Thursday 1 December 2005
ROLE OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, 'unrepresentative swill' - now I have your attention.
Ms Thorp - That's the Senate.
Mr FINCH - That is what people like us have been called, but I suppose it was more of a piggery. We can be a Jurassic park - a house of dinosaurs. That was according to former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, although to be fair, he was referring to the Federal upper House at a time when it perhaps could be argued that the Senate was slowing down the work of a democratically elected government. I feel, Mr President, that the Tasmanian Legislative Council cannot be compared with the Senate in this way. It has many differences in contrast with upper Houses in some other States.
At a time when the South Australian Government is proposing a referendum to consider the abolition or modification of the upper House in that State, it is appropriate for us to consider our own Legislative Council, its recent record and its role at the possible end of this Parliament.
Mr FINCH - Have I heard anything? Only as much as you. Of course I declare an interest, Mr President. I could, like my fellow members, be seen as swill or a dinosaur or, perhaps, as I prefer, part of a parliamentary system that has proven itself vital to democracy in this State. I am slightly more than halfway through my first term as the member for Rosevears and I have been reflecting on the role of this House.
Mr Aird - And yourself in it.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and myself in it, and I did say 'my first term'.
Mr Aird - Oh, so you can confirm you are running again?
Mr FINCH - I can neither confirm nor deny at this time. I am learning.
Mr Aird - There'll be speculation tomorrow that you're not going to run.
Mr FINCH - I believe it is more important now than at any time in the history of elected upper Houses, Mr President. At a time when governments seem obsessed with the expediency of the Christmas rush, who else is there to slow things down and look closely at the rush of bills than an upper House of review? Who else is there to protect the public interests in the face of this seemingly hasty government legislative rush, both at Federal and State level? I will argue shortly that not only is the answer a House of review but also it is a State upper House like this one, which is a mix of party allegiances and independent political views.
Let us look at the experience in other States. Queensland abolished its upper House in the 1920s and by doing so, removed an important check which might have made unnecessary the Fitzgerald Inquiry into some of the excesses of government. Mr President, some of the early motives for the establishment of upper Houses in Australia to give land-holders some control over the new democracy were suspect. That may have been the case at the beginning here in Tasmania; however, in Tasmania's case, elections for the upper House have long been on a similar democratic basis to those of the House of Assembly. Our numbers have been rationalised and I believe we are a lean and efficient team.
Mr FINCH - Some are a little bit leaner than others; however, in the past few sessions I think we have dealt with some important legislation, we have not frustrated the Government - much - and I would argue that we have improved some of the Government's legislation. We are a healthy mixture of numerous views and political persuasions and I feel the present State Government recognises that, and our Leader has dealt with this mixture appropriately.
Of course, Mr President, what makes us effective, apart from our healthy mix, is our effective committee system. If we faced a series of referendum questions similar to those that the Legislative Council in South Australia seems likely to face in four or so years, I believe that the people of Tasmania would vote to retain their House of dinosaurs, their refugees from piggeries, or, as I see it and you probably see it, they are legislative checks and balances. All in all I think we have had a good parliamentary year and I look forward to this Legislative Council continuing to play its important role in the Tasmanian Parliament.