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Wilkie gets off his gambling hobby horse and finally finds a real issue

Political Columnist

The role of independents in the Australian parliament has come under increasing scrutiny because of the role of the crossbench in the Senate.
While I will cover what Paul Kelly recently referred to as the “squalid dysfunction” of the Senate later, this week has seen a couple of announcements from the independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie worth highlighting. I have criticised Wilkie before for his obsession with gambling in general, and in particular gambling on poker machines at Crown Casino in Melbourne. This week he went so far as to infer there was some form of collusion between those responsible for regulating Crown and the people at Crown over proper oversight according to Victorian law.
Obsession with an issue usually leads to exaggerated claims and this week’s effort from Wilkie was way over the top. That having been said, Wilkie then gave a good reason why having the odd independent in the parliament is not such a bad idea. Over the past few weeks, little interest has been shown by the media in general in the charging of a former government official and his lawyer with breaching the Intelligence Services Act. Reading the newspapers, watching television or listening to the radio, you may well have missed this story. It has received little or no publicity because the major parties are all signed up to going along with Australia’s security establishment on every occasion it makes a recommendation or takes action, as I have just outlined.
Australia’s security services have served our country extremely well and we should be grateful for that. Our gratitude should not extend to allowing those same security forces to break the law. Untrammelled power is a dangerous concept because it too easily leads to overreach. There is always a temptation to go further if you know your political masters have got your back. If your political masters are prepared to, or even determined to, turn a blind eye, you may well be emboldened to go too far.
When dealing with an incredibly poor country such as East Timor, you may have thought Australia, with all its riches, could afford to be a little generous. Instead, Australia played hardball and seemed to relish its tough stance. While some readers might forgive this, it is almost beyond belief that Australia’s security services decided to spy on our impoverished neighbour.
Nonetheless, that is apparently what happened, and the prosecutions have been launched to prevent any further evidence coming out. The whistleblowers are being executed by the perpetrators of the crime.
When big power is involved and the big parties look in the opposite direction, someone has to stand up for that most simple of human rights — justice. I will continue to exercise my right to criticise Wilkie, but on this topic I have only admiration for him.
Meanwhile, back in the “squalid dysfunction” of the Senate crossbench, the farce continues. David Leyonhjelm demeaned himself with his attack on Sarah Hanson-Young. His mean, miserable references to her as a woman lost him the respect of millions of Australians. The senator believes in the old axiom that any publicity is good publicity. He is wrong about that, and his graceless refusal to apologise suggests he is equally clueless about where Australia stands on issues such as this.
Sadly, he was one of the few on the crossbench to whom I would have given a tick for having at least some knowledge of the legislation he votes on in the Senate. There are others in this category. Cory Bernardi has many views with which I disagree, but I can’t fault him for effort or for knowledge. He is a voracious reader who is across most issues that come before him. It is much the same with the hyperactive Derryn Hinch, who pops up so regularly in the media. Whether you agree with him or not, he lets you know where he stands on every issue.
Then comes Pauline Hanson, plus the lone survivor to stick with her, Peter Georgiou from Western Australia. He got the job after his brother-in-law Rod Culleton self-immolated over previous business dealings. I don’t believe I have seen or heard Georgiou speak, so he is hardly an impact player.
Hanson’s main role now seems to be causing migraines for Mathias Cormann, the government Senate leader, who has the unenviable task of making her stick to her word.
There are two former One Nation members in the Senate. Brian Burston, who broke with Hanson so spectacularly just a few weeks ago, has now made the biggest mistake of any politician ever. He has confounded us all by jumping on to the SS Clive Palmer just as the ship has been torpedoed below the Plimsoll line and is sinking fast. Fraser Anning seems a nice enough fellow with a slim chance of re-election as a Katter’s Australian Party candidate. He replaced Malcolm Roberts, who appears to be the only well- known One Nation stalwart Hanson has not disowned.
I can’t remember the name of the bloke who replaced Jacqui Lambie, but I think that says more about him than about me.
Then there are the remains, or should I say the ashes, of the Xenophon team. Tim Storer, now an independent, shows some early promise, but without Nick Xenophon’s charisma and leadership, his senators are unknown quantities.
When Mark Latham is doing robocalls with Hanson while a member of the Liberal Democrats, you come to see how crazy this has all become. Whoever wins the next election will have to deal with a motley crew few captains would sign up.

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