Some current Senate Committee Inquiries

The federal Parliament is now on a seven week break, and doesn’t sit again until May 13th, the day the Rudd government brings down its first Budget. In the case of the Senate, this will be just the eleventh sitting day for the year. However, there is a lot of work in the Senate that happens outside of sitting days, not least through Senate Committee inquiries.

After spending most of the last three years blocking or truncating Senate inquiries, the Coalition has decided inquiries are a good thing after all – a change in perspective which has coincided neatly with their shift from the government to the Opposition benches. There is now a flurry of Senate inquiries, most of them scheduled to finish before the end of June when there will be a changeover of 15 people in the Senate. I’m on a number of the Committees that are holding inquiries, and will be involved to varying degrees in as many of them as I can over the next couple of months. I’ve detailed some of them below.

As always, a key part of what makes a useful Senate inquiry is submissions from the public, so I encourage anyone with an interest in any of the topics to make a contribution.

  • Housing affordability: This Committee has been specifically established to look at this crucial topic, and is planning to hold public hearings in most states, including some suburban and regional areas. It’s a topic I have had a strong interest in for many years and I hope it helps give the policy debate an intelligent kick along. As with all four Select Committees the Coalition has set up this year, they automatically gave themselves the position of Chair, but in this case the Chair is Marise Payne, who is one of the most competent and professional of all the Liberal Senators, which helps make me reasonably confident it will be a worthwhile inquiry and one people should definitely consider contributing to.  There is also a separate but partly related inquiry by the Senate Economics Committee into the more narrow issue of the mandatory Last Resort Home Warranty Insurance scheme.
  • Inquiry into compensation for the Stolen Generations: This is an inquiry which I got established. It is being held by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Whilst it is ostensibly looking at my legislation which proposes a compensation mechanism, it has the scope to look at the broader issues of the relevant recommendations on this topic from the Bringing Them Home report and existing domestic and international compensation models.
  • Inquiry into the Sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment: This inquiry is by the Senate’s Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee (which I am the Deputy Chair of). I have blogged on it already at this post.
  • Inquiry into provisions of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Emergency Response Consolidation) Bill 2008.
    This Bill makes a few small changes to the large pile of legislation establishing the Northern Territory intervention, which was rushed through the Senate by the previous government last August. Unlike last year, when hundreds of pages of radical legislation was given just a one day hearing on one day’s notice, this year the Coalition wanted a couple of months to look at just a few measures, including re-instating the permit system and modifying the measures to do with access to pornography. This Inquiry is being conducted by the Community Affairs Committee.
  • Inquiry into the Rights of the Terminally Ill (Euthanasia Laws Repeal) Bill: This is also being conducted by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. It is into a Private Senators Bill of Bob Brown’s which seeks to repeal the federal law which overturned the Northern Territory law legalising voluntary euthanasia in defined circumstances. The debate regularly reappears whenever tragic individual cases become public, as is occuring again at the moment. This Bill and Inquiry may serve to focus some of the debate specifically on to the legislative sphere. Private Senator’s Bills rarely get passed or even voted on, and I doubt this one will be any different (this year at least), but the inquiry is a way for people to produce information and arguments to back their case and to generate some more debate on whether or not action should be taken on the issue.
  • Inquiry into the Wheat Export Marketing Bill: This is about the contentious issue of the future of the Single Desk for wheat exports. I’ve followed this issue with interest for the last couple of years, although I don’t know if I’ll have sufficient time to participate properly in this inquiry.  Apart from being of immediate interest to wheat growers, it will be politically significant because of the major differences between the National Party and at least some within the Liberal Party. It does also have some of the echoes of the scandal from the last government regarding sanctions-busting bribes paid to the former Iraqi government.
  • Inquiry into the effectiveness of the broadcasting codes of practice: This Inquiry is also being run by the Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee. It is looking at “the frequency and use of coarse and foul language in programs”, the effectiveness and accuracy of current classification standards and the operation and effectiveness of the public complaints process. It has been suggested that it came about at least in part as a result of some complaints about a recent episode of the TV show “Kitchen’s Nightmare”, where TV Chef Gordon Ramsay apparently used the ‘F-word’ more than 80 times in less than an hour. I’d have to say my knowledge of what’s on television has diminished significantly in the past few years, so I’d never heard of this show or its chef until now. However, there is a wider issue at stake than this one example, and as the Committee’s Deputy Chair, I will try to follow the evidence provided.

