Aug 15, 2007

Business – Rearrangement; the Leader of the House

Business – Rearrangement; the Leader of the House

15 August 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.33 a.m.)—I am often perplexed as to what the Leader of the House actually does. There are motions appearing in his name, but he is never actually here to move them nor is the Deputy Leader of the House here to move them in his absence. So it is very difficult to have a debate about changes to procedures in the way that the House of Representatives will operate when there are no responsible ministers in the chamber to respond.

However, the detail of this resolution before the House also reflects the lack of common courtesy towards not just the members of the House of Representatives but the general public as well. If the visit of the Canadian Prime Minister is important enough to have a joint sitting of parliament and have the Canadian Prime Minister’s address to us broadcast to the nation, then it is important enough to tell us when it will be. This is a mere three weeks away and yet the resolution before the House states that the Rt Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, will attend and address the House on Tuesday, 11 September 2007 at a time to be notified by the Speaker.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs opposite has been forced to pretend that he is Tony Abbott once again because the Leader of the House is never here to do his job. He usually rushes out immediately question time is over and does not even do the basic procedural business of the House. That is symbolic of government that has stopped governing. This is a government that has stopped governing. This is a government that is out of ideas, out of touch and out of time.

It is extraordinary that a resolution could come before the House not moved by the Leader of the House, who, whilst he does not have time to do what he is paid to do by the Australian taxpayers, does have time to do doorstops regularly, including this morning defending the extraordinary revelations surrounding the Treasurer’s contempt for and, indeed, hatred of the Prime Minister. The Leader of the House sees it as his job to be engaged just in partisan politics—in being the bovver boy for the government. But he does not see it as his job to do the basic functions to which he has the honour of being entrusted as the Leader of the House.

I would hope that later today the Leader of the House, in between doing doorstops defending the completely dysfunctional relationship between the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, could convey to the House and therefore to the Australian public the timing of this address, whether or not there will be an adjournment or a lunch held, which would normally occur for a visiting dignitary, and what the arrangements will be for the sitting times of the House of Representatives on that day. Many organisational details for that day in parliament revolve around the visit of Prime Minister Harper.

We know that Prime Minister Harper has been invited to speak to this parliament in reciprocation for Prime Minister Howard addressing the Canadian parliament. We know that it is a personal arrangement, essentially. Whilst those on this side do not object to these personal arrangements—we do not object, and we have supported Prime Minister Harper addressing the joint sitting—it is a bit much to extend the personal arrangements between ideological bedfellows such that the whole of the parliament should revolve around this without being properly informed and able to make appropriate arrangements. Those on this side of the House take our responsibilities very seriously indeed. The Leader of the Opposition is out there this morning talking about educational opportunities and preparing young Australians, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that they have the best opportunities in life. That is the sort of activity we are engaged in as the opposition in putting forward a future agenda.

On that day, as we would normally do on a Tuesday, we would have party room meetings. Our caucus meets on the Tuesday morning. The arrangements for Prime Minister Harper’s address could impact on that. It could also impact on the joint party room. It may well be that those opposite do not want to have a joint party meeting. They could transfer it to another venue; the Hordern Pavilion used to have punch-ups and wrestling in years gone past. Given the extraordinary, dysfunctional breakdown of relationships at the most senior levels of the government, it may well be that the government does not want to have a joint party meeting at that time. That would not be surprising. You have not just the Prime Minister and the Treasurer; last night you had the minister for ageing and seniors, when going into the Treasurer’s drinks for his not-so-happy 50th birthday, refusing to say anything nice whatsoever about the Prime Minister.

Mr Billson—Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Our abundant reservoir of goodwill goes so far. I understand the opposition is worried about diary planning, what they might have for lunch and the like, but is there a chance we might come back to recognising an invitation for the Rt Hon. Stephen Harper on Tuesday, 11 September and all of the consequential issues? I am sure the member for Grayndler’s diary coordinator and his dietary arrangements will be able to be canvassed as soon as those—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The minister will resume his seat. The member for Grayndler will associate his comments with the question before the chair.

Mr ALBANESE—Absolutely, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am very disappointed. I thought the minister might actually have got a response and been able to tell the parliament about the arrangements on Tuesday, 11 September 2007, but he was unable to do so. It appears that we will have to wait until a later time today. I just hope that this is resolved quickly, because it could well be the last sitting week that we have of this parliament as it moves to a close.

We on this side do want to get the details of this arrangement: firstly, because it is the right thing to do for the House of Representatives; secondly, because the public has a right to know; and, thirdly, because we on this side of the House are interested in developing the future agenda that we have for the nation. We know that those on that side of the House are only interested in squabbling amongst themselves and that they have ceased governing, but they have taken it to the point where we now have uncertainty about the sitting day after next, which is what we are talking about.

The Main Committee does not sit most of the time now because there is no legislation for it to consider. We have the extraordinary situation whereby this week the government is stopping its departing members—those who are departing voluntarily—from making statements that it would be appropriate to make at this time of the year. I conclude by asking the minister to visit the Leader of the House. I do not suggest you try his office. Perhaps if you go to the doors and wait for the next doorstop by the Leader of the House you could ask him what the details are for the sitting day after next. I do not think it is too much to ask that that information be given to the House of Representatives and the Australian public.