We’re the Opposition – it’s not our job to just roll over
ABC’s Insiders program rather cleverly used Kylie Minogue’s latest jingle – Get Out of My Way – as the soundtrack to their summary of the final week in Federal politics before Parliament adjourned for the year.
It was the constant refrain of the Government in the last few weeks of Parliamentary sitting that the Opposition should just “get out of the way” and pass through Parliament the legislation that will clear the way for the full roll-out of the National Broadband Network.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard shrilled repeatedly during Question Time that the Opposition should “get out of the way” of the Government’s $43 billion white elephant. The Government argues that the Coalition is “anti-reform” for refusing to cave into Gillard and Conroy’s demands that we simply stand aside as legislation worth $43 billion of taxpayers’ money is put through the Parliament without a modicum of accountability.
The Coalition’s position on the NBN has seen us accused of being “wreckers,” “demolishers,” “spoilers”, “luddites” and “obstructionists” by the Labor Party.
But, upon reflection, the Government’s rhetoric on this issue is one of the more bizarre political tactics to have emerged this year.
The suggestion that the Opposition should have clapped and cheered for the Government while they attempted to ram legislation through Parliament with as little scrutiny as possible flies in the face of the democratic tenets upon which our political system was built.
The fact is that oppositions exist to perform a crucial democratic function in ensuring government accountability.
In most Western liberal democracies, oppositions and the news media are the key institutions that maintain scrutiny of government expenditure and keep governments accountable to those who elected them.
It is all too easy for a government to forget that the money in the Federal Treasury coffers that they splash around daily are the hard-earned dollars of every-day Australians.
They expect their money to be spent well, and they want to know that they are benefiting from the policies being implemented with their dollars.
It is the Opposition’s role to continually remind the Government of their duty to the Australian voter and taxpayer.
Taken to its logical extreme, Julia Gillard’s position on the role of the Opposition would erode the quality of democracy.
An opposition demanding the government provide full information on legislation they are seeking to pass is a sign of a healthy democracy with strong accountability mechanisms in place.
If the opposition is scrutinising government policy and, “letting the light shine in,” to borrow a phrase, Australians know that the government cannot get away with irresponsible spending.
On the other hand, a weak opposition that sits mute while the government runs amok with taxpayer dollars provides no comfort to voters that their government is being scrutinised appropriately.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that oppositions should not support government policy. Good policy is good policy, no matter who puts it forward.
The Coalition has a proud history of extending the hand of bi-partisanship from Opposition to the Government particularly in the economic reform by the Hawke Government.
Labor, on the other hand, supported not one important reform initiative of the Howard Government.
Julia Gillard has accused Tony Abbott and the Coalition of behaving like “two year-olds” having a “tantrum”.
This is a stunning case of the pot calling the kettle black, since it is the Labor Party that throws a tantrum every time the Coalition attempts to bring some level of accountability back to Government spending.
When Gillard announced that her Government would operate in a “new paradigm” post-election, she promised that she would “draw back the curtains and let the light shine in” on the workings of her Government.
If she is serious about wanting her Government to be transparent and accountable, I suggest Julia Gillard “get out of the way” herself and let the Opposition do its job.