May 25, 2005 | Graham

Meet another “balance of power” senator

It is amazing how many people miss the bleeding obvious, including those who should know better. Barnaby Joyce has been salivating with glee at the prospect of being able to hold the Howard Government to ransom on rural issues. (His latest demand a 15% tax rate for rural workers.) Others sound like they have just slashed their wrists and are on the way to the Bundaberg Hospital when they talk about how Howard will eviscerate the Senate. None of these people appears to be able to count.
There are actually 39 “balance of power” Senators, and yesterday one of them put the Prime Minister on notice a lot more quietly,and effectively, than Barnaby Joyce has.
Liberal Senator Marise Payne is backing Petro Georgiou’s private members bill on asylum seekers. Unless Georgiou gathers much more support than he has, Marise won’t get to play a role in changing government policy on this issue, because Georgiou’s bill will never pass the House of Representatives.
But other issues, such as how the committee system is run in the senate, how committees are constituted and what they inquire into will come within her sphere of influence because they are entirely matters for the Senate.
In an earlier post primarily on Brett Mason I drew attention to the fact that Marise was unlikely to win preselection for another term and speculated about what she might do with what time remains to her. We might now be getting some ideas.
One of the commenters on my post, Nick Ferrett, rebuked me saying “…being a good friend of Marise Payne myself, I doubt she wants to be set up in opposition to Mason.” Her actions suggest that not only would she welcome a comparison with Mason, but also with the other 38 of her Coalition colleagues.
Ferrett also notes “…you would be flat out finding anyone in the Senate with better human rights credentials than Brett Mason…His speeches in the Senate confirm his commitment to human rights in contrast to the soft-left cant which usually passes for such commitment.” Indeed. That being the case, will Mason and others take up the gauntlet that Payne has laid down to them?
Even if they don’t this will be an interesting term of Parliament, and may even confirm the usefulness of Upper Houses, even when the government notionally controls both chambers.

Posted by Graham at 1:54 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I have a lot of time for Brett Mason, and his speeches on some aspects of human rights are worth reading, as are his criticisms of the selective outrage of some on the left. However, he runs the risk of being accused of the same selective concern himself, happily pointing out the genuine flaws of others, but supporting blatant breaches of human rights by his own Govt.
    The laws and implementation of our asylum seeker regime (and many other aspects of our migration system) involve flagrant breaches of human rights and the rule of law. This is not “soft left cant” (or any other misleading Andrew Bolt style phrase), it is a simple fact.
    The new Senate will provide a chance to see who will follow their words with action, as Liberals will no longer be able to hide behind the myth of the ‘osbtructionist Senate’.
    FWIW, I think Brian Harradine’s human rights credentials and record leaves all of the Liberals for dead (I’ll leave Democrats out of any assessments, as the self-interest is too great.)
    I agree that the dynamics of the new Senate may be quite different to the bulldozer of total Govt control that people are assuming – I certainly hope so – but nobody knows for sure yet.
    The other point to make about the (mostly valid) framework of considering all 39 Coalition Senators as holding the balance of power is that, once any of them place themselves in this position on a specific issue, it can open up all the other cross benchers as also being balance of power players on that issue. (although to be more precise, I think you’d have to take all the Ministers out of the 39. Also, history shows that Greens will always operate in an oppositional manner rather than a balance of power one and i can’t envisage any issue over the next few years where that might change.)

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — May 26, 2005 @ 9:20 am

  2. Sorry, a slight correction to my comment – I meant to qualify my assessment of Brian Harradine’s human rights credentials as being strong ‘on most issues’.

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — May 26, 2005 @ 9:24 am

  3. Is it possible for Payne to introduce the bill in the Senate? That would be interesting.

    Comment by Mark Bahnisch — May 26, 2005 @ 1:55 pm

  4. I have a question – does the federal budget – with all its middle class pork barreling and poor people bashing – have to be passed by the Senate?
    Peter Costello has already had the lawyers release the new tax schedules on the 100% assumption that it will be passed by the new senate.
    Any credibility Barnaby Joyce had – has already been shot down. If he was going to speak up, say anything to represent his electorate (the vast majority of whom earn less than $100k annually) well its too late. Costello has taken our democratic principles in the senate and assumed total control.
    Sometimes i yearn for an american style senate where people virtually never vote along party lines.
    Seems to me that, even though they may not have proportional representation, they have a much healthier and independent Senate.

    Comment by alphacoward — May 27, 2005 @ 3:08 pm

  5. Dear Alpha Coward,
    See The Dismissal (1975). Yes, the Senate does have the power to reject money bills.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 27, 2005 @ 3:29 pm

  6. Exactly Graham – just as i thought
    so any chance of a possible hostile senate has already been overriden by Peter Costellos (and the ATO) assumptions.
    Now that the ATO lawyers seems to have replaced the senate perhaps we should just get rid of the senate all together?

    Comment by alphacoward — May 27, 2005 @ 4:05 pm

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