Rats in the Ranks: Yesterday's East-West Link 'debate' in State Legislative Council
|Inside our stately Parliament building|
What a disappointment! I've never actually attended Parliament before and woke up yesterday feeling excited at the prospect. I had rearranged my work schedule so that I could take the afternoon off to sit in the gallery and hear the debate on the scary proposed amendments to the Major Transport Project Facilitation bill in the Legislative Council, aka the Upper House.
The 'Upper' house proved upper in name only. We did climb this magnificent staircase to get there:
|Stairway to Heaven - not!|
But the behaviour of the Ministers inside couldn't have been 'lower'.
They stood chatting in groups with their backs to the speaker, wandered around the chamber, laughed derisively and called our insults to the person speaking. This sort of behaviour wasn't new to me, as I've watched the antics of Ministers in Federal Parliament on TV, so I shouldn't have been shocked. Maybe experiencing it 'live' simply made it harder to stomach. Especially as the stakes are so high for opponents of the East-West Link, and as I realised yesterday, for all those in the future opposed to environment and community-destroying projects in Victoria.
I felt particularly ashamed of our adult representatives when a group of wide-eyed primary school kids were ushered into the gallery nearby. The contrast between the impeccably-behaved children above and the rabble below couldn't have been more stark.
The farcical side intensified because our small, quiet, respectable group of protestors was scrutinised throughout by burly security personnel, who sat with us in our eyrie. Obviously they were highly concerned about our radical intentions. In fact Julianne Bell, of Protectors of Public Lands, had been rung in the morning by Police Victoria, who were under the impression that we intended to 'march on Parliament' that afternoon. Maybe that's why they never took their eyes off us, and were instantly on the alert at any displays of radical and forbidden behaviour, like resting our arms on the balustrades or clapping or, heaven forbid, standing up.
It proved a very long, boring afternoon. I was grateful that I had thought ahead and packed Bill McKibben's 'must read' Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
It was past 5 o'clock before the 'debate' actually started, when Brian Tee, the Shadow Minister for Planning, explained at great length to a virtually empty House why Labour intended to oppose the Bill.
By the time Greg Barber, for the Greens, stood up to speak there was hardly a minister left to listen or even to boo his ideas. Greg spoke eloquently and critiqued the Bill clause by clause.
He emphasised that although Labour is now criticising the Government, it was the Labour party itself which began in 2009 the process of over-riding 30 years of environmental law-making in Victoria. All the Liberal party is doing, by this proposal to ignore the community and disempower local councils, is putting the final nails in the coffin. Sadly, Greg's comments fell on deaf, or absent, ears.
By this time it was well past 6pm and I had to get home. I concluded that with that level of 'debate', I can't imagine how ministers ever vote except along strictly party lines. They seem to either absent themselves or have entirely closed minds if they are physically present. What an under-whelming experience the Upper House proved to be.