Sitting in the Senate during the past two weeks seemed at times like a parallel universe. As the Coalition moved to engage in scrutiny of government legislation, we were accused by Labor of all sorts of offences. Everything from threatening the budget, to ignoring Labor’s mandate, to obstructionism and abuse of the processes of the Senate. This from the Labor Party that held up Coalition legislation for years and opposed every measure to balance the budget.
Of course, nothing unusual was happening. Just more Labor hypocrisy. And no one does hypocrisy quite like the Australian Labor Party. The Government came to the last fortnight of sittings before the Winter break asking the Parliament to pass 40 packages of legislation in 8 sitting days.
Furthermore, the Government resorted to verballing the Senate to ignore its duty to scrutinise legislation, ordering it to pass the legislation without delay. Labor were seeking to blame everyone else for the sloppy management of their legislative program.
The Coalition ensured that the great majority of the Government’s legislation was passed. Only 8 Bills were referred to Senate Committees for further inquiry. And only 4 of these were budget Bills. Some of these reported back in time for the Senate to pass the legislation before the break. A few Bills were deserving of more in-depth examination.
Opposition Senators were subjected to lectures from Labor on mandate theory. A theory Labor did not subscribe to when voting against dozens of Coalition measures that were part of successful election platforms, such as the sale of Telstra and the GST.
But the issue in the Senate was not that Labor couldn’t pass legislation for which it had a mandate. The issue was that Labor put forward measures in the budget for which they had no mandate.
Not once did Labor mention during the election campaign their plans to means test the Baby Bonus and Family Tax Benefit Part B, or increase the Medicare surcharge thresholds and the luxury car tax.
When Labor was in Opposition they constantly demanded that legislation be referred to committees for extra scrutiny. The Coalition obliged. In 2006, the first full year of Coalition Senate control, 100 Bills were referred to committees. That remains a record and was almost double Labor’s average.
Nor does Labor’s charge that the Coalition nobbled debate have any substance to it. Only 30 Bills in the entire history of the Senate have been debated for longer than 20 hours. Half of these were during the term of the Howard Government.
The Coalition has behaved responsibly in the Senate and will continue to do so in the future, working constructively with the Government, minor parties and independents. Scrutiny of government is what the Australian people expect and deserve. We will not neglect this duty.