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Save Our Senate: Absolute power is bad for the Governments that enjoy it

Last week GetUp held a forum at the former Academy of Science building ((ex)Canberrans will know it as the Igloo). The purpose of the forum was to discuss the role of the Senate. The following report was prepared by Roland Manderson, campaign manager for ACT Greens Senate candidate Kerrie Tucker.

Disclosure: Margo is a member of the ACT Greens and is helping her friend Kerrie in her campaign to unseat the Liberal Senator and thus immediately end the Howard Government's control of the Senate. 


The speakers tonight were the Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans, and four Senators, leader of the Greens Senator Bob Brown, Leader of the Democrats Senator Lyn Allison, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Chris Evans, and the National Party's Barnaby Joyce.

GetUp's Brett Solomon was the chair and introduced the discussion with the comment that there were two elections this year: one for the Prime Minister and the other for who would keep an eye on him.

Harry Evans began by observing that there is no great separation of powers between the legislature and the executive any more. And that parliament no longer scrutinises government, conducts independent inquiry, nor legislates on its own terms. He reminded us that in the past Senators were not so tightly bound by their parties, especially in regard to oversight and accountability, and that the vigorous and highly regarded estimates process was devised and developed by Government backbenchers in the 1970s.

He argued in a fairly casual or conversational manner that absolute power is bad for the Governments that enjoy it; and cited Dutch research which found that majoritarian politics deliver worse health, social and economic outcomes than do governments that need to negotiate their policies.

Bob Brown began by reflecting that the last time he was in that extraordinary building was for a protest meeting to save the Franklin River. He advised us that the Greens would campaign that the Senate needs to be the backstop for the people. He described the eventual consequence of majority government as power being vested in just one person, and bemoaned the loss of Committee inquiry and scrutiny, so evident this week with the Northern Territory intervention being pushed through.

Bob then pointed out that the two Senators for each territory take their place as soon as they are elected, and that if the Greens' Kerrie Tucker replaced Gary Humphries in the ACT, the Coalition would lose its dominance of the Senate immediately.

Barnaby Joyce took the line that the Senate ought to reflect individual conscience and responsibility. And that it was failing as a house of review because of the increasingly strong grip of the parties on debate. He highlighted the fact that he had voted against his party on occasion, but that Labor always voted as a block – even though many of them clearly disagreed with some of the terrorism and indigenous affairs legislation that Labor has been supporting. And that the Greens and the Democrats were not much different.

He argued it was up to the parties, and the individuals within them, to change the culture of politics in the Senate, and that they would be held to account when they faced the electorate for their actions (which is every six years for Senators from the states.)

Lyn Allison claimed the RU 486 debate restored people's faith in parliament because it was a conscience vote in both houses. What we valued in the Senate, she said, was that it was representative and independent. It should have control of its own rules, timeframes, and budgets. Instead, it is the Minister who decides if the Senate will have an inquiry, which are therefore tame, and that – given Prime Ministerial control – frank and fearless advice is now a thing of the past.

Opposition being Government in waiting, in Senator Allison's view it is the minor parties that can hold government to account. And that splitting inside parties, and the trouble that comes with working with government, is all a part of the hurley burley of politics.

Chris Evans then spoke about the tyranny of the majority, and that this election not just about the lower house (all the attention on Labor notwithstanding), but about the Senate as well. He spoke about how the Senate developed from around 1980 to 2005, as a check and a balance. That that no one party until now has had a majority; that the tone of the place was more intellectual and ideas based than it is now.

He suggested that the Senate saved governments from themselves, and provided an important scope for community input. He pushed the point that the Senate is a home for political parties, but that at least there is a range of them. He said that Labor could not gain control of the Senate at this election, but that to avoid a tyrannical Coalition Government, or a new Labor Government blocked by a hostile Senate, at least two extra non-coalition Senators need to be elected.

The formal part of the meeting ended with Brett Solomon reminding the audience that GetUp's internet petition of 100,000 and a lot of community on the Senators rebelled and the proposal to process all asylum seekers off shore was abandoned.

Question time was interesting.

