29 July 2022

The Senate is sitting. Can David Pocock meet our expectations?

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David Pocock

Can David Pocock make a difference in the Senate? Photo: Lincoln Magee.

Now that the Federal Parliament has begun sitting, expectations will rise for all our representatives, but especially for new independent Senator David Pocock. He is in a different position from our four ACT Labor representatives whose reputations will rise or fall with the Albanese Government.

The ACT community may not realise quite how unique Pocock’s position is.

The sports-loving section of the Australian community knows Pocock as a Brumbies and Wallabies rugby star.

Another segment of the community knows him for his personal commitments to inclusion and environmental action.

The more politically savvy segment of the wider community knows him now as the ’13th vote’, the extra vote which can give the government and the 12 Greens senators a Senate majority to pass government legislation.

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What the community may not know is that within the Senate, Pocock is a rare independent senator from the centre-left of politics. Until now, independent and minor party senators have generally been from the right or the centre. Famous examples from the past include Senator Brian Harradine from Tasmania, the Australian Democrats, One Nation, and Senator Nick Xenophon and the Centre Alliance.

In the Senate today he shares the crossbench with two One Nation senators, one from the United Australia Party, and two Jacqui Lambie Network senators. The government will negotiate with all crossbench senators, but realistically its best chance of support lies either with Pocock or the centrist Jacqui Lambie Network.

Pocock, like all MPs, will initially be judged on his diligence in attending to his responsibilities in listening to and serving his constituents at an individual level. There is every reason to believe he will do this well.

Beyond that, he will be judged in three areas.

The first will be the wise use of his 13th vote in Australia-wide policy areas, such as his stated advocacy for gender equality, climate action and integrity mechanisms. If he is not convinced by the government’s legislation, the government will look to Jacqui Lambie for support. Pocock must play his cards well, not lose his distinct identity or be taken for granted by the government.

The second will be his success in advocating effectively for ACT-specific areas such as territory rights, beginning with the right for the ACT to take responsibility as a territory for Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation. He will also be wise if he advocates strongly to increase ACT Senate representation from two to four senators, a policy particularly identified with the other main independent Senate candidate, Professor Kim Rubenstein.

Thirdly, like other modern independents in both houses of parliament, he will be judged by how his approach to being a senator sets him apart from major party representatives.

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There is plenty of talk in this new 47th parliament about ‘doing things differently’, and Pocock, who has made a strong start, has a chance to stand out. The community involvement exhibited during his campaign must be developed further now he is in office.

Models of community involvement include the “Voices” movement pioneered by Cathy McGowan in Indi, which is now Australia-wide. Other independents, including the new Teal independents in the House of Representatives, will also offer alternative models in terms of presentation. How close he comes to these other independents will emerge over time.

The next three years will go quickly for David Pocock. Being an independent is a hard gig, bringing its distinctive stresses and strains. All the ACT community, friends, foes, and the vast majority who are open-minded, will be watching him closely.

John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University.

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Meet our expectations?

Firstly, you’d have to define what “Our” expectations are.

I’m sure that there are about 400,000 different interpretations on “Our” expectations, with some having set the bar very low, with their only expectations being the defeat of Zed. Dream bigger people!

I’ll wait and see what, if anything, he delivers but let’s face it, being an Independent, he doesn’t have the ear of the Government unless his, is the vote required to get legislation passed.

I’m not convinced that he’ll meet my expectations (Katy doesn’t and neither did Zed). That said, it’d be nice if he did.

You write “Until now, independent and minor party senators have generally been from the right or the centre.”. What about the Greens? Surely they are a minor party from the left. There are now 12 of them which is why Pocock is the possible 13th vote to pass legislation that labor supports but LNP does not.

Peter Graves3:31 pm 31 Jul 22

One quick comment about ACT rights to legislate on VAD.

The issue is about the rights of the ACT and NT to pass their own legislation – on any topic. At all. Without being over-ridden by a national Parliament, most of whose members do not live here and being ignorant of Canberra the nation’s capital.

Please = try to talk about the two levels of Australian citizens this has created and maintained.

If the debate is only restricted to the particular issue of VAD, then future conservative governments will still have the power to over-ride any Territory legislation that takes their personal fancy to dislike.

The major change needed is to Section 122 of the Constitution:
“The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.”

Why was this so ? Why is it so ? Why should it remain so ?

One only had to wait for the queen to pass then that whole section is nullified.

Peter Graves9:31 am 01 Aug 22

Possibly not. The head power is with “The Parliament” and remains so. The ACT and NT long ago were – originally – placed under the authority of the Commonwealth. Not now with supposed self-government – except for that residual power used by Kevin Andrews.

I’m sure he will be quick to any breakdown in policy.

More injuries and sitting on the bench?

Capital Retro11:54 am 31 Jul 22

Solid gold!

He should join the Greens and drop all the pretense of being an independent. He ticks all the boxes

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