Dam pleased and grumpy at the same time

I am pleased that Coalition Senators have agreed there should be a Senate Inquiry into the proposed Traveston Dam. I am even more pleased that the terms of reference for the Inquiry will require other options for water supply and demand to be considered. It will provide a chance for more of the facts to come out in the open, for the public to have more of a say and require feasible alternatives to have to be put forward.

I am grumpy that the Coalition party room decides amongst themselves they can set up a Senate Inquiry when they see an opportunity to score some political points, and don’t bother consulting with any other parties on the terms of reference, despite the fact that we have said we supported the idea of an inquiry into this topic. I am even more grumpy about the fact that, while they’ve initiated this Inquiry which suits their political agenda, they have blocked a multitude of other equally worthy Senate Inquiries, including proposals to examine:

  • the proposed takeover of Qantas by a private equity consortium
  • the impact and effectiveness of the so-called ‘Welfare to Work’ changes
  • the progress of mental health funding pledges
  • impact of climate change on primary producers
  • adequacy of Australia’s aviation safety regime
  • processes for assisting the settlement of refugees
  • CSIRO’s roles and responsibilities
  • temporary business long-stay visas

Just yesterday, an attempt to refer a group of 5 Bills amending the Tax Act for examination was also blocked by the Coalition. In effect, the Treasurer is deciding whether or not a Senate Committee is allowed to examine his proposed law changes.

It even took three attempts to get agreement to set up an Inquiry into the Commonwealth, State-Territory Disability Agreement. When a Committee was finally given the opportunity to examine the issue, it produced a comprehensive, unanimous report with a range of positive recommendations.

Given that the government has now taken over the chairing of all Committees and also given themselves a majority on all of them, it is hard to know what they have to fear from a Senate Inquiry. The ones that do go ahead have been shown to work effectively and constructively. It seems like they are blocking them just because they can. In one sense, it means less work for people like me, but unfortunately, it means the public and the parliament is the loser.

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  1. Situation normal in the Land of the Howardian Regime, Andrew. It’ll change later this year, wait & see. Bannerman hopes it doesn’t go to the other extreme, which is doubtful. Good news on the dam front though, eh?

  2. It’s good there will be an Inquiry, Bannerman, as it will provide a chance for more of the facts to come out in the open. However, people need to be clear that it can’t stop the Dam, it can only make a recommendation which has no direct weight.

    Also, it seems likely that the Inquiry itself will be highly partisan, which may mean most of the media coverage is about the brawling rather than about the ramifications of the evidence.

    Given the stubborness of the Qld Govt, it seems that the only way it will be stopped is through a decision by the federal Environment Minister. If the government (Coalition) members on the Committee Inquiry come down with a view that the Dam should not go ahead (as seems inevitable), it will create a very strong and totally reasonable expectation amongst the affected community that the Environment Minister, as a member of the same Coalition, will stop the Dam going ahead – but there is no guarantee this will happen.

  3. I’m sure that, given this is one of their own references, the reporting date will be a bit more generous than has been the case since July.

    If nothing else, let’s hope neither party has a Senate majority next parliament. The Senate isn’t a rubber stamp, and should stop being treated as such.

  4. andrew
    its all well and good complaining on the blog site what interests me is why are we not reading this in the media.
    i had this missconcieved idea that any oposition party had the responcibility
    to the ppl to keep the ppl informed of what the govt of the day is up to.
    the only way the voters can judge the govt is to know what they have been up to.
    somehow you need to be getting this info out to everyone.
    not just the well informed ppl on you blog.

  5. We are not reading this in the media because of the lack of ownership diversity and because of vested interests. The voters who read, eg Murdoch papers, are deliberatly NOT made aware of what the government has been up to. Look at Brisbane, a one paper town where the ‘Courier-Mail’ is pitched to a reading ability of age 12.

  6. RW,

    No one party has outright control of the Senate, and it is still the case that senators from the six parties with representation in the senate are to form a consensus when making decisions.

  7. Coalition Unity, you and I have been observing different Senate processes. Particularly in the committee process, there is a definite and noticable change in referrals and reporting times. While you do get the occasional Nationals revolt, it’s only on things of greater media interest and seems a hollow protest much of the time.

  8. “Coalition Unity” – well I think with a name like that you would have to agree that the coalition between Liberal and National parties is indeed a formal coalition and does indeed have control in that form.

    The Senate operates on consensus on Thursdays at lunchtime when debating non-controversial bills. The rest of the time it’s pretty apparent to me that the formal Coalition has full control and the Senate doesn’t operate on consensus. If it did, there would be no point in having a division.

  9. coalition unity.
    the only reason that howard is not trying to get rid of the senate is the fact that he has the numbers to control the vote
    there for no mater what they still have the final say.
    question to andrew,
    why dosnot the oposition and minor partys bring all thease issues up at election time to remind the ppl of what the govt has realy been up to.

  10. Abolishing upper houses so there is no scrutiny of government?

    Sounds like a plan from the Labor Party.

  11. Labor is the party which abolished Qld’s Upper House (it was an unelected chamber at the time, but making it an elected body would have made more sense than abolishing it) – although the Qld Coalition did break a promise to attempt to reinstate it when they last gained government in 1995/6.

    It was Labor policy for many years to abolish the Senate, but as far as I am aware it no longer is. Still, as Keating’s ‘unrepresentative swill’ comment showed, the level of contempt for it from Labor can come close to matching that of the current government. I think it is more a manifestation of the arrogance of long-serving governments, rather than any particular ideological bent.

    As far as campaigning on these sorts of issues goes, I am sure I and others will keep doing that. I am less sure whether it is something that will get widespread media attention, or whether it is something that is a vote changer for the average person – perhaps it may be in as far as their vote for their representatives in the Senate goes.

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