Those MPs in opposition to the legalisation of the drug RU486 (Mifepristone) are increasingly desperate. Perhaps they sensed that arguing against the removal of the Health Minister's control of the drug by focusing on the immorality/unacceptibility of abortion was bound to fail. After all, abortion is already legal in this country (ignoring some technicalities in state legislation that convention usually overrides); and besides - this bill isn't about abortion anyway, it's about which body is best-placed to judge the merits and safety of RU486: the Health Minister, or the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
So, they have shifted the focus of their arguments.
It seems that the new argument to make against the bill is something along the lines of 'we don't want shady, unaccountable bureaucrats making decisions like these'. John Howard, for instance, has stated that what is important here is "the principle that important decisions affecting the community should be made by people who are directly accountable to the community"; Tony Abbott has stated that the bill is effectively a "no confidence vote" in ministers; and similarly, the Nationals' De-Anne Kelly believes that it is better for politicians to have control over the drug than "bureaucrats in a back alley". From yesterday's Age:
"The Australian people want to hold governments and ministers accountable," Mrs Kelly said.
"It comes down to do you support ministerial accountability or do you want to relinquish decision-making to faceless public servants."
"This is not a vote in favour of RU486, this is a vote of confidence in a minister — of any political colour in any government."
What these people forget is that decision making in this country is already the province of faceless ministers - or so the Howard government would have us believe. How many times have the Prime Minister, Amanda Vanstone or Mark Vaile - to mention but a few examples - escaped censure for their mistakes, laziness or straight out deceptions by claiming that 'they weren't told by their department'? If we were to take the actions of the government as our guide, then we would have to conclude that it is acceptable for unaccountable bureaucrats to:
- take us to war on a set of fabrications;
- to kick people out of the country or incarcerate them indefinitely with no real justification;
- to tell nasty lies to the Prime Minister about asylum seekers throwing their children into the sea when their boat was sinking (kind of convenient, hey, given that this story won the Liberals the 2001 election and all - but still the PM maintains that he never knew this claim was false);
- to pay almost $300 million in kickbacks to a regime that is considered so brutal and dangerous that we were warranted to invade it only months later...
Faceless bureaucrats! Watch out for them. They lurk in the back alleys and offices of the public service, always looking out to make robotic, automatic decisions that devalue the sanctity of human life.
But if you do spot one, oh politicians, then there is no need to panic. In fact, you may be in luck: these critters, though sinister and faceless, are invaluable if you need someone to take a fall for you.
Lest the public realise that you, too, are unacccountable!
From a post by Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett on the Webdiary, I include this rather interesting breakdown of the vote on the RU486 bill, which was passed in the Senate a few days ago. Of particular note is the section on gender.
Breakdown of vote by Party: Liberal: in favour, 17 against.
Labor: in favour, 7 against.
National/CLP: 2 in favour, 3 against.
Democrat: 4 in favour, 0 against. Green 4 in favour, 0 against. Family First: 1 against.
Breakdown of vote by Gender: Male: 21 in favour, 25 against.
Female: 24 in favour, 3 against.
Breakdown of vote by State/Territory: ACT: 1 for, 1 against.
NSW: 6 for, 6 against.
NT: 2 for, 0 against.
Qld: 6 for, 6 against.
SA: 9 for, 3 against.
Tas: 7 for, 5 against.
Vic: 7 for, 4 against.
WA: 7 for, 3 against.