When the issue of minor parties getting their act together in preferences was raised Bob Brown advised us that the greens had offered an exchange of preferences with the democrats as they have done in the pat. But the Democrats are yet to answer. Lyn Allison said these decisions are made closer to election date. The women who asked the question was disappointed with that answer. No-one mentioned that Labor Party preferences elected Family First in Victoria, who earned less than two percent of the primary vote.

Then a young woman asked Bob Brown what he thought of his ACT candidate Kerrie Tucker accepting a donation from the CFMEU. She (Jennifer Butterfield) didn't tell anyone she's on the staff of Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, or that she had written a press release attacking Ms Tucker on the issue.

Bob Brown pointed out it was the Construction Division of the CFMEU, rather than Forestry, and that Greens policies are clear. Senator Evans argued that the issue of donations was transparency; and that while Greens are open about donations; the Coalition Government has used its Senate Majority to make it easier to give anonymously.

As Campaign Coordinator for the Greens Kerrie Tucker, I admit to a highly coloured view. But it was a very full house of mostly older people that went streaming out into the cold Canberra night with arms full of GetUp material. Orange and Black are good colours for Winter. We will see how far that campaign spreads.

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The problem with our health system

Ernest William said:

It became clear to my wife and me that the overwhelming problem with the health system in Australia, especially hospitals, is the lack of Federal funding from the Howard/Costello government.

Australia is the equal second healthiest nation or earth after Belgium according to a study of 175 nations conducted by the World Markets Research Centre, a London-based intelligence and analysis company.

Belgium toped the index with a score of 98. It is followed by Iceland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Norway and Australia, all with scores of 94.4.

So, explain the problem with our health system again?

Huge Surplus? But at What Cost to the Public?

Last night we watched a very interesting session of SBS’s INSIGHT.

It became clear to my wife and me that the overwhelming problem with the health system in Australia, especially hospitals, is the lack of Federal funding from the Howard/Costello government.

It was also clear that the business in Tasmania by Howard was not only a political stunt, but one which could well cause the deaths of innocent people.

Please bear in mind that the Howard "New Order" is a government of depraved indifference and this act was another political "low".

People, in my humble opinion, are really kind to say "how low can Howard get?"

Because his performance, when challenged like now, reveals that these acts are the norm for him – this is as low as he is!

Perhaps it was just another 12 billion for the Murray-Darling off the top of his head; another intervention in the NT for hidden reasons; another knee jerk for councils in Queensland etc. However, I still believe that all of these diversions and seemingly acts of a crazy person have ulterior motives.

Believe none. You can "never ever" trust the Howard "New Order".

But you can surmise that the ultimate plan is to nationalise Australia into a fascist dictatorship.

Even that excuse for a Minister, Andrews had three large Australian flags behind him when he was once again in the spotlight. Struth. Even Abbott and Costello only have one!

I quote an interesting interaction from yesterday evening’s Insight:

JENNY BROCKIE: Jeff Richardson, you've opposed the Tasmanian intervention. Would a federal takeover of all hospitals deliver a better system?

PROFESSOR JEFF RICHARDSON: I think the Federal Government has just shown itself to be dangerously irresponsible so that's not a good basis for putting our trust in it. I think we need fundamental reform and all of the examples we've heard tonight have been examples of why we need that fundamental reform but we're locked in a state of political paralysis when it comes to planning. I think that we need to have a system where we have funding from one level so we can get an integration of something not mentioned so far, that is primary care. We need an interlinking of primary Health Services with our acute hospital services. We need to do that in an integrated way and we're not going to get that when we have one service funded from the State, one service funded from the Commonwealth and each level of government blaming the other. We have political paralysis in terms of the fundamental reform that we need at the moment!


DR BERT SHUGG: Jenny I think that the Federal Government needs to be challenged on the decision they have made in Tasmania. It was made without any consultation to any specialist college, craft group or academic group. I think they need to be challenged on that. And secondly, Mr Abbott said to me at the Mersey Hospital that he was conducting an experiment in health care delivery and I certainly don't want him to experiment on the children that I look after.

JENNY BROCKIE: Stephen Duckett, just getting back to the point about the need for a plan, if you like, a real plan for health care. Do you have a plan in Queensland? And is it public?

