The package of 5 Bills that allow the sale of Telstra was guillotined through the Senate tonight, with Barnaby Joyce voting with the rest of the Government Senators, as he has through every step of the corrupted and tawdry process that was used to prevent proper scrutiny of the legislation and its many flaws.
A Senate Committee was given only a one day hearing to take evidence from the public on the Bills. This occurred less than 24 hours after the legislation was released by the government. There was less than a week from when all the legislation was released to when the final vote was forced on the Senate.
The only chance for the Senate to directly query the Minister on the detail of legislation is in the stage of the debate which is called the Committee of the Whole. This involves the whole Senate going into committee, thus enabling Senators to speak more than once on any amendment or issue, and to ask for explanation, clarification or seek guarantees from the Minister.
Today the Government – without any advance notice – used its numbers to limit this examination stage of the debate to less than four hours for all 5 Bills. Not content with doing this, Government Senators spoke and asked puffball questions of the Minister to use up as much of the time as possible.
I’ve been working as an adviser and Senator for over 15 years. There have been guillotines used many times before, but the only case that was even remotely comparable was the package of 7 Migration Bills that were forced through the Senate following the Tampa incident in 2001. Even then, most of the Bills had been around in some form or another for a while, and there was no attempt by Government speakers to talk out the time to prevent others speaking. Of course, those Bills were supported by both major parties, so only smaller parties were opposing the whole thing.
I can’t think of a single example in all my experience where such total arrogance and contempt for the Parliamentary process was displayed. Of course, the one thing that is different now than at any other time in the last 24 years is that the Government has a majority in its own right in the Senate.
Any hope that the Liberal and National parties might not use this smallest of majorities to trash the entire purpose and role of the Senate was obviously forlorn.