The Senate is on Borrowed Time

You will recall that, in the August Edition, I expressed my strong support for Paul Keating’s view that the Senate is ‘an unrepresentative swill’. As a result, I have been happily swamped with emails, phone calls, text messages and conversations, 95 per cent of whom were strongly in favour of its abolition.

Six interesting possibilities arose from those discussions;

• The Senate, in failing to act as the States’ House from the day of its inception, is in breach of the Constitution. I am advised by some legal friends that a High Court Challenge would cause it to be totally reconstituted, with Senators having to be Independents with no affiliation to a political party and be able only to reject legislation that they believe to be detrimental to their State, eg, the Mining Tax.

• Currently, voters do not have a genuine choice in electing Senators. A handful of members of the major political parties select Senate candidates, and people have no real chance to vote against any one of them because the system virtually compels you to vote 1 above the line to save yourself having to fill in about 100 boxes below the line. This means that appalling political hacks are elected, and then do very little for six years, when they will once again manipulate a handful of Party members to gain reendorsement for a further six years’ holiday. If the Senate is to remain, public plebiscites must be held to choose Senate candidates.

• The main reason why some voters want to retain the Senate is because of its effective use of Committees to review legislation, but the House of Representatives can reorganise its committee structures and procedures to do likewise. In fact, it can have rules similar to those of the American Congress, in which all legislation must be referred to an all-Party Committee for a decision before it can be voted on in the House. This will stop a government from ramming legislation through the Parliament in a hurry.

• There is a valid way to remove the Senate from the Constitution. Firstly, the Parliament must agree to call a referendum to alter Section 128 of the Constitution to enable the people, without the support of the Parliament, to initiate a referendum on any Constitutional matter, provided that one per cent of registered voters sign a petition requesting it. On current voter numbers, this will require about 150,000 signatures. It would give voters the power to express their will on significant issues. In this particular case, it will not be hard to get 150, 000 voters to sign a petition to hold a referendum to remove the Senate.

Similarly, it will be even easier to get the signatures to get rid of the States. If we abolish the States, the Senate will naturally become obsolete as there will be no States to represent.

• Many think that the removal of the States is the best way to go — and it can be placed before the people after altering Section 128 to give voters the power to call a referendum on the matter.

• There is a widespread view that State Governments have become obsolete to the needs of modern Australia and are a major hindrance to progress, as are Local Governments that are far too small to be effective.

Regional Governments are clearly the answer, provided that the Constitution empowers them to deliver the needs of their region and are not smothered by an over-oppressive Federal Government.

The clear and urgent issue is that we must decide that we want a new Australia that is governed efficiently and at the lowest cost, not a perpetuation of governments based on an old colonial era that is long past and utterly irrelevant.

One last comment: I do not want to be cynical, but I am certain that the constitutional change to remove the States and the Senate, while being put to the vote as soon as possible, will have to be implemented in 2025 so that current Parliamentarians don’t have to vote to put themselves out of a job. They will time it to stop the next lot from coming in.