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Bring on debate on Senate role.

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Senator Andrew Bartlett Leader of the Australian Democrats June 8, 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/416

Bring On Debate on Senate Role

The Australian Democrats today welcomed John Howard’s call to debate the role and power of the Senate.

Democrats’ leader, Senator Andrew Bartlett, said he was delighted the Prime Minister wanted to focus on the role of the Senate and bring the issue before the Australian people.

“We would never shy from a debate about the role of the Senate, nor discussion about Constitutional change,” Senator Bartlett said.

“But John Howard’s plan to reduce the function of the Senate is code for wanting absolute power over the parliament. He’s saying he now wants the right to do whatever he wants.

“The Prime Minister is trying to create the perception that the Senate is obstructionist. Some people might call it obstructionist to stop laws that will make people’s lives more difficult. But I think most people will say that we’re doing our job.

“The Democrats are a vital part of the checks and balances of our system. And we are in the Senate to protect Australians against the excesses of whichever major party is in Government. The Australian voting public deliberately votes differently in the Senate as opposed to the House of Representatives because they want that check.

“John Howard is now saying he wants to change the system all because he’s not getting everything his own way.

“What we are currently doing is stopping the Government making medicines more expensive, we are stopping them making life more difficult for the disabled, and we are preventing an erosion of civil liberties. John Howard never went to any election saying those were the things he was planning to do, so to claim he has public support to introduce any legislation he wants, without scrutiny by the Senate, is utterly false.

“The Prime Minister really should respect the decision of the Australian voting public and understand, as the rest of us do, that the Senate should not merely act as a rubber stamp for the house of the executive - the House of Representatives.”

In the on-going spirit of trying to constructively work with the Government, Senator Bartlett said the Democrats would propose that any change to the Constitution for a joint sitting of both Houses to deal with stalled legislation instead of a double-dissolution election, include the mandated obligation to a free conscience vote by all Senators and Members.

“The only way to make the Prime Minister’s proposal anything other than a massive grab for power would be to enshrine the right for all Senators and Members to a conscience vote, without reprisal from the ir Party,” Senator Bartlett said. For interview with Senator Bartlett contact Katrina Beikoff on 0419 867 649