Saturday, October 15, 2005

It's later than you think

Alan Ramsey in today's Sydney Morning Herald** draws attention to something that happened in the Australian Senate on Thursday afternoon at (allegedly) precisely 4:30 pm:

Journals of the Senate:

The Minister for Defence (Senator Hill), by leave, moved—That, upon its introduction in the House of Representatives, the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 8 November 2005.

Debate ensued.

As well it bloody might. Alan Ramsey's explanation:
[...] you have to know about the 4.30 rule. This is a piece of Senate procedure that has been in effect for many years. It is a so-called standing order that forbids a Senate vote of any kind after 4.30pm on the Thursday of any sitting week. [...] Hill made a three-minute speech in support of his announcement, offered his "regret" that there had been "very little consultation", then quickly left the chamber as angry Opposition senators castigated the Government for its "slimy" behaviour.
The effect of making the announcement at 4:30 pm on a Thursday?
What the Government is doing is killing any meaningful scrutiny of its proposed anti-terrorism measures, in alliance with state police forces, to detain people for as long as a fortnight without charge and in complete secrecy. The detail is not known. The Government has not released the legislation. Parliament has adjourned for a fortnight. It resumes sitting on Monday, October 31. The new anti-terrorism bill will go before the House that week. What Hill was signalling on Thursday was a Senate inquiry - including a written report - restricted to, at most, eight days or, effectively, three days only.
Responses included:

Senator Brown (Greens):
This is an absolutely black day for the Senate and for democracy in this nation. This is a manipulation of the rules in a snide and underhand way by a gutless minister, who has left the chamber, to totally override the democratic principles of the Senate and its review function by effectively abolishing the committee system on a major issue.
Senator Faulkner (Labor):
It is unheard of to have a situation where the Government, without any consultation, proposes a course of action such as this, with no reasons, no excuses, knowing full well [because of the cut-off rule] the question cannot be determined [by a vote] in this sitting week. The choice is, effectively, a totally inadequate inquiry or no inquiry at all.
Senator Stott Despoja (Democrats):
There seems little dignity left in this place. The Senate is clearly a farce. The process we have seen today is shameful. The Senate is treated with little respect and no courtesy, no notification, by a minister who slinks in and slinks out. Those small-"l" liberal principles, where are they right now? Today is a low day in the history of this Parliament...
Shame, Australians, shame! Where the hell are we going?

**Needs registration, or you could try bugmenot.