The Industrial Relations Bill in parliament right now is a case study in how parliament works. One thing we are learning about is consultation and compromise; how government ministers try to ease legislation through parliament by listening to fellow members and learning how bills can be improved or made more palatable to those who hold key votes.
Parliamentarians have their own views about bills based on their reading of the contents, but often they are voicing the concerns of community groups who use them as mouthpieces for certain points of view.
One issue is whether the bill can be split in two to pass the parts with wider agreement while the remainder is delayed for later consideration. This is a common parliamentary strategy. This "unbundling" seems logical at one level because it will give a quick win, but it is also probable that the "too hard" parts will founder if they are left to themselves.
Another issue is whether the government has a mandate for the legislation. It certainly emerged from the Jobs and Skills Summit but was not a major election issue. Surely governments have the right to think on their feet and not be tied to the previous election.
A third discussion is about the question of urgency. The government claims that new mechanisms to help raise the wages of the lowly paid are desperately needed, while their critics claim that it is more important that the package gets every element right.
This question of finding the correct balance between speed and dialogue in politics has wider application.
The first thing to note is that the Commonwealth Parliament is not built for speed. If that was the highest priority we wouldn't have two houses of parliament, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Governments have no difficulty in quickly passing legislation in a single house of parliament. Strong executive government results. Such systems have their admirers. Critics say it allows governments to "ram legislation through".
The founding fathers created the Senate for various reasons, including the desirability of a house of review. They knew of the role of upper houses in the colonial parliaments. A second house also raises the possibility that the government will not have the numbers as is usually now the case in the Senate.
The Senate review process often involves reference to a committee as has happened this time. This extends the process and allows interested parties to make further submissions.
It also allows senators to get their heads around the detail before they vote. This applies especially to independent senators such as David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie. Other senators can spread the workload among themselves and take their cue from the positions adopted by their parties.
Independents don't have that luxury, and their offices are awash with advocates and lobbyists for and against the bills before them. Trust and good relationships become very important as the pressure for a decision builds. The government needs just one more vote. Lambie wants more time. Pocock is still open to compromise.
There is an element of the perfect being the enemy of the good in these deliberations.
But at the heart of the matter is speed and immediate legislative action versus further dialogue to improve the bill. The impact of legislation will take time to flow through to the community anyway. That is a further consideration.
Solving this equation is at the heart of many political situations. There are at least two other current major political issues where this applies.
The first is the battle against inflation and surging power prices. The government is under immense pressure to do something immediately. It knows that the community is already losing patience. Whatever it is, whether it requires legislation or not, whether it will work or not, the government is being called upon to do something. When it says that it is considering options and taking advice from the community, spurred on by the media and the opposition, it is accused of being a "do nothing" government. Speed will trump considered dialogue on this occasion because the electorate is hurting badly. The optics won't allow delay.
The second major political issue where speed versus consultation matters is the Voice to Parliament. The government has committed itself to a referendum in this term of office, specifically late 2023. It calculates that after years of community discussion there is an appetite in the electorate for the issue to be resolved speedily.
That is all very well but the timetable is being contested. There are those, including international referendum experts, who argue that further delay will mean certain failure. They say that the government must seize the moment, relying on the momentum of the newly elected government which has generated majority support.
There are others, however, who say the government should take its time, build resilient coalitions of stakeholders, and explain the detailed model of what the Voice mechanism will look like to the wider electorate. In their view dialogue must trump speed because there is no hurry.
There is no one answer to this contest between speed and further dialogue in politics. It must be resolved on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately that is a strategic decision for the government. On power prices it can't afford to wait. On the Voice referendum it can probably finesse the timing by a few months but no more. On industrial relations it can compromise, split the bill, or crash through or crash before Christmas.
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