Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Working for Change

The WorkCover reforms were passed through the Lower House yesterday, and I understand that they are presently before the Upper House.

I'm going to leave the merits of the changes to other people, or at the very least to another blogpost. They are designed to reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and inevitably people are going to disagree about the sacrifices made to allow that to occur.

I think most people would agree that the system is, to use O'Farrell's words, in "dire financial straits" - but there is a predictable difference as to who should suffer as a result - injured workers, or corporations?

The Right's position is not without merit - NSW exists in a country-wide and, indeed, a global market for investment. If the price of business is too high, business will head elsewhere, which will mean less jobs for the very people who are the "victims" of these changes.

But I haven't read or properly understood the legislation yet, so that's really all I can say. Which brings me neatly to what I did actually want to write about - the way that the legislation was passed.
First of all, it should be said that the changes did not suddenly appear right out of the blue. A Joint Committee has been sitting to evaluate the present position.
As indicated, a report was prepared and tabled on 13 June, some 6 days before the legislation was made available.
The committee was asked to review the scheme and consider both the performance of the scheme in protecting workers, but also the financial stability of the scheme.

The committee reccommended 27 reforms, which range from abolishing journey claims (recommendation 3), abolishing the right for family members to claim for nervous shock (recommendation 4) and increasing the thresholds for permanent impairment lump sums (recommendation 20).

Yesterday (19 June 2012), the daily schedule had this planned for the afternoon:
Around lunchtime, my Twitter timeline was flooded with complaints about the new Workcover bill that had thumped onto desks all over parliament house, along with the news that it would be debated and voted on that very afternoon.

During Question Time, several Dixers were lobbed at the Government in relation to the proposed changes to Workcover.
As best I am able to tell, the bills were tabled in the house at approximately this time.

Then, at just after 3 o'clock, this happened:
Naturally enough, the motion to suspend orders passed easily, and at 4:23 the debate commenced.

Robertson delivered the first response following the 2nd reading speech, and immediately described the move as the government seeking to "ram this legislation through the House in a mad flurry before the rising of the House for the winter recess."

After hours of debate on the bill, at 10:44 Andrew Stoner moved the following:
As I said, I don't want to get into the merits of the bill. What I do want to comment on is the way that the government was able to "ram through" the legislation.

In a time where party unity is everything and where a Coalition member crossing the floor to vote for the other side would be sheer political suicide, what exactly does the debate accomplish?  The bill was always going to pass.  There was not a single person in the chamber, I would suggest, sitting there with an open mind. 

In those circumstances, the only benefit that could be gained by delaying a vote and prolonging the process is that the Left would have had more time to pontificate about why they are opposed to the bill.

This all comes back a nagging frustration with our present system - the manner in which parties routinely and almost without exception vote as a unified block means that whatever the government wants from the Lower House, the government gets.

It forces one to wonder what the point of having a Lower House is, to be honest. This is not a unique reflection - the present voting pattern is hardly anything new. It's one of the reasons that I would be very happy if NSW had a minority government (as it did after the 1991 election) - we might actually see some real back and forth between the various parties about what is actually good for the state.

True it is that the Upper House tempers the power of the party in control of the Lower House.  But it shouldn't have to, at least not to the same extent. In any event, the fact that Guns and Moses (The Shooters and the Christian Democrats, for those not in the know) align so closely with the O'Farrell government means that there is seldom any drama or intrigue in the lead-up to the vote.

Is there is a solution to this issue? I doubt it. Our present voting system (in particular, compulsory voting) is geared towards maintaining the power of the two major parties (or, at least, the Coalition and Labor).  Until the Greens grow to the point where they can hold the balance of power in both houses, or until the Coalition fractures, that appears unlikely to change.

But it's enough to make one despondent. Moreover, it's enough to make you say "Rammed through? Like more debate would have made any difference anyway."


No comments:

Post a Comment