One of the odd provisions of our now dilapidated and ramshackle Constitution is the manner in which the composition of our Senate is mandated : each original state gets twelve senators and the mainland Territories, two each – a total of seventy six. Paul Keating once designated this esteemed group of odd balls as ‘unrepresentative swill’.
What Keating was pointing to is the way that some states perhaps have a disproportionate influence on our upper House and the wisdom emanating from the Red Chamber. For instance, Tasmania with a population of around half a million has the same Senate representation as New South Wales, with a bit over eight million, Victoria at six and a half million and Queensland around five million and so on.
So, with this clear imbalance you would be forgiven if you thought that our Senate is supporting a gerrymander : defined as ‘a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating boundaries (and populations) in such a way as to favour one group over another’.
In effect, the make up of our Senate does clearly favour the likes of Tasmania and to a lesser extent the Territories by giving their respective senators disproportionate influence. Hence the need periodically for the government of the day to ‘bribe’ certain senators to get their vote on a piece of scurrilous legislation to, for instance ban humane medical evacuation of sick and ailing refugees from remote Pacific islands – looking at you Senator Lambie !
So why do I raise this now, you may ask ? Well it was during the week when Senate Estimates were underway – a bit like a Star Chamber where senators get to ask difficult questions of public servants and others : questions like “who didn’t get a Cartier watch at Australia Post ?” or trick questions like “how much did you pay for a block of land at Badgery’s Creek valued at $3million ?”
Or as happened when Tasmania’s crazy uncle, Eric Abetz fronted up and asked three Australian citizens of Chinese heritage :
“Can I ask each of the three witnesses … to tell me whether they are willing to unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party …”
What an odd question even from uncle Eric. Can you imagine being asked in another setting whether you were prepared to unconditionally denounce and condemn the Liberal Party of Australia : the National Party not so much of an issue as nobody admits to being a supporter of the Nationals do they ?
For some reason it reminds me of the question posed of the philosopher Voltaire by a priest providing Last Rites to the dying Voltaire : “do you renounce Satan and all his works” asked the Priest. Voltaire never one to be easily tricked is said to have replied, “Father, would you not agree that this is no time to be making enemies ?”
Wisely, the three Australian Chinese undergoing questioning probably thought of Voltaire and declined to answer this nasty line of questioning.
Uncle Eric says there is nothing racist about his question and he just doesn’t want people of an Asian persuasion coming to this country and harbouring feelings of affection for the land of their birth and its political arrangements. A far as Eric is concerned, if you respect a regime that has in twenty years brought a billion people out of poverty into middle-class prosperity you are a ratbag and you should be sent ‘home’ preferably after spending ten years on one of Spud Dutton’s remote islands.
Senate Estimates is the best show in town, perhaps they could learn something from SAS and do us all a favour by pushing Uncle Eric out of a helicopter backwards : now that’s reality TV !
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