So it’s farewell to the Senate as we know it. As the Senate undergoes its biggest makeover, with 20% of its members enjoying their last week on the red leather benches, the Democrats face their Waterloo. And as The Australian points out in a scathing editorial today, the party is on the brink.

One of the Democrats clinging on to the new Senate is West Australian Senator Andrew Murray, and it’s a good thing he is, underlined by his role in a Senate report released yesterday. The report, which received scant play in today’s press, has exposed holes in the government’s unfair dismissal reform agenda.

Instigated by the Democrats, the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee inquiry, ‘Unfair dismissal and small business employment’ raised large questions about the government’s claim its planned laws would boost employment by between 50,000 and 77,000.

Most of the evidence to the inquiry was critical, and at times scathing, of the government’s unfair dismissal policy. Murray’s view? “If the case for ending essential employment rights rests on large-scale job creation you will search in vain for convincing empirical data.” While the Democrats have lost their balance of power, it’s up to the likes of Murray to keep the hard slog of asking the tough questions – and seeking the answers – in Howard’s Castle.

The Senate’s doughty defender, long serving and incorruptible clerk, Harry Evans, meanwhile has gone to ground following his bold attack on the ramifications of Howard’s dominance. He was declining calls by radio and TV to repeat on air his bold comments in features for the Herald and The Australian – and splashed all over the front page of yesterday’s SMH: ‘Senate boss blasts PM’s monarchy’

Evans is a long-time defender of the parliament, and it’s unlikely he was withdrawing at the behest of the PM’s office. He has tangled with governments of both persuasions when necessary for more than 20 years in his role as the Senate’s impartial adviser. He knows just how far to go when fanning controversial flames.