Laws that are planned to be passed within the next four weeks are very far reaching in their consequences. They are also very detailed, but the Senate is being denied the chance to adequately scrutinise them (as well as other important, but less monumental matters).
There are three very big issues – massive workplace relations changes, major welfare changes and significant terror-related amendments to the Crimes Act and other laws. All three are being examined by Committees over a period covering this and next week, which makes it virtually impossible for the evidence to be properly examined, the necessary questions asked, answers considered and proper conclusions reached and compiled into a genuinely considered report.
Even people who support the purported goals of these laws should be keen to ensure that the detail is correct and provides the best chance of meeting those goals – indeed if anything they should be even more keen to make sure the Parliament gets the content right before passing it. It is not really about allowing more time for ‘debate’ on the Bills, important as that is, it is about allowing more time to scrutinise the content and assess the human impact (which also has the added benefit of enabling the consequent debate to be a more informed one).
The more I hear and read of the ‘debate’ in the Parliament and the mainstream media regarding these issues, the harder I am finding it to contain my anger. Huge legislative changes that are going to impact directly on the lives of millions of Australians are being reduced to little more than glib assertions and misrepresentations, yet the opportunity to actually properly examine the details is being cast aside with seemingly minimal comment. I acknowledge that people from both sides of these rather polarised issues are guilty of some misrepresentation, but I also think the onus should be on government to honestly explain the reason why such extreme changes are needed, and to honestly acknowledge the full consequences, rather than just the bits they like.
The matter that is irritating me most at the moment – although that is a moveable feast depending on the stimulus – is the lack of acknowledgement of a core facet of the welfare changes. Somehow, just chanting a mantra about the need to get people off welfare and into work – a goal which everyone agrees with – seems to be sufficient to allow a total ignoring of the undeniable fact that there will be people who will still be on welfare, and many thousands of those people will be on significantly lower incomes.
The two weeks of Senate Committee hearings will be followed by two weeks of Senate sittings, replete with late night sittings on most days, which will undoubtedly see the government using its control of the Senate to guillotine all three of these new laws through without full scrutiny and exposure of the consequences. (Although it is possible that the Terror law will not need to be guillotined, as Labor has already said they will support this in the end).
I think my growing irritation and anger is a form of ‘pre-traumatic’ stress. I know, even from sitting through part of the first day’s hearings today into the Terror legislation, that it is going to be highly distressing watching the inevitable unfolding of these ridiculously truncated processes with little real acknowledgement of the likely, or even possible consequences. This will be followed by sitting in the Senate and having to witness the passage of legislation which I believe will seriously harm the lives of many thousands of Australians and have a negative effect on the ways our society operates in the future.
I’ve had to sit and watch what I believed to be very bad laws pass before. It’s never much fun, but it goes with the job. There’s been someparticularly bad ones that do stick in my memory though – the big package of draconian changes to the Migration Act that were forced through in the post-Tampa climate before the 2001 election is probably the worst single event. The human suffering and harm caused by those laws is now terribly obvious. The weakening of the Native Title Act was another upsetting process to witness. Watching the passing of the GST was tragic for a range of reasons, and the ALP’s support for the far more unfair changes to Capital Gains Tax a year or so later was also no fun to witness. However, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like the ‘triple-whammy’ that’s about to be crunched through the Senate in a few weeks time.
Still, anger is an energy, as someone sang somewhere once upon a time, so I will try to channel it in a way which might produce some good over the next few weeks, even while so much bad is being perpetrated.
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