DR STEPHEN DUCKETT: Yes. There's a State health services plan which was released earlier this year, or late last year, I forget which, which sets out the directions for the next five years.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how would you feel about the idea of a national takeover of public hospitals? Of a Federal Government takeover?

DR STEPHEN DUCKETT: Well, I think we've got to look at what the Federal Government would do. Is it going to put extra money into the system? Or is it just going to use the same amount of money that's in the system now? What precisely is a 'federal takeover', in inverted commas, about? What if it's not extra money, what's the idea that they're better able to manage than the States do? If it is extra money, why not put the extra money in now? Tomorrow?


Who listened back then ?

Back in July Keating was likening Howard's Nationalism to Hitler:

"In Hitler's day the term "elite" had not yet arrived. If it had, the nationalist in him would have compelled him to use it," Keating told a festival at the Sydney Film School.

"A nationalist will always remain suspicious of someone who does not seem to belong to his kind of people or more likely his kind of thinking.

"Shades there of John Howard's discomfort with Australia's multicultural community and a disgust of the Islamic community."

I remember watching the SBS doco on Keating's last press call as PM - he tried to give Australia a warning about Howard back then - he continues to do so. When in the bloody hell are people going to wake up to Howard. Even with the good polling that Labour is getting  I am not convinced that this is getting through. I still feel that Howard is going to get in again - and God help us all if that happens!

Nationalism is a Mandate for Fascism.

Those of us who have written about Howard's ultimate aim of A Fascist Australia will surely have been vindicated by Howard's preaching yesterday to his faithful.

His plan from many long years ago has been to lead Australia into a fascist dictatorship, with him as the dictator!

His advisers are masters of euphemisms but I suggest to the reasoning contributors to this forum that Nationalism is not a cover euphemism for Fascism because they are one and the same.

I quote from A Fascist Australia the following:

Article 1. Nationalism and its symbols: emphasis on the observance of flags, songs, and anthems.

Fascism regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

Howard could hardly have used the correct title of fascism in his speech; however, to be sure that he has created another mandate he has not fully covered his tracks. Indeed, what's in a word?

If we look separately at all of the recent seemingly mad, radical and panic acts he and his robots have committed, we can discern a pattern of outrageous acts of bastardry, apparently without an ultimate motive.

However, if you put them all together you will find that they are the acts which would be performed by a Fascist dictatorship.

People are wondering, how does Howard get away with it? For example:

·        Intervention in the NT removing welfare, land rights, human rights etc, to ensure uranium sites are available for US and foreign corporations.

·        Intervention in Queensland using Simon Crean's "Let Our Rivers Run" quote as "Let our people speak"! Fair dinkum.

·        Take-over of the Murray-Darling Water plan while signing water deals with Israel.

·        Take-over to stop the planned adjustment of a Tasmanian hospital with our taxpayer funds. Then refusing the offer from the Tasmanian Labor government to "buy" the hospital for one dollar $A 1.

·        Arranging an orchestrated plea from Howardists to have, the Queensland local council plebiscite, held jointly with the federal election. He knows full well that the result is already a fait accompli but, hoping it will confuse the electors.

Sure he is doing what most of us would have considered "He can't do that"! But who is to stop him?

The High Court? The Liberal/Nationalist Senate?

As Kevin Rudd would say, "Not on your nelly"!


Earnest Ernest I tips me Lid!

Great to see you doing your best to expose the 'Little Man' for what he is, Ernest, a shallow replica of George Bush.

How this little Sunday School boy turned into such a political scourge I cannot guess. Perhaps he thought he looked like Jesus? Perhaps he read about Stalin and was impressed? Perhaps other boys picked on him and he decided to get even by taking their jobs and their country away? Perhaps his family was poor and  he despised them for it?

I cannot divine what goes on in his tiny Machiavellian mind or understand why Australian voters have not woken up to him long ago...hang on, there's someone at the door!

Ummmmmm. Why is he wearing jackboots, a black uniform and why does he have a growling Alsatian on a lead? Is it Peter Reith?

The broken promise

Taken from Democratic Update re the federal government:


In June 2005 the Prime Minister, John Howard, promised to use his Senate majority "…soberly, wisely and sensibly. We won't use it capriciously or wantonly or indiscriminately, and I make that solemn promise on your behalf to all of the Australian people."

