High Noon for the Senate


Another week, another test of the moral fibre of Australia’s Senators. The votes this week on amendments to the Lands Right Act, on Stem Cell Research and, especially, on the Pacific Solution Mark II represent lines in the sand for certain Coalition Senators and Steve Fielding from Family First.

There was a time, before the Coalition controlled the Upper House, when the consciences of certain Senators could be assuaged even when they voted with the Government on legislation they could not, in all honesty, support. They knew that the combined forces on the left-hand side of the Chamber would combine to defeat a proposed Bill that was reprehensible or badly drafted. They knew that there would be scrutiny from Senate Committee inquiries. They knew that there would be a robust give and take on wording and on amendments. They knew that pragmatists on both sides would compromise, and water down particularly toxic laws.

No such luck these days.

As we load up issue 102 of New Matilda (on Wednesday 9 August), it is still unclear whether dissidents in the Coalition’s ranks and/or Senator Fielding will vote against the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill, or whether they will vote to send asylum seekers to off-shore detention camps in a futile effort to appease Indonesia and minimise the embarrassment of John Howard.

Will they condemn desperate people whose only crimes are a desire to escape persecution in their country of birth and the hope that their children might enjoy a better life elsewhere to years of spirit-crushing detention in another country, away from adequate health, legal and educational services? Will they allow the Government to peel away Australia’s coastline and pretend it’s not part of the same country? Will they be complicit in saying that there are certain procedures and safeguards that are appropriate for the lucky few living in this country, but which do not apply to the treatment of people born elsewhere, who have no insider connections, or who do not possess skills that we find we need to maintain our delicate lifestyles?

Will they have the temerity to do this in my name and yours?

How far will they go to ensure an easy, unobstructed pre-selection process? What will they do to avoid the sting of shock jocks and bigots who have access to the print media and the airwaves?

How cynical are they about the ability of ‘the electorate’ to focus on this issue and protest? How far do they believe you and I have sunk?

All these questions will be answered this week. I remain hopeful that Senators (and others) will show some backbone.

Meanwhile, New Matilda continues to fight for a Human Rights Act for Australia — an Act that would protect the rights of citizens at a time when not just ‘unauthorised arrivals’ but all of us are threatened by a dilution of due process and other rights that we assumed were sacrosanct.

The Melbourne launch of New Matilda‘s Human Rights Act campaign will take place this Sunday 13 August at the Malthouse Theatre in South Melbourne at 4:30pm. The launch coincides with the release of the final version of our Human Rights Bill which has been refined after taking into account the many submissions received over the past 10 months.

The Melbourne launch also signals the start of the lobbying stage of New Matilda‘s campaign. During this stage we will focus on generating support in the community and in Federal Parliament. We will seek representatives from all political parties, in both Houses of Parliament, to sponsor the Bill as a Private Members Bill.

We encourage you to lobby your local parliamentarians and senators and make it known that a Human Rights Act is supported by the Australian public.

José Borghino

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.