Collaboration? More like clobberation
Collaboration huh? It's a word that has been bandied about a lot lately and it is starting to look like it means different things to different people, depending on the context, who is using it and for what reason. Confused? Don't be. How about we start by looking look up the definition. The concise Oxford English Dictionary is a good place to begin. Mine reads: -
“1. Work jointly on an activity of project;
“2. Cooperate traitorously with an enemy.”
Okay, but to be fair here, those who toss the word around have in mind, I think, the first strand of the definition, not the second. On the other hand mind you, the second strand is the risk you run in politics if you do work with “the enemy” and, heaven forbid, that you do so without the prior blessings of your party.
But let's be positive here and concentrate on that first strand. Notice first that it does not mention capitulation. Nor, oddly enough, does it mention cooperation, although obviously some degree of cooperation is required if two parties are going to work together, jointly of course. Here's the rub though: if collaboration is actually going to mean something, those with the power i.e. those in power, are going to have provide the opportunities for collaboration to occur — and by ways and means that are both meaningful and demonstrable. For those who wonder, I can think of a couple of examples of what does and does not qualify:
* Committees of the House on the Hill: that works. We have three in motion already: one on elections, a second on parliamentary reform and the most recent on drug-testing legislators. Full credit to the Opposition for leading the way with the first. They got it off the ground even though Government initially voted against. Government came back with the second: this time to devise ways that the Legislature might be better organised to provide for a stronger, more independent body (from executive control and influence) than we currently have. Smart move. I'll come back to the third shortly.
* Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a standing committee of the House that definitely should be a shining example of what could be. It's the cornerstone of financial oversight of Government spending that requires the attendance, attention and focus of backbenchers from both sides of the aisle. Maybe it should also feature independent Senators as well: I made that recommendation to the SAGE Commission. Once PAC gets off the ground, and it's a pity that it seems to be taking so long to get going, we should start to see dividends in terms of greater accountability.
* What's not collaboration: meeting until five o'clock in the morning. Here we have some major pieces of legislation shoehorned into a special sitting of the Legislature, being debated all hours of the day and night. Literally. Why? Because Government has the votes and they can get away with it. Been there and seen enough of that. Few give their best at late hours, assuming that they even stick around, physically or otherwise. Frankly, to me it's disrespectful: not just to members on either side of the House, but to the Legislature and the role it is meant to play, examining and debating legislation, and finally disrespectful to the public that members are all meant to serve. Lording it over people really is no way to govern. Yet there we had it, an important motion for example on drug-testing of parliamentarians, and on drugs generally, done at a very late hour after a very long day under cover, you might say, of early morning darkness. Both the subject and voters were deserving of a better hour.
* Southlands Park: this might seem trivial, and the political skirmish that recently surrounded it sure did, but why couldn't the community committee to develop the Warwick parkland have as its honorary co-chairs, both the Junior Minister and the sitting MP who defeated her? Much like the approach that another Minister floated last week of involving all area MPs on future plans for the not-so-Grand Atlantic.
* Similarly, I can see a role for the Premier and Opposition Leader as co-chairs of the tripartite management-labour commission when it comes to consideration and implementation of the SAGE recommendations.
In the absence of these meaningful opportunities, collaboration soon starts to look and sound like “clobberation”. Definition (mine): clobber politically, call for cooperation, and complain when it isn't forthcoming.
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