Nov 27, 2018

Speech – Days and Hours of Meetings – Tuesday, 27 November, 2018

 I am very pleased to second this amendment and to oppose what is the biggest try-on by a member of the coalition that we’ve seen with regard to a sitting calendar since the former member for Mackellar misread the sitting calendar and argued at this despatch box that parliament was sitting on Christmas Day, according to the schedule—a legendary performance! The coalition admired that contribution so much that it led them to make the member for Mackellar the Speaker in the government—and didn’t that work out well for them!

Well, we have another legend, according to the Treasurer: the Leader of the House, who has put forward this quite extraordinary and bold timetable. What this timetable has is that parliament will get up here on 6 December, next Thursday. Then there’s a seven-day sitting. By the way, the Senate is not sitting on four of those days. They are for the estimates processes. So there are three days for the Senate to deal with legislation. Then we have the budget week. Then the Prime Minister, whoever it is at that time—because there’s still time to change your mind, folks; there’s still time for one more coup—will go to Yarralumla to request an election on 11 May or 18 May, which are the only two dates now that the Prime Minister has effectively announced the budget on 2 April. That means he’s announced the election date in May, as well. So there will be 10 sitting days between now, when parliament gets up next Thursday, and July or whenever the parliament comes back, which is most likely to actually be August. So we’re talking about 10 sitting days in eight months. That is what they’re proposing here. For the Senate, they’re proposing six sitting days in eight months. That’s what’s before this parliament here.

We worry about a government that has lost its way and doesn’t have an agenda before the parliament. But—for goodness’ sake!—this is just lazy. It is opportunistic. But it’s something a little bit more serious than that, too, because it is contemptuous of the democratic will of the people. It’s contemptuous of this parliament as an institution. It is contemptuous of the rights of members of this House of Representatives and of senators to actually do the jobs that they are elected to do. And would we just go along with a timetable such as this?

Clearly, this is a government that is terrified of the parliament that it’s supposed to preside over. What we know is that it’s not just that they’re scared of us on this side of the chamber and of the crossbenches; they’re absolutely terrified of each other. They know that in the next fortnight as well, we’ll have more articles about whether there will be another Deputy Prime Minister, because the National Party are still engaging in the hunt of Michael McCormack by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce. And we know the problem that they have, really, is that when the parliament meets the party room meets, and that’s what they want to avoid.

It isn’t too late for the government to change leaders. Remember that the current Prime Minister—according to the Prime Minister-twice-removed, the member for Warringah—got there with just a handful of votes, five votes, in the caucus. He wasn’t supported by the Liberal Party. He wasn’t the preferred leader. He wasn’t even the second-preferred leader, who was the member for Dickson. He was not even the third-preferred leader, who was the member for Curtin. He was the fourth choice as the leader of the Liberal Party. No wonder they’re worried about having party room meetings. That’s their problem.

But the problem for the Australian people is that the government are proposing here to come back late. I’ve put out a few parliamentary sitting schedules in my time. I did it six times. What we normally do is look for when Australia Day is. Australia Day this coming year, of course, is on a weekend. We would normally come back on the Tuesday after Australia Day. That’s the normal process. But those opposite are not doing that. They’re leaving it until 12 February, and because the Manager of Opposition Business is a generous fellow we let them have that week so they get all the Christmas cheer and they get extra time with each other. Quite frankly, the only thing in favour of this schedule is we don’t have to see them. We come back to sit on 12 February but for just two weeks. So what we’re saying is to have two extra weeks with just three sitting days in each of those weeks, because there are public holidays on the Mondays. So there are six extra sitting days to hold the executive to account, and that is appropriate because that’s the job of the elected representatives.

The member for Wentworth changed from being the Prime Minister to being the honourable member who was sworn in just yesterday. It seems like a long time ago; I’m sure it seems longer for those opposite. And today there’s another new crossbencher up there as well. So, because of that, parliament suddenly becomes too hard and we won’t meet. Well, that’s not the way that it works. You have to deal with the parliament that the Australian people give you. We dealt with the parliament, and I, as the Leader of the House, could rely on 70 votes out of 150. But we worked in a mature and cooperative way with the crossbenchers and we worked as well with many of those opposite in the coalition. We actually had policy debates in the national interest and we ensured that we were able to get through a legislative agenda in that parliament that included the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that included climate change action, that included the Gonski education reforms and that included re-writing the shipping policies.

The fact is that we were able to deal with the parliament that the people of Australia elected. The problem for those opposite isn’t just that they can’t deal with the parliament that the Australian people elected they also can’t deal with the caucus that the Australian people gave them. That’s the real problem here; their internals. But they’re terrified by the externals in terms of the parliament that they can’t deal with.

So parliament should sit for two weeks extra—three days in each week. It’s a reasonable proposition, and if the government is smart they’ll actually roll over on this and support it.

Contact Anthony

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