Senate reports on terror and welfare laws tabled on Monday

This weekend I am working on my contribution to the Senate Committee report into the government’s welfare changes, as well as examining the details of the planned Terror law. The Committee reports into the welfare package and the terror measures will both be tabled in the Senate on Monday afternoon (sometime after 3.30pm). These will give an insight into the potential for any further amendments to both of these flawed pieces of legislation.

It is a contempt of the Senate to reveal the contents of a Committee report before it is tabled – even any parts of it I may write myself – so I have to be a bit circumspect in what I put here. The reports will be viewable online as soon as they are tabled (here for the terror law and here for the welfare package).

I attended one day of the hearings into the terror law and read much of the Hansard transcript of the other two days, and went to all three days of the welfare package hearings. From that experience, it was fairly clear that the questioning by government Senators was much more probing about potential shortcomings in the terror Bill than it was for the welfare package.

It has been reasonably widely reported that Liberal Senators such as George Brandis have had concerns with the sedition measures in the terror Bill, but there was also genuine questioning from him and some of his other Liberal colleagues on some of the other measures which I think are potentially more dangerous. Indeed, with Senators Brandis, Brett Mason and Russell Trood on the terror Bill and Barnaby on workplace relations, it seems that Queenslanders within the government are raising the most concerns on some of these matters. I only wish there were also some raising concerns about the unfair welfare changes.

Having said that, it seems like I might be the only federal Parliamentarian from Queensland in either the
Senate or the House who is still planning to vote against the terror laws at the end of it all. Personally, I still haven’t seen any evidence which convinces me that there is actually a need to provide any further powers to Ministers, police or security agencies.

However, the more checks and balances on the use of those powers that can be inserted in the legislation the better, and I hope that the probing and pressure from some of the Liberal Senators (along with that from the non-government members who participated in the inquiry of course) might translate into some good recommendations in the Committee’s report to alleviate some of the dangerous measures in the Bill, although one won’t know for sure until it is tabled.

There does seem more chance of there being substantial recommendations for changes in regard to the terror laws than there was in the government Senator’s report on the workplace changes or will be with the report on the welfare package. However, a difficulty is that the ALP has already said that, while they may prefer an improved Bill (such as the removal of the sedition laws), they will support it regardless, which significantly reduces the Senate’s leverage to insist on changes.

It is very unfortunate that there was such an extremely short time to examine the legislation. Whatever else one might think of these changes, they are certainly complex, and there was inadequate time to fully consider the potential legal consequences. All the Government Senators have to bear responsibility for this, as they all supported these absurdly truncated time frames.

However damaging one might feel the terror law will be to the rule of law and the fabric of democracy, there is no doubt that the welfare changes will have a more direct impact on a much greater number of people – at least in the initials stages. Even though the core intent of the planned welfare changes have been public for over 6 months, I still find it perplexing that there is no major public backlash against the government’s intent to reduce the incomes of over one hundred thousand sole parents and people with disabilities – especially at a time when we have a burgeoning budget surplus and continuing pushes from a range of government MPs, along with Rupert Murdoch’s papers, for major income tax cuts which would give the biggest amounts to the highest income earners.

I cannot understand how a government can get away with taking money away from some of the poorest while talking about giving more money to the better off – especially at a time of record budget surpluses. However, it seems this is what is going to happen, even though the vote of just a single Liberal or National Party Senator could stop it happening.

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  1. It said in the paper that virtually no money would be saved in the short-term anyway. Is that your understanding too?

    Funny though. I remember thinking before they won in 2001 that the government had systematically fucked over every vulnerable group in society. Then just before the election they magicked up a new set of people to sink the boot into to save their reputations and keep the punters coming back for more! Disappointing to see them repeat themselves now, as I’m sure they’ve done welfare recipiants before. Ah well.

  2. From my reading of Hansard, Senator Brandis seemed to be very… uncompromising in his view that the ATB is perfect as is. Things like condemning Amnesty for their 1988 report condemning the Indonesian government for holding Abu Bakar Bashir as a politcal prisoner. I’d protest NOW if he were held as a political prisoner. If he’s a criminal, try, convict, imprison him. Otherwise, hands off!

    Anyway. Yes, I saw Senator Brandis as unhelpful. I guess being there would change the perspective somewhat…

  3. mjec

    I wasn’t meaning to suggest that George Brandis and others were perfect or magnificent. Indeed, they seem to see a particular need to hoe into groups they see as ‘bleeding heart’ and try to score political points off them.

    I also wouldn’t want to suggest that any recommendations they may make will fix all the defects in the legislation – indeed, as I said I don’t see there is any need for extra legislation, regardless of how much it is amended.

    None the less, there were some reasonably genuine and pointed questions about some of the (in)adequacy of the draft law, and I hope the flaws that were identified will be addressed through their recommendations. We’ll all know soon enough.

  4. Andrew,

    This is off topic but you have a poll on this site regarding the need for a Bill of Rights.
    Could you offer up the foundation from which you’d like to define a right, perhaps have it as a seperate discussion topic.
    Everytime I seem to discuss “rights” with people there never seems to be a consistent definition.
    If I understand your definition then that at least it is a start.

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