This statement is one of the most serious broken promises of John Howard's 10 years in government. The executive of government has exploited the Coalition’s slender Senate majority to the fullest, taking control over the parliament and over the information that goes to the public.

Even the Fraser Government – the last government to have a majority in the Senate – did not control the Senate chamber in effect, because there were at any time up to 12 government Senators willing to vote against their government, and who often did so, particularly on accountability issues. Although the power and intent of the executive is challenged occasionally behind closed doors in the Coalition's party room by government backbenchers, this challenge does not translate into voting in the Senate Chamber.

Well might we say you can "never ever" trust the Howard government.

In fact, Paul Keating, who I liked, used severe terminology to describe them.

However, in my perhaps 60 years of being politically aware, at one level or another, I have never before realised the absolute necessity for the Senate independence as I do now.

The Liberal/Nationalist coalition led by Howard has been the catalyst which must make all Australians sit up and take notice.

This power has not made Howard a fascist. He always was one. He just wanted the chance to prove it. But his massive list of broken promises and lies fade into insignificance when you consider the Democrats "watch" on his robots' behaviour.

It also confirms my opinion of Joyce and his Howard play of "it needs mores scrutiny" and "let's check the grammar"! Fair dinkum.

Over the years, various governments of both persuasions have been upset and angry with the Senate. Go to the Democrats’ link for details on amendments moved to bills by Government, ALP, Democrats, Greens, and Family First. In particular, it is worth noting:

Not all non-government amendments that passed in the Senate were accepted by government in the end – but many of them were. And after negotiations, some of them were also agreed to in a different form as government amendments. It is fanciful of the government to think that all non-government amendments are now groundless, or that all committee recommendations are now misguided or of no importance. Nor is it the case that all government legislation is drafted perfectly – we know this from the hundreds of government technical amendments to their own bills.

Fiona: Ern, I have had to truncate your post – the table formatting was very messy, and people can visit the site themselves.

Bob Brown's remarks

[This is an edited and, due to my primitive recording equipment, probably slightly mis-transcribed record of Bob Brown's remarks at the Save our Senate Forum]

I’m of course with the Greens in the Senate, and we’ll be campaigning between now and November very strongly on the basis of saving our Senate – of putting the Senate back into its proper constitutional role as a house of review and a hand on the shoulder of Government. 

Now, whether Mr Howard retains Government or Mr Rudd becomes the Prime Minister, it is important for the health of our democracy that the Senate is there as the backdrop for the people.  You only have to look at what happened in the Senate this week to see that.  Yesterday, the government moved in the morning to get rid of the requirement that you wait five or six weeks with important legislation, [which is] so that the Senate would be able to set up a committee, refer that to the people, and then come back with important information from Australians, particularly those most affected by the Northern Territory seizure laws (that’s not the exact title I know). 

So that we’d get it right, as Harry Evans said. 

But no, they swept that aside; the legislation was brought in and is now being debated.  There’s a one-day farce of a mini-hearing tomorrow, it will be gone through the parliament next week, and I know it has major legal mistakes in it.  I know that is has shut out indigenous people, who should have been honoured with the ability to speak to the parliament through the committee system about the land that is being taken from them, and about the overbearing power of this Government to take over their communities without their consultation.

There was no consultation effectively with this decision with the Parliament or [even] the Cabinet.  We see the executive – which means John Howard, Prime Minister, a single citizen - having control and sidelining the Parliament, and both houses at that because he’s got the majority.

So, whether it’s the Murray-Darling basin, the takeover of the Northern Territory, whether it’s $200 million to so-called stop forest burning and logging in Indonesia while sending $100 million down an incinerator in Tasmania – serious decisions being made with no reference to the parliamentary system.  Not even Cabinet.  Major decisions.  It’s gone to the head of the person who got the numbers in the Parliament to sideline the Parliament and make it into a double rubber stamp. 

We need to take that control back and we need to make sure after the next election that this is not the situation. 

This afternoon I had a bill before the parliament to put a check on Ministers going straight over to people they have good relationships [with] – becoming lobbyists - after they finish their parliamentary duties … [inaudible] … This Government has had the numbers to prevent that bill going to a committee for scrutiny.  Unheard of, in a system where you have the balance of power. 