The inquiries I’ve listed are just the ones I’m trying to partake in over the next couple of months. There are plenty of others happening too, but as you can imagine, with most Senators on a number of different committees, trying to ensure every topic gets full attention is sometimes easier said than done.

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  1. The SMH reports over 5 million Australians,incl. myself are somewhat unemployed or dont want to work,shift workers are showing a tendency to be overweight,incl. myself, second languages and skill shortages are apparent everywhere in Aust., including myself,although I have a few dictionaries,no canaries or parrots,and look up name meanings via Google regularly.Housing shortages and babies for Government are still not meeting either those who want decent housing,or government that has an interest in bedsheets made of the flag,and,as I cannot compete with Billionaire Americans for acknowledgement of how intelligent and therefore attractive I am.I have decided to get a cardboard thing from inside a toilet roll,and paper mache up a look-a-like of myself,and train myself ,in my spare time,in a little place out the back,to overcome all my problems,using ventriloquist skills!?So I then can teach others the skill,say, 5 million odd,so that the participation rate in media and media studies,committees and think tanks,and public service pools of the skilled will go up by a factor of ,the accounted for 5 million and their respective multi-media skills.Two heads are better than one,and heads you win,tails never lose!I will then teach ventriloquist stomach and belly button languages ,to all those who have picked up a cheap translation dictionary somewhere.All sock puppets will only maintain their Internet skills,and be downgraded in the workforce.Good Luck Senator Andrew,these committees seem to be a rich metaphor for politicians employing themselves,and,whilst you are close to the essential reasons for housing etc.they will invariably hang you on the cross,as they muscle-in on being the concerned.

  2. Hi Andrew
    I have read more of these Senate Committee reports than I care to remember, they are often full of great info to batter government with. I was just reading an old one yesterday ‘Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee final report on the inquiry into Australia’s response to global warming’ which estimated direct fossil fuel subsidies in Australia at $2 billion per year and an additional $4 billion in indirect subsidies such as ‘tax incentives, start-up grants, preferential purchasing agreements etc. Wonderful stuff, great for a greenie media release or two, but like many of these reports nothing much else seems to happen with them after they are released.

    So I was wondering, do you feel these committees and the reports they produce are worth the time and effort, or are they just a government procrastination mechanism with the report fated to become a dust collector on a shelf somewhere?

  3. Andrew

    I missed cut-off date for submissions on housing but thought I might leave you with a holiday parody concerning housing


    Wayne Swann (FOE)

    As a FOE (Feudal Options Executive) I would like state our party’s position on housing affordability in Australia (described as being amongst the least affordable in the world).

    Firstly, Feudal Options party (FO) intends to mirror many of the current Liberal and Labor party policies. The only difference will be that we will be explicit with our ulterior motives.

    I believe the Australian public is ready for this. The public is basically honest and intelligent enough to know the deceits of the current political parties. The public generally dislikes dishonest politicians but still has to vote for them. FO is an honest alternative.

    At the next election we expect support from voters looking for upfront honesty while still retaining corrupt policies of the other two parties.

    In terms of housing affordability, we believe keeping the status quo by making housing more affordable to investor, less affordable to home buyers.

    The ulterior motive for this must be obvious. Investors need renters. There is no point having a tax policy that encourages home ownership at the expense of investors.

    Hats off to Treasury, in this respect. Although RBA submission: “Productivity Commission Inquiry on First Home Ownership – 2003” clearly identified the main cause of housing unaffordability – all political parties have dodged the main point of the submission.

    RBA submission (point 9 of Summary): ‘It is our view that the main impetus to the continued increase in house prices . . is from . . unusually strong desire by existing property owners for further exposure to residential property . . ’ ie investors chasing tax breaks.

