Parliament reconvenes – two weeks is a long time in politics

Parliament resumes sitting today. It is hard to believe it is only just over two weeks since the last sitting. On Thursday 1st March when parliament last sat, much of the talk was of Peter Costello’s thundering, overblown condemnation of Kevin Rudd as “politically and morally compromised” for meeting with Brian Burke.

In the intervening two weeks there have been two Ministers and one shadow Minister resign, a Federal Police raid on the offices of 3 Liberal MPs in Brisbane (with investigations continuing), a front page newspaper story about a violent ‘porn mogul’ attending a fundraising lunch with the Prime Minister, and continuing attacks on Senator Santo Santoro’s activities while he was Aged Minister (some of it being fuelled by his Liberal Party colleagues in Queensland). Not to mention some particularly nasty attacks, including by Tony Abbott, on the details of a traumatic tragedy in Kevin Rudd’s childhood. (to square the circle back to Brian Burke, it was interesting to see Abbott labelling Burke “a political has-been and captivating rogue.”

In amongst the personal political carnage that has been wrought, it has barely been noticed that a massive hole was blown in the government’s Access Card/ID Card legislation. A unanimous Senate Committee report raised a number of key concerns and recommended the Bill be deferred until details of further changes had been decided and provided.

The final conclusion (para 3.192) of the main body of the report stated:

In the little time the Committee has had to consider the bill, a number of matters of concern have arisen. Furthermore, important measures that need to be taken into account including protections, appeals and review mechanisms are to be considered in a second tranche of legislation. The Committee has concluded that it is not possible to assess the proposed access card system in the absence of these safeguards and other measures. The Committee considers that the bill needs to be combined with the second tranche of legislation into a consolidated bill to allow proper consideration of the access card proposal.

In other words, “this Inquiry was too short, but we still found enough to recommend it be sent back to the drawing board”.

To add to the mess, the Minister responsible for the ID Card was Ian Campbell, who was the first victim of the post-Burkean standards of political morality. He in turn had only just taken over that role a month earlier from Joe Hockey who was shifted in the minor reshuffle at the start of the year.

Meanwhile just a couple of days after the Committee produced this damning finding, the Committee’s chair, Brett Mason, unexpectedly found himself elevated to a Parliamentary Secretary position as a consequence of the fall of his Queensland colleague (and factional opponent), Santo Santoro.

Politics moves in mysterious ways sometimes, but I hope all the political turmoil and theatre doesn’t distract everybody here in Parliament from the fact there’s still a huge number of serious national and global issues we should be working on.

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  1. With the liberals on retreat, isn’t it opptune for the Greens and Democrats to bury their differences and join to form a party that appeals to the neglected middle class Aussie. They are not so much supporting labour as not supporting the liberals. Neither the Greens (too feral an image) nor Democrats (gave the liberals the ammunition to shoot their integrity on more than one occasion) can do it as themselves. A combination though could secure 10-15% and the balance of power. Just need a sensible name and a united front with no squabbling!!!

  2. Rob: Nice idea, never gonna happen though. Let’s think of practicalities here (although I would love to see a viable 3rd alternative for leadership of the country).

    It’s amazing what a difference 2 weeks can make on the political scene… also goes to show that the Liberal party certainly can’t take any moral high ground and should keep that in mind when they take pot shots.

  3. It is a great idea!!!! The only barrier is the personal ambitions and positionings of aspirant and current Pollies. The time is ripe to act. The middle calss is fully employed but feeling under siege due to high mortgage costs and debt; consumerism linked to peer pressure and a push to pay for private schools and medical in order to do the right things for their families. All in an environment that demands more work and barely inflation indexed pay.

    By the way, bring in a credible neutral leader from outside politics – like Tim Costello…

  4. If Dick Smith were made the leader of a party – any party – I’d vote for him. Without hesitation.

    …The only barrier is the personal ambitions and positionings of aspirant and current Pollies…

    Exactly! And that barrier will remain until hell freezes over, I promise you! :)

  5. Rob and others,

    The key point of difference preventing the merger of the Democrats and the Greens is not the personalities involved. It’s the fundamentally different approach the two parties take to the role of a third party.