And what is the balance of power?  It is there being more than a Government majority and an opposition minority.  It is having a number of different parties being able to get together at any given time to make decisions in the interests of the Australian people. 

Give us back the committee system.  Give us back the review function.  Give us back the authority to judge Government legislation and not to have it rammed through, as it is at the moment. 

By the way – Senators don’t change until the following July [the vote for half the Senate is in November, but the state’s senators don’t fill the position until July].  You empowered people of the territories – you have two senators, you go to the election, they can be changed, and the new senators immediately take their seat in the Parliament ...  Use it wisely. 

Harry Evans' remarks

This is the text of Senate Clerk Harry Evans' remarks to the forum:


Some of you may remember a certain powerful premier of a certain northern state who was asked to explain the separation of powers, and had some difficulty. This was perfectly understandable, as the separation of powers is not very healthy in Australia. We think of it in terms of the independence of the judiciary, but the separation between the legislature and the executive is almost unknown. In spite of the warning by Montesquieu 250 years ago, that control of the legislature by the executive government would result in tyranny, we have allowed that situation to develop, particularly in Australia. Here the executive government not only controls the legislature but exercises an iron discipline over it. This is particularly obvious in lower houses around the country, where the executive totally dominates and absolutely controls those houses, to the extent that the legislative function is virtually killed off.

According to the textbooks, the functions of the legislature include making the laws, scrutinising legislative proposals to ensure that they are in the best possible shape to achieve their purposes, scrutinising the activities of government and the conduct of public administration, and conducting inquiries into matters of public concern to frame solutions to public problems. The reality, as we well know, is very different. Legislation framed by the executive alone is rammed through lower houses with the least possible delay and examination, scrutiny of government is severely limited lest it disclose matters embarrassing to government, and inquiries are limited to matters which cannot cause the executive any difficulty or embarrassment.

This picture has been somewhat modified in Australia over the years by second chambers, upper houses around the country which have spent long periods not under executive control. That lack of control has been due either to the absence of a government party majority or to the difficulty of executives in controlling their upper house members. The second factor should particularly be emphasised. For long periods in the past, government backbenchers in upper houses regarded themselves as free of the intense executive control imposed on their lower house colleagues. This situation has changed only in relatively recent times.

These circumstances are noticeable in the case of the Senate, which has had long periods of lack of executive control, due either to the absence of a government party majority, or, over many years, the inability of governments to direct the senators belonging to their party.

As a result, the Senate has over many years built up a wide range of mechanisms to perform its traditional legislative functions, and particularly accountability mechanisms to compel governments to account for their activities. These measures, with very few exceptions, have been imposed on executive governments because of the lack of government control over the Senate. I emphasise again that in many instances that lack of control took the form of the freedom of government backbenchers in the Senate from executive direction. To give one example, the estimates hearings, which are widely regarded as the most effective accountability mechanism in the Senate, were established in 1970 largely through the efforts of a group of government backbenchers who wanted to improve the Senate's methods for scrutinising government finance.

As a result of that history, the Senate has a culture of relative freedom from executive direction and relatively effective accountability procedures. The question is whether that culture will survive into the future.

The point that we should be emphasising is that greater accountability of the executive government is not only good for the rest of us, but is good for governments too. Executive governments themselves suffer from a lack of effective parliamentary accountability. They make more mistakes and they experience more policy failures when they are not adequately scrutinised and made to explain themselves by an effective legislature.

Some years ago a famous Dutch-American political scientist conducted a comprehensive survey of a range of countries around the world. He classified them according to whether their political systems were majoritarian, that is, whether they allowed a party to get the numbers in the legislature and ram through their agendas, or whether they were more consensual, that is, they had stronger legislatures able to impose accountability and compromise on the executive. He measured the performance of those countries by a range of indicators, such as economic growth rate, inflation rate, inequality of incomes, crime rates, and so on. He found that those countries with stronger legislatures and supposedly weaker executives performed on all of those indicators better than, or as well as, the countries with weaker legislatures and stronger governments. The claim that strong government is necessary for economic and social success is a myth.

