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Howard's Senate reform proposals are another grab for absolute power

By Andrew Bartlett - posted Wednesday, 11 June 2003

It is a brave nation, equally a remarkably gullible one, that would put complete power in the hands of a cunning politician.

History has taught all mankind that those they should fear most are the Executive. Democracy was invented to curb the power of kings, dictators, theocrats, oligarchs and sundry others. The separation of powers, and the establishment of democratic checks and balances, are the third-party insurance against he who would be king.

By proposing to strike down the power of the Senate, doing away with the only effective check on government, John Howard is proposing a parliamentary dictatorship.


He is right in one respect. That is to have the debate. One in which we will argue for more checks and balances, not less.

To put it bluntly, John Howard's plan to neuter the Senate, to reduce it to a benign rubber stamp for the executive in the House of Representatives, is a plain bad idea.

It is also out of touch. In the Senate 25 per cent of Australians do not cast their first vote for Labor or the Liberals. Many Australians vote differently lower to upper house.

A proposal to corrode the Senate's powers would turn the Australian parliament into nothing but a two-party playground.

There are many arguments for significant Constitutional change and modernisation. Indeed, we should not shy from debate on the role and power of the Senate in the broad context of Constitutional reform.

But this none-too-subtle attack on the Senate is about John Howard not getting the result that he wants playing by the rules, so he'll change them.


He should note that the truly great players always adapt and play within the rules, not alter them to suit their game.

Under the current rules, any party could actually gain a majority of seats in the Senate - allowing them to effectively govern without Senate challenge - if they got a majority of votes from the public.

If you want to be picky, the Coalition is a minority not a majority. In 2001 they achieved 43 per cent of the primary vote for the House of Representatives, and 42 per cent in the Senate.

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About the Author

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. He graduated from University of Queensland with a degree in social work and has been involved in a wide range of community organisations and issues, including human rights, housing, immigration, Indigneous affairs, environment, animal rights and multiculturalism. He is a member of National Forum. He blogs at Bartlett's Blog.

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