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Gags, guillotines create a chamber of horrors

By Graham Ring - posted Friday, 28 July 2006

I’ve never been a great fan of the senate. When Gough got it in the neck I wasn’t old enough to vote, but I was old enough to be angry. How did it make sense that an upper house could choke a government that had been twice elected by the Australian people within the space of three years?

I wondered too, why we awarded six-year sinecures, thereby ensuring that we had a chamber steeped in the political will of the electorate as it was three, four, or five years previously.

Further, I could never understand why the Tasmanian population of three and a dog came to elect the same number of senators as the far more numerous - and much smarter - Victorians.


True, there have been some skilled and hardworking senators over the years. Equally, there have been some fairly undistinguished individuals lolling away their days on the red leather benches, counting down the weeks to the winter break and that crucial fact-finding mission to the Bahamas.

So when Keating called them “unrepresentative swill” I laughed along with the rest. And I had harsh things to say to friends who divulged that they voted for different parties in the Senate than the House of Representatives.

Madness, I snickered. Choose the mob that you think will do the best job. Then have the courage of your convictions and let them get on with things.

Now I’m laughing on the other side of my face.

In July last year, when the government gained control of the senate, the prime minister offered po-faced assurances that he would be “modest” and “humble” with this additional power. But it may have been a non-core promise.

All the evidence is that Howard is taking the sword to the senate. Gags, guillotines and other instruments of malevolence are produced as required by the government to ensure that the upper house doesn’t get carried away with the niceties of democracy.


Romantic prattle about scrutinising and reviewing legislation is all very well, but the prime minister has a country to run.

And the greatest blight on the speedy and efficient discharge of the government’s responsibilities has been the operation of the senate committees.

These mavericks behave as a law unto themselves, and persist in undertaking the kind of thorough and diligent research that does grave damage to the body politic.

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First published in Issue 109, of the National Indigenous Times on July 13, 2006.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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