ABC News Weekend Breakfast - 20th March 2016

Presenter: Parliament has officially risen for the autumn break after a tumultuous

week punctuated by a marathon debating session in the Senate where reforms limiting the powers of micro parties were eventually passed.

Meanwhile in Queensland voters appear to have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a plan to extend parliamentary limits to four years.

Let’s get more we and we’re joined via web cam by Senator Ian Macdonald from the Liberal Party.

Senator Macdonald thanks very much for joining us on this Sunday and I wanted to first start in Queensland, where you are obviously and it appears that that referendum is going to get up allowing essentially 4 year terms, 4 year fixed terms in Queensland State Governments. Is that a good thing?

Senator Macdonald:  I think it is a good thing. I voted for it, but I do think we need some certainty and I am one that’s always thought that a 3 year term is a little bit too short to get good government so I am hopeful that it does get across the line and we do have fixed date, 4 year elections.

Presenter: Ok, that brings Queensland essentially in line with the rest of the country. Is it time then for 4 year fixed terms federally?

Senator Macdonald: Well I think it should for the same reason; of course the sticking point there is that Senators might have to go to an 8 year term.  And whilst I jokingly say I would very much be in favour of that, I’m not sure that the public want to have any politician elected for 8 years.

Presenter: Part of the opposition in Queensland has been is that clearly there is no upper house for additional checks, but the argument being if there’s a bad government then essentially you’re stuck with it for 4 years. Would that be a problem? Would those who are opposed to 4 year fixed terms federally would that be their selling point?

Senator Macdonald: Well of course federally there is a upper house and rarely does the Government of the day absolutely control the upper house.  And even when the Government does, Senators, particularly from our side of the fence who can cross the floor, do in fact exercise that role to cross the floor where they think the interests of their State, or their constituents are being trampled on by the executive Government. So I don’t see the same sort of concerns with the Federal parliament going to a 4 year term.

Presenter: Well as you point out there is certainly a upper house, federally, you are sitting in that house, how would you describe what went on in the past week particularly on Thursday and Friday with that endless debate?   

Senator Macdonald: Well it was really very, very childish behaviour by the Labor party. Everyone knew at the beginning of the debate how it was going to end.  The arguments that were put up during that marathon session wouldn’t have convinced anyone to change their mind.  They were very, very shallow arguments and it was just a childish exercise that for some reason the Labor party wanted to apparently keep us all there, deprive us of sleep for a 36 hour session. What that achieved, I can’t work out. The actual result, as I say, was preordained.  It’s a good result, it does mean that the voters will actually choose who they want to represent them in the Senate and not have some backroom party boys or girls doing that. Sso the legislation I think is something the Australian public demanded after the last election, it’s eventually come in and I think that’s a good thing for Australia and I think 98% of Australians think it’s also a very, very good move.

Presenter: Well of course some of the crossbenchers disagree, Bob Day is one and he is actually looking at a High Court challenge, he is going to launch that on Monday. Does he have any grounds, do you believe?

Senator Macdonald: Well look, I don’t think so and Andrew you might recall immediately following the last election there was an across the board, there was real anger that suddenly the Federal Parliament was going to be held to ransom by a couple of senators from Tasmania, from Victoria who got a very, very  low proportion, in Victoria less than 1% of the vote in Victoria and yet one or two of those people can really effect the direction of Australia.   

The Government at the election, which ever election, the Government gets a majority in the lower house.  It gets that majority so it can implement its program and then to have that thwarted by people who are really elected by no one is just not democracy.  It’s not the Australian way, and the Australian people after the last election demanded that we do something about it. We’ve eventually done it and I think there are no grounds for opposing that and for a High Court challenge. It’s of course Senator Day’s right to do that.  Senator Day is very reasonable and one of the good crossbench Senators.  I’m sorry he is doing that but that’s his right. But I can’t see it getting very far.        

Presenter: The expectation is that this will pave the way for an early election, a double dissolution. Is that your belief?

Senator Macdonald:  Look that’s a hard one for me.  I mean the recognised wisdom is that there will be an election on the 2ndJuly; there are a few technical issues yet to be addressed. I hope that there wouldn’t be a cause for a double dissolution, in that the crossbenchers would again, I think, respond to what Australians want and that is to do something about the Building and Construction Commission, so that some of those rogue unions, some of those bullies and thugs could be brought into line with that ABCC Act. If that were to pass, if the crossbenchers, there is only one or two holding out as I understand it, but if the crossbenchers were to allow that to pass it would seem that there would be no point for a double dissolution.  If that doesn’t happen I think we may well be going to the polls early and for a full election of both houses.

Presenter: But does it make sense in your view to go to an early election? Particularly from Malcom Turnbull’s point of view, so he can clear the decks and then embark on his own agenda?

Senator Macdonald: Well look, I can well appreciate that Malcolm would like get a    imprimatur for his own agenda and for his own Prime Ministership but of course that is going to happen whether it is in July, August or September so what one or two months, what the difference is, I am not quite sure.

Presenter: Well he is being criticised that nothing is happening at the moment and there’s policy inertia

Senator Macdonald: Well that’s simply not correct.  I mean there have been a number of legislative happenings in the last couple of weeks. A hell of a lot of bills have been passed.  The voting one which we spoke about before, perhaps the most significant, there are a number of issues in the pipeline. I think Malcom Turnbull is making his stamp.  He’s got a different style, the people of Australia have obviously warmed to that and I don’t think anything else needs to be done to allow the public to see that Malcom Turnbull is leading the coalition at the moment. Any Government that is elected with the coalition in charge will be Malcom Turnbull’s and we can move forward from there.

Presenter: Senator one issue that has caused significant divisions within the coalition has been that of Safe Schools there has been late last week a review was announced. Victoria has decided to ignore that, they’re going on their own. What point of view do you have on this? Did it make sense for this review, should it be scrapped, should they start again?

Senator Macdonald: As I understand the issue it’s really a question of what parents of children want their children to be involved in at school and to me that seems to be a very reasonable proposition, that parents should have some say in what their children are learning about, and the approach that is given to their education. I can’t see anything wrong with that and my understanding of what is happening from a Federal level is that will be cemented.  If the Victorian Government seems to think that Big Brother in Government has a better idea of what children should learn than their parents, well then that’s I guess a matter for the Victorian people at the next election. But I think again most Australians would think that really parents should have the major say in how their children are raised and what their education involves.

Presenter: Senator Ian Macdonald thanks very much for your time.

Senator Macdonald: That’s my pleasure.      

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