PAUL KEATING is not the most loveable of characters, but he does have a wonderful turn of phrase and, on one of the few occasions that I agreed with him, he accurately described the Senate as “an unrepresentative swill.”
I reckon that few people will disagree with him. It is a quite unfortunate institution that is an utter waste of money, and does not in any way represent the basic principles of democracy.
My concerns are not specifically related to the current control of the Senate by the Greens, as they are no worse than the Democrats and other minority groups who used it to stop progress in past years.
The issue I have is that decisions of significance are made by people who represent a tiny fraction of the population, no matter which Party they belong to. It is gerrymandering at its absolute worst. Take the sale of Telstra as a prime example. It went through the Senate on the casting vote of the legendary Brian Harradine who, at several elections, got no more than five per cent of the vote in his under-populated state of Tasmania, and won on preferences each time. Yet, he had the power to determine the fate of a major national asset. It was fundamentally wrong for him to have that power.
Legislation establishing the GST and Mabo, two issues that profoundly changed our nation, got through the Senate only because the Democrats backed both — and that Party never ever got more than 10 per cent of the primary votes in any State. Likewise, Tony Abbott’s bill for a plebiscite on the Carbon Tax was beaten on the vote of former Senator Steve Fielding, who was elected with the primary support of two per cent of Victorian voters. While I felt that the plebiscite was a political stunt, Tony Abbott had every right to feel aggrieved that a Senator, who won office by an electoral aberration, had the power to sink his proposed legislation.
I could give you dozens more examples to prove the point that it is plain wrong to have minorities deciding what is good or bad for Australia. How did this distortion of democracy ever get into our Constitution?
At the time of Federation in 1901, the smaller States were afraid that New South Wales and Victoria would dominate the Government in the House of Representatives, and so they insisted on an Upper House in which each State had an equal number of Senators irrespective of population.
This would mean that a small state like Tasmania could have their Senators vote together to potentially block legislation that they felt would harm their State. Similarly, all the smaller states could vote together to block an initiative from New South Wales or Victoria that they did not like. We all now know, in hindsight, that this safeguard was never used.
From day one, Senators always voted with their political party, never for their State. The reality is that a Party could lose an election in the Reps, but could often control the Senate and curb the power of their opponents.
The concept of the Senate being the House that protects the States is an absolute joke. The need to remove it from the scene became an issue for action when a very unstable Governor-General, John Kerr, illegally dismissed the Whitlam government because it could not get the Senate to pass the money bills needed to give it Supply, even though Whitlam had a majority in the Reps and had just won a vote of confidence in the House. Action to rectify the matter was not taken up by the electorate because the Whitlam government was so discredited that few people wanted to use them as the reason to abolish the Senate.
Australia does not need a Senate — neither does any State need an Upper House. It is a misuse of voters’ money and a denial of democracy. Why does Tasmania need 12 Senators to represent less than half a million people (when they don’t represent them anyway – they represent their Party).
We do not need an Upper House to provide a check and balance on the Lower House. The voters are the ultimate deciders. We have the power to vote out a bad government.
In addition, the media is now the most powerful opposition in the land, potentially more powerful than any Upper House. Why elect a government and then do everything possible to stop them from governing. It is as ridiculous as it would be if the shareholders of BHP elected two Boards of Directors and gave the second Board power to stop the first Board from doing anything.
We need a referendum as soon as possible to remove the Senate from the Constitution — but it will need a powerful and influential grass roots movement to demand that referendum, and a courageous government to initiate it.
Send me an email to let me know if you are willing to be part of that movement. I reckon that there are a few high profile Australians who would be willing to lead the charge.
Just remember that the negative irresponsibility of the “unrepresentative swill” does more to kill the future for Australia than the economic fallout from a carbon tax is ever likely to do.