Clerk of the Senate of Australia Harry Evans blasts PM John Howard's monarchy : Good-bye accountability, hullo Rodentism
What will Government control of both Chambers mean for our political culture under an autocrat like John Howard???.
Senate boss blasts PM's monarchy
By Gerard Ryle, Lisa Pryor and Mark Metherell
June 21, 2005 Sydney morning Herald
The Australian Parliament has deteriorated into a form of elective monarchy where the Prime Minister "rules all he surveys", says the most senior public servant in the Senate, Harry Evans.
In remarkably frank reaction to Herald revelations that parliamentary inquiries are being ignored by the Government, Mr Evans, the Clerk of the Senate, says it is time the public insists on better representation.
Writing in the Herald today, he argues: "We no longer have parliamentary government in any meaningful sense of the term."
On radio yesterday, Mr Evans likened John Howard to a king and said people needed to be more sophisticated about what they expected from their elected representatives. "There is in Australia an enormous concentration of power in the Prime Minister," he told 2UE. "People don't realise this, that we really have a sort of elective monarchy where, you know, you elect the monarch and [he] rules all he surveys."
While voters solidly support the Howard Government and gave it a clear majority in both houses of Parliament, Mr Evans argues that this does not give the Prime Minister the right to dictate how his MPs should vote on every issue.
Calling Parliament the weak link, he writes that Government MPs should not support it on "every note" and urges voters to demand their "elected
representatives actually represent them, and not settle for choosing between autocrats every three years".
Mr Evans has a reputation for being impartial but also a fierce defender of parliamentary process. He has been tough on Coalition and Labor governments.
Yesterday the Herald revealed that millions of taxpayers' dollars had been wasted on more than 70 parliamentary inquiries whose recommendations had been left to collect dust. Forty-six of these were Senate inquiries, some dating back to 1997.
The Government Senate leader, Robert Hill, defended its record by saying many of the upper house inquiries were designed to embarrass the Government. "In relation to proper bipartisan reports, they are taken seriously by the Government. Most have in fact been responded to, certainly not always within the very strict time limited that are required We take the task of responding to genuine parliamentary reports seriously."
However, today the Herald details how the Government has not even responded to inquiries that it has ordered - 27 of them in the House of Representatives since December 1998. It is supposed to respond within three months but some of these inquiries date back six years. They include reports on the 2003 bushfires, crime, substance abuse and salinity.
The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, said: "There's a whole range of issues which from time to time have deeply concerned and worried the Australian population and this Government has treated them all in the most cavalier fashion in its arrogance."
A coalition of community groups burnt by the inquiry process will form a watchdog group to monitor how the Federal Government responds. To be known as the Parliamentary Action Group, it will check whether it replies within three months, as it promised in 1996.
The groups met yesterday at the Ashfield Uniting Church, led by the Reverend Bill Crews of the Exodus Foundation.
But the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, said people who went to the trouble of giving evidence to committees should not think their efforts were in vain as many government policies "are subtly moderated because of the kind of evidence that parliamentary committees take". A 2003 Senate inquiry had been taken into account in the Government's "strengthening Medicare" changes.