body that can help the public keep a proper check on what that government is doing.
The oversight role of Senate needs to be hammered home in every discussion of the Indigenous Emergency Plan. Those disappointed with the Labor response so far can be reassured that so long as they don’t give either Libs or Labs a Senate majority, then the Senate can exercise proper checks and balances to any government implementation of the NT plan.
Many people are, quite rightly, asking for a non-partisan response to the NT sexual abuse crisis. The big problem with that is that it’s almost impossible to abide by in an election year. So I would ask anyone who, for long-term ideological reasons, is planning to hold their nose and vote either Liberal/National or Labor to form the government in the upcoming election: don’t give either of those blocs control over the Senate. Give the country a record number of Senators who don’t come from either major bloc instead. Independents, Australian Democrats and Greens Senators galore, please!
This is the only way that I can see to end up with a truly non-partisan implementation of long-term actions that will end up making a real difference to abused indigenous children.