Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 11 Hansard (22 October) . . Page.. 3902 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
The Australian Democrats were formed in 1977 partly as a response to the actions of the Liberal Party in 1975, whose blocking of supply brought about a constitutional crisis and the downfall of a government. The Australian Democrats have never blocked supply. One of those members who voted to block supply in 1975 was the current Prime Minister, who is now claiming that the Senate is obstructionist because it refuses to pass laws increasing the cost of medicines, making it easier for workers to be sacked, making it almost impossible for workers to take industrial action to protect their rights, giving different parts of Australia different laws, and taking pensions from disabled people.
I think that, as part of this debate on reform, we need to look at the facts. This year the Senate has passed 98 per cent of the bills that have come before it, compared with only 25 per cent of the bills being passed in 1975, when the Liberal Party had control of the Senate. In fact, the House of Representatives has blocked 86 per cent of the private members bills that have been passed by the Senate.
The Senate is a check on the executive power of the government and many people vote differently in Senate elections from what they do in House of Representatives elections in order to exercise this check. It is quite obvious that a significant number of Australians like the opportunity to vote differently and have different voices represented in the Senate. One in four votes at the last federal election was for someone other than the coalition or the Labor Party. Why do people do that? I believe that it is because they recognise the unique role that the Senate plays.
The Senate does review legislation. Its committees look at contentious legislation in detail and often ask stakeholder groups to give their views on legislation. The Senate scrutinises delegated legislation with independent advice and in accordance with criteria relating to civil liberties and proper legislative principles. It allows regular inquiries into and the public hearing of evidence on matters of public concern, including proposed legislation. It scrutinises legislation with independent advice to ascertain conformity with criteria related to civil liberties and proper legislative principles.
Over the years the Senate, thanks largely to the work of the Australian Democrats, has developed measures to require greater accountability on the part of governments and to review legislation through increasingly used orders for the production of documents to require governments to produce information on matters of public concern and controversy. It has frequently amended legislation to include provisions for the appropriate disclosure of information and adopted procedures for the regular referral of bills to committees, so that any bill may be the subject of public inquiry and the opportunity for public comment.
The Senate has conferred on its standing committees the power to examine annual reports of government departments and agencies to determine the adequacy of the reports and to inquire into the operations of particular departments and agencies at any time. As well as that, the Senate has taken many other steps over a number of years to improve accountability and check on government. That is something that I think needs to be supported, as opposed to what the government is trying to do, which is to water it down.
The federal government's proposals are not about making the system work better. They are about giving the government of the day even more power. As Harry Evans, the Clerk