The wheels are falling off the Government as Parliament winds down for Christmas. Both Coalition Government and Labor Opposition should consider a comment made by Pauline Hanson, who has asserted her authority with a sorely needed dose of common sense.
After Pauline torpedoed the Government’s union-bashing legislation and gave Matthias Cormann a severe dose of indigestion, she said her vote had been influenced by the latest revelation from the banks. Her comment rings true. In effect she was acknowledging that Australia is facing deep-seated, deadly serious problems and trade union power is not one of them.
Neither is religion. It is a matter of priorities. At about the same time as his union-bashing strategy fell apart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison withdrew the Government’s draft religious discrimination legislation and sent it back to the drawing board. Religious freedom in Australia is guaranteed under Section 116 of our Constitution. The Government is trying to solve a problem that does not exist and is therefore insoluble.
The rejected draft has its origins in the unwillingness of a small minority in some Church groups to accept the majority decision on same sex marriage. Marriage is none of the Church’s business. It is a legal contract administered in Australia under the Commonwealth Marriage Act. Marriage is fundamentally about property, clarifying issues of inheritance and succession. This was always the case, going way back before the time of Christ. Marriage is about law and order.
The few people who marry in Churches in Australia sign exactly the same legal contract signed by the vast majority of newlyweds who marry in their back yards, in the municipal rose garden or on the beach. There are many areas in contemporary Australian society where the Church can play a useful role. The sex and marriage business is not of them and it is time for Israel Folau and Margaret Court to relax, be calm and peaceful and grow up.
When couples of the same sex wish to be ;married in a Church they are likely to be members of the congregation and the arrangements should be made at the local parish level. I understand this is the practice in the Uniting Church. Politicians and prelates farting around in the farm yard chasing redneck votes are unlikely to improve outcomes.
That brings us back to Pauline, the banks and priorities. There are two massive elephants in the Parliamentary court yard and if we are not going to be trampled by them we need to tone down the petty divisions in our politics. The big ones are the unruly mammoth known as the world economy and the clash of the titans between China and the United States of America.
Nobody is suggesting we have enough brains and talent in our Parliament to deal with these issues but it is possible for the Parliament to play a constructive role. This will not happen in the House of Representatives, which has degenerated into a boring wrestling arena. Question time in the Reps reminds us of a movie called Planet of the Apes, although the apes are more reasonable and better mannered.
We look to the Senate for leadership and the rejection of the Government’s union-bashing legislation is an example of what can be achieved when Opposition, minor parties and Independents work together to call out Government trouble-making. The Senate can extend the use of expert committees, inviting people from outside the political system to speak in public sessions, thus playing an educational role for the nation.
Jerry Roberts is a former parliamentary reporter and a member of the ALP.