The historic bipartisan record of the last week of Parly
This might come as a shock, but last week 11 bills were passed by the House of Representatives and Parliament that dealt with some of the most significant issues of the century so far. And lots of cross party agreement was needed to get this work done.
Substantial events of the week included agreement on a management plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, a quest which is almost as old as Parliament, and steps to create a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a plan once considered unachievable.
In any week, and not just the last, these would have been important signposts of progress benefitting the Australian people.
The really shocking news is that many, if not most, of the advances made by the Parliament on behalf of the nation were bipartisan decisions. The minority Government needed the support of the Opposition to get through its biggest legislative projects.
Yet the public’s appreciation of last week would generally be limited by the spectacle of politicians engrossed in themselves, directing all energies into personal wars of self absorption and neglecting their duties to the electorate.
That would be an understandable view of last week because the nastiness it exposed swamped the ordinary business of Parliament.
For the sake of Parliament itself, and that of the public’s faith in its operation, the fuller picture should be given.
It was not all political skirmishing, party posturing and Labor-Liberal personality obsession.
In fact on one issue the Government and the Opposition were in such complete agreement the Greens condemned what they called the “Liberal-Labor Coalition”. The issue was a failed Greens demand for an inquiry into the uranium industry.
On Saturday, plain packaging of cigarettes came into force in a move acclaimed around the globe as a critical measure to limit the health scourge of smoking.
Earlier, legislation to deregulate the wheat industry passed the Senate on the voices. That means agreement on the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 was so overwhelming that no vote was required. Two Liberal senators from Western Australia had threatened to cross the floor if a formal vote was called, but were denied the chance.
The Australian Education Bill passed the House of Representatives. The legislation was a collecting of good intentions rather than an implementation of change. The federal Government still has to sort out funding shares with the states.
But it was a step towards getting more money for schools and higher outcomes from the education system.
And a step also was taken towards giving voters the opportunity at a referendum to alter the Constitution so that it acknowledges the indigenous people of Australia.
“The Australian Constitution is the foundation document of our laws and our government but it is silent on the special place of our first Australians, ” said Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. The Opposition agreed that should change.
Elsewhere: There was agreement on a national reform of poker machine laws to protect gambling addicts; a Senate committee made a cross-party recommendation that the dole, the New Start Allowance, need not be increased.
It was a busy week, and it has been a busy year.
In 2012 Parliament passed 195 bills which included new laws changing dental benefits, introduced paid parental leave, offered families money to help send children to school.
The long-term consequences of non-partisan legation such as the NDIS preparations will eventually dwarf machinations over the ancient history of the AWU.
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