    FO will ensure investors (only) will be protected by tax rebates & deductions

    Any suggestions on how to make the tax system more skewwhiff always welcome


  4. Alan Lewis:

    The removal of tax breaks for investors in residental properties has been tried and failed badly under the renowed (Govt of New Taxes) Paul Keating.
    We still have a housing shortage and any moves to remove tax breaks in this area will only put more people on the street.


  5. I think fewer people will lose their homes due to interest rate rises, if they are more conservative about the size and location of the homes they are willing to buy.

  6. Hi Andrew Bartlett,

    Good on you for having this blog.

    And for making it so very interactive.

    I’ve never gone so Left as to want to vote Democrats before, but top stuff for setting this up and being so approachable.

    Are there any other Aussie pollies who have something similar?

    Oh, and thanks for moderating Marilyn, too. (I’m sure there are many other readers of many other mediums who roll their eyes in anticipation of the inevitable torrent of hyperbole after first noticing her name.)

  7. Tony

    Perhaps you’re right, not all tax breaks need be removed.
    But, Treasury should throw negative gearing tax into shredder.

    Labor has nothing to lose, they are gone next election anyway. They’ve offered nothing substantially different from Libs in terms of housing affordability

    Reason for removing negative gearing (n-g):

    Theory is n-g helps renters and first home buyers by encouraging investors to “supply accommodation”. The theory is the larger the supply, the lower the rents will be. Recent rent hikes at 2 – 3 times rate of inflation have put paid to that theory

    If n-g was intended to add to the supply of accommodation, it would be allowed only for new construction — not for purchase of established properties

    n-g fails to distinguish between new & existing properties

    The result – DEBT LEMMINGS, the tax-breaks-are-us brigade, ie. property investors, buying up established dwellings for ‘their retirement income’

    Armed with their retirement ‘justification’ they typically have no idea of the hardship they are forcing on would-be home buyers. Renters are viewed as their little ‘rental milch cows’ – a compliant group of working poor given no assistance by a tax system designed by vested interests

    “most sensible area to look for moderation of demand is among investors. . the work undertaken in preparing this submission has highlighted a number of areas in which the taxation treatment in Australia is more favourable to investors . . . In particular
    •ability to negatively gear an investment property when . . little prospect of the property being cash-flow positive for many years;

    n-g should be for new construction. 04Mar08 announcement by PM Rudd is a step in the right direction

    However, $60k tax credit ($6k x 10yr) to investors was a slap in in the face for FHO. All it has done is assist investors

    Treasury should be ashamed of neg gearing

  8. Lorikeet [5]:

    Many people would like to buy modest dwellings in affordable places but, unfortunately, we have ignored all the alarm-bells and allowed a cancerous housing finance racket to develop.

    Almost anyone, even since the SubPrime Depression started, can get finance for h-u-g-e, grossly over-priced, badly-designed, energy-gobbling, jerry-built bludgertoriums or mac-mansions.

    In marked contrast, heaven help you if you dare think of borrowing for a nice solid owner-built house or a century-old little 2-bedroom weatherboard cottage or a “shouse” [a steel-framed farm/light-industrial shed converted into a safe and comfortable dwelling] – and if the dwelling is in a rural area, you can forget the whole idea.

    It is possible to get finance for such a dwelling – but only from one’s own family …. or from loan-sharks who can profit well each time they repossess. Centrelink does its bit to prop up this system by punishing anyone who tries to escape a poverty trap by moving from an urban to a rural location.

    Since no government in Australia will ever bite the hand that feeds it by reintroducing anything like the old state government housing commission system of affordable home ownership, the only things we can do are to apply pressure:

    [1].to make the hostile discrimination against borrowing to buy owner-built houses, “shouses” and modest little cottages illegal,

    [2]. to set up a Borrowers’ Ombudsman, …. and

    [3]. to force Centrelink to change its regulations so that those who try to escape a poverty trap by moving out of an urban area are not punished for trying to do so.

