February 07, 2004 | Peter

Reforming Parliament

Labor leader Mark Latham is talking about reforming federal parliament. He wants an independent speaker in the House of Representatives and an end to Dorothy Dix’s. Well, that would make a start, anyway.
Federal parliament is a scandal, which would be much more of a problem if it had much to do with actual government. More and more, however, it is simply a rubber stamp for the governing executive (cut off in isolated splendour in the new parliament house – what a signal move that was) and a house of fun and rest for the increasingly dull types who make up our political caste.
Of course, this mess has been aided and abetted by a corrupt and lazy press gallery who are mostly in on the fun.
There are two basic things that need fixing: question time and getting the pollies to turn up in the chambers. Question time is supposedly the jewel in the crown of our hybrid parliament, sometimes called the ‘Washminster’ system. It‘s when the executive can be questioned directly by parliament. It is now a complete joke, when ministers simply abuse the opposition while not answering their questions or while supposedly answering some ridiculous question from their own side. These are questions like, “Is the minister aware that he is the best loved human being in history, aside of course from the Prime Minister, and that the leader of the opposition is the least loved?” And the minister starts off with, “I wish to thank the Member for XXX for her question, knowing as I do what a strong interest she has in history…”
Absolute, mind-bendingly dumb crap. And this rubbish is cross-party lines. It was, after all, Paul Keating who really killed off question time.
So, what to do? Latham’s idea of making independent members house speaker is one idea, but that would mean relying on reasonably intelligent independents being elected – not always a good bet. Maybe the Westminster model would do, where speakers leave their party and become sort of parliamentary officers. Independent speakers could then refuse Dorothy Dix’s and make ministers actually answer questions.
The second thing would be to make members turn up in the chambers. People who do not know how parliament works are often shocked by how few pollies are in the chamber at any one time. They are mostly off doing really important things, like, um… well, really important things.
Of course, parliament is mostly incredibly boring dealing with mundane things like sewage improvement bills. But pollies can work from their incredibly plush seats inside the chambers, and if they have to spend time in the chamber they might start taking an interest in how it works and the whole process of government.
It would be nice to imagine parliament full of articulate, focused, enthusiastic pollies deeply engaged with the various issues of governemnt, but to achieve that one would have to start by ejecting the great majority of current denizens for whom the existing system works just fine.

Posted by Peter at 5:29 pm | Comments Off on Reforming Parliament |
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