Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:54):
(1) standing order 1 be amended; and standing orders 34 (Figure 2), 100(f) and 104(c) be omitted and new standing orders 34 (Figure 2), 100(f) and 104(c) be inserted;
(2) standing order 2 be amended to insert a definition;
(3) standing order 3(c) be omitted and new standing order 3(c) be inserted, to take effect from 27 February 2012;
(4) standing order 183 be omitted and new standing order 183 be inserted, to take effect from 27 February 2012;
(5) amendments consequential to new standing order 183 be made, to take effect from 27 February 2012;
(6) the resolution of the House of 1 May 1996, “Broadcasting of proceedings—conditions of broadcasters”, be amended, to take effect from 27 February 2012; and
(7) the House adopt a resolution, “Main Committee and Federation Chamber—transitional provisions”, as follows:
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE STANDING ORDERS
1. Maximum speaking times (amendment to existing subject, as follows)
Each question 30 secs
Each answer 3 mins
[standing orders 100(f) and 104(c)]
34 Figure 2. House order of business
100(f) The duration of each question is limited to 30 seconds.
104(c) The duration of each answer is limited to 3 minutes.
Federation Chamber means the Federation Chamber of the House of Representatives established by standing order 183.
3(c) The standing orders also apply to committees of the House to the necessary extent, subject:
(i) in the Federation Chamber, to the orders in Chapter 14 (standing orders 183-198), and
(ii) in standing and select committees, to the orders in Chapter 16 (standing orders 214 247)
183 Establishment of Federation Chamber
The Federation Chamber of the House of Representatives shall be established as a committee of the House to consider matters referred to it by the House as follows:
(a) proceedings on bills to the completion of the consideration in detail stage; and
(b) orders of the day for the resumption of debate on any motion.
The words “Main Committee” and [Main] “Committee”, wherever occurring, be replaced by “Federation Chamber”.
PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO RESOLUTION
Broadcasting of proceedings—conditions for broadcasters,
Resolution adopted 1 May 1996
The words “Main Committee”, wherever occurring, be replaced by “Federation Chamber”.
Main Committee and Federation Chamber—transitional provisions
That, with effect from 27 February 2012, all matters referred by the House to the Main Committee shall be considered to have been referred to the Federation Chamber.
I welcome the opportunity to move these changes. After the 2010 election the government worked in a consultative way with the opposition and with the crossbenchers to achieve parliamentary reform. The member for Lyne was a very significant contributor to that debate. The member for Lyne, the Manager of Opposition Business and I, as the Leader of the House, spent many hours together assisted by speakers, former speakers and people who consider themselves experts in parliamentary procedure to work through a series of changes that did result in some fundamental reform in the way that the House of Representatives operates. These included, for example, a proper recognition of the role of private members in this chamber. Indeed, last year we had 52 votes on motions before the chamber; we had none in 2005, as a comparison. That has facilitated additional time and discussion before the parliament.
The other thing that we did was change the standing orders to provide some timeliness on questions and answers. At the time I moved that proposition I foreshadowed the potential for further changes. It is important that the parliament constantly review and fine tune the way that we operate as a House.
Mr Speaker, upon your unanimous elevation to the high office that you hold you have given consideration to the way that the parliament functions. I must say that I think your speakership has gotten off to an extremely positive start, and I congratulate you on that. You have shown yourself already to be fair, balanced and truly independent. I say that as someone who, up to this point, has yet to get a point of order up with you, but I am sure I will be more successful in the future than I was yesterday.
As part of the ongoing efforts to make parliament more accessible to the public—and I must pay tribute to former Speaker Jenkins, who was very concerned also about the functioning of parliament in question time—some flagging of changes has been made. As the Speaker you have already announced changes to the way that supplementary questions work, and I welcome those. You have indicated that you would facilitate the potential for up to two supplementary questions from members of the opposition, up to two supplementary questions from members of the government and a proportionate position with regard to the crossbenchers—the potential for them, reflecting the number of positions they hold in the chamber, to ask a supplementary question. I suspect that supplementary questions will not be taken up every day but we will see how it works in practice; that is what we always have to do.
The amendments to standing orders that I have moved today arise from discussions held between yourself and myself as Leader of the House, and also separate discussions between yourself, the Manager of Opposition Business, myself, the crossbenchers and everyone in between.
