The conventional wisdom has it that the Howard Government will have an open slather with legislation when the Liberal and National Parties gain control of the Senate on 1 July 2005. In truth the situation will not be so simple.
What will happen next year is that blackmailers outside the Coalition will be replaced with blackmailers within it. The power to decide will pass from Democrats, Greens and Independents to any backbench Senator on the Government side disenchanted with the role being a rubber stamp for his or her colleagues fortunate enough to have been tapped on the shoulder by John Howard or John Anderson to become Ministers.
The significance of this shift in power form the third forces to backbench Government Senators has been missed by the political commentators because so few of them were around in the days when Reg Wright, the Liberal Senator from Tasmania, was the bete noir of Prime Minister Robert Menzies. Senator Wright, sometimes with his Queensland colleague Senator Ian Wood, regularly forced his side of politics to reconsider issues under the threat that he would vote against legislation if they did not. In a Senate career of 28 years he eventually voted against his own side on more than 150 occasions. Eventually John Gorton as Prime Minister realised that the only way to remove the irritant was to promote Reg into the Ministry where he served as an insignificant Minister for Works before returning to his role as a Prime Ministerial irritant during the early years of Malcolm Fraser’s rule.
Next year the most likely government rebels are National Party Senators who realise that there are those in the grass roots of their Party who believe that there would be greater influence in not participating in a Coalition Government at all. An occasional bit of muscle flexing would help appease those elements.
Not that the revolts have to be on the floor of the Senate. Senators with an objection to a piece of Government legislation can achieve their aims by making their views known behind closed doors.