Prime Minister Albanese has reduced the advisory staff available to crossbench Senators and MHRs from four to one. This may reflect a lack of understanding of the role of the crossbench and the workload in keeping up with a Government and an Opposition with access to substantial numbers of staff.
With this reduced number, the crossbench will have a great deal of difficulty in holding the Government accountable and ensuring the transparency the Prime Minister has promised.
Every day during the 46th Parliament the Liberal/Labor alliance damaged Australia with intrusive and onerous measures that decimated small and medium business, took away fundamental human rights, made a joke of private property ownership, and transferred wealth from working Australians to predatory foreign billionaires. One Nation were flat out holding the Government to account.
The attack on the Parliamentary process began long before this week’s extraordinary decision. Let me explain.
In opposition, Senator Wong combined with the Government leader in the Senate, Senator Birmingham, to remove the right of the crossbench to move motions that advance policy debate. Technically these are called non-procedural motions.
It is little wonder the Dutton Liberal Opposition has not spoken out on the issue of crossbench staff. Clearly Mr Dutton is waiting to see if Mr Albanese gets away with it.
The crossbench was effective in using motions to embarrass the pathetic excuse for policy emanating from both the Government and Opposition.
The Greens used motions to pursue their climate agenda. As much as I and the data disagree with the Greens on the science, it is indeed the duty of the Greens to represent their voters.
Senator Patrick’s work on whistle-blower protections, Chinese influence, and defence has embarrassed the Government in sitting after sitting.
Senator Lambie’s work on veterans, with the support of One Nation, produced a significant improvement in Government policy.
One Nation’s motions concentrated on exposing the rank hypocrisy of the Liberal and Nationals’ policies on – well – everything really. At one point Senator Canavan, despite repeated public statements in favour of coal, left the chamber on what was proven to be a false pretence to avoid voting in favour of a One Nation motion to support the coal industry.
One Nation’s motion on eliminating the use of non-gendered language forced a rare conscience vote from the Liberals. One Nation succeeded in a motion to send the National Curriculum back to the drawing board with an instruction to remove non-gendered language. Now in government, the ALP are free to degrade women to the status of uterus-owners, chest-feeders, and birthing parents to their heart’s content.
Continuing to fight for decency and family values will be much harder for One Nation with only one adviser for each Senator.
This is clearly the Prime Minister’s intention.
One Nation used legislation to highlight areas in which the ALP and the Morrison Government failed. Let me give you some examples.
From 2018 onward, the ALP proclaimed the merits of their Fair Work Amendment (Same Job, Same Pay) Bill, designed to ensure casuals on labour hire contracts in the black coal industry receive fair pay. The joke on their voters was simple – Labor’s bill was never introduced into the Senate and was only introduced to the House of Representatives at the end of 2021, three years after the first announcement. Unions were behind labour hire contracts and made a fortune from them. Labor has no intention of getting rid of them.
One Nation prepared our bill – Fair Work Amendment (Equal Pay for Equal Work) Bill 2022 – which extended protections for casual workers on labour hire contracts and unlike the ALP, we actually introduced our bill to the Senate. One Nation will bring this bill back in July. The ALP talks while One Nation acts. How embarrassing is that to the Prime Minister?
Senator Hanson’s bill for a more equitable treatment of our gas reserves to protect the interests of Australians was first introduced in 2019 and Labor opposed it. I now expect the Albanese Government to introduce a similar bill themselves or, once again, One Nation will.
My bill for electoral reform took a year of development. So effective was our drafting and our supporting arguments the Morrison Government had no choice but to accept One Nation were right and introduced a suite of electoral reform bills which passed through the Parliament with One Nation support, improving the integrity of our elections.
Senator Hanson’s work on family law led to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System. That report will be dealt with in this Parliament. One Nation’s work on banking forced the banking Royal Commission.
Along the way, we managed to lead the revolt that saw the Cash Ban Bill removed from the notice paper; exposed the probability that everyday Australians can have their bank deposits taken from them in a banking crisis; produced a detailed plan to fix the Murray Darling Basin Water Plan; and triggered an audit into the use of Federal Government disaster relief payments in Queensland local government.
In the last Parliament, 573 bills were introduced and One Nation read every one of them. It was my observation that other members of the crossbench had their advisers hard at work scouring these thirty thousand pages of legislation for poor drafting and unintended consequences.
Hundreds of amendments were moved to Government bills to correct shortcomings, most of those came from the crossbench. One Nation preferred to work with the Government to correct mistakes during the drafting stage. I am sure other crossbench parties did the same.
To judge only on what was seen is to ignore the iceberg of effort beneath the public record.
To say the crossbench can simply get policy advice from the Parliamentary Library is just wrong.
The Parliamentary Library does not read legislation for Senators and point out the problems; meet with stakeholders to receive representation on a bill; produce bill or amendment drafting instructions; investigate government waste and corruption; draw new information into the public arena through document discovery; or write questions for Question Time – a rare chance to hold the Government accountable.
Only an adviser can perform all these duties.
In the previous Parliament, Labor had ample opportunity to bring on legislation of their own during what is called private Senator’s time. This should have been an opportunity to introduce legislation designed to show how Labor would run Australia – a job application for Government if you will.
Almost without fail, Labor’s legislation turned out to be poorly worded and bereft of originality or vision.
Has the Prime Minister chosen to nobble the crossbench rather than engage with us in a continued debate of ideas?
In closing let me give the Prime Minister a ‘heads up’.
If one staffer is to perform all of these tasks then routines are needed. One Nation will vote down any legislation on principle unless we are provided a copy 14 days out from the vote, to allow sufficient time to read the bill and prepare any amendments necessary. This will include budget bills.
Prime Minister Albanese must do better than this or it will be a very long three years for all concerned. I remain hopeful the Prime Minister will take the time to better understand the workload and contribution the crossbench make to good government and allow us the staff to represent the Australian people to the standards my position requires.
Malcolm Roberts is a One Nation Senator for Queensland.
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