Sunday, December 07, 2008

Peace and Goodwill? Not in our parliaments

A government has opted to run and hide over the Christmas season, rather than face a hostile parliament. An opposition ends the year in disarray, its leadership failing to hold the respect of its own or of the government. A parliament seemingly peopled by members prone to verbal, physical and sexual abuse – across party lines.

Three parliaments in two countries, ensuring goodwill is not part of the Christmas spirit:


With barely a 38% of the national vote PM Harper chose to bulldoze his way through a hostile parliament this week. Challenged with a potential loss of power, via a non-confidence vote of parliament, Harper sought the option of proroguing parliament until early next year.

With due respect to the Canadian Governor General, Michaƫlle Jean, who approved the move, I personally find the precedent disturbing. The first point I take issue with is usurping of the will of the parliament by this dubious manoeuvre. The second point is that in the cloudy arena a Westminster tradition the Canadian decision creates a worrying precedent across Commonwealth parliamentary systems. Peace, order and good government

Fortunately constitutional crisis across the Commonwealth are few and far between, which makes their mode of resolution particularly vital well beyond the jurisdiction where the decision is made.

To my mind, in a parliamentary democracy, the will of the majority of elected members is paramount. Harper should have been required face the house and let the votes fall as they will. Instead there will now be seven weeks of speculation, intrigue and jockeying, wasting valuable time and energy needed to address growing economic concerns.

Australia – federal

The Aussie federal opposition is now under the control of would be strong many, Malcolm Turnbull. This former merchant banker might be well versed in running a business enterprise, but seems inadequate to the task of managing a political party, or two for that matter.

The federal opposition is a coalition of Liberals and Nationals, conservative in nature. Turnbull is a relative new comer to parliament, and shows it in his disregard for the powerful emotional and intellectual forces of the place. He managed to visit an number of major gaffes in the dying days of the current sitting.

It is summertime here, just entering the holiday season, and the Rudd government had no need to prorogue parliament like their Canadian counterparts. But the final days of sitting did require cleaning up the legislative leftovers. Turnbulls first gaffe was to force shadow colleagues to change stance on some key bills. Having achieved that step he assumed his parliamentary colleagues would simply follow suit, instead he managed to split his team three ways.

His second gaffe was in response to a Rudd government statement on security. Turnbull told parliament : Turnbull said Australia had to "work energetically through our international partnerships with our major allies - the US, Japan, China, Indonesia, India - and of course our kindred allies, our historically closest allies, such as New Zealand, the UK and Canada."

The leader of the country’s opposition, it seems, simply doesn’t understand the language of international protocol. "China is a long-term friend of Australia; the US, by contrast, has been, for more than half a century, an ally of Australia. That's a term which has a specific definition as a military alliance containing reciprocal defence obligations.”

Australia – NSW

The lower house of the NSW state parliament is not called the bear pit for nothing, in fact both houses rank among the most robust, if crude, parliamentary performers on the planet. They ended the year in fitting style when yet another prominent member was punished for untoward behaviour.

National Party MP Andrew Fraser was sacked as an opposition spokesman after ‘shoving’ a female colleague during an incident on the floor of the house. He also faces further sanctions for yelling at the Government's leader of the house, John Aquilina during the incident. Fraser is just one in a long list of MPs, government and opposition, who have failed basic decency criteria this year.

More worrying is that through all this the government managed to slip two reprehensible measures through in the dying days of parliament, both self serving to this poor excuse for government. The first was a sop to two members of the upper house, both with the rump Shooters Party.

Under an amendment to the Domestic Violence Act, successfully introduced by the NSW Shooters party on Thursday, men who have previously been the subject of apprehended violence orders that have expired will be able to have the orders revoked so they can regain gun licences. Good one NSW!

The second odious measure allows NSW Lotteries products including Saturday Lotto, Powerball and Oz Lotto and other gambling games to be sold 24/7 by phone or internet. NSW already has one of the worlds highest gambling rates, with tougher economic times surely less rather than more temptation is needed.

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