Put it down to another case of the Perpetual Present to which some members of the Press Gallery are so prone: otherwise intelligent Gallery journalists running the Opposition’s talking point that the Government is avoiding parliamentary scrutiny by releasing its carbon pricing package on Sunday.
The Howard Government announced the details of its GST package in August 1998, with no Parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever. It announced its Workchoices package on 9 October 2005, after it had given a special lock-up briefing to employers, at a Prime Ministerial press conference. No statement in Parliament – the House of Representatives wasn’t even sitting that week. It announced its media ownership reform package — the biggest shakeup in media regulation in decades — in the middle of the winter recess in 1996.
Under the Howard Government, the concept of Parliamentary scrutiny was trashed, particularly in its final term when it controlled the Senate. That was the era of two-day rubber-stamp Senate inquiries.
In all the above cases, of course, there was a subsequent debate — as there should have been — over the actual legislation implementing the package. In the media circus that so much of contemporary politics has become, it appears to have been forgotten that Parliament isn’t merely about Question Time, or Censure Time as it should now more correctly be known, but about scrutinising and debating bills themselves. Of course, even there the Howard Government couldn’t help itself — not even bothering to print off enough copies of the Workchoices legislation to enable MPs to read it, and springing legislation for the NT intervention so suddenly on both its own and Opposition MPs that they barely had 24 hours to consider it before the Government demanded passage.
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And then, of course, there’s another point that neither the Opposition nor the Press Gallery has mentioned: the carbon pricing package is the result of the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change. If the Coalition was so eager to scrutinise the package, they could have joined the Committee at the outset and actually participated in its development.
Perhaps journalists have forgotten that too.