Save Our Senate
How many senators can you name? If your answer is no more than a
handful, you are typical of most Australians. And if the senators
you can name are crossbenchers like me, there is nothing unusual
about that either. Despite the government having 31 senators and
Labor 26, theres a fair chance youve never heard of most of
Thats a problem, because its leading to some pretty appalling
assessments about the value of the Senate. Its also prompting some
highly undemocratic suggestions as to what should be done about
A recent example was an article by George Williams, Dean of Law
at the University of NSW. He argued that the Senate is a house of
political parties and therefore the disloyalty of our senators cuts
to the heart of the role of the chamber.
His concern is with senators who were either elected or
appointed under the auspices of one party but are now associated
with another one. He asserts that this is now occurring more
frequently, can no longer be tolerated, and signifies the need for
Another is an article by Alexander Downer. He argued that Senate
crossbenchers are feckless and that the number who resigned due to
dual citizenship or have changed their party affiliation has
weakened the democratic standing of the Senate.
Yet another is an article by former Senator and Labor
powerbroker Graham Richardson. He castigated me for something I
never said, bizarrely puts Derryn Hinch in the same category as
Cory Bernardi for being across the issues, criticises Pauline
Hanson for changing her mind on company tax (she changed her mind
no more often than Bill Shorten did), and concedes he knows next to
nothing about the rest of the crossbench. All of which amounts, in
his view, to squalid dysfunction.
Implicit in all three of these assessments, notwithstanding
various errors of fact, is the assumption that the government and
parliament would perform much better but for the crossbench.
Williams wants to make party loyalty obligatory. Yet, as we saw
with the recent foreign interference and foreign influence bills,
the only senators who routinely scrutinise legislation are
crossbenchers like me. The great majority of bills pass the Senate
with barely a whiff of scrutiny from the Labor Opposition.
Party loyalty means Labor senators (who hardly anybody knows)
who once supported company tax cuts now block them. Party loyalty
also means that Coalition senators (also largely unknown) supported
an increased Medicare levy prior to Anzac Day this year, but no
longer supported it once the Treasurer told them hed changed his
Downer believes joint sittings of both Houses could help
overcome Senate obstruction, except the numbers dont add up. The
Coalition needs eig...