Ronald Thwaites | Let's get real!
It took us an hour in the House of Representatives last week to decide who can ask questions and when (or really, if) they should be answered. Everybody was vexed with each other, weary of the futility of the reciprocal mocking or had left the chamber to do more important things.
The Government, whether out of defensiveness or hubris, tries to protect ministers (especially Tufton) from the robust questioning that should be subject only to the presiding officer's judgement on relevance and repetition.
The speaker, quite unlike his predecessor, has no correction for members of his own political side, reserving his bromides for the Opposition, while couching some of his language in unconvincing admonition of "all members". The Standing Orders are archaic, but I doubt if the committee tasked with reviewing and renewing them has met for many a year. In the event, most questions remain long unanswered and motions not debated.
So broken is the system that after weeks, now dragging into months of obstinacy over who should chair, and after the matter was reportedly canvassed at Vale Royal, the standing committees of the House still have not been constituted. Clearly, the public doesn't care or else they and the press would rise up against this weakening of democratic governance that thrives only on mutual respect and sturdy checks and balances.
Each week, the clerk announces the tabling of reports, sometimes several years in arrears, from public agencies and companies. You used to get a printed copy often filled with glossy self-promotion, but nowadays available only on Parliament's website or in the library, which none of us bother to visit.
These reports are the only public accounting for billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and the assessment of significant state functions, yet they receive no systematic review and so the public bodies can continue to function at the whim of a minister or as virtual laws unto themselves.
This is both dangerous and irresponsible. Routinely, these reports ought to be carefully interrogated by relevant sector committees which, in turn, would report to the whole House. We say we are committed to public-sector rationalisation even as we fail to examine whether money is being wasted and productivity forfeited.
As the Sectoral Debate drags on, providing manna for the speechwriters and overload for the press, two other issues cry out for mention. The first is the ghoulish disrespect concerning the bodies of dead infants exposed to dogs near Victoria Jubilee Lying-In. Beyond how this could have happened and who ought to take responsibility for it, there is the deep issue of contempt for the human body, temple of spirit and life from conception to natural death.
When we lose reverence for life either out of carelessness or convenience, we attack the very meaning of human society and open ourselves to the same disregard that we mete out to the vulnerable 'other'.
Then there is the onset of the yearly pseudo-ritual of 'graduation'. Grasping for recognition, uncertain of just how fearsomely we are made, we indulge in expensive poppy-show. As prosperity eludes most parents, even baby school-leaving exercises now cost $10,000, while the bigger-money vouchers for primary-school and high-school fees are already being issued, nowadays as never before, with payment being required before registration is complete.
Let's get real!
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.