Thursday, June 25, 2009

Government Grinds To A Halt

While we have all been distracted by the escalating drama in Canberra over a fraudulent email, a borrowed ute, and claims of corruption and intrigue, something else bizarre has been happening right beneath our noses. The New South Wales government is grinding to a halt. You might not think that is anything new, given the track record of the state government making announcements, commencing feasibility studies, outlaying piles of money, and then either abandoning plans such as the North West Metro, or witnessing them fall apart like the T-Card electronic ticketing fiasco, which is still subject to legal action in an attempt to recover around $100 million of taxpayers’ money. But no, this is not just the ordinary everyday run of the mill New South Wales government stuff up. This time the government has actually come to a brick wall.

All government legislation must pass the upper house, the Legislative Council, before it becomes law. Unfortunately for the government they do not have the majority in their own right in the Legislative Council, but must rely on support from among the Greens, the Christian Democrats, the Shooters Party, the independents, or even the opposition in order to stay in business. Now you might have heard about a rather controversial proposal from the Shooters Party to allow hunting in National Parks on the grounds that private hunters could help to keep feral pests under control. The greens are opposed to the idea, and after debate in Cabinet so is the government. But it has been reported that Treasurer Eric Roozendaal wanted to support the hunting bill to ensure the Shooters Party support for key budget measures such as the privatization of New South Wales Lotteries.

Having chosen not to support the Shooters Party bill for hunting in national parks, the government now finds itself in the embarrassing situation where nothing it puts up in the upper house is getting through either. Ironically, the Shooters have sided with the Greens to block more or less everything the government puts forward, including especially the sale of the Lotteries, leaving a $500 million hole in the Treasurer’s budget. Once it became clear that nothing the government put forward was getting through, something extra-ordinary occurred. The only Minister in the Council at the time, Police Minister Tony Kelly, moved that the house be adjourned for the winter break, but did not proceed to a vote. Instead, he apparently just walked out.

Effectively, this seems to have left the Council suspended in a political limbo where it is neither sitting, nor officially adjourned. Government legislation remains unconsidered, not debated, and not voted upon. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “this is believed to be the first time since the Legislative Council was established in 1823 that the Government of the day has left the chamber, causing business to be suspended.” As a result, it is quite literally true that government in New South Wales has ground to a halt.

Of course, with the track record of this government it might be hard for anyone to actually notice the difference.

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