Modia Minotaur

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Profoundly Disturbing

What a day for my computer to start working again! Now that Parliament's back, I feel like I could blog half a dozen different things! My screed about, for example, the fact that corporatising public utility companies such as Telstra and Snowy Hydro will never, ever work, Malcolm Turnbull's outrageously out of touch comments on interest rates and exactly what the Debbie Bridgmans of Australia think about it, the rumour that Anthony Mundine is planning to run for the seat of Marrickville in the next election, and the US Democrats' dumping of former Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman for his support of the Iraq War - as recounted by Time Magazine and the always fair and balanced Fox News - that's all just going to have to wait for another day.

Perhaps, in the fullness of time, asylum seeker policy will be seen as the defining issue of the Howard Government, in the same way the New Deal epitomised the Roosevelt Administration. It won the government the election in 2001, and while I don't suggest that it could lose it the election in 2007, the massive change in voter sentiment not only about this, but over a number of Howard heartland issues, could.

Today, as we have all been saying a lot recently, has been quite an extraordinary day for the Howard Government, which is facing up to four MPs and Senators crossing the floor over asylum seeker policy. Liberal MPs Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and, of all people, Russell Broadbent, have all announced their intention to vote with the Opposition, with Georgiou memorably describing the bill as `the most profoundly disturbing piece of legislation I have encountered since becoming a member of parliament (Georgiou's speech to Parliament, available at The Australian's website, is well worth reading). Bruce Baird also strongly foreshadowed an intention to abstain at the very least. Baird's mention of the fact that it would be the first time in his 19 year parliamentary career that he crossed the floor is a concrete reminder of exactly how disciplined Howard has kept his dissidents, and how large are the cracks that now appear.

Though significant, such moves largely symbolic in the Lower House, unfortunately - it's the Senate that truly has the ability to overturn this truly noxious piece of lawmaking. Judith Troeth is playing coy, strongly hinting at either crossing the floor or abstaining, while nothing has been heard from Marise Payne, to my knowledge, which is surprising given she has been fairly strong on this issue in the past. Though there is some talk about Barnaby Joyce following, I'm sceptical after hearing his only statement on the issue - that anyone with a dissenting view deserves to be heard and paid respect. On this, I certainly agree with him. Should Family First senator Steven Fielding be the one who allows the bill through - and he could well be the one casting the deciding vote - he should not only hang his head in shame, but change the name of the party he represents.

One school of thought has it that crossing the floor is genuinely treacherous - that an MP was elected by their constituents to represent a party line. However, it is most noteworthy that nearly all of the statements of the MPs who pledged to cross the floor today contained references to the fact that the move could well be their political suicide - as Broadbent put it, better to die on your feet than live on your knees (and yes, the sheer notion of a Liberal MP quoting Che Guevara in the House, with genuine sincerity, has me feeling a little strange and dizzy). Not at the hands of voters, but at the hands of the party machine itself. It's nasty times for Australian democracy when members of the government feel so threatened for speaking out.

The only MP not to express doubts about his future was Petro Georgiou, who of course won a thumping majority in his own pre-selection a few months back. The breadth of this victory would certainly appear to affirm that his stance is endorsed by his constituents, and it is the government's policy, rather than Georgious and his fellow dissidents, that are out of touch with public sentiment.

5 Comments:

At 2:14 pm, Blogger Zoe said...

I heard a journo (on Radio National!) attribute the quote to Peter Garrett ;)

and - um - wasn't it Zapata?

 
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