So, next time you are talking to a minister of the Crown, you must say to them: “Absolute power is bad for you. It not only has a bad effect on your character, it does not allow you to be as effective as you would otherwise be. In order to be successful, you must be restrained by a stronger legislature.” That is the message I would like a group such as this to convey.

Howard's election lines preview

Howard's weekly radio talk this week:

Mr Rudd wants to be Prime Minister of Australia, but he has no plans of his own for Australia's future.

He says that he has the same economic policy as that of the Government. That raises two questions. If our economic policy is so good, what is his argument for changing the Government?

Secondly, how does he explain his past opposition to all of those reforms which helped produce the very economic policy which he now says is so good?

Mr Rudd opposed tax reform and tax cuts. Mr Rudd opposed putting the Budget into surplus. He voted against measures, such as the sale of Telstra, which helped pay off Labor's $96 billion Federal Government debt. He also opposed industrial relations reform.

The Leader of the Opposition wants it both ways. Now that the economy is strong, our debt paid off and the budget in healthy surplus he pretends to the public that he has always supported the policies which have brought that about.

The truth, of course, is completely the opposite.

In Government Mr Rudd would be neither strong nor experienced enough to maintain the economic policies of the Government, which he says are so good.

He would do the union's bidding on industrial relations thus putting at risk our 33 year low in unemployment. And six Labor Premiers would demand and get what they wanted.

To be Prime Minister of Australia you must have your own plans and the courage to argue them to the Australian people. It is not enough to echo the policies of others, be they the Coalition or the unions.



Howard and Margo

So unless we keep kicking  crap out of millions of people on the bottom of the social scale, the 'thirties depression will break out again.

As  to the other part,  Rudd may be all the things Howard reckons he is and worse, but he wouldn't be a serious threat had  Howard been more successful and less boorish. So, if  Rudd a) gets in,  b) stuffs things up, it will be  Howard's fault, since he was the useless dropkick who caused it.

The Next Half-Senate Election.

Of course the big question is: Will Howard hold the elections of the Senate and House of Reps at the same time?

The tricky little schoolboy has "never ever" faced a worthy opponent either for Liberal Party leadership or for his Federal Elections.

Two opponents to lead the Liberals kindly stepped aside for him: Alexander Downer and Peter Costello.

His mean and tricky attitude of power at all costs has made his Coalition a corporation government, by the corporations and for the corporations.

Again he and his media colleagues, have "never ever" faced such a person as Kevin Rudd and his shadow cabinet of experienced politicians, without effective and derogatory negative politics.

Approaching this election he has clearly shown that a contest has never been his intention, party-wise, federal or local.

All have come together to test this so-called man of steel and he is clearly rattled.

Biographers have stated that he was brought up by a doting mother and, in my experience, that type of person is intent on changing society to suit them rather than adjusting to the established society itself.

Hence the radical, arrogant, and narcissist attitude of John Winston Howard, which takes a lot of correcting and I think that a loss to him now, while it benefits Australia greatly, would make him poorer indeed.

So, the question remains: will this type of megalomaniac put both his eggs in the one basket? Or will he keep the Senate vote in his pocket while the House of Reps campaign continues?

After all, he has until May for the Senate and he would have at least that power to make things difficult for a new Government.

I am encouraged by the contributors in this thread who want a vote for the Greens, or the Democrats (without Meg Lees) because that would be a true House of Review.

Kevin Rudd still needs some support from the media.


Finally, an aswer

Michael de Angelos says:

I think the reptile that invaded John Howard and turned this ordinary and none too bright bloke into a PM for 11 years, who has held the country in the palm of his hand has finally vacated the host body and we are now seeing it thrash around in bewilderment.

This actually makes more sense than some of the theories I've heard lately.

Prepare To Receive My Lawsuit Solomon !

Although you are correct in some of your observations about Phillip Ruddock. Having encountered him many times in his local electorate  before he came to such prominence he always seemed to be a genuinely nice bloke and very intelligent.

He's certainly not telegenic and that deathly pallor that comes across on TV as rather ghostly.

