While independents, Greens and Australian Democrats have played major roles in the Senate, the normal position of independents in the lower House is one of total impotence. The three independents in the previous Parliament did not bother to turn up during many sitting days and to have done so would have been a waste of their time.
This has changed in ways they would never have expected. We have watched them milk the airways for publicity. And we have seen them extract concessions from the two main parties which were previously beyond their dreams.
Some of these concessions, like the reform of Question Time, are long overdue and should be welcomed. Others involve more staff, better accommodation and regular briefings from Treasury and the Prime Minister, as well as vast amounts of spending on their favoured causes.
There were no suggestions on how to spend less money. And, aside from some of Bob Katter’s 20 points, no causes for less regulation were championed.
How durable is the support of the four non-ALP MPs?
All four have compelling reasons to maintain Labor in power as long as possible.
Former Green, Wilkie, and current Green, Bandt, are positioned on the far left of the ALP on almost every issue. While they will try to drag things further off centre, the ALP will be aware of how poisonous this might be for future election prospects.
Certainly for the time being the two Greens must dine on the ALP main course. They cannot afford to force an election as both of them are vulnerable to loss, especially if the Liberals decide not to preference them on the basis that it is better to have the ALP in Parliament than people who will automatically support Labor and have a further platform for promoting whacko policies. These include:
- the corralling modern agriculture with measures like bans on GM food;
- no new coal mines;
- bans on wood chip exports;
- prevention of deep-sea bottom trawling, reduced fishing generally and bans on all factory-ship based fishing in Australian pelagic fisheries;
- prohibiting the exploration for, and mining and export of, uranium;
- opposing new coal mines and the expansion of existing mines;
- placing further restraints on landholders’ rights;
- phasing out intensive farming practices in meat, dairy and egg production; and
- nationalising major irrigation systems and severely reducing the use of water for irrigation purposes.
The two leftist independents’ position in the lower House will be strengthened considerably after June of next year when, with the Greens support, the ALP can get measures through the Senate. This will be a testing time and will put additional pressure on parts of the ALP policy that are reconcilable with those of the Greens. These include:
- some form of new mining tax;
- many carbon related measures including a carbon tax, emission reduction obligations on power stations, cash for clunkers, emission requirements on new buildings and tax breaks for green buildings;
- increased superannuation guarantees;
- workforce entitlement guarantees;
- banning uranium mining in national parks;
- a new vast expansion of marine parks where fishing would be prohibited;
- preventing the import of illegally felled timber; and
- increased regulation of industrial and agricultural chemicals.
Further carbon related measures seem certain, especially as the media have spun the folklore that Rudd lost his support once he abandoned the carbon tax and that if Julia had gone full throttle on this she’d now be firmly in power. Actually, research was showing that people might express support for carbon suppression measures but they will not pay for these and Abbott would have destroyed an ALP campaigning on a “big new tax”.
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