New senate should be seen as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

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Ross Garnaut was right to be concerned about the current state of the Australian economy in his article Time bombs set during good times set to explode(July 26) in the Australian Financial Review.

Garnaut highlights how the current government, with two of the most ideologically diverse houses of parliament this country has ever seen, may struggle to advance more than legislation. Our economy is in dire need for advancement, as the resources boom that we all once rode to reasonable economic success has dwindled away, and if combative policy and initiatives aren’t found, we may too.

Garnaut explains how real incomes per person have fallen consistently since 2011, and in a climate where our treasurer, the man in control of the national finances, said the word “debt” over 30 times in one speech last week, it’s clear these are not desirable economic times.

Greg McKenna, similarly to Garnaut, warned in the Business Insider Australia on August 30, that “the current government, which continues to borrow to consume and not invest, is a ticking time bomb.”

Two established economists using the same term, to describe fiscal policy in this country is surely cause for concern. But to treasurer Scott Morrison, it doesn’t seem to be too much of a bother.

In the first of a series of speeches he is due to deliver to appeal to senate cross benchers in the coming weeks, Morrison urged senators that the national debt is due to rise to over $1 trillion, if his proposed $6 billion savings measures are not passed through the Senate. He goes on to warn of a recession under the same premise.

Mr. Morrison has to realise that his party holds a majority of merely one seat in the House of Representatives. Sorry Scott, but as the treasurer of a government which holds that kind of majority, you don’t get to go around exclaiming alarmist warnings about the prospective the state of the economy if your preferred legislation isn’t passed through a senate which, you guessed it, your party divided.

It’s about time a government had to answer to a range of ideologies in the senate, instead of attempting scare tactics to get their legislation through it.

Rob Burgess, an economics commentator for New Daily, agrees wholeheartedly. He explains in his article “The economy can’t take any more bloodsport politics”  (August 29), how economic challenges, from household debt being too high, export revenue being too low, and above all, the budget deficit continuing to grow year by year, haven’t been solved since Tony Abbott came into power in 2013. These issues will remain unresolved until the parliament stops treating economic legislation like a competition and starts treating it like a democratic government ought to.

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It’s not like these kinds of tactics are anything new from this current Liberal government either; in terms of attempting to force contentious legislation through the upper house. In fact, the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill being unsuccessfully forced down senators’ throats, eventually unsuccessfully, led to an early election this year.

In spite of this, on August 28th, Malcolm Turnbull outlined the need for “compromise and negotiation”, and “give and take” in this current parliament, in order to pass any meaningful legislation. I agree with you Malcolm. There is scope for compromise, and as any democratic government must realise, democracy, at its core, is based on give and take. It’s what we, the citizens of this country, expect. Furthermore, it may be beneficial if you could share some of this wisdom with your party members, namely Mr. Morrison.

So, at least from my perspective, it seems the current government may see the current state of the Senate as somewhat of an annoyance, or a barrier per se, to passing bills which they support. This government must understand that in order to get their way, 39 of the 75 Senators who comprise the Upper House must throw their support behind a particular bill of legislation. Considering how it seems to be Liberal Senators prerogative to blindly throw support behind anything tabled by the government, (every government backed bill currently tabled in the Senate is supported by each one of the 30 Liberal Senators), a Liberal bill essentially only needs to swing the support of 9 Senators in order to be passed.

I don’t know about you Malcolm, but it seems to me, if your treasurers $6 billion savings measures were so essential in avoiding this gargantuan national debt of over $1 trillion, and a forthcoming recession, you’d think at least one Senator who doesn’t identify as Liberal might support it? It’s a shame that this isn’t the case.

So, I challenge you, Mr. Turnbull, and you, Mr. Morrison. Heed the advice of Ross Garnaut, when he discusses how “big business ambitions for policy adjustments that place costs of adjustment on ordinary households while allocating benefits to itself” are “built on illusion”. A democratic government has no right to base any policy on “illusion”. He isn’t wrong in saying that these “time bombs” which were set in better economic times, are set to go off.

It’s time to find economic solutions, instead of attempting to force economic policy. In fact, it’s not even just about economic policy. It’s about all policy. All policy that affects all Australians. This may have worked in previous incarnations of the Senate, but it won’t this time. In fact, attempting to push legislation through a Senate which simply does not, and likely will not, agree with you, is only giving the fuse on these time bombs a little bit more time to burn. Let’s allow for this diverse Senate to be utilised, not as an obstacle, but as an avenue to deliver legislation that represents and serves all Australians, and not just those with a vested interest in the current government. Remember Malcolm, you answer to us, and not the other way around. It’s about time parliamentary reform reflected that.

By Colten Harvey

 

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