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September 10th 2010 print

David Flint

Independents miss golden opportunity

Influenced by pork barrelling, keeping their seats, blind faith that the people who gave us the home insulation disaster and the BER rorts are the best to deliver broadband, and of course,  the trappings of  a cabinet appointment, the independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott have missed a golden opportunity to make our system even more democratic. 

In giving their crucial support to Julia Gillard to form a minority government, the NSW independent MP’s Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott have missed a golden opportunity for serious reform.

This was the time to look beyond pork barrelling, keeping their seats, blind faith that the people who gave us the home insulation disaster and the BER rorts are the best to deliver broadband, and of course,  the trappings of  a cabinet appointment.

They could have done something for which they will be immortalised in the nation’s pantheon. They could have proposed fundamental reform to our system of government, making it more democratic.

Why do the people have to wait three or four years to pass judgement on a failed government? Why shouldn’t they block a law they don’t like?

But it seems the last thing they want is for the people to have a say.  Their decision to support Labor surprised no one. What was surprising was they took 17 days to tell us, and then admitted their fear of facing the people earlier than necessary.   

Tony  Windsor said a Coalition minority government would be more likely than Labor to seek excuses for a fresh poll. Asked why, Mr Windsor said: "Because I think they’d be more likely to win."

He went on to say that Labor was "more likely to be here for a longer period of time" if it did not see the chance of victory in a fresh election.

When he last had the balance of power, Tony Windsor and the other  NSW independents gave us that wonderful tool for political control, the four year fixed term. The politicians and the many in the media had argued that if they had the benefit of a longer term, and a fixed date for the election, the quality of government would be changed.

It certainly was. NSW has never before had a government of such low quality.   They not only swallowed this, but independents also sacked one of the best financial controllers the State has had in living memory – Nick Greiner. They did this on the basis of an ICAC ruling, one which the Supreme Court overruled.

Of course there are some reforms to parliamentary proceedings which are long overdue. Until then school children should not be allowed near the Chamber during Question Time. Otherwise they will try to imitate the crude, manipulated, infantile and at times dishonourable conduct that is too typical.

A budget office would have marginal utility, but why didn’t Mr. Oakeshott and Mr. Windsor insist on a Royal Commission into the BER? This involved a massive  diversion and loss of taxpayers’ money – according to The Australian and 2GB  something between $5 and  $8 billion dollars – surely the biggest financial scandal in our nation’s history.

Aren’t the independents at all concerned about the loss of this fortune ? Aren’t they concerned that that this could be explained not just by ministerial incompetence but that there may be something illegal here? Do we have to conclude that neither could care less about this loss and the possibility of illegal conduct?

As for the NBN, of course broadband access is desirable. But so is roof insulation. If the government had to be involved, it should have ensured that the funds weren’t plundered, houses burnt down and people killed.

Not demanding an independent assessment of the extraordinary $43 billion proposal by the Productivity Commission demonstrates a remarkable degree of naïveté not appropriate for the robust world of politics. This blind belief in a fibre network delivered by government rather than private enterprise is baffling, particularly from Tony Windsor who has since  admitted to Malcolm Farr that he can’t use a computer.

And why have both hitherto been so quiet in registering their concern about climate change and presumably carbon emissions?

According to the Federal Parliament’s Register of Members’ Interests, Mr. Windsor recently sold his family farm property Cintra to Werris Creek Coal Pty Limited for more than $4.6 million and then leased the property back.

Writing in in The Northern Daily Leader on 17 July, Simon Chamberlain says that Mr Windsor had been hitherto conducting a long-running and highly vocal campaign against coal mining on the Liverpool Plains. The reporter said he had tried to contact Mr Windsor for a comment but he did not return the call.

So will the coal mine on Mr. Windsor’s farm be carbon free?

Rob Oakeshott (who says he went into the Federal Parliament because of me) says he is also concerned about climate change. He favours a series of left wing policies on such matters as illegal immigrants or asylum seekers, and on a carbon price.

When he was questioned about this by 2GB’s Ray Hadley, he seemed uneasy and claimed all these policies were on his website. The implication was the voters of Lyne were on notice. But if his policies are on his site , they are difficult to find.

Add to this criticism of a certain elitism and inattention to his duties. Anita Quigley refers to a $160,000 refit of his electoral office moving from the main street and constituents to a business park, absence from almost 15 per cent of sitting days and usually skipping any Friday sittings.

Unlike the two NSW independents, everyone knows where Bob Katter’ stands. He asks why, when it comes to agriculture, we are almost alone in the world in our pristine adherence to the universally agreed principles of free trade which our trading partners ignore. He deserves an answer.

There is one policy on which the two should have joined Bob Katter. This was brought out in the Peter Spencer case, the farmer who went on a hunger strike to get his case into court. This is only one of many examples of governments effectively stealing peoples’ property by making it useless.

The cases included the Aboriginal people of North Queensland, whom Bob Katter is already championing. They are the victims of a Labor deal with city based Greens to obtain their preferences in the re-election of the Queensland government. In return the Greens were delivered what they dream of – North Queensland must not be developed.  The Greens can drive around in the four wheel drives and air condition their large homes. But they are not prepared to allow the Aboriginal people to aspire to similar comfort.

It’s all very well mindlessly reciting every morning before Prayers in Parliament an empty formula about recognizing the traditional owners. Why not recognise the existing legal rights of Aborigines?

The independents should have seized the moment to require fundamental reforms about the way we are governed. They could start with the introduction of a good dollop of direct democracy. They didn’t. They were won over pork barrelling, keeping their seats, blind faith in the socialist model for broadband and the possibility of a cabinet appointment.