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Issue #1655      September 10, 2014

Editorial

Government contempt for Parliament

The contents of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2014 legislation are bad enough (see “Stealing workers’ retirement and robbing the vulnerable”). But the process by which they were presented, or more accurately not presented, to the House of Representatives also raises serious concerns as to where the Abbott government is headed. Treating elected members of the House of Representatives with total contempt and running roughshod over the democratic processes (as limited as they are) the government refused to make the text of the legislation available to the Opposition and other parties prior to the “debate”.

Instead of a minister kicking debate off with the customary second reading speech in which the contents of the bill are explained and defended, the parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer, Steven Ciobo, tabled the second reading speech and told the Parliament nothing! Labor was left to kick off the “debate” on a secret bill with a secret Second Reading Speech.

According to standing orders, parliamentary secretaries cannot move the second reading. But that didn’t phase the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop one iota. Standing orders had been suspended to allow the Bill to be proceeded with and after that apparently anything goes!

The Speaker flatly rejected Labor MP Tony Burke’s attempts to a raise a point of order about proceeding with legislation that they could not see. Burke then had the job of debating a secret bill with a secret second reading speech!

“In the most arrogant fashion, the government expect the parliament to debate a bill that none of us can have a copy of for reasons that none of us can hear.” Burke said that this could have serious ramifications as courts often go to what was said during the Second Reading speech when attempting to interpret an Act.

Then making an indirect reference to the government’s secrecy on asylum seekers, Burke quipped, “It may well be the case that the contents of the bill are an operational matter.”

“We have a situation which has never, in living memory, occurred in this parliament, where in a second reading debate the first speech is given by the opposition. And the reasons to oppose it are being given by someone who has not read [it].”

The government just used its numbers to introduce and force the bill through the Lower House. In the Senate, the government produced the amendments that had been secretly negotiated with Clive Palmer. Palmer United Party Senators and their mates from the Motorists and Family First parties joined the Coalition in blocking attempts for the legislation to be referred to a committee and time given to consider its contents.

On September 2, it returned to the Lower House with the amendments. By this time the bill and details of the amendments had been made available. It didn’t take long to ram them through.

By September 4, the Abbott government had got what it wanted: abolition of the mineral resources rent tax, deferral of increases in the compulsory superannuation contributions and the abolition of the School Kids Bonus, the Income Support Bonus and the Low Income Super Contribution in a few years time. In the process, it had shown utter contempt for Parliament, acting in the most arrogant and authoritarian manner.

It is yet another step in the process of turning Parliament into a farce and putting people off politics and politicians. It should serve as a warning as to where this government is headed with its contempt for democratic processes and international law.

Next article – Justice for Hamid

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