I think I'm finally subscribing to David Icke's ideas that alien reptiles inhabit people's souls sometimes -how else can one explain the turn around in character of someone like Ruddock who goes completely against everything he must have learnt in law school

I think the reptile that invaded John Howard and turned this ordinary and none too bright bloke into a PM for 11 years, who has held the country in the palm of his hand-has finally vacated the host body and we are now seeing it thrash around in bewilderment.

Further proof  of the reptile theory inhabiting souls and then abandoning them comes from when the Tories ditched Margaret Thatcher and as the anecdote goes-that she was being bundled to a taxi outside the House Of Commons by her Tory pals, muttering "but I'm the Prime Minister"..one of them said "I never really realised before but she's barking mad".

High Court appointment

Absolute power indeed! There is of course still the judiciary and the constitution, though I can understand why the present crew fail to inspire much confidence. Phillip Ruddock has announced another female High Court appointment, in Susan Kiefel, which is absolutely to his credit. There are more and more females within the student faculty and the legal profession than ever and this is a belated recognition of that fact. I also love the way he declares it a merits based decision - it just might be the truth!

This appointment should come as no surprise if any of you were paying attention to me. I think these two appointments will be one of Ruddocks greater legacies. I find him a deeply fascinating individual. He is the most articulate of all the Liberal party. He answers questions instead of evading them. He is amenable to reason and independence of thought in ways that other Howard ministers are not. Like myself he has a certain melancholy cynicism and political pragmatism. He is also deeply flawed and a symbol of all that is wrong with this government. He seems to be protected from information, to live in a kind of bubble world like all the rest of them and I don't know whether this is self-imposed or if it is the result of a corrupt departmental culture. I like the Attorney-General, so sue me.

That said I have no idea who Susan Kiefel is. This short bio from women in the law might be a start. Interesting to note she left school at 15 and began her career as a secretary. Such a sensible career move would be impossible in todays over-educated, under-experienced environment. In other respects you cannot fault her curriculum vitae.

Child-like naivety

Whilst the writer finds the child-like enthusiasm for certainty of change of government touching, gladdening his tired dark old heart as it does, whilst the circus is due in town we must again recall that the change of underwear is still up to three months off. Remember 2001 and 2004? It still amazes me that people so underestimate the Howard coalition and its almost unlimited private and Commonwealth resources, as yet virtually untouched.

So while it is true that the 'fair' is a constant-becoming, let’s heed comments like those of Michael De Angelos and also hope for a needed smarter, improved performance from Bob Brown and co (against 2004 ).

We must remember that the ALP, an honest beast of itself, is likely afflicted of a certain type of parasite, the Sussex Street Right, and a Rudd government's "vaccination" is only accomplished through the election of the Greens, Bartlett, or any progressive who has a chance of winning a senate seat.

And even that does not postpone the likelihood of the Tories and Labor continuing to combine to pass right wing legislation.

Vote Greens in the Senate

We owe so much to Don Chipp for his work in the Senate but it now would be in every Aussie's best interest to have the balance of power held by the Greens. I hope Bob Brown intends to campaign hard on this.

I'm still getting feed-back from old neighbours in Bennelong and apart from a real dislike of Howard them seems to be that strong belief – already written by a few political pundits – that, whatever happens federally, Bennelong voters believe they will be facing a by-election soon after with either Howard resigning as a leader who has lost or retiring to hand over to a successor.

This is a separate matter to the election itself and could drive many swinging voters to opt for Maxine whose popularity is fairly high . She's also doing a lot of work on the ground which has many from Gladesville to Epping terrified of one Howard's frantic sudden visits where he speed walks through shopping centres pumping hands and grabbing babies for a brief hug.

I saw it many times when I was there, but a friend experienced it first hand only a week ago and finally confirmed to me something I've been telling him for years: Howard is a rare politician or personality in that he really lacks charisma when seen in person. He simply looks like a small man of no particular note. I'm not sure what this denotes about him but I recall Gareth Evans being quoted once as saying (derogatorily) the "when Howard walks into a room, he's just walked out of another room".

I then witnessed this myself when at some large hotel function where the ball-room was packed with dignitaries from all over Asia. Howard entered the ballroom with a flank of helpers and their was barely a ripple. But when Evans himself walked in he was practically mobbed by ambassadors. Beazley also "lit-up" the room upon arrival.

