The Uncensored Hansard (14 August 2007)


Welcome back to the world of modern liberal democracy and one of the last sittings of Federal Parliament before the election. In contrast to previous articles, I’d like to provide some reflections of what is taking place within our parliamentary chambers.

Very few rational Australians can genuinely believe that our politicians place their ideals higher than their Party, or their personal ambitions. On the one hand, there is an Opposition who has adopted the slogan ‘Kevin 07’ with a leader who says that ‘there is not a slither of light’ between the economic ideologies of the ALP and the Coalition. On the other hand, there is an incumbent Government frantically searching for an elusive ‘political wedge’ that will provide them with a silver bullet to finish Rudd off.

On Wednesday, 9 August, while John Howard was speaking, Labor MP Simon Crean interjected with: ‘tired and tedious.’ While the comment was directed at an increasingly desperate PM, it’s also an apt description of our entire parliamentary system. The language used in Parliament is a separate post-modern dialect a language that fills the holes where ideology and ideals once existed. Political language is now so bereft of context and significance that numerous words, or concepts with very specific definitions, have become absolutely meaningless.

Today, let’s look at the words ‘democracy’ and ‘secret ballot.’

Paul Calvert

The Senate has a new President to follow Paul Calvert, who served for five years. It will be recorded that South Australian Liberal Senator Alan Ferguson, a very decent man by all accounts, was elected as the new President.

There is absolutely nothing in the Australian Constitution that says that the Speaker of the House of Representatives or the President of the Senate should come from the Government. There is a gentlemen’s agreement between the Coalition and the ALP that whichever Party is in Government will gain the top position in each Chamber, while the Opposition will take the Deputy’s role.

Bob Brown

Senator Bob Brown stood at the beginning of proceedings and briefly spoke about democracy. He denounced the fixed agreement between the major Parties as a ‘boys club.’ He argued that good governance and democracy requires some kind of independent umpire and he nominated (Greens) Senator Kerry Nettle as a candidate.

When Brown argued that this election process was itself not democratic, and asked why it was that someone from the minor Parties were excluded from being President, ALP Senator Robert Ray responded: ‘You’re only 30 quotas short Bob of course it’s democratic.’

Brown and Nettle were treated as an anarchistic boil on the arse of representative democratic conventions they were mocked and ridiculed by our self-appointed guardians of the Senate (the Coalition and the ALP) and then quickly lanced.

When Brown pointed out that Senator Ferguson had made just six submissions to the Senate while Nettle had made 106, a Government interjector yelled: ‘Every one of them useless.’

Alan Ferguson

The Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, announced the Presidential candidates and instructed that a secret ballot would be conducted. The Senators wrote on their blue ballot papers and cast their votes into the ballot boxes. Ferguson defeated Nettle by 67 votes to 5 and the forces of mainstream democracy had triumphed over anarchy (or, at least, the Greens).

The origins of the secret ballot are important to consider. It was designed to preserve the privacy of one’s vote from threats, intimidation and retribution. In the US, it is still called the ‘Australian ballot.’ The right to cast your vote in secret should be enough for any group of voters, not least elected Senators, to exercise their independent conscience.

Robert Ray

The democratic legitimacy of the current process, as defended by Senator Robert Ray interjecting during Bob Brown’s nomination of Nettle, is instructive:

To achieve this democratic outcome, the majority of our Senators just fixed the vote. Every single Senator knew the outcome of the so-called election well before they even entered the Chamber [read: the secret ballot was completely drained of all meaning and historical context].

Even though the new President was under no illusions about who was going to win, he graciously accepted victory after removing a prepared written speech from his pocket. He also thanked relatives present in the galleries, who came to witness his election and, no doubt, marvel at the integrity of Senate processes.

‘Anarchy’ is not the orgy of violence and mayhem that so-called democrats use as a pejorative to describe rioting (or the policies of minor Parties). No one knows what an anarchistic society would look like, but there are some historical examples that indicate that it could be highly organised, communal and democratic. Noam Chomsky, a noted anarchist, argues that only after the de-centralisation of State power, the equitable re-distribution of capitalist wealth, a respect for human rights and the equality of all voters, would a real democratic system emerge.

Senator Brown did not demand the complete de-centralisation of the Commonwealth, only that the Senators consider conducting a truly democratic vote that the true purpose of the secret ballot should not be made totally meaningless by a big Party ‘hand shake deal.’

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