The proactive new world of Australian politics
For all the giddy talk about new paradigms and the renewal of democracy, there’s every chance that this Parliament could end up looking more like an episode of The Office than a functional and productive political assembly.
In a campaign where marketing psychobabble often took centre-stage, it’s only appropriate that, moving forward, the result itself take us further down the path towards the proactive and the inclusive - where instead of just making decisions, it’s now the primary job of parliament to facilitate dialogue and discourse, even to re-open the discussion of issues not remotely on the minds of the 85 per cent of the population which voted for either of the major parties.
Things got off to an inauspicious start when the man who wants ministerial answers limited to three minutes took a full seventeen to address the relatively simple question of whether he was supporting Labor or the Coalition.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott is undoubtedly a decent man and sincere in his desire to improve our democracy.
But the “beautiful ugliness” envisages has the potential to make Parliament less accountable, more cumbersome, a lot more expensive, and more remote from its chief role of directly serving the interests and addressing the concerns of constituents.
Take his proposal for an increase in the number of sitting days. This suggests that there is a link between flying everyone to Parliament and accommodating them all at vast expense in serviced Manuka apartments, and a corresponding improvement in everyone’s quality of life.
The reverse is true. Any MP will tell you that they work hardest and longest when they are in their electorates responding directly to the needs of their constituents. In my time working on Macquarie St I knew many country MPs who regarded sitting weeks as a bit of a holiday and would come to the big smoke, check in at the Commercial Travellers in Martin Place and spend the next three days on the squirt.
Also, is the success of a Parliament measured by how much legislation it passes? Many voters would probably be happier if the Parliament spent less time, not more, trying to cook up new legislative ways of interfering with people’s lives.
And Oakeshott’s enthusiasm for the parliamentary committee process – one shared by Labor’s new chums the Greens – is a recipe not so much for enhanced scrutiny as navel-gazing and logjams.
In this dinki-di re-run of the Prague Spring, we are already seeing a raft of issues which were not the subject of any debate during the campaign be foisted onto the national agenda.
As a result of the deal with the country independents we’re now scrambling to find $10 billion to save the bush from imminent doom.
As a result of Labor’s deal with the Greens we’re set for a fresh debate about border protection, even though more than eight in every 10 voters supported an orderly intake which recognised the need for offshore processing.
We’re about to have a debate on the War in Afghanistan even though nobody is marching down the street in protest at this important cause.
And even though Treasury spent much of the last term marshalling its personnel for a comprehensive review of the tax system, we’re now set to do the whole thing again, only this time in summit form, so that “key stakeholders” can go to Canberra and whack on at greater length about stuff which has already been examined to within an inch of its life.
There are people in every workplace who love nothing more than a good meeting as it creates a veneer of productivity in the absence of doing any actual work. It now appears that these people are running the country.
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