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Senate hostility to unfair dismissal laws may be the trigger to overhaul its powers.

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Monday 15 April 2002


Senate hostility to unfair dismissal laws may be the trigger to overhaul its powers.


LINDA MOTTRAM: In the face of criticism that he has no third te rm agenda, the Prime Minister John Howard is shaping up for a war of attrition with the Senate to try to get it to pass key government legislation.


It's the coalition's unfair dismissal laws that he has in mind in particular and in the face of Senate hostility, Mr Howard says he will just keep introducing them for as long as it takes.


Some very senior Liberals now believe that the Senate's hostility to the unfair dismissal laws and to other key government agenda items should be the trigger for a radical overhaul of the House of Review's powers.


From Canberra, political correspondent Mark Willacy.


MARK WILLACY: All big performers need a support act and with John Howard about to take the stage, it was his understudy warming up the crowd at the Liberal Party's Federal Council in Canberra.


PETER COSTELLO: Well it appears that the most significant announcement on the Labor side of politics was Gough Whitlam's recent announcement to donate his brain to medical science. Why not have a Labor gallery? We could ask Carmen Lawrence to donate her memory.


MARK WILLACY: Only last week, John Howard scoffed at comparisons between leadership aspirant Peter Costello and one of the signatories to the now famous "Kirribilli Agreement", Paul Keating, but the Treasurer may have been taking a few pointers from some of Mr Keating's routines, like this one to the Labor faithful eight years ago.


PAUL KEATING: Some of you are old enough to remember cracker night and I've seen this bunch sitting on the frontbench with Hewson the sky rocket and Howard always such promise, he always reminded me of that thing called the flower pot - it always promised a dazzling performance but often when you lit it up it went fip, you know.


MARK WILLACY: During the Liberal Federal Council, John Howard praised the former Keating government, not for its wit but for deregulating the financial system and floating the dollar but when it comes to another policy issue close to the Prime Minister's heart, he has no kind words for his Labor opponents.


JOHN HOWARD: We have been trying for five years to get the unfair dismissal laws through the Federal Parliament.


MARK WILLACY: And each time, the Government's unfair dismissal laws have been blocked by Labor and the Democrats in the Senate.


JOHN HOWARD: And could I also say to them that if that legislation is not passed on this occasion, it will be presented again.


MARK WILLACY: Some senior Liberals argue that the obstruction of key pieces of government legislation, like the unfair dismissal laws, shows why the Senate needs a shake-up.


One proposal receiving serious debate in the Liberal Party is the possibility of joint sittings of Parliament to resolve deadlocks in the Senate and in the face of Senate opposition to his plans to overhaul media ownership laws and sell off the rest of Telstra, Communications Minister, Richard Alston reckons reform is long overdue.


RICHARD ALSTON: Now in a joint sitting, you should at least have the option to be confident that there is a mechanism for allowing the legislatio n to proceed rather than simply going into an election with something that people think is a good idea, it's certainly the majority thinks a good idea and yet being told sorry we don’t care, that's not our policy position.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Communications Minister, Richard Alston. Mark Willacy reporting from Canberra.