    The Greens are, have always be, and will probably continue to be a party aimed at some sort of revolution in Australian politics. A recent issue of Green mag was dedicated to the topic of “Green Government” and Bob has always been clear on the topic that the long term goal is to take political power in order to achieve Green policy.

    The Democrats, from their founding onwards, have seen the role of a third party to “keep the bastards honest”. That is, to act as a mediating force in the existing paradigm, rather than to effect a revolution in the Australian party system.

    I must confess my bias as a member of the Greens (but certainly not a spokesperson in any way shape or form), but I feel the Greens will succeed in the long run and the Democrats will whither and die in the short term.

    It’s not because of the Democrat’s supposed turmoil, it’s the decline in their short term relevance. This has happened because increasingly the Democrats are left attempting to negotiate between two converging forces. The room for moderating the policies of the “extremes” closes when those extremes agree.

    The Greens are not excluded by convergance. Instead they face exclusion as “extremists” (ie. those who’s ideas exist outside the field which exists between the left of the Labor party and the right of the Liberals).

    But then again, Andrew Bartlett has always appeared to be more of an advocate than a negotiater, perhaps when he is the only Democrat left standing things can change.

    Nah. There’s always the problem of personality! :-D

  6. From my understanding the Greens haven’t benefited from the latest drop in the coalition’s support base. Why? Because they are the fringe and will never attract the mainstream as a serious party that could govern. They will always just have an influencing role.

    A further point: Bob Brown is not the Greens, so his vision does not have to be that of the party. The too left wing name implying a narrow radical agenda and him as leader put me and many median Australians off voting for the Greens. They are just not management standard to be blunt. They can shout about what is wrong but couldn’t run an economy.

    Be pragmatic, without a sizeable support base, the coalition and labour will always be the real power. The ideological difference between the Democrats and Greens is very small…..

    Finally I disagree strongly that the Democrats are destined to die. What they need is reinventing, the support base is there. A new name, new approach and new leadership is called for. In partnership with the Greens there could be a true third party in Australia – not just the democratic farce we are heading for with both major parties being courted by the same lobbyists!

  7. However, the resignation of Senator Santoro is a significant development, which probably means that now there will be no Senate inquiry into his failure to register his pecuniary interests. A neat move to forestal transparency and accountability?

  8. Interesting comments on Greens /Dems.
    Firstly, what happened to the usual telecast of House of Reps on ABC tv today? On such an important day, too..
    Now, late tonight there was an hour of the senate.
    Included was a restrained but intense question from from Bartlett concerning returned services personel and a neat follow-up from Sen.McLucas ( Ithink ? ) about what Santoro walks away with compared to some hapless sap ‘breached’ by Welfare.
    But the Greens Christine Milne sounded fiery in the belly, a somewhat unusual occurance in an often bloodless place, on questioning Minchin about federal collusion with Lennon over the Gunns pulp mill. Fascinated at the contrasting expressions of Hurley and Faulkner while Milne was speaking. I think we will find that the question of a successor to Brown has been solved, should Brown finally get fed up after a long term as his parties leader and inspiration.
    As for people like Bartlett and Milne in the same party, yes I’d love to see it, too. Some of the brighter Labor types could be added to such a unified opposition “dream team”, like Faulkner (and even that handful of more rational coalition figures), but the numerous issues dealt with by these people are complex and it would take incredible patience for strong personalities, with nuanced views on difficult issues, to work together except in loose coalition. But it did happen in the ‘nineties in Germany.

  9. The Greens and Democrats will never amalgamate for all sorts of reasons. But as the Dems cease to have any significant role in Parlt (Federal or State) members of the Dems will join the Greens to continue their involvement in grass roots politics. As a member of the Greens I know this has already happened. I don’t know if too many Greens have left to join the Dems.

  10. You missed the point Rossco.

    Sure the Democrats who left gave the Greens their 5%. The rest will never join the Greens but are frustrated as they are not politically relevant. Add to these numbers, the swingers between Liberals and Labour who are looking for a sensible non-fringe alternative and there is a real prospect for another party.

