I’ve managed to have a rare weekend at home with absolutely no work related commitments (although I have to dip into the email from time to time.) Tonight I fly back to Canberra for a fortnight of Senate sittings. This ‘two weeks on-two weeks off’ sitting pattern continues through until December.
There’s any number of major policy issues on the agenda, from the Telstra legislation, to welfare changes, workplace changes, tax proposals, national security and student services on Uni campuses, all of which will have big impacts on millions of Australians.
Amazingly, Helen Coonan seemed to suggest on TV this morning that the Telstra sale Bill might come up for a vote this fortnight, even though it has yet to be made public, and the details of the funding packages and regulatory changes are nowhere to be seen!! No matter how much you agree or disagree with what Qld Nationals Senator, Barnaby Joyce, has done in agreeing to support the Telstra sale, I can’t believe he’d be so silly as to let them push through the sale Bill first and let them produce the details later, let alone let them do it without some form of genuine Senate Committee examination.
The value of Senate Committees isn’t that it can give politicians a chance to posture and run their arguments, it’s that it provides a chance for people with expertise to put their views before the Senate AND have those views and evidence tested by Senators from all sides. There have been a number of Senate Committee reports in recent times which have shown that, regardless of whether you support public or private ownership, the existing regulatory regime is highly inadequate. The Committee I now Chair tabled one just last month. Among other things, this report highlighted that even the Government Regulator – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – felt their current powers and budget were clearly inadequate to get fair competition (e.g. see paragraphs from 3.49 onwards).
If Barnaby wants to get a reasonable assurance that all the things the Government is promising will work to ensure decent service and a fair price in the bush, he’s far better off ensuring the detail is put in the public arena and independently tested, before he votes to let the rest of Telstra be sold. Once the vote has happened, he’s lost all leverage. I can almost guarantee he’ll get screwed over down the track by the Government reneging anyway, but he may as well make it as hard as possible for them.