OP-ED: Parliamentary System Education Needed

Thursday 6 August 2020, The Examiner



Recent elections in Huon and Rosevears have raised once again the relevance of the Legislative Council. With party members taking bot seats, it raises questions as to the working of the Legislative Council or upper house of Parliament. My comments with regard to party affiliation in the upper house are no reflection on those party members elected.

All six current party members – two Liberal and four Labor – are excellent members and all could have been elected as independents in their own right, had they chosen to stand as such. While I don’t personally know Bastian Seidel, I am sure he would be a worthy member, and the same can be said for Jo Palmer, another candidate who would make an excellent advocate and member of our community. All people who stand for any public position should be applauded, as to bare your soul and put yourself up for acceptance or rejection is not easy.

Every candidate in the Huon and Rosevears electorates have worked extremely hard and should be proud of their efforts, but losing is never easy. I know, as I will never forget losing the 2009 City of Launceston mayoral election by three votes after five recounts. It is a hard pill to swallow, but you move on and say to yourself “it was never meant to be”.

Our Tasmanian upper house up until now has been the only house of Parliament in the Commonwealth, and possibly the world, with a majority of independent members, which makes it a truly genuine house of review. Where my concern lies is in the reviewing of legislation forwarded to us from the House of Assembly. With the exception of bills such as voluntary assisted dying, where party members will have a conscience vote, an independent member has the ability to scrutinize the legislation, seek the opinion of their community, research the matter at hand and vote accordingly.

Party members on the other hand, must vote according to the will of their party. This clearly prevents adequate scrutiny. With any bill of Government, the Government members will obviously support and on many occasions, unless there has been support in the House of Assembly their party, the opposition members will likely oppose. If we end up with eight party members, it will be the first time that party numbers will outnumber independents. This also limits debate on the floor of the Parliament as it is usual for one party member to have carriage of the bill, meaning for example in the case of the Labor Party if they have five members, it is likely only one will speak. In single-member electorates, it is important that the view of every electorate is represented on the floor of the Parliament, irrespective of party politics.

I am also concerned by a Labor draft bill that proposes an increase in the Legislative Council candidate campaign spending cap from $17,000 to $30,000 and to be increased by the amount of the Hobart Consumer Price Index (as determined by the ABS) each financial year.

This clearly disadvantages independent candidates and further advantages party candidates as what an unaffiliated person in the community can afford to spend $30,000 on a campaign with no certainty of election. The $17,000 figure is a huge amount of money to spend and many people use the tried and true form of electioneering by door-knocking and being available in the community, but with a party opponent able to spend $30,000 puts most independents at a major disadvantage.

An amendment such as this could see the Tasmanian Legislative Council having a one-party majority which in turn, could make it a rubber stamp for a Government or an automatic house of opposition for a non-ruling party.

It would therefore, be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money and lose all relevance. Before I entered council and then Parliament, as a mum with four children, I took very little interest in politics. It was quite low on my radar, and at voting time, we would scan the brochures and often voted for the person as opposed to a party. As a child, my father was staunch Labor, stating they were for the working man and I believe my mother was a swinging voter. When I was at school, I don’t recall any lessons on politics and while I appreciate now that some schools do not visit the Parliament, perhaps there needs to be more education in schools as to our Parliamentary systems and the workings of both chambers, as effective houses of Parliament are essential for good governance.

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC

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