The making of laws is like the making of sausages—the less you know about the process, the more you respect the result.
My approach to law-making is often pretty simple: when legislation clearly undermines the small government principles of the Liberal Democrats I vote against it. When it supports those principles, I support it.
For example, I always vote against tax hikes, such as those the government has imposed on superannuation, banks and low-value imports. And I always vote for tax cuts, such as the Government’s paltry personal and company tax cuts.
But things get complicated when legislation incorporates both good and bad elements, or when it has little to do with the principles for which I stand. In those instances, I may vote for or against the legislation depending on whether I can extract a commitment from the Government to make progress on one or more other issues that I and my party hold dear.
Because most legislation is tinkering at the edges of our social democracy rather than introducing anything resembling reform, this situation occurs fairly regularly.
One arose with the bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Despite the hyperbole of the major parties, this legislation was really just an exercise in tinkering. It did not seek to remove wage fixing, union privileges or any of the other barriers to employment imposed by our ridiculous industrial relations system. Had it done so, my support would have been a no-brainer. Instead, the ABCC legislation just changed the enforcement of existing industrial relations law.
I had some sympathy for the Government’s focus on the ABCC bill given the need to deal with lawlessness at construction sites, but I was concerned that it also undermined important principles of western civilisation, like being innocent until proven guilty. Given that, I negotiated a deal with Prime Minister Turnbull in which I gained five ‘liberty offsets’ in return for my vote to support the bill.
First, the Government agreed to amend the ABCC legislation so that, if workers were accused of going on strike for reasons other than workplace safety, the onus would be on the prosecution to prove it. This defended the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
Second, the Government agreed to encourage via COAG a review of the use of court suppression orders. My aim is for all jurisdictions to grant media organisations a right to challenge the scope and duration of suppression orders. This will foster our free press and help ensure that justice is done, and seen to be done.
Third, the Government agreed to require the ABC and SBS to hold at least half their board meetings within the community, including in regional areas, and for these board meetings to be followed by community forums. This is small step towards improving the accountability of the ABC and SBS to the people they serve, including to those who do not subscribe to their groupthink.
Fourth, the Government agreed to report key figures in the budget in real per capita terms. This provides official confirmation that, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, tax has never been higher and neither has government spending.
Finally, the Government agreed to allow a free vote on my bill to allow the ACT and Northern Territory to legislate for assisted suicide. That vote in the Senate is now scheduled for the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the week that the Senate next sits — the third week in August. If it passes, the deal also includes provision for a debate and free vote in the House of Representatives soon thereafter.
When the Commonwealth passed a private members bill in 1997 to remove the right of the territories to legislate on assisted suicide, it deprived their voters of the right to elect representatives who reflect their views. Given the ACT and NT both have an elected parliament, this is not something that should continue.
If assisted suicide becomes legal across the country, it will in part be because of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Perhaps some might view it as an ugly process, but it is hopefully leading to a hearty outcome. Just like the humble sausage.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats