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Another year bites the parliamentary dirt

  • 09 December 2014

Another excruciating year in the Australian Parliament ended last week. What a dreadful year it has been for parliamentary democracy.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has taken pride in the number of members she has ejected, describing the chamber not as ‘a polite debating society, not a classroom, but a battlefield and we’ve given up guns, swords and fists and we fight with words’. 

The Senate is more fractious than ever. There is nothing unusual in the government not controlling the Senate. Sometimes cross benchers can win some concessions from government, improving legislation and gaining special privileges for prized constituencies. The late Brian Harradine, whom we mourned this year, was a past master at it. Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie is still on a rapid learning curve, as are Ricky Muir and the other new arrivals on the cross benches. Caught in the cross wires in the refugee debate on the last night of the year’s Senate sittings, the motoring enthusiast Muir lamented:

They told the people in detention that they rang the office of the man whose decision it was to decide whether they would be out of detention before Christmas. That man wasn’t the Minister for Immigration; it was me. It should not be like this but it is. The crossbench should not have been put in this position, but it has.

In the next two years, Ricky and his colleagues will be put in this position more often. Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm announced in his maiden speech on 9 July 2014: ‘I believe we are about to begin one of the most exciting periods in the life of the Senate.’ Being a little known politician he set out his political philosophy: 

In the service of this mission, at the outset I declare that I am proudly what some call a ‘libertarian’, although I prefer the term ‘classical liberal’. My undeviating political philosophy is grounded in the belief that, as expressed so clearly by John Stuart Mill: ‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully ever exercised over any member of a civilised society against his will is to prevent harm to others.’

He went on to say:

As William Pitt the Younger observed: ‘Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.’  Perhaps some are scratching their heads right now. How can someone support marriage equality, assisted suicide and want to legalise pot but also want to cut taxes a