Christian Kerr writes:


Two cracking features in the broadsheets today. First, the wider yarn: “Australia is experiencing a historic shift in power to executive government that threatens to undermine the vibrancy and effectiveness of the parliamentary process,” Steve Lewis writes in The Australian:

After nearly a decade in the Lodge, John Howard is busily amassing presidential power through a centralised push incompatible with the states’ rights philosophy once championed by Liberal MPs…

We are witnessing the practical effect of last October’s decision by voters to give the Coalition total parliamentary control. The Senate has been reduced to a clearing house for an executive that is cheered on by a business community receiving private briefings on Coalition reforms…

Then there’s Louise Dodson’s “The new reform process is a PR exercise, not a genuine debate” in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Increasingly the Howard Government floats ideas and pulls them back if the public reacts negatively. Then the law is advertised and rushed through Parliament with minimal debate.

It is a smoother process, but the risk of making mistakes is surely higher. This has been the broad pattern on the main Government policy issues this year. Take the approach to changing industrial relations, media ownership rules and the electoral system…

Let’s just take three snapshots of where we are. Here’s an email than went out Sunday:

—–Original Message—–

From: CoalitionFYI (REPS)
Sent: Sunday, 9 October 2005 3:22 PM
Subject: Andrews – Media Releases & Booklets – Workplace Relations: Moving Towards One National System

Dear Coalition Members, Senators and staff:

The Howard Government today announced WorkChoices, the new workplace relations system that will replace a rigid and outdated system that was designed over 100 years ago. WorkChoices represents sensible and practical change to ensure that Australia can continue to enjoy high levels of prosperity and productivity into the future.

WorkChoices delivers on the Howard Government’s commitment to improve productivity, create more jobs and increase living standards for Australian families and to move towards a single national workplace relations system. A new workplace relations where:

  • Minimum and award classification wages will be protected by law;
  • Specified existing award conditions like penalty rates, overtime and long service leave will be protected;
  • Flexibility and choice play a key role; and
  • People can balance work and family commitments.

At last count there were over 130 different pieces of industrial relations legislation, more than 4,000 different awards and six different workplace relations systems operating across the country. WorkChoices will move Australia towards a simpler and fairer national system of workplace relations. With six different workplace relations systems there are simply too many rules and regulations that make it hard for many employees and employers to get together and reach agreement. This is bad for business, it costs jobs and it’s holding Australia back.

Attached is range of material that we trust you will find useful.

Andrew Blyth
Chief of Staff
Office of Hon Kevin Andrews MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations

Blyth used to work for the Government Members Secretariat – the taxpayer funded rolling campaign unit that produces communications material for Coalition MPs. His current job seems like a logical progression.

Then there’s Peter Costello’s slapping down of Malcolm Turnbull’s tax proposals. Turnbull, Lor’ bless him, is only doing his job. Floating policy is not just the prerogative of ministers and their bureaucrats. It’s actually a responsibility of all MPs. Has Costello forgotten this?

Crikey’s been commenting on the Government’s mania in suppressing all differing voices for years now, but this takes it to new extremes. It’s doubly worrying that the alternative prime minister behaves as badly – if not worse – as the man he would supplant on this matter.

This mania for control is reflected in the supplementary remarks another Government backbencher, Sophie Panopoulos, felt obliged to add to yesterday’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report:

Accountability in government is not better served through prolonging the term of the House of Representatives…

It is through no accident of history that the Senate is one of the most powerful upper houses in the democratic western world, and the proposal of the Committee is that the Senate be nothing more than a pale imitation of the House of Representatives.

There has been a creeping sense of disillusion in politics and political processes and this will not be solved by increasing the terms of government. The greater sense of ‘ownership’ that the people feel they have of their representatives, the stronger the sense of unification with the democratic process. This is best achieved through regular elections – not through lengthening parliamentary terms.

Panopoulos is a contrarian conservative, but that’s a pretty gutsy call for an ambitious young MP. And isn’t it interesting to note that, like Turnbull, she’s another policy agitator. Someone who isn’t interested in just sitting back, enjoying the benefits of government, and letting bureaucrats run the show.

While the executive is taking over, it’s good to see two MPs doing their job and asserting the primacy of the Parliament.