WITH the start of the new financial year came also the one-year anniversary of the Government’s stronghold on the Senate.

  Its 12-month one-seat majority has led to accusations that John Howard’s Coalition is drunk with power.

  Opposition and minor parties have accused the Government of abusing its majority and undoing the democratic process with its newfound control of the Upper House.

  In the 12 months since the Government took control of the Senate it has only passed five non-government amendments to legislation and has embarked on a course of gagging debate and ignoring contributions from other parties.

  Senate committees have been noticeably restricted and plans are underway to reduce their number and power.

  Opposition leader in the Senate Chris Evans said the Government had systematically eroded the Senate’s capacity for scrutiny, accountability and review and had trampled on its processes.

  “Just days before he took control of the Senate, John Howard promised that his would be a ‘modest, even humble’ use of his Upper House majority,” Senator Evans said.

  “In the year since he made those remarks, nothing could be further from the truth. John Howard’s use of numbers in the Senate has been anything but humble.

  “Humility has been replaced by arrogance and a Government convinced of its own perfection.”

  They didn’t make him Emperor

ad used the past year to show contempt for the Parliament and democracy.

  “The Australian public gave John Howard a Senate majority, they didn’t make him emperor,” Senator Brown said.

  “Mr Howard has rejected 427 non-government amendments this year alone.”

  But Government leader in the Senate, Nick Minchin said the Upper House remained a robust forum of inquiry even with the Government holding a one-seat majority.

  “Any objective analysis of the Senate over the last year shows the Government’s majority has in no way diminished the Senate’s relevance or rigour,” he said.

  But over the last 12 months the Government has forced its agenda by gagging debate and using the guillotine to ram through legislation like the full sale of Telstra, IR reform and voluntary student unionism.

  Contentious electoral reform bills allowing anonymous political donations up to $10,000, but making it harder to enrol to vote, were rushed through unamended.

  Amendments to legislation such as welfare to work were dismissed out of hand.

  Many Senate inquiries have been restricted to Canberra-based hearings only, with limited investigation and reduced public input.

  The Government would not permit a Senate inquiry into the AWB scandal and even refused to allow questions about it during estimates hearings.

  It now plans to axe the number of Senate committees from 16 to 10 and insist that they are all chaired by Government senators.

Chris Johnson, in Canberra

  “Just days before he took control of the Senate, John Howard promised that his would be a ‘modest, even humble’ use of his Upper House majority,” Senator Evans said.  “In the year since he made those remarks, nothing could be further from the truth. John Howard’s use of numbers in the Senate has been anything but humble.  “Humility has been replaced by arrogance and a Government convinced of its own perfection.”

“The Australian public gave John Howard a Senate majority, they didn’t make him emperor,” Senator Brown said.