Majorities aside, the Senate is still a house with a mind of its own

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Majorities aside, the Senate is still a house with a mind of its own Powered By Docstoc
                                         Wednesday 21/6/2006                                         Brief: DPLAUTO
                                         Page: 15                                                    Page 1 of 2
                                         Section: General News
                                         Region: Melbourne Circulation: 195,100
                                         Type: Capital City Daily
                                         Size: 393.98 sq.cms.
                                         Published: MTWTFS-

  Majorities aside, the Senate is still a house with a mind of its own


  And at the next election,
  the Government may
  lose its numbers.
     T'S A year next week since       phries got the headlines with         the share price is right).
     the Howard Government            his protest at the Government's           However, Howard himself is

I    took control of the Senate
     and jammed its foot simul-
taneously on the legislative
                                      hubris in quashing the ACT's
                                      civil union law. But the Nation-
                                      als' Barnaby Joyce also took a
                                                                            paying the price, because the
                                                                            Government's increasing arro-
                                                                            gance, arising partly from being
accelerator and the scrutiny          stand - against scrapping ser-        able to do pretty much what it
brake. It's covered a lot of          vice station regulation that he       wants, has been thrown into
ground but at the cost of some        thought protected small busi-         relief. And it is much more
engine burn-out.                      nesses. Neither succeeded,            embarrassing to be held to
    Outspoken Senate Clerk           though each made his point.            account by your own than by
Harry Evans tells how things are         John Howard can be held            minor parties with the balance
in the new Senate. "It's pretty      seriously hostage over his border      of power.
clear legislation won't get          protection bill, designed to pla-          Before the 2004 election, it
amended unless the Govern-           cate the Indonesians, because          was thought neither side would
ment amends it. Committees           among the rebels are senators          ever again control the Senate.
won't be allowed to inquire into     with the power to scuttle it if a      The increase in Senate size in
anything embarrassing. Com-          deal isn't reached.                    the 1980s made this extremely
mittees are given less time to           Though oversight has been          difficult. So the Coalition upper
look at bills. Some bills are not    weakened, a routine legislation        house victory was against the
allowed to be looked at (by          committee inquiry into the bill        odds.
committees). Estimate hearings       produced a devastating indict-             Assuming the Coalition is re-
have been shortened. There has       ment, and a unanimous call for         elected next year, it will either
been a contraction of account-       it to be ditched. The com-             retain its majority or be back to
ability opportunities, but not       mittee's chairwoman, Liberal           having to deal with small
major nobbling - yet."               Marise Payne, put her neck on          players. (A Labor government
    In its latest strike, the Gov-   the block despite already facing       would have no chance of being
ernment yesterday announced it       a threat to her preselection.          accompanied by a Labor Senate
will cut the number of com-              Joyce has routinely used his       majority.)
mittees and take over all the        potential swing vote - and                The election for half the Sen-
chairmanships.                       talked up Senate rights - in the       ate (no need to even think
    Despite its reduced clout, the   past 12 months to pursue issues,       about a double dissolution when
Senate has certain natural stabil-   although he has crossed the            you have the numbers), will see
isers. When the minority parties     floor only a handful of times.         big changes among the small
lose power, the task of scrutiny         From Howard's point of             players.
falls more heavily to the govern-    view, the benefits of having the           The Democrats, now four,
ment's own.                          Senate numbers would seem              are likely to be wiped out
    Last week two Coalition          worth almost any difficulties
senators crossed the floor over                                             f It is much more
                                     thrown up. He has got his
separate issues on the sane day.     dream industrial relations legis-      embarrassing to be held to
The ACT's Liberal Gary Hum-          lation. He can sell Telstra (if ever   account by your own. 9

                                                                                                                Ref: 22579501
                                     Wednesday 21/6/2006                                            Brief: DPLAUTO
                                     Page: 15                                                       Page 2 of 2
                                     Section: General News
                                     Region: Melbourne Circulation: 195,100
                                     Type: Capital City Daily
                                     Size: 393.98 sq.cms.
                                     Published: MTWTFS-

(although Natasha Stott Despoja      had the balance under the Lib-      As things turned out, the Victor-
in South Australia is a long shot,   erals in 1996-98.                   ian senator has been relatively
assuming she runs).                      ABC election expert Antony      low-profile this term, often
    The Greens, now four, should     Green believes the most likely      keeping his cards close to his
increase their numbers, even if      outcome at the 2007 poll is the     chest about how he will vote.
their vote doesn't rise. The chal-   Government keeps its Senate         His most notable exercise of
lenge for the Greens is whether      majority or loses one seat. If it   power was to neutralise Joyce's
they can successfully exploit the    dropped one it would still be       vote against the voluntary
old Democrat pitch: that a Sen-      able to block measures (such as     student union legislation, giving
ate controlled by small players      inquiries) but would need Fam-      the Government its bill. He also
protects the electorate from the     ily First's Steve Fielding to get   voted with the Government last
unbridled actions of a govern-       legislation through (it could       week against the civil unions.
ment.                                hardly rely on the Greens). If          The possibility of Fielding
    The Greens' Christine Milne      dropped from its present            becoming a key to a Coalition
(Tasmania) says that "rescuing       39 seats to 37, it would need one   Government's post-2007 legis-
the Senate" will be a strong         more vote than Fielding's to        lative program shows the two
Greens message in 2007.              pass bills - which could have it    sides of the Senate coin.
    Running this line will be        staring at the Greens.                  While a Senate that is not in
harder for the Greens, coming           Psephologist Malcolm             government hands is a check on
from the left, than it has been      Mackerras predicts the Govern-      excesses, it's alarming to think
the more centre-left Democrats.      ment will hold its numbers; the     of control being vested in a
    Milne, however, is one who       Democrats will be reduced to        senator who was elected (thanks
brings real balance-of-power         one and the Greens will grow to     to preferences from both sides)
experience to the argument. She      five or six.                        on less than 2 per cent of the
was in the group of Tasmanian           Immediately after the last       Victorian vote at what would be
Green independents holding the       election, before the Coalition      the election before last.
balance under Labor in 1989-92,      clinched a majority, Fielding
and led the state Greens who         looked like he might be pivotal.    Michelle Grattan is political editor.

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