Senate balance

We already knew from the last few years and the introduction of Workchoices and more how having a Government majority in the Senate leads to an undemocratic failure of the Upper House’s role as a House Of Review.

Now we see how having an Opposition majority can also lead to undemocratic obstructionism. The Liberal party, having spun the line that Senate Select Committees were unnecessary throughout their time as in government, used the very first sitting day of the new Parliament to set up three new Select Committees, at least one of which seems to have no other purpose but to delay the introduction of the Labor governments legislation aiming to reform Workchoices.

Other Select Committees may be genuinely useful: Andrew Bartlett has more. I heard Rachel Siewert on the radio expressing her parliamentary disgust with the current Opposition’s cynical opportunism, but I haven’t chased down a transcript of that speech yet.

Categories: Politics

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11 replies

  1. most sites say that after July 1 Nick X and Steve Fielding will hold the balance of power even if the Greens vote with Labor

  2. Oh, bother. How wise is this as a move politically, given that the Libs lost the election on their Workchoices stance? What do they have to gain by the obstructionism now?

  3. most sites say that after July 1 Nick X and Steve Fielding will hold the balance of power even if the Greens vote with Labor

    Yes, if Labor want to get anything passed after July 1 they’ll have to persuade the Greens, Nick X and Steve Fielding to stand with them: quite an assortment of views.
    Right now, the Libs still have the majority, so they can be as obstructionist as they like.

    How wise is this as a move politically[?]

    It seems really unwise to me. Do they want a double dissolution? Why? I can’t see the Libs picking up any Senate (or even HofReps) seats in a double dissolution, people would be really pissed off at them for provoking yet another election, and they’d take even more turns of the electoral cycle to claw back even more lost ground.

  4. i wonder why the Greens are having Kerry Nettle in everything – her term ends on June 30 and they should be getting ready Sarah Hanson-Young for the Senate not doing stuff with Nettle

  5. I’m sure the Greens are “getting ready” for Hanson-Young’s taking up of her Senate seat, but why should that mean that Nettle should stop representing her constituents in the meantime?
    I haven’t noticed Nettle especially over the media, but even so she is still the sitting Senator until June 30 – she’s the one who’s being paid from the public purse to act in the Senate at this moment. I can just imagine what sort of spin would be placed on it if she deferred all questions to a Senator-elect who hasn’t even been sworn in yet, and who represents a different State, to boot.

  6. I always thought that in the “caretaker”/”lame duck” period between the election and the start of the new term there was a restrictive convention on the actions of Senators that were retiring or hadnt been re-elected – i thought that that would apply to Kerry Nettle and others.

  7. I’ve never heard of any caretaker convention for the period between elections and the swearing-in of new Senators. Certainly nobody appears to be arguing that the Liberal Senators who failed to be re-elected have exceeded their mandate by voting to create these Select Committees, only that it demonstrates hypocrisy on their parts.

  8. Speaking as something of a ‘lame duck’ myself, there isn’t any convention restricting the actions of Senators who are finishing up their terms on June 30. There are the common sense sorts of constraints like perhaps not getting overly involved in long-running inquiries likely to run past June 30, as well as a few extra constraints on overseas travel entitlements, but there’s certainly no constraint on people using their vote as they see fit in decisions made in the Senate.
    I’m sure parties are preparing their newly incoming people as much as possible, but there’s only so much you can do until you are actually sworn in. Unless people resign their seat to let the new person start up early (which would only work for retiring Senators anyway, as opposed to those who have lost their seat to someone from another party), the outgoing people should be continuing their work as much as possible – certainly in regard to votes in the chamber.
    There are 15 Senators finishing up on June 30 (out of a total of 76), so if we all strated winding things up early, there’d be a pretty large gap in the overall workload that still needs doing.

  9. Interesting comments, Unkown Troper. I wonder where your sympathies lie…
    Regarding your first comment, the numbers after July are as follows: to achieve a majority in the Senate will require either:
    – Labor + all 5 Greens + Nick Xenophon + Steve Fielding; or
    – Labor + Liberals; or
    – Labor + all 5 Greens + Xenophon + Barnaby Joyce or some other disaffected coalition Senator; or
    – Labor + all 5 Greens + Fielding + Barnaby Joyce or some other disaffected coalition Senator; or
    – Coalition + Fielding or Xenophon or Greens or any Labor Senator.
    Clearly the first two are the most likely eventualities, and equally clearly, the make-up of the majority is likely to change markedly depending on the issue being voted on. The Greens will play a key role in balancing the Senate, given that the 5 Greens Senators will be required for any majority that does not involve the Coalition.
    Your second and third comments are quite bizarre. Senator Nettle is doing her job, representing NSW for the Greens until the day her term of employment ceases, just as Senator Bartlett is, and the other outgoing Senators. That is entirely appropriate. If she failed to do her job, there would be a justified outcry.
    As Senator Bartlett points out, it would be inappropriate for such a Senator to involve herself in an ongoing inquiry which she would be unable to complete. But other than that, her job continues until the day she leaves the Senate.
    Re the Senators-elect, rest assured that the Greens are doing everything we can to prepare for their arrival in the Senate in a few months and we are looking forward to it tremendously!
    tim’s last blog post..Organ Donors

  10. Thanks for weighing in with the actual parliamentary knowledge, Andrew and Tim. I thought that was the case.

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