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NSW Parliament breaks for bitter winter -

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NSW Parliament breaks for bitter winter

Simon Santow reported this story on Friday, June 26, 2009 12:33:00

The NSW Government says it was forced to bring an abrupt end to the sitting of the Upper House
because it was clear there'd be no progress on its legislative program. But some observers say it
only shows that houses of review are redundant in parliamentary democracies.

PETER CAVE: In parliaments throughout the Westminster system Upper Houses are often getting a very
bad name.

Paul Keating famously described the Australian Senate as "unrepresentative swill".

In Britain commentators have long made fun of the House of Lords.

And at state level in Australia there are regular calls to abolish the so-called houses of review.

Now in New South Wales that state's Legislative Council or Upper House is mired in controversy
because the Labor Government locked out Opposition MPs by invoking a rarely used parliamentary
procedure in order to prevent it from defeating the Government's plans to privatise the Lottery
Office.

Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: The Lower House in New South Wales might be famously called the "bear pit" but across
the way in the red leather seats, the Upper House has prematurely become a pollie-free zone.

TONY KELLY: I move to adjourn the House for the winter recess, having sat through to two o'clock
and one o'clock two nights during the week. Now they, the Opposition then attempted to hijack the
operation of the House which is a very unusual procedure. I was left with no choice but to suspend
the House or cause the House to be suspended on the ringing of the long bell.

SIMON SANTOW: Tony Kelly is the Police Minister and the Labor Government's leader in the Upper
House.

He's been feeling the heat because he can't get key crossbenchers to agree to backing a bill which
would privatise state lotteries.

In the sometimes murky world of political payback, Labor is being blocked because it won't support
legislation which would allow sporting shooters open slather to hunt in National Parks.

So what did Tony Kelly do? He gave the rest of his colleagues an early mark ahead of the two month
long winter parliamentary break.

TONY KELLY: I think that's the first time that that has happened in my time. The historic part
about this is that this will be the longest day. The technicality is that when the House adjourns
on the long bell, it's still the same day so that when we come back in September, instead of the
Parliament starting as at the 1st of September, it will technically start as at the 24th of June,
the continued day.

SIMON SANTOW: Meredith Burgmann has retired from state politics but from 1999 to 2007 the Labor MP
served as president in the Upper House of New South Wales.

She sees the shenanigans in Macquarie Street as inevitable when you have a political system that
gives a voice to minor parties.

MEREDITH BURGMANN: What the crossbenchers in the Upper House have said is, we are not going to let
the Government get its legislation through. And I think that froze up for a lot of people the whole
question of whether an Upper House which is elected in one way really should be able to frustrate
the plans of government of the Lower House which is the House where governments are made and the
house where decisions about governance of the state should take place.

I means the Upper House has always been considered to be a house of review whereas it's quite clear
from the actions of the crossbenchers over the last few days that they have seen their role as
stopping bills going through.

SIMON SANTOW: Tony Kelly says as frustrating as the system can be he's far from convinced it ought
to be abandoned.

TONY KELLY: I believe that the Upper House does reflect the constitution of the people or the way
the people would normally vote. Obviously from the Labor Party I would much rather have an Upper
House that has a Labor majority. But what it does reflect, the Labor Party in its correct numbers;
the Liberal Party, the National Party, the way their proportions in the community, but it also
gives those minor parties a chance to have a voice as well.

SIMON SANTOW: And Meredith Burgmann argues that voters are getting an insight into the deal making
that goes into getting bills passed, or in this case not passed.

MEREITH BURGMANN: For 16 years I watched governments of both sides go through this difficult
process of trying to get a bunch of very dispirit minor parties to support the bill. It's a bit
like herding cats.

You get one people from say the shooters to support something and then the Greens won't support it
or then you get the Greens to support it and then suddenly they change their mind. The Democrat,
you know, wouldn't vote with the Greens.

As I say, it was like herding cats.

SIMON SANTOW: I suppose the other way of looking at it is that it does shine a light, the people
out there who aren't watching the intricacies of the political process or aren't familiar with
them, that really there is a lot of horse trading that has to go on behind the scenes for the
system to work.

MEREITH BURGMANN: Yes, I always tell people to watch "The West Wing" if they want to see how
legislation is really made. There is a huge amount of horse trading has to take place.

PETER CAVE: The former NSW Upper House President Meredith Burgmann, ending that report from Simon
Santow.