    I said it now – there is a chance of REAL relevance which as always involves compromise and firm decisive action…. Both parties have in common a sustainable compassion and an independence to be beholden to no-one. Can’t you see the opportunity?!… For the existing Pollies it should be a no brainer. As things stand Greens 5% and Democrats 3% – together 15%. Higher profiles for all and even more opportunties for the aspirant.

  11. One more thing: Labours ‘base vote’ is 38% – similar for the Liberals. Simple maths shows that 13% is a crucial number to control the balance of power and:
    “Keep the bastards honest” AND
    “Have a sustainable Green future”

  12. As someone who did leave the Greens to join the Democrats – albeit quite a long time ago now – I see nothing there now that makes me want to return, even though I’ve retained close friendships with some in that party.

    The thought of no Democrats representation in the federal parliament is worrisome to say the least – I hope it doesn’t happen and that the electorate will recognise the need for the Democrats to be there, especially in the senate.

    The Greens Party long term aim has, as was said above, always been to take Government – something that simply will not happen in their current form and with their current aims and policies. But given they have grown to a similar size to the Democrats in their heyday, they will now have to become more accountable for the position they take and they will have to negotiate, do deals and make concessions – something Christine Milne was quite happy to do regularly in the Tasmanian Parliament.

    As far as future Green leadership goes, the problem of “personal ambitions and positionings of aspirant and current Pollies” is as strong in the Greens as it is in every other party and always has been. The undercurrents and rumblings are already there and while Milne may see herself as Brown’s natural successor I’m not at all sure that others, including Brown himself, do.

    I expect the battle for the party leadership will start in earnest once Brown does agree to stand aside – and when it does, how the media reports it will impact on that party just as it did on the Democrats.

  13. Don Chipp thought the Dems would be in power one day – it was a real attempt to create a new force in Australian politics.

    Unfortunately the Democrats have so far never got more than the balance of power. And so a lot of people think that’s all the Dems want.

    But the Dems are still more likely than the Greens to form a green government one day, as the Greens have three major weaknesses:

    1. They are too close to Labor and are slow to attract support from the “l”iberal side of politics – this puts a ceiling on their support.

    2. Their party organisation will not scale well in the long term – the Greens are untested on branch stacking, leadership ballots, membership voting. The Democrats still have the best (and most “democratic”) system. – Their party will probably splinter once Brown is gone (I hope I’m wrong though).

    3. The Greens would probably form a coalition with Labor at the first opportunity if they had the seats. The Democrats can never do that (it’s in the constitution I believe). For a minor party, the prize of government is too great to resist. For the Greens this would probably destroy its support base, which I believe is mostly the “protest vote” (the Democrats were once the major beneficiary of this vote).

    A bit of a ramble today!

  14. Perhaps some of the Nationals, Greens and Democrats should form a party, or maybe a loose coalition of independents would be a good idea.

    Who do you reckon Beattie will appoint as Santoro’s replacement.

  15. The Nationals don’t fit. They are a self-interest group like the Liberals and Labour. The Democrats and Greens both have a selfless agenda.

  16. Yep. That’d be why there was a Nationals MP at a Greens fundraiser I attended last week.

    Pyne replaced Santoro as Minister for the Aging, but Beattie has to appoint a replacement Senator now that Santoro has resigned.

  17. One assumes that Beattie will follow protocol and appoint the person put foward by the Liberals. Apologies for using your blog Andrew to shamelessly plug a liberal but it would be good to see the name of the President of the Womens Branch, Sue Boyce, at least considered. Her work with the Downs Syndrome group and other disability advocacy organisations proves there is a human being in there somewhere. Which is a good place to start.

  18. “Finally I disagree strongly that the Democrats are destined to die. What they need is reinventing, the support base is there.”

    I agree…i think it’s sad to see Don Chipp’s grand venture sinking into obscurity at a time when we desperately need alternative voices to be heard over the din of the ever CORPORATE hugging majors. Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself growing ever more disappointed w/ Labor policy, just as the rest of the Nation seems to be turning onto them.

    Rudd’s views on LIVE EXPORTS & the obvious promotion of MY SPACE & the media moguls by Stephen Conroy has got me wobbling somewhat.Probably to the consternation of my wife, a few friends & some bloggers I know…but i’ve never been the ‘follow the herd’ type…& the idea of “keeping the bastard’s honest” has always appealed to me.

