Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This is Bullshit

I've just read today's Crikey, and was quite appalled at the top story about a government plan to seize Aboriginal assets. It appears the government wishes to take control of all Aboriginal assets worth more than $400,00, manage them, and in some cases rent them back to the former owners. This is bullshit. This is theft.

This appears to be part of the series of changes the government is introducing as a response to the Little Children are Sacred report. The legislation the government introduced was a massive 568 pages long and the government used it's numbers in the senate to limit the committee inquiry to one working day (the senate referred the 5 bills to the committee on Thursday the 9th, public hearings were on Friday the 10th and a report was due on Monday the 13th) which is plenty of time to read, discuss, contemplate, suggest amendments (although the government refused to consider any of those too). A final vote in the senate was held on 17th. Apparently, the authors of the report were not consulted by those drafting the legislation in response to the report, and were only spoke to the committee during the lunch break. This process is also bullshit.

The government has used this situation to grab a lot of power it didn't and shouldn't have or deserve, and appears ready to abuse, and has used it's numbers in both houses to limit debate and scrutiny of the bill. 10 days from introduction in the House of Representatives to final passing in the Senate for 568 pages of legislation. The bills seem to be lists of amendments which are meaningless without considering the bills they're altering (more pages to be read), long lists of restrictions on what people can do and how they use money (although I guess that is what laws are, but these seem to be very micromanagerial rules). The laws even attempt to be retroactive in some of their applicability. I quote now from the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007 "For the purposes of this Part, it is immaterial whether an unsatisfactory school attendance situation exists or has existed before or after the commencement of this section."

Imposing penalties or restrictions based on actions before the law was introduced is unjust. The restriction imposed by the small fraction of the one bill I read is heavy handed and seems unnecessary. Taking almost complete control of individuals finances reeks of the bad old days when Aboriginal wages were previously managed by government entities (and we all know how fair and well-managed that scheme was). I can only imagine what other horrors lurk in the 568 pages of bullshit.

On a more general note, I wonder just how many of our 150 MPs and 76 senators have read the full text of these bills. I wonder how many had a member of their staff read the whole thing. I wonder how many read the whole thing before voting on it. I wonder how many have given serious thoughts to the consequences of this bill. 10 days is not that much time for such deliberations. I think there should be a certain minimum amount of time for debate of bills, to prevent the government limiting debate in the manner that it has. Maybe something whereby you need a supermajority (e.g. two thirds of the house) to call for a final vote on a matter.

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour 16 minutes (includes some research time)
Time since last post: about 6 hours
Current media: None


Chris_the_Blogger said...

I've been following this from the beginning and I suppose I agree with the spirit of what is being done if not the execution.

It is certainly condescending to say to a section of society "you are not responsible enough to manage your own affairs to the point where you reach a certain base level of civilization where children are not habitually sexually abused." But the fact of the matter is that base level of civilization is not being met in some remote aboriginal communities. I don't care how arrogant or even racist it appears, I want the sexual abuse of children to stop at once. In that way I can excuse the length of time it took to get the legislation through parliament.

Having said that there appears to be a lot of nonsense around the intervention and, if what Crikey says is true, this latest move only adds to it. I still support the intervention because what is happening now is better than serial, sexual abuse of children. Though I really wish that the authors of LCAS as well as indigenous leaders were consulted at the outset. I also hope that in the future these people are consulted and that all this kind of rubbish disappears, but I won't hold my breath.

Esonlinji said...

I certainly agree that such abuse is a problem and should be prevented, I do not believe that such a noble end can be achieved by such dubious means.

Forcing through legislation without debate is missing the whole point of having a parliament.

Ignoring the people who took a long time investigating the problem and making recommendations on how to solve the problem is just plain irresponsible.

I'd also point out that there are already laws dealing with problems such as child abuse, crime, and so on. Putting in place harsh, discriminatory, overbearing, overreaching laws to target these problems in one small part of a country which has historically been mistreated is also a bad idea.

My objections here are not to what the government is trying to achieve, just the sheer level of incompetence, malevolence and disrespect shown in how they're trying to do so.

Chris_the_Blogger said...

I suspect we agree on all points except for the duration over which the laws were debated.

Allow me to reference you to the Simpsons, font of all knowledge for generation Y.

Kent: With our utter annihilation imminent, our federal government has snapped into action. We go live now via satellite to the floor of the United States congress.

Speaker: Then it is unanimous, we are going to approve the bill to evacuate the town of Springfield in the great state of --

Congressman: Wait a minute, I want to tack on a rider to that bill: $30 million of taxpayer money to support the perverted arts.

Speaker: All in favor of the amended Springfield-slash-pervert bill?
[everyone boos]
Speaker: Bill defeated. [bangs gavel]

Kent: I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.

David Barry said...

Forcing through legislation without debate is missing the whole point of having a parliament.
While in principle I agree, have you ever listened to the woeful excuse for debate that Parliament serves up? It is absolutely dreadful.

When the government doesn't have a majority in the Senate, it has to negotiate amendments, etc., and these are pretty much decided independent of whatever speeches the politicians make in parliament. This is about the best we can hope for.

Of course, the government shouldn't have a majority in the Senate at the moment, but that's because the Senate's electoral system is nowhere near proportional enough.

Chris_the_Blogger said...

Give me a refresher Dave, why shouldn't the government have a majority in the Senate?

Esonlinji said...

Regarding amendments, I do agree that situations like the one you quote are pathetic and bullshit, but to completely rule out any amendment is hubris. I also don't like legislation that does more than one thing in a bill, so I think things like the Save Springfield slash Pervert bill should not be done either via amendment or just being initially presented that way, they should be two separate bills.

I don't really have any problems with how the senate is elected, but I have thought of having a 3rd house, where members are determined by what proportion of the total vote each party gets for the house of representatives. This does unfortunately have the drawback that it would give the minor parties too much power, although no more so than when the democrats had the balance of power in the senate.

David Barry said...

At the last two Senate elections, the government has won 41.8% and 45.0% of the primary vote. If the Upper House was a proportional one, they would not have a majority (you should need 50% or more for that).

See here, where I look at better systems.

Chris_the_Blogger said...

Kevin: I think we're fast approaching agreement.

Dave: Or everyone could just vote below the line.

Jesus, how fucking hard is it to count to like fifty?

David Barry said...

Chris, even if everyone voted below the line under the present system of six senators per state, a party that gets 43% of the votes (1-2-3 for the party) will get at least 50% of the seats.

Voting below the line would work if we had a single national electorate, but in that case, there's no use for all the preferences, since you may as well just tick one box and make voting easier to get a very similar result. (And one of the latter systems, you probably avoid certain pathological cases where, eg, .1% can get you a seat.)