Sunday, February 15, 2009

Xenophon's US-Style Politics

The Australian Senate finally passed the Government's second economic stimulus package this week. It passed with the votes of the Greens, Sen. Steve Fielding (family First) and independent Senator Nick Xenophon (South Australia). All of these negotiated changes, but it was Senator Xenophon's insistance on a separate package to benefit just one state that has tarnished Australian politics.

While the government had reached agreement with the Greens and Senator Fielding earlier, Nick Xenophon held out for more - he wanted more money brought forward for the Murray River, specifically for SA. This legislation was separate to the stimulus package, but Senator Xenophon has introduced US-style bargaining to Australian politics, and done so effectively. Remember the first US stimulus package was changed by the US Senate late 2008 from a 1-page bill to a bill of over 1000 pages, with an explosion in the $-amount. That happened because the US elections were very near, and every Tom, Dick, Harry wanted something extra that would help them be re-elected.

Notwithstanding the need, and existing legislation, to improve the Murray River, Senator Nick Xenophon has brought that style of US-politics to Australia. He, and others, refused to pass the legislation on its merits, and the obvious need for an economic stimulus, unless he got what he wanted - the package to be brought forward. Senator Xenophon gets something for HIS state, and for HIS press-releases: it was pork-barrelling at its most blatant and vulgar - .

For its part, the Opposition wanted tax cuts - to benefit those who still have jobs - to drip money into the economy; whereas the IMF had supported an upfront cash injection, followed by spending on infrastructure, with already scheduled tax cuts in July. It had decided it would not support the economic package no matter what, and became irrelevant - their vote would not change.

This week has seen the current Opposition become even less relevant, and Australian politics has been compromised some Senators. Both these demean our democracy.