May 9, 2012

Motion to suspend standing orders

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:24):  Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr Abbott interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke):  The Leader of the Opposition will stop constantly interjecting across the table. The Leader of the House has the call.

Mr ALBANESE:  Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition is happy to interject but was not happy to be associated with this motion to suspend standing orders before the House today. Just like yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition thinks that he can allow the opposition to get down into the gutter day after day and somehow it has nothing to do with him—distancing himself from it. But the fact is we know that there is no process, no convention, no tradition and no institution that this Leader of the Opposition will not trash in his pursuit of power.

What we see day after day—now for the 53rd occasion—is an attempt to suspend standing orders. This is the day after the national government has handed down our budget. It is a significant budget that returns the budget to surplus whilst providing support for wealth creation and opportunity. Today we had one question about the budget from the shadow Treasurer and one question from the shadow finance minister about the budget, and that is it—nothing else to say on the day after the federal budget. Surely that is unprecedented in Australia’s history.

What this motion is really about is trying to ensure that time is taken up rather than getting on to the substance that we should be dealing with arising out of the budget produced last night. This morning on the schoolkids bonus budget bill debate, we had two opposition members down to speak—just two. But as the day went on the list grew. Up to 19 speakers from the opposition are now on the list, dragging out debate because they do not want the TV news tonight to show them saying no to families. That is what they want to do. That is their priority. The fact is that that is the issue that we should be getting on to after we have the MPI from the opposition—which is of course also about the budget.

The opposition come in here day after day and want, in terms of their motion to suspend standing orders, this parliament—they have backed off from yesterday’s motion but it is still pretty consistent—to determine what are quite rightly legal matters. We do have a separation of powers. Indeed, their rhetoric is completely inconsistent with what they said prior to their own issues. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition, in speaking about Mary Jo Fisher, said:

“The matter is now before the courts where I understand it will be contested and she should be extended the presumption of innocence.”

That is what he said on 24 July 2011. And then of course we know that he went on to say that she did not vote on anything, even though we know that she voted on everything, including the clean energy bills.

Indeed, Senator Robert Hill had this to say about Mal Colston:

‘We should not forget the rules of natural justice in this matter.’

John Howard had this to say about Mal Colston:

“… at the moment he’s been treated worse than anybody else who’s charged with a crime. I mean nobody else has been treated like that. He is, at the moment, being denied the presumption of innocence.”

But you do not need to go any further than the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition had this to say on 9 March 2007 about Mr Laming:

The matter is really now before the police and perhaps the Criminal and Misconduct Commission in Queensland, and let’s let those authorities make their investigations and come to any conclusion.

He’s a backbench member of parliament and I think he’s entitled to stay in the parliament until these bodies have come to their conclusions.”

 Indeed, in 2007, former Prime Minister John Howard said about those same issues that:

“using parliamentary privilege to make allegations against political opponents is ‘the cheapest game in the book.”

The member for Dobell has indicated that he will make a statement in his own time and he should be left to do that. That is what the member for Dobell has said and that is entirely appropriate given the circumstances. Craig has said he will make a statement; he should be left to do that. That is what we would expect under all circumstances. But if we go down the road of trying to present this place as judge and jury then we destroy the separation of powers and the balance between political representatives and the judicial wing, which is a very dangerous step indeed. When the member for Sturt got on his feet and asked for leave to move a motion, for a second there I thought about letting him do it. I thought about granting him leave and then amending it so that he could explain to the parliament his association with James Ashby and what went on in the Speaker’s office that evening and in subsequent liaisons between Mr Ashby and various members of the coalition.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER:  The Leader of the House will return to the suspension motion.

Mr ALBANESE:  The fact is we should not go down the road of saying that this place should replace appropriate judicial processes, or pass resolutions calling upon people who have legal rights and who are entitled to get legal advice which is not prejudiced by any decision of this parliament. I said yesterday that if any of the allegations—which are serious—against the member for Dobell are proven, then he should face the full force of the law. But it is not up to this parliament to determine what those circumstances are. It is not up to this parliament to make judgements about a whole range of issues or legal actions which are before the court, whether they concern members of the government, members of the opposition or crossbenchers—either the member for Indi or any other member of parliament. It is not up to us to go down that track.

I would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition understood that, given his history of understanding the importance of independent judicial processes, rather than assuming that allegations, once made, are proven. That is why we should reject the suspension of standing orders. The member for Dobell has indicated that he will make a statement before the parliament; it should be left at that. Think about the consequences of a majority government being able to make decisions in their tactics committee about doing things which change the democratically elected balance of a parliament. Think about the consequences of that. That is why this suspension motion should not be supported.