People have differing views about how useful Senate Committee inquiries are these days. I can only say that I hope they are useful, because they’re chewing up a lot of my time at the moment, almost all of it away from Queensland.
Last Friday I had a hearing in Sydney for the inquiry into National Parks. This will be followed up with further hearings in Melbourne and Adelaide next month. The evidence provided in Sydney was quite good, although the question are where resources should best come from continues to be vexed. We had people there representing horse riders and four wheel drivers. I had expected them to be fairly aggressive and blunt (which shows my prejudices no doubt), but I actually found them to be fairly constructive. There as some good material from the Environmental Defenders Office too.
Tomorrow I’m in Adelaide for another hearing for the inquiry into petrol sniffing in remote indigenous communities, which I’ve written about previously. There is an interesting list of witnesses, which will be the final public hearings, followed by a visit to Balgo in WA, before the Committee reports next month. I’m a bit unsure what the government will make out of this inquiry. They did allocate some extra money in the Budget for further rolling out of non-sniffable petrol, which is good, but I feel there are bigger aspects than this which need more attention.
As well as these inquiries, the following two weeks sees Senate Estimates Committees examining the Budget and other government activities. In the Government’s latest display of serial contempt, and as part of their ongoing efforts to slowly throttle the Senate’s ability to scrutinise the actions of government, the Coalition last week removed two days from the Estimates Committees’ schedules. For as long as I can recall, almost every week which holds Estimates hearings has set aside the Friday as a ‘spill over day’ for those areas where there are a lot of questions. Last week, the Government took these extra days away, further reducing avenues for scrutiny. For further details on this, and how aggravating I find it, you can check out my speech to the Senate on the topic by clicking here.
This is on top of their actions at the last Estimates Committee hearings in refusing to allow and public servants to answer any questions relating to the AWB scandal, on the spurious and unprecedented grounds that this might prejudice the Royal Commission being conducted into the issue (something I also wrote about at the time – click here to read that entry). As the Royal Commission is still going, I suspect that the Government will maintain the gag at next week’s Estimates too.
I reckon it’s a fair bet they will also try to dodge any questions on what was done by Government Ministers and officials following the death of Private Kovco in Iraq, using the excuse that there is an inquiry under way.