May 27, 2014

Speaking against the motion

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:01): I am very pleased and, indeed, proud to defend my colleague the member for Watson and the Manager of Opposition Business. They say: why am I speaking on this? This is not an attack on the member for Watson—you attack one, you attack all! This is an attack on the Labor Party. This is an attack on the opposition and this is an attack on the democratic institution of this parliament. If this motion is carried, then any future government by a majority vote can determine that a member of the opposition, who by definition will lose any vote, can be required to come on and take certain actions.

We were in government six years—that never happened. You were in government for 12 years—that never happened. That shows how desperate you are. What you are confirming today is that you had a plan to get into government but you certainly do not have a plan to govern. You would rather talk about anything else than the health cuts, the education cuts, the changes to pensions, the public transport cuts, the attack on economic growth—your pathetic budget of broken promises just two weeks ago.

We were told by those opposite that the adults were going to be back in charge. This is the most childish student-politics stunt that I have seen in this parliament since 1996, a desperate government desperate to defend the Speaker and her right to continue to hold that position. In order to have the confidence of the House, you have to be accountable to this House, Madam Speaker, and what the member for Watson did yesterday was raise, quite correctly and completely in order with the standing orders, a question to you about how many times your office had been used to raise money for the Liberal Party.

You refused to answer that. You refused to be accountable to this parliament and, hence, the member for Watson then went to the next step, which is to ask you whether that constituted a breach of privilege by using the Speaker’s office to raise partisan money for the Liberal Party on budget night—and who knows how many other nights it had been raised. We know that extra crockery had to be ordered into your office the night before budget night. We know that was the case. But the Manager of Opposition Business, quite correctly and in accordance with standing orders, raised the question.

Under any circumstances it would have been reasonable to say, ‘I am directly involved in this, so I will just refer it off. I will not make a ruling,’ but you chose not to do so. You chose to make a ruling and to say that you were not going to refer it. So then the Manager of Opposition Business moved a motion. Under any previous circumstances, it would have been reasonable to say—as we did when we were the government—’Okay, let them have a look at it.’ Yet that was voted down. Then the Manager of Opposition Business wrote to the Privileges Committee and they have said, ‘We cannot even consider whether we will consider it because of that resolution.’ It is absolutely extraordinary.

Today of course we finally saw someone from that side ejected from the parliament. Interesting that it was the same day that this motion has come and I am not clear whether you had advance notice of this motion coming, but I would be surprised if this was a spontaneous outburst from the Leader of the House. The member came in before one hour was up, but that was all okay as well, contrary to all the precedent that is there.

Mr Brough: That is rubbish!

Mr ALBANESE: The substance of the issue which should be considered is over whether it is appropriate for your office to be used for a fundraiser. That is what the Manager of Opposition Business raised, and it says very clearly—

Mr Brough: Madam Speaker, is it appropriate that the member at the dispatch box be disparaging of the Clerk of the parliament?

The SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. When I ask someone to sit down, I expect them to. Yesterday you refused to sit down and you went out under 9A, because you once again refused to take a direction.

An honourable member interjecting—

The SPEAKER: Yes, he is indeed, finally. So I will give the call back. I will answer first on the point of order from the member for Fisher: is it appropriate for the member to abuse the Clerk? No, it is not. But I will give the call back to the member for Grayndler.

Mr ALBANESE: Thank you. The substantial issue is that of the Speakership and whether it should be used. The House of Representatives Practice makes it very clear—impartiality of the chair. That is what it is all about.

They raise an issue of whether the member for Watson said, incorrectly apparently, that the office had never been used—and he has apologised for that. He apologised for that at once and he also said sorry twice that that was incorrect. But let us be very clear about where that article comes from. It comes from a response about the abuse of the Lodge and Kirribilli House to raise money for the Liberal Party. That is where it comes from; that is the context of that article.

Should any Speaker, be they McLeay or Bishop or any of them, use the Speaker’s office? No, they should not! That is an appropriate debate for us to have. They then say, ‘Well, if you got some of the detail wrong then therefore there should be an apology for that.’ But there was false information, with respect, Madam Speaker, given from the chair. You said from the chair during this debate that the independent Speaker was an agreement between Labor and the Greens. It was not—it was not!

Tony Abbott:

… I’ve always supported an independent speakership …

Press comments from him:

I also want to make it very clear that we discussed the issue of a Westminster style speakership …

Over and over again, those opposite—and the Leader of the House signed, in writing, a document.

So, Madam Speaker, I do not hold it against you for the fact that you were wrong. But you were. You were. And we do not ask for you to apologise for that. You got the facts there wrong. And what is their remedy for this? The remedy for this is that the Manager of Opposition Business somehow should be demanded by a majority vote to take certain action. Think about the precedent in terms of free speech!

This is the day after Sorry Day. The irony of those opposite, who for 10 years could not say sorry to the first Australians, coming in here seeking to move by resolution that the Manager of Opposition Business take certain action.

Have a look at all the quotes they have said. The Leader of the House himself:

… the Leader of the Opposition—

Tony Abbott—

… proposed a Westminster style independent Speaker as early as the early part of this decade, in early 2001.

They were all up for it, allegedly, during that period. They signed an agreement but they walked away from it, of course.

But also, what are they asking for here? The same person, Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister who said:

We have never been involved in the business of suppressing free speech …

This attack on my colleague, the member for Watson, is all about, ‘How dare he come in here and ask questions on behalf of Australian taxpayers about how much money was raised in the Speaker’s office?’ the one area of this parliament that should be free from party politics—that should be used in the national interest, that should be used for functions involving foreign guests and that should be used in a bipartisan way in this place.

What you seek to do in doing this is to shut down free speech and debate in this parliament. The fact is that during this very debate, Madam Speaker, the problem is not the member for Watson. The problem is a Speaker who interjects from the chair. The problem is a Speaker who makes partisan decisions. I stand by, and we stand by, all of the comments—with the exception of that factual error that he made—of the member for Watson about the conduct of this parliament because, at the end of the day, it is not about you, Madam Speaker, it is not about the member for Watson, or me or the Leader of the House. It is about how this parliament functions.

The fact is, if you think this parliament has been functioning well since last September then I think you are completely out of touch with what the majority of Australians who watch this parliament see each and every day with this abuse of power continued over and over again by the Leader of the House, who is too immature to hold that job!