With the Senate about to meet for the first time with its new members, a little reminder about the piece we wrote back in December entitled Blackmailers in the Ranks where we described blackmailers outside the Coalition being replaced with blackmailers within it. What we will see in the coming years, we argued then, is not a Senate where the executive can ride roughshod over democracy but a Senate where the power has shifted from third forces like the Greens and the Democrats to backbench Government Senators.
Prime Minister John Howard clearly understands what the "new" Senate regime will be like because his political memory goes back to those days of his boyhood when Senators Reg Wright and Ian Wood crossed the floor regularly on points of principle. That is why Mr Howard is taking the trouble to be extremely cooperative towards the new representative of the Family First Party even though that newcomer's vote should not be necessary to obtain a majority.
That there are Government Senators champing at the bit to be the first to rebel is clear from the bombast that came at the weekend from the annual conference of the Queensland Branch of the National Party. If the Nats actually mean what they say then those merchant bankers should stop counting the millions they expect in fees from the sell off of the remaining Government share in Telstra. And small businessmen waiting for the day when they can sack staff without good reason might have to wait longer than they expect as well.