Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (19:42): I present a chart showing the program of sittings for 2012. Copies of the program have been placed on the table. I ask leave of the House to move that the program be agreed to.
Mr ALBANESE: I move:
That the program of sittings for 2012 be agreed to.
We are tabling the sitting pattern for 2012 at the earliest possible opportunity in order to give people as much notice as possible for booking with either Qantas or Virgin to travel to Canberra. It is the same number of weeks and the same number of days sitting in 2012 as has occurred in 2011. I note that the member for Gippsland has congratulated me as Leader of the House in not sitting on Melbourne Cup day next year. That is a view that he shares very strongly with Senator Stephen Conroy.
The latter part of the year, because of what has occurred in international relations, is much more difficult than it used to be. The latter half of the year is when meetings of the East Asia Summit, the United Nations General Assembly and the G20 meetings—at which Australia is an important participant—tend to occur. It is obviously vital that Australia be represented at the highest level and that the Prime Minister and other senior members are able to participate in those forums. Hence the documentation in terms of establishing a sitting pattern is much more difficult than it used to be even just a few years ago. In addition, next year there is the Rio Plus 20 summit and a number of other important international events.
The House of Representatives and the Main Committee have gone from sitting an average of 44 hours per week in 2005 to an average of over 65 hours in 2011. It is possible, with goodwill across the parliament, to ensure that we are more productive as a House by having flexible arrangements with regard to sitting and by ensuring that the ability of the House of Representatives to function in two chambers at the same time is maximised. People will note that we are calling upon our Senate colleagues to sit a separate Senate budget estimates, as occurred in the latter half of this year, just over a week ago. Also there is an additional Senate-only sitting week towards the end of the parliamentary year. Traditionally what occurs is that the House is waiting for the Senate to deliberate on bills. This proposition will ensure very clearly that we are able to do that. Of course, it is also possible—as occurred with the Senate, which has scheduled an extra sitting week next week—for there to be additional times for either the Senate or the House of Representatives, should that be required.
This year we have passed 222 pieces of legislation through the House of Representatives. Major legislation included all of our budget measures; the Clean Energy Future package of 19 bills; the legislation for the structural separation of Telstra; legislation with regard to national health reform; important legislation across education, infrastructure, transport and a range of portfolios. This is a parliament that, in spite of the fact that the government does not have a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives, is not only functioning but functioning effectively on behalf of the Australian people. I commend the program to the House.