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Issue No. 292 02 December 2005  

A Free Vote
This week’s charade of the Senate amending the Howard Government’s workplace laws raises fundamental questions about the sort of democracy Australia has become.


Interview: The Binds That Tie
Dr Don Edgar has demolished the Prime Minister's credentials as a family man.

Unions: Worth Cycling For
Pedal power joined the Your Rights At Work campaign on a 350km journey to take a message to Canberra’s politicians, wrties Phil Doyle.

Industrial: The Elephant in the Corner
Jim Marr takes a look at what the government has secreted away in the WorkChoices package, revealing what is really at stake - and what can be done about it.

Legal: A Law Unto Themselves
In this extract from the Evatt Foundation's 'State of the States' Jeff Shaw & Monika Ciolek look at the constitutional issues rasied by WorkChoices.

Politics: Ethically Lonely
At a forum in the Australian Stock Exchange sponsored by big end of town solicitors, you would expect at least one person to be in favour of John Howard’s industrial relations laws, wrties Rachael Osman-Chin.

History: Women, Unions, Banners and Parades
Trade union banners reveal more about union history than their male designers and makers intended, writes Neale Towart.

Women: Relaxed and Comfortable?
Suzanne Hammond from WEL argues there are many hidden nasties in WorkChoices for working women.

International: The Last Social Democrat
A trade union leader's victory marks beginning of class politics in Israel, wrties Eric Lee

Review: The Corpse Bride
Come to a world where decay, loss and broken dreams are everywhere - and it's not the Federal Senate.

Culture: Tony Moore Holds His Own
In his new book, Tony Moore argues that today's generation of political leaders has much to learn from Bazza McKenzie.


 Read His Lips: WorkChoices Too Much

 Joyce A Christmas Goose

 Workers Leave Boss in Tool Shed

 Costello Chokes On Asbestos Compo

 Telstra Hangs Up on Former Staff

 Bank Check on Bras

 Bill of Work Rights on Agenda

 Funny Film - Scary Message

 Sign Of the Times

 Unions Chip In for Lauren

 Company Raids Own Ship

 Activist's What's On!


The Soapbox
Whitefellas - You Just Can’t Trust ‘Em.
Racial stereotyping is a bad business. That said, Graham Ring has discovered a segment of society that drinks too much, behaves unreliably and can’t seem to adapt to change. Sadly, the conclusion is inescapable…

The Locker Room
Phil Doyle slices one into the car park.

The Westie Wing
Ian West makes a midnight dash to Workers Online, slides his State political report under the door, then heads back to the Macquarie Street Chamber of Horrors…

 Million Mum March
 Pension Pinching
 John Bares All
 Radicalising Yoof
 Tom A World Away
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A Free Vote

This week’s charade of the Senate amending the Howard Government’s workplace laws raises fundamental questions about the sort of democracy Australia has become.

The PM's ideological obsession is old news. Barnaby's buffoonery and ultimate back down was to be predicted and the Opposition parties' outrage, while well-executed, was never going to change anything.

What has been more striking are flaws in our system of government that have been exposed, the failure of our democratic structures to fulfil the basic roles they were created for.

When a 700 page Act has a six day Senate Inquiry and then when the Senate has just two days to deal with more than 300 government-sponsored amendments, any pretence to being a House of Review should be dispensed with.

Of course, we are in an unusual moment in our nation's politics - never before has such an extremist and ideologically driven administration had control of both Houses. However, it does expose as farcical the alleged separation of legislative and executive power.

In the current circumstances, the Federal ALP are - along with the workers of Australia - the victims of this convergence of political and corporate power. But in many ways it is also one of the architects of the system.

Why is it that in countries with comparable democracies, like the United Kingdom, a Prime Minister who over-steps can be rolled by his own party inside the Parliament and still survive? The situation is even more stark in the USA.

It comes down to Australia's rigid notions of Caucus solidarity - the locking in of votes in the party room before elected representatives get the opportunity to exercise their vote on behalf of their constituents.

This principle goes to the way our parties operate and to the sort of people who are elevated into the parliament. Many are compliant yes-people who know that loyalty is their core job requirement and key performance indicator.

Sadly, the last vestige of independence are in the 'wet' Liberals, throw-backs to the time when the Coalition was not dominated by neo-conservatives.

We have seen how dissent within the party room has shifted the PM on sedition. Judi Moylan's statements on Welfare to Work are a rare voice of criticism on an issue of social policy. But even here, abstaining from voting is as far as political dissent in this country seems to go - an exercise in pure futility.

There are obvious dangers in freeing up politicians to think and vote on issues on their merit - but there are even greater dangers in the current situation that vests so much power in the Prime Minister.

In America, where individuals have more discretion to vote across party lines, the system is corrupted by big business, election funding, lobbyists and interest groups that have captured the process. But learning from this experience and enacting strong campaign funding laws could create a different sort of independent voice in Australia.

There is also the reality that an independent legislature makes the task of governing that much more difficult - but if we really want a dictatorship why go through the charade of elections?

Freeing up individual MPs to vote on the basis of their conscience would be a radical step, but it may just be the fillip the major parties need as more and more people turn to minor parties, independents, or worse still, turn off politics altogether.

It's a bold step and one not without short term pain, but a party with the faith in its internal workings to choose the sort of representatives who would use this freedom wsiely would give politics in Australia the sort of shake-up it has need for a long time.

Would the public see this as a rabble? It's a risk - but my bet is that the sound of politicians being themselves and standing for what they believe in, even when it runs contrary to the party line, may be music to their ears.

Peter Lewis



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