Hawke bucks party power
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Photo: Andrew Meares
Former prime minister Bob Hawke has proposed that Federal Parliament have a free vote on significant issues without MPs being constrained by party policy.
Under his plan, members of the government of the day would not meet to approve or reject bills and both sides of Parliament would have to pledge to accept the vote after a free-wheeling debate.
Mr Hawke warned that the shackles of party control must be dropped to restore the public standing of the Parliament.
He revealed his plan in Canberra on Saturday night at a 30-year reunion dinner of members of the press gallery who worked during the era of the Hawke government.
"I think it is absolutely tragic the way in which our parliamentary process and system has come not just into disrespect and disrepute but contempt,'' he said.
"The Parliament is regarded with increasing contempt and this is because in part the actual processes of the Parliament are just a charade. The decisions are basically made in the government party rooms, then you go into the Parliament to have a debate about it, but the decision is basically already made.
"This is one of the reasons I personally never found Parliament an interesting process.''
Mr Hawke said he came to Parliament after experiencing, as ACTU president, the ''real processes of debate and argument'' in the arbitration commission, where the quality of argument determined the outcome.
"But the Parliament we have now - and this is typical of both sides - it's not a real chamber in which issues are discussed on merits. It's a formality where the decision has already been taken,'' he said.
"So my proposal is that the leaders of both sides should make a commitment in this next election that they will say to the people, we will come to you with a specific legislative program. But we will say there are some issues on which we don't pretend that we necessarily know all the right answers. What we will do is to put into the Parliament draft legislation, there will be no caucus meeting on either side and we as a government undertake that we will abide by the decision of the Parliament in a free and unfettered debate.''