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.