REPORTS that Malcolm Turnbull has threatened a double dissolution if bills to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and stymie lawless unions are defeated is welcome; there is no justifiable rationale for unions to be exempt from standards enforced upon the business sector. If the Senate refuses to pass enabling legislation yet again this month, elections for both Houses of Parliament are the only appropriate response.
The Murdoch titles are carrying a story this morning that details a threat by the Turnbull government to call elections for both Houses of Parliament, if legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and accompanying Registered Organisations laws — already voted down by the Senate — are again defeated when they are reintroduced to federal Parliament this month; this column not only approves, but encourages the Prime Minister to take such a step in the best interests of restoring responsible government in Australia.
I’m not going to speak at great length on this today, for so much of the ground where union thuggery and bastardry, the culture of lawlessness and entitlement revealed by the Heydon Royal Commission at certain unions, and the plethora of accusations that that inquiry was a witch hunt has already been well and truly covered.
The two key issues here are the refusal of supposedly responsible members of Parliament to take steps to stamp out criminal behaviour on the one hand; and the entrenched dysfunction of an elected government, serially and systematically frustrated by a deeply hostile Senate, on the other.
The reasons for the ALP (and the
Communist Party Greens) for frustrating attempts to clean up the union movement are obvious enough; Trades Hall not only pours millions of dollars into these parties every year — and the Greens are on that particular gravy train, much to Labor’s chagrin — but is increasingly the main source of candidates, training and extra-parliamentary resources for a party that has correspondingly declined into a shell of its once-proud past, and which is dependent on union money to even continue to exist.
The reasons for crossbench obfuscation are less clear-cut, albeit nonetheless partisan; as the Daily Telegraph notes, Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus — elected to the Senate on Clive Palmer’s ticket, which time has shown had no real objective beyond trying to destroy the Coalition if it won office — are simply doing what was printed on the packet they came in, although in Lambie’s case, her wont to make everything and anything conditional on ridiculous demands merely underlines the point.
Yet in any case, Senators Lambie, Lazarus, Palmer stooge Ricky Muir and DLP traitor John Madigan have all confirmed they will vote the bills down: and that’s enough, in cohort with Labor and the Greens, to ensure they are defeated.
I think it’s entirely reasonable for the government to refuse to allow the ALP and the Greens, who both benefit financially the union movement, to peruse the secret sections of Heydon’s final report containing identifying information of witnesses who were instrumental in enabling the Commission to uncover the pattern of wrongdoing at certain unions that it did; to me, the only possible reason the ALP in particular could have in seeking access to those sections is to pass the identities of witnesses along to union enforcers for “further action” — something that obviously ought to be avoided at all costs.
To be frank, hearing on Melbourne radio station 3AW yesterday that the crossbench Senators would gain access to the secret portions of the report — unredacted — was a cause for alarm: the idea that all six of them could resist being “leaned on” by ALP or union heavies to reveal the contents is one leap of faith too far.
And remember, some of the unions adversely named in the report have a long history of wanton violence when it comes to doing “business.”
The justifications and excuses offered up by both the ALP and its masters at Trades Hall for ignoring the Heydon inquiry’s findings simply do not cut any ice; significant evidence of widespread wrongdoing was uncovered, and a string of consequent prosecutions that will grow longer in coming months is already well and truly under way.
Dyson Heydon’s inquiry looked at only six unions out of scores of them by virtue of its terms of reference. It is implausible at best and inconceivable at worst that the same disregard for the law and entitled mentality as has been shown at those six are not present, to varying degrees, at the rest.
Since when has it been an ideological sycophancy to insist all people and organisations in this country obey the law? At root, this is effectively what those who oppose the unions being held to account and subjected to rigorous scrutiny in future are suggesting. And those Senators who vote these bills down again are, in practical effect, sanctioning and encouraging lawless behaviour.
It isn’t on, and — not least because all of this was a Liberal Party election commitment in 2013, and thus mandated — if the laws aren’t passed this time, Malcolm Turnbull is well within his rights to use that rejection as a trigger to seek and obtain a dissolution of Parliament.
But there’s another issue here: a virtual deadlock between the Houses of Parliament.
