Gags and gaffes

The British government recently succeeded in passing a piece of legislation commonly known as the “gagging bill”. After some toing and froing involving both houses of parliament, the bill conveying this legislation was eventually passed owing to a tied 145-145 vote in the House of Lords. When such a result happens, it is procedural to pass the bill.
Apart from their personal reading and research, readers may be aware of the progress of this vote from information I have passed-on from my source at the lobbying group 38 Degrees. The bill will place restrictions on groups, political or otherwise from speaking-out against projected government legislation prior to elections – including the UK government elections in 2015.
This bill was opposed by hundreds of groups within the UK on the grounds that it placed undue and unnecessary restrictions on public discussion and debate and is, therefore, anti-democratic. That the bill was eventually passed was due primarily to the support given to it by the Conservative Party in both houses of the British parliament.
It is ingenuous, if not downright disgraceful, that David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party and the British Prime Minister, recently labelled both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties as being “enemies of democracy”. Why? Both of the latter has used their democratic privilege under parliamentary law and procedure to use procedural means to kill-off a private member’s bill that would have authorised an EU referendum. David Cameron’s outrage was not, it seems, assuaged by the fact that he very likely knew that this would be the outcome of his Downing Street desires!
What incensed the Conservative Party was the fact that it had “unveiled plans to overrule the House of Lords – through the rare act of invoking the Parliament Act.” In itself, this was legitimate, but it was halted in its tracks due to a further piece of parliamentary procedure. The Prime Minister told a BBC reporter that “We (the government, but not the Liberal Democrats, therefore, the Conservatives) will use every tactic possible to give the British people a referendum.”
It would seem at least a little hypocritical that Cameron and his party are happy to use “every tactic possible to give the British people a referendum”, insisting that it is their right to have one, but will do everything in its power to gag debate and discussion by the same people prior to an election! I suppose that, in the long run, it comes down to which way political parties and governments wish to manipulate the law, parliamentary procedure and the people that a government is meant to faithfully represent.


It is not only British authorities who are engaged in chicanery.
It is reported that Australian authorities have approved plans to dump 3m cubic metres of sediment in the Great Barrier Reef marine park. This action is part of the plan to create the world’s biggest coal port. The purpose of the port’s expansion is bring-in up to $A3bn extra each year through increased coal exports. It seems that agreement for the scheme to dump its rubbish in the reef has been given by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
This is the prevailing situation, despite the fact that conservationists have warned that “dumping the waste could smother corals and sea-grasses, and hasten the demise of the World Heritage-listed reef, which is considered to be in poor health.” The reef is already facing pressures caused by climate-change, land-based pollution and damage from the crown-of-thorns starfish. It would seem that approval was given in large measure because it was considered that the scheme would “contain development to existing ports, and the reef and sea-grass meadows would still be protected.” There is more than a whiff of inconsistency and contradiction in these explanations.
Another player in the drama, the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation has opinioned that the flora and fauna are unlikely to be damaged by the dumping and has argued that “disposing of the soil on land would be more environmentally damaging.” Earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust – soil to soil? Surely a strange argument, from whichever perspective, except from the point of view where large amounts of money are to be had. More than that, the marine park authority is being investigated for its links to the mining industry. Do I detect a gaffe somewhere?
Richard Leck, of the WWF Great Barrier Reef Campaign, said: “This is a sad day for the reef for anyone who cares about its future.”
Greenpeace has said that any dumping of soil on the reef would be “an international embarrassment.” A spokeswoman, Louise Matthiesson, said: “We wouldn’t throw rubbish on world heritage sites like the Grand Canyon or Vatican City, so why would we dump on the reef?”
Felicity Wishart, of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said: “Most Australians will be shocked and angry at this decision by the marine park authority and (Conservative federal government) minister (Greg) Hunt to allow dumping of dredge soil in reef waters. People expect them to defend the reef, not approve of its destruction.”
Australia remains a rich country largely because of its mineral exports to such other countries as China. But surely there is a limit to the greed and avarice of those involved in the mining industry and those in government, in Australia as elsewhere, who seem to believe that government and the welfare of the people is only about economics?
On a number of occasions and in response to criticism of his thirteen years as the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair has repeatedly responded by saying  that “history will judge me, or that he is “prepared to be judged by history.”
It would appear that he is not the only one whose final recourse is to appeal to history. On the other side of the world to where Tony Blair exercised authority, as well as in his own country, there are other authorities and authority figures who may well need to respond in the same way. Who knows how unkind history may be?

About stewculbard

I am a retired secondary school teacher of Humanities, having spent a major portion of my working life as a Minister of Religion with the Baptist denomination. I would now describe myself as a secular humanist and a socialist. I am married to Vicky and we have three children - two sons and a married daughter - all of whom are in their thirties. Formerly of Melbourne, Australia, we are all now living in England. My academic studies have been undertaken in Australia, the UK and the USA. I have a doctorate in religious studies from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. In retirement I enjoy reading, listening to classical music and writing. I am a member of Republic, Sea of Faith, Dignity in Dying Campaign and the National Secular Society. As well, I have a subscription to a number of cultural and political associations, including Amnesty International and, as a committed European, The Federal Trust.
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