Odd stuff.

Vote Greens in the Senate

We need to scuttle the power of the big parties in the Senate; so vote Green, Democrat, or when appropriate Independant. The Senate was set up to protect State rights; currently  the Senate protects the interests of the Coalition.

It is a sham that the legislation in relation to the supposed protection of aboriginal children does not use the word child once according to The Age

I notice that Barnaby Joyce is quoted as expressing concern; however, I often wonder whether he plays the "good cop role" in that he makes a lot of noise, but then votes with the Government anyway.


The dustbin of history

The fate it is written,
The stone it is cast.
The people have no more ears to listen his lies and deceits.

John Howard will be consigned to the dustbin of history at the next election. It's the fundamentals, stupid.

For those with an interest in "Democracy" (?)

What price Dictatorship  oops Democracy ?

From Get Up ....

"Dear friends,

When the Prime Minister announced his radical 'emergency' plan for Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, people welcomed the commitment to tackle the incidence of child abuse, but the jury was out on the actual worth of the plan. Well, now the jury's back in -- and the verdict? It stinks.

The Senate will vote on these laws on Tuesday -- and we want a true debate on our hands. Send them a message now that we expect them to stand up for the rights of Indigenous Australians, and respect the integrity of their parliamentary chamber.


500 pages of controversial legislation, a paltry one-day Senate hearing, and merely two days of debate for laws that dramatically affects land tenure, community security and the rights of Aboriginal communities in the NT – done with practically no consultation wit h the Indigenous people affected. Everybody wants to stop abuse but not with flawed laws like these which experts argued in yesterday's Senate hearing actually risk making children less safe.

We expect more from our Senate, designed to rigourously scrutinise and vigourously debate the laws passed by the lower House - that's how the brakes are put on bad legislation. But since the Government took control of both Houses of Parliament two years ago, the Senate has become no more than a rubber stamp for the Prime Minister's whims.

Send the Senate a message today. We'll deliver them directly, and we'll even throw in a rubber stamp and a speed-reading guide for each Senator -- they'll need one or the other!


GetUp has already written to each Senator demanding they properly interrogate the bills, travelled to Canb erra to lobby politicians from around the chamber, met with Indigenous leaders from Central Australia (read their potent blog here), published articles criticising the plan and put people in the Committee room for yesterday's hearing. We've done all we can behind the scenes -- now we need your help.

Send a message to our Senators today, so at Tuesday's final vote they'll have the urgent appeals of thousands of Australians ringing in their ears.

Thanks for being a part of the solution,

The GetUp Team

PS - If you live in Canberra, email actsenate@getup.org.au to join us in the Senate Public Gallery when the bills are debated and voted on next Monday and Tuesday. It will be harder to make a mockery of our parliamentary traditions with the eyes of the public looking on.

PPS - Read the real story in our blog from various Indigenous leaders including Valda Shannon, Gina Smith, Harry Nelson and Walter Shaw."

Fiona: Thank you for this, Simon. See also URGENT letter to Senators re NT indigenous laws.

The swing is on against Howard

Our Max is on the way to giving Howard the drubbing of his miserable life with more than a 7% swing towards her. He only has a 4% hold on the seat since Wilkie whittled most of his vote away last time around.

I suspect much of that is because of his drunken tomfoolery with our house of review, serf choices and silly little things like Iraq.

Lincoln Wright reckons he has an exclusive showing Rudd supported the war in November 2003, which of course we know very well he didn't.

He did point out over and over again though that we had an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to stay and help the people of Iraq, which we have never done of course.

Richard: not to mention "who do you trust to keep rates down."  It was a mistake for the cabinet not to bury that slogan.  It always comes down to the "hip pocket nerve," doesn't it, Mary?

Also in the lower house

A depressing blow from the lower house also in the departure of  Peter  Andren. He was going to have a crack at a senate seat to duck being gerrymandered completely, but has serious cancer.

Will never get past what damage the election of 2004 did generally, but in particular the senseless ceding  of the senate to the right. Whatever else happens in a few months, the senate must be returned to progressive independents, democrats and greens.

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Margo Kingston

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