Many people could not imagine including the words politician and pure in the same sentence, but not The Greens, who individually and as a party present themselves as being as pure as the alpine streams running off the high country in spring.
However, last Thursday in the NSW Legislative Council, we saw a case study example of The Greens not so pure modus operandi indicative of the contempt that they show towards the political process and their parliamentary colleagues from other parties.
The issue up for debate was a motion on same-sex marriage. Notice of the motion had first been given on 14th February 2012. The motion called on the Commonwealth Parliament to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to provide for "marriage equality". It was expected that over the course of the debate, there would be attempts to amend the motion, with one proposal flagged several weeks ago. It is interesting to note that on the previous sitting day when private members business was dealt with The Greens gave other members of the House the rounds of the kitchen for being obstructionist. Anyone who spoke in the House was castigated for deliberately trying to hold up the debate on same-sex marriage. Pretty rich when you consider that the constitutional power to deal with marriage lies with the Federal Parliament, not the States and Territories.
In any event The Greens systematically approached and spoke to a number of the 42 members of the Legislative Council, leaving aside those, including myself, who they knew would not support the motion. Members were sounded out about their position on the matter and invited to provide comment and feedback and they were invited to submit ideas for wording changes to the motion that would make them sufficiently comfortable, to be able to support the motion. Members were also told by The Greens that this was an important human rights motion and that they should engage with their colleagues about the matter and they should consider speaking on it.
Fast forward to last Thursday when the debate on same-sex marriage got underway just after 11.05.By this time, everybody was prepared and ready to get on and have a vigorous and engaging debate. Members had been inundated with not just hundreds but thousands of emails coming in over the last few weeks outlining the cases to both amend the federal legislation or leave it the way it is. The emails were mostly respectful, sometimes very personal in nature and demonstrating that there were strong views in the community on the matter.
The Greens mover of the motion got the debate underway and then other speakers sought the call, some wanting to speak against the motion and others in support. Many people were in the House polishing up their speeches or notes, waiting to get the call.
At 11:53am I got an email from a person identified as Peter on behalf of The Greens MLC who had moved the motion. It said:
"An attempt to extend debate on the marriage equality motion has failed. Therefore debate will be interrupted prior to 1pm to allow for divisions. We understand there is an agreement that speeches can be incorporated into Hansard to allow more Members the opportunity."
I thought to myself, this is very odd. We have not completed even an hour of debate of this matter over which The Greens have agitated and encouraged participation as a conscience issue, and now they want to shut the whole thing down, denying dozens of members the opportunity to speak and make a contribution.
So I spoke to a few colleagues about the claimed attempt to extend the debate that has apparently failed. I got blank faces and looks of surprise. With five Greens in a chamber of 42 members, there were many individuals facing the prospect of not getting an opportunity to speak. If you look at Hansard, you will see some members barely speaking for a minute and then attempting to get the rest of their speech incorporated. And the attitude of The Greens to all this? They didn't give a damn. They just wanted the debate done and dusted in two hours so they could move onto the next campaign issue. How this all impacted on the other 37 members of the Legislative Council who had consulted with the community, conducted research, prepared speeches, did not even cross their minds. In the end, it was all about The Greens.
At 12:54pm, just minutes before The Greens MLC who was sponsoring the motion was going to get up and use the final 10 minutes to sum up, the Government stepped in to confirm that the debate would be extended to give all members the opportunity to speak.
Debate on the motion will continue on Thursday. It may conclude on the day with any amendments and the motion put, and voted on. If it is not concluded on that day, debate will continue on the next sitting day that private members business is dealt with. Time will tell if the motion succeeds with or without amendments. Everybody will have to wait and see.
In any event, The Greens have very little to be proud of in the way that they have conducted themselves over this whole matter, in particular the contemptuous way that they have treated their parliamentary colleagues. It won't be forgotten anytime soon.
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