So the Senate will conduct an enquiry into the Queensland government – on the pretext that, to quote Senator Glen Lazarus, it has made “many questionable decisions”. Never mind that state governments are elected by the same people who elect senators, or that senators are elected to conduct national business. A bunch of senators is going to go poking around state affairs, because the Queensland government did things with which some of those senators disagree.
This silliness comes courtesy of a deal between the Palmer United Party, Labor and the Greens. The Greens’ Senator Larissa Waters was on Radio National this morning doing a great job of not answering questions about her party’s trampling of good governance while gabbling about Newman’s “brutal agenda” – but to her credit, she at least put her head up above the parapet. Labor initially seemed mightily embarrassed, as they should be.
The excuse they’re all using for this departure from convention is that Queensland has no upper house. (Back in the day, much of the left was dedicated to eliminating upper houses as unrepresentative, but apparently this is now Not Canon, as they say in the comic-book business.) In real life, a more important factor appears to be that Clive Palmer hates Campbell Newman’s guts.
The senators’ decision is a procedural obscenity not just because it is transparently payback but because it builds a path to a future where parliaments inquire endlessly into each other simply because they are run by different parties. I disagree with a bunch of the Newman government’s decisions, but the medicine for that illness is an election, which is actually not that far away.
This sort of convention-busting idiocy traditionally gets debated for a few days, decried by commentators from one side or the other, and then buried. There’s no real constituency for maintaining decent conventions and processes of government, compared to the constituency for, say, cutting taxes.
But it’s worth an occasional attempt to remind everyone that our existing system of government has its good points and that slowly degrading it does the country no favours. Especially since we seem to be getting more of these breaches of convention over time.
So here’s the challenge to Troppodillians: Name one or more actions of governments over recent years which have junked useful conventions and eroded the capacity of governments to simply govern prudently and well.
Nominations in the comments, please.
Here are some starters, on top of the Enquiry Into Clive’s Enemy described above:
- Hold A Royal Commission Into The Other Mob’s Failings. The Royal Commission into the pink batts affair predictably revealed nothing that wasn’t already known from many previous enquiries. Note that the Rudd government had generally resisted this path; in particular, it refrained from a royal commission into the AWB affair.
- Sack The Capable Guy Who Once Worked For The Other Side. The extremely capable Martin Parkinson has lost his job running Treasury because he was an advisor to Labor treasurers in the 1990s and then head of Labor’s Department of Climate Change. His axing was reportedly over the protests of Joe Hockey. Again, Rudd had resisted doing the same thing, even keeping on Mark Paterson – a former ACCI chief – as head of the Department of Industry after the 2007 election. Paterson was tasked to work with, of all ministers, the Left’s Kim Carr. (They reportedly got on fine.)
- Use Everyone’s Taxes To Tell Them How Sparkly We Are. The endless pre-election splurging of government funds on advertising to let us all know how wisely the incumbent government is spending our money. The Napthine government is running a version of this on high rotation on Melbourne TV right now, with CGI-enhanced propaganda trumpeting its probably sensible rail extensions as well as its more questionable East-West freeway link and airport rail line, neither of which has a publicly released benefit-cost analysis. I can barely even summon up outrage over this, as previous Labor governments did the same thing at least as energetically. This stuff has a long, grubby, expensive history; highlights include John Howard’s “Unchain My Heart” ads for the GST.
What have I missed? Please concentrate on governance issues, rather than just policies you (and perhaps I) don’t like.
The granddaddy of all convention-junking in Australian government, of course, remains the Fraser Opposition’s refusal to grant supply in 1975. But that’s four decades ago now and I’m going to declare it off-limits even though I think it was wrong. It’s an outlier – the one convention-trashing act which brought such a backlash that it’s unlikely to be repeated. Besides, I want fresh stuff – things that have happened in the past decade.