This Government Has Shown Complete Contempt For The Democratically Elected Senate

11/04/2016 5:49 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Australia's Attorney General George Brandis (L) speaks at a press conference Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looks on in Sydney on December 30, 2015. An Australian inquiry into trade union corruption reported 'widespread' and 'deep-seated' misconduct, with Turnbull urging reform and the establishment of an independent regulator. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN / AFP / SAEED KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The Abbott/Turnbull Government has shown complete contempt for the democratically elected Senate. The Government has repeatedly ridden roughshod over motions carried by Senate majority whenever it hasn't suited the LNP's political agenda.

From hiking up divorce fees in the family courts to recalling the Senate in an expensive and arrogant attempt to trigger an early election, this government continues to ignore the will of the Senate.

Our Founding Fathers envisioned the Senate being the States' House and an important house of review. Since Federation it has been crucial to our democratic system of government. Its role as a check and balance to executive power must be respected.

Australia is one of the five oldest continuous democracies in the world. Our system of government is modelled on the UK's Westminster system and the USA's federation model.

In 1898, the drafters of Australia's Constitution wanted the Parliament to be truly reflective of all of Australia's colonies and to ensure smaller colonies like Queensland were not dominated by the most populous and wealthy colonies of New South Wales and Victoria. The Founding Fathers looked to the American Constitution, which has an upper house composed of an equal number of representatives from each state.

The US Congress, like our House of Representatives, is made up of representatives from each state in proportion to population, resulting in the most populous states having more lower house representatives.

The Senate forms an important brake on parliamentary domination by New South Wales and Victorian MPs, and ensures less populous states like Queensland receive our fair share.

It is noteworthy that there have been several recent occasions when the LNP Government ignored the will of the Senate.

In June last year the Liberal Government tabled a regulation to increase fees in family courts. The Senate voted to disallow this regulation. Two weeks after that disallowance motion was passed, the Government rejected the voice of democracy. The Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis again tabled a regulation to increase fees in the family courts; however he added $5 to the fee. This second regulation took effect almost immediately. His sneaky manoeuvre occurred while parliament was in recess, and thus impossible for the Senate to disallow it. When parliament returned, the regulation was again disallowed by the Senate at the first opportunity. Sadly it was not before many people had paid the increased fees. Labor voted to disallow the Liberals' sneaky regulations.

I was so incensed by the Government's disrespect for the authority of the Senate, and the impact this would have on vulnerable Queenslanders, that I, along with Queensland Labor Senator Claire Moore, applied to the Federal Court to have the regulation declared as having no effect. Sadly, we lost our case.

The Senate has now on two occasions disallowed regulations tabled by the Government to increase fees in the family courts and yet the Liberals say it is still their intention to increase fees in the family courts.

On 17th March, the last day that Parliament sat, the usual motion was made to adjourn the Senate until 10th May or such other time as may be fixed by the President. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, moved an amendment to the effect that before the President could fix a time for the purpose of this order, the President must secure in writing the concurrence of an absolute majority of senators. That amendment was agreed to by the majority of Senators including Labor Senators, Greens Senators and the cross-bench Senators. Nevertheless, just three days later, the Prime Minister asked the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament and then recall it on the 18th April.

Again, the will of the people reflected by their representatives in the Senate has been trampled; this time by Prime Minister Turnbull.

All Australians should be very concerned about this repeated lack of respect for the Senate, which plays a vital role in ensuring Queensland's interests are fairly represented in the Federal Parliament. It is not only an affront to our democracy as a nation; it is an affront to all Queenslanders.

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