  9. Everyone:

    ABC-IV Four Corners at 8:30pm Monday evening [Qld. time] and repeated late on Tuesday evening is on unsustainable debt, dodgy mortgages, predatory lending, the fantastic plastic and their impact on ordinary people – “Debtland”.

    No doubt some very nasty political extremists will be the program watching too – for pointers on how to gain more desperate recruits to their cause.

  10. Graham:


    Have you noticed that developers don’t build ordinary houses any more? You know – the ones with 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom.

    Most of the newer homes have 4 bedrooms, at least 2 bathrooms and cost a mint.

    I live in an ordinary “spec” home, which I think is fairly nice. The cost of buying the newer houses would be about 100,000 to 150,000 more.

    When I looked into buying a 3 bedroom unit in a 5 storey block, the developer wanted $530,000 for it.

    When you think that it had no yard to speak of, and shared its tiny postage stamp-sized piece of land with 4 other units above and below, you have to wonder what you are paying for.

  11. Thanks Graham

    Yes, you’re right, the dodgy vested interests in control seem to have the ability to corrupt everything for their own benefit – to hell with the consequences and the next generation.

    It seems as if the ABC is the only group prepared to do anything about the self-inflicted debt nightmare causing the rampant inflation. Self inflicted through self interest.

    Anyone interested in where it will all end unless the circuit breaker is thrown I recommend the writings of Barry Long. Try google Barry Long org then go to articles.

    Most of his work concerns the relationship of man to woman but his penetrating insights cut to the core of the issue:

    Following is the gist of writing from “Decline and Fall – Origins of Man and the Universe” by Barry Long:

    All civilisations are attempts at civilisation. All have failed due to an inherent flaw in the social conscience resulting from humanity’s inability to grasp what civilisation is for.

    The means of destruction of a civilisation should not be confused with the cause of destruction. Moral failure has been the cause of every civilisation’s downfall. Our moral failure, the worm in the western flower, was cultured by the drive among the privileged to have more while the many by comparison had little or nothing.

    Our civilisation is the first world civilisation. In that regard we are unique and represent the end of a phase in man’s development.

    But its failure, and unfitness to endure as the permanently civilising way of life, lies in the expediency of its shifting values. Our particular failure is intellectual duplicity, our double standards.

    We have not possessed the moral strength to stand against the pressure of wealth and self-interest, to uphold in practice the worthy ideals we protested.

    End of my comment on Barry’s writing.

    The passage is intended to address the world at large, Aus can be seen as microcosm of this trend or mentality.

    It’d be nice if we could fix the mess here f

  12. Yes, for a long time now the economy has been geared to a two-income family. The more money you have coming in, the more eager the sharks are to take it.

    I had better not get started on all of the other issues relating to values (or lack thereof), otherwise I will have crossed nearly every thread and married them to this issue.

  13. I’m wondering whether the inquiry into Broadcasting Standards of Practice has anything to do with advertising? I’m guessing not.

    I’m not sure I give a **** about coarse language used in programes, unless of course it’s when children are watching. I’m more concerned about the amount of bad and unwatchable television on, but I imagine there are quite a few Australians who will disagree with me and go on watching it.

    And the advertising but that’s another issue.

  14. On the issue of euthanasia, I think people with really terrible and/or terminal conditions such as motor neuron disease should be able to decide to end their lives if they wish.

    I think the same should apply to the elderly. At the moment, they are expected to endure a succession of horrible and painful experiences we would not inflict on an animal.

    In recent times, several of my friends have had their mothers die in nursing homes. It’s a terrible business – and now my own mother is in fairly rough condition as well.

    My Chaplain friend has been completely horrified by the legalisation of euthanasia in Holland. I think he said it accounted for 50% of deaths.

    In nursing homes here, when people are about to die, all of the financially predatory relatives seem to come out of the woodwork. Several nurses have told me about it.

    If we legalise euthanasia, plenty of people will deliberately kill their own relatives in order to get their money.

    So what do we do?

  15. Sorry, I need to make a correction.

    When I asked the Chaplain again, he said 50% of euthanasias occurring in Holland are not consented to by the person being terminated.

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