    Sure, I’d luv to see Labor kick Howard’s butt out of the PM’s chair…but i’m worried that w/out proper minority party representation in the Senate & Reps we might see repeat displays of arrogance & lack of a accountability by Labor.

    I hope that the Australian Democrats & Greens can get their messages across this election…& find more than just a few decent candidates. More of Andrew’s caliber & integrity would suit me to the ground.

  19. I am not hearing a peep from the Democrats in N.S,W. re the A.B.C.In fact they want to take over by insistent laughter,like they invented the remorseless attempt to define laughter as the rock of civilisation.Trouble with rocks of civiliSation and laughter,someone starts the ball rolling and it all coverts to crowding out by laughter noise… matters that cannot be responded to by rocks,A.B.C or laughter.Bore me to death please,for although I am sympathetic too Dems and Greens,their future which looks good,isnt mine,and I live one day to the next, whilst still committing myself to all those matters of things that run our society,accept everyday as it comes.I find less in common with people who I can generalise with,if given a chance,over the longer days of living them as they come.Viva the difference between Dems and Greens for that seems wholesome and real targeting particular sentiments attitudes and directions,sadly for me they also seem a bit empty,Parliamentary Democracy seems just too tedious a thing for me to contemplate.After all I have lived through the tedium of elections more than once,and there is a part of me that says..I am embittered and my reasoning will not compete with laughter.

  20. Amazing how the best questions in Parliament sometimes come from unexpected sources.
    (again) FF Sen. Fielding trumped the rest in the the Senate in asking his question concerning about Qantas being sold to “sharks”, as he called them and amongst several problems mentioned, came the loss of a billion a year revenue in tax, offshore.
    This in the midst of a flurry of a Sarah Bernhardt-esque squawking fantasy from Coonan about Australian’s futures being pilfered by sourcing the future fund for new broadband infrastructure!
    Mind you, have my doubts, after it being mentioned elsewhere that it may be worthwhile to view the broadband thing as an attempt to introduce PPP’s by stealth.
    Still, it can’t be any more corrupt than what has gone on over the last decade ( AUSFTA, AWB, etc, Wackenhut etc )

  21. And back to the scale of Costello’s own goals.

    2 ministers gone, 49 MP’s with undisclosed shares and deals, 5 under investigation for irregularities.


  22. dodgyville:
    I was in the chamber when Senator Santoro gave his resignation speech. It was at the start of what is called the Adjournment debate, which are the speeches people make at the conclusion of the day’s sitting. They can be on any topic. I was only there because I was waiting to give a speech myself, on housing affordability.

    There were more Senators in the chamber than usual, as people know Santo was going to speak to clarify the record on his declarations of interest. I’m not sure how many were expecting him to announce his resignation – I wasn’t.

    There was a journalist waiting outside the Senate entrance to get reaction from people as we were leaving that night. I gave some generally sympathetic comments, which as far as I know weren’t used.

    I’m no fan at all of Santo’s politics, and I think I made a comment on this blog at the time he became a Minister that I didn’t think it was a merit based appointment. I also know plenty of Liberals who don’t like him much because of internal matters.

    However, I’d also have to say he’s always been polite and occasionally helpful in a general sense to me. He was also one of a relatively small number of MPs who was supportive when some of his Liberal colleagues (and a few other people) were publicly getting stuck into me bigtime a few years ago.

    His failure to declare (and divest himself of) his shares is very serious and merited serious action. But I dislike the sense of ‘dancing on the grave’ which can happen in these situations. I don’t enjoy seeing someone singled out for public evisceration, even though I know the current government does it regularly to people if it sees political advantage or sees them as a threat or a critic – and Santo has certainly done it himself in regards to his totally over the top vilification of the ABC.

    There were some positive comments about Santo from Qld Labor Senator Claire Moore at the end of this Courier-Mail piece.

  23. Oh Andrew your so nice – its good to see Canberra hasn’t got to you, or you share the visciuosness and hypocrisy of some of your supporters here, who profess to be humaintarinas (when it is on topics they approve of). Shame you’ve onl y got six months or so to og

    Hiowever I can’t feel too sorry fro Santoro, he lived by the sweord so appropaitely his end came that way.

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