Opinion – Senate Inquiry will not fix the problems

15 Sep 2016

OPINION – ROSS EASTGATE, Townsville Bulletin
September 15, 2016

Ross Eastgate

A senate farce is not the answer.

PAUL Keating derisively dismissed the Senate as “unrepresentative swill” but he may well have added “unaccountably irresponsible”.

Rogue senator Jacqui Lambie has successfully moved to establish an independent inquiry and investigation into the performance of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs – especially in relation to crisis (sic) in Australian Veterans’ health and rising suicide rates.

The motion was supported by South Australian Nick Xenophon, the self-appointed senator for everyone and everything and tyro senators Victorian Derryn Hinch and West Australian Rod Culleton.

Human headline Hinch represents the Justice Party and as his maiden speech demonstrated seems to regard the Senate as just another captive radio audience.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation’s Culleton may forfeit his place if certain unresolved matters result in a criminal conviction. Lambie is an army military police veteran.

Her battles with DVA are well documented and there is a personal element in her desire to pursue the organisation.

Her chief-of-staff Rob Messenger is a RAAF veteran. He is also a political opportunist, having flirted with a range of options including the Palmer United Party after having been dumped by his Bundaberg-based state electorate when he resigned from the LNP to sit as an independent.

He, like others, understands the publicity opportunities from the inquiry but he will also understand it will be unlikely to achieve anything.

In 2014 Member for Fairfax Clive Palmer directed his then senators to move for an inquiry into Queensland’s Campbell Newman-led LNP government. It was typical Palmer vindictiveness with as much chance of success as his other endeavours.

The Senate’s most experienced clerk, Harry Evans, warned Senate inquiries had no powers to summon either federal or state parliamentarians or government officers to appear before them.

He also advised such inquiries might invite federal or state officers to appear but should do so through the relevant minister. The Newman government simply ignored Palmer’s inquiry and it descended into farce.

It didn’t help the chief inquisitor was then PUP senator Glen Lazarus whose break through or bust football skills did not translate into forensically skilled interrogation.

Given her usual bluster former military policeman Lambie will no doubt prove just as unequal to the task. Nor is the Turnbull Government likely to yield its ministers or public servants, particularly those from DVA to suffer Lambie, Hinch and Culleton’s amateurish scrutiny. The inquiry will simply become a public forum for veterans to air their grievances, real and imagined.

Since it can reach no conclusions nor make sustainable recommendations it will simply dash the hopes of those veterans who have such high expectations for its success.

There is no doubt there are deficiencies in the way this and other governments have and are addressing veterans’ health needs. Every suicide is one too many but a public senatorial stunt will do nothing to prevent even just one more. Veterans’ needs need more than pointless political posturing.