As you read this, Parliament has summarily dispatched debate on the Welfare to Work bill, sending it to the Senate. At 9.01, the Government gagged debate in the Lower House, and at 9.03 the bells were ringing as Labor protested with a futile division. It had 22 speakers on the roster, only a handful of whom were able to speak their minds before time ran out.
The latest example of Government behind closed doors was sealed in last night’s vigorous joint party room meeting, when John Howard agreed to concessions in two of the three key bills he wants to force through Parliament before Christmas.
But amid this indecent rush to ram through legislation, one of the troika of Independents in the House, Peter Andren was allowed to rise, and he made some pertinent points, including this: those opposing the punitive measures stripping benefits from the disabled and sole parents are not ratbags – they include a former Liberal Minister Judi Moylan and the welfare organisations who will be expected to pick up the pieces.
Andren railed against the Government’s tactics and it’s “confected urgency” then was sat down as the political guillotine fell. From time to time, Andren has been labelled a lackey for either side of politics, but it doesn’t seem to worry his constituents in Calare, who elected him in an upset in 1996 and have granted him an increased majority in each subsequent poll.
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It would be a great surprise if Moylan suffered a backlash from her electors in her WA electorate of Pearce. Voters are inclined to reward their representatives who display a spine. With the role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition now falling squarely in the hands of the Coalition Party Room, no wonder Howard is ramming through his contentious laws before internal dissent grows too uncomfortable.