Some on the Left will object to me describing it as such, but the only way to get legislation through the current Senate is to agree to amendments that so mangle and bastardise bills as to render them unrecognisable; the Abbott government learned this the hard way when it foolishly opted to deal with Clive Palmer, and saw bills that were supposed to realise savings to the budget passed in such form as to actually compound the revenue shortfall bequeathed to it by Labor.
Some on all sides are being honest about it and some are still parking their heads up their backsides to evade the admission, but there is a budget and debt crisis in this country that will, if left unchecked, seriously diminish living standards as soon as next decade, and lead to permanent and significant hikes in overall taxation just to pay for the damage of the past ten years: the extra monies collected won’t go to trendy social spending measures, or to pay for new infrastructure; they will be rigidly earmarked to pay the price for allowing the federal budget to descend into a structural abyss.
The Coalition has at least tried — even if, under Abbott, its methods and targets were utterly misdirected — to fix this problem.
Yet once again, the Senate — perhaps the most hostile Senate ever faced by an elected government, and I say that knowing that some will mutter “1975” under their breath as I do — has obscenely passed bills that increase spending on individual items but steadfastly refused to pass anything that cuts it to push the overall budget back toward the black.
I have long believed that governments should be entitled to govern; just as I have long believed that the Senate — far from delusionally naive conceptions of it as a “States’ House” or as a “House of Review” — has been so distorted by successive attempts by Labor governments in 1948 and 1984 to rig it against the conservative parties that it barely serves any useful function at all any more.
If there is to be an upper house, there must also be the prospect that in the normal course of events, a government can generally be entitled to expect to be able to govern. I don’t think it’s extreme to say that when all is said and done, this is no longer the case.
A Senate controlled by Labor and the Greens that becomes “functional” when those parties hold power, but reverts to dysfunctionality and chaos when they do not, does not retain any democratic integrity or value; yet this is exactly the intended end destination of the 1984 Hawke government reforms, which enlarged the Senate and introduced group voting tickets for the first time.
Perversely, those laws were passed with National Party support — a folly the country will forever rue until or unless the means to abolish them is identified, and used.
I’m aware that opinion polls at the moment are showing that voters are opposed to an early election. They always are. But if an election date for, say, April is announced, those objections are likely to evaporate as the question — as Bob Menzies said in 1963 — becomes one of who is to serve in government for three years, and not whether the choice should have been postponed for a few months.
And just as the Turnbull government may not improve its own Senate position at a double dissolution (which I don’t believe for an instant) there is just as much chance that it will; but either way (and ominously for the crossbench Senators) NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm hit the nail on the head with deadly precision when he noted that even if the government ended up with the same number of crossbenchers after a full Senate election, all the current ones would likely be swept away.
And the risk of not increasing the Coalition Senate tally is distinctly tempered by the prospect that a new batch of crossbenchers just might be more reasonable than the trenchantly anti-Coalition forces currently squatting in the unrepresentative upper house.
One of them got 1500 votes out of almost four million in Victoria, for crying out loud, and goes out of his way to vote down government bills at every opportunity. Enough said.
Irrespective of the bleating and excuses emanating from the conflicted ALP and Greens who are money-bound to excuse illegal union actions, there is neither the justification nor any acceptable rationale for permitting the union movement in this country to evade proper regulation and disclosure provisions of the kind that apply to business.
There is absolutely no acceptable reason for militant and often violent unions to control the economically critical building and construction sector, often flouting the law at will, disregarding any attempt to bring the miscreants in their midst to justice, and costing the country billions of dollars each year through inefficient and featherbedded industrial practices that sit counter to both the letter and the spirit of various laws — as Heydon has also demonstrated.
Should the Senate now move to vote down one final attempt to restore the ABCC and to torpedo the Registered Organisations bills — providing the government with new triggers to call a double dissolution — capitulation, and abandoning these worthy measures in the face of sabotage by apologists for criminal anarchy, cannot and must not be an option.
In response to the expected show of belligerent defiance over these matters by the Senate, the only appropriate course for the Turnbull government to take in those circumstances would be to advise a dissolution of both Hoses of Parliament ahead of elections for both.
This column endorses and supports any move by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to seek a double dissolution and to fight it on the issues of union lawlessness and criminality.
We will put it succinctly: bring it on.