The Australian Senate foregoing its constitutional right to block Supply to the Government of the Day

A lot of us well remember the constitutional/political crisis that occurred in 1975. And those of us who were not around at the time to witness it, first hand, are usually sufficiently well-versed in Australian political history and are painfully aware that we had a major stand-off situation which ultimately was resolved by the Governor-General of the Day dismissing the legitimately elected Labor Government of then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.

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It was a terrible episode but one that could, quite easily, occur againAL though not for a little while into the future.

A much-mooted difficulty for the success of the next referendum on the Republic (the second which must not be allowed to fail or be hi-jacked) remains. Simply put:

When we become a Republic with the sovereignty being vested in the people, the Westminster system will be, if not abolished or replaced then changed dramatically;

A Republican Government of the Day (of whatever hue or persuasion) shouldn’t be forced unwillingly to the polls – well before their elected term has expired. And especially not in the cycle of a four-year fixed term.

Advocacy for Multi-Party Democracy adherents, through their determinations, want to give not just more fairness and efficacy to the Australian political system but certainty. Even for as long as we remain a constitutional monarchy. The Republic we envisage must be underpinned with firm foundations. The Republic, in Australias case, will come about in an evolutionary, democratic fashion – not by bloody revolution. A repeat of 1975 in, say, 3-4 years time might sink the Republic for a generation or longer.

The stupid thing about the matter of Supply is that the supposed House of Review (The Senate, indeed) does not have the power to amend Supply bills – merely  the power to either block them or pass them. This is antiquated nonsense. Worse, it is anti-democratic and not conducive to the Australian Republican ideal. It is blatantly “monarchical” because it gives the Queen’s representative the ‘Reserve Power’, by precedent, to interfere in the political argy-bargy of the day and take sides. When you think seriously about the matter it is no exaggeration to claim that The Senate undermines its own authority by having this outmoded power to block Supply along with the review of legislation powers.

This proposal is something of a trade-off.. The Senate does not really need to have the residual power to block Supply to the Government of the Day. Why? Because the Budget Papers of Governments (the basis of the Supply Bills, per se) are built into the Hansard; are scrutinised by journalists and economic academics; are open and available to be read in the public libraries, the length and breadth of this country. There are no “hollow logs” or “hidden crevices”. So those who want to keep the Government of the Day accountable can easily and readily do so. Even other political parties, in a Multi-Party Parliament.  Besides, the national newspapers give wide reportage of the details of Government Budgets.

Advocacy and leadership is cogently required on this issue – and sooner rather than later. It should be a case of  the carrying of a constitutional amendment before a future desperate and “crazy brave” Labor Government  triggers  more than either another Dismissal or a Double Dissolution!

PETER CONSANDINE © 2005 AND © 2012

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