Parliament will be Brutal
There are indications that politicians who have been socially isolated are likely to go a bit stir crazy when Parliament sits tomorrow. Independent senators like Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick are clearly suffering from limelight deprivation and want to create a new senate committee to oversee the Government’s coronavirus response. At the same time, the Opposition is likely to push for amendments to the ‘Jobkeeper’ legislation, which the Government will resist. All of this will occur in a context where the Government wants to get the legislation through both houses in a day.
The push for a senate committee to ride shotgun on the Government’s coronavirus policies has the support of Labor and the Greens. The objective of the committee would be to second guess the policy approach of the Government. Senator Lambie told the ABC on Tuesday that the committee should have the power to call ministers and public servants to account for their decisions.
While the idea of having a parliamentary group to monitor the actions of the executive has some appeal there is also the possibility that in a situation that requires day to day responses, interfering in the work of the bureaucracy and ministers could be counter-productive. At the moment ministers have been very open with the public who are being overwhelmed with information.
Another problem is that the policies are being determined by the National Cabinet. This means that the states are as involved in determining policy as the Commonwealth. A senate committee can review the Morrison Government’s actions but not those of the states and an oversight committee could risk over-reach.
Whether the committee gets up depends on Pauline Hanson and her One Nation colleagues. She hasn’t indicated what her position will be.
As far as the ‘Jobkeeper’ legislation is concerned, Labor is pressing for two sets of amendments. The first change is to delete the amendment to the Fair Work Act that will allow a blanket variation to awards to enable the $1500 wage subsidy to be paid. Labor prefers this to be achieved through the variation of awards and enterprise bargaining agreements. The Government is opposed to this and has negotiated an alternative with the ACTU. This allows disputes to be taken for arbitration by the Fair Work Commission if unions perceive that workers are being exploited.
The second contentious issue is the exclusion from Jobkeeper payments of casuals who have not been employed for 12 months by a single employer. ‘The Australian’ carried a story on Tuesday that these casuals would be included at a cost of $6 billion. However, the Government was quick to circle the wagons and reject any prospect of the amendment getting up.
Labor is likely to push the line that this means that many people are being unfairly punished even though they are eligible for the jobseeker allowance which has benefits that are not open to people on Jobkeeper payments, including rent allowances and increased family tax benefits.
Labor has indicated that if their amendments do not get up, they will pass the legislation so that the $130 billion worth of payments can start to flow. The legislation will not be perfect but it will make a significant contribution to sustaining the economy.
Nevertheless, it is a ‘lay down misère’ that there will be a gallery of politicians competing to get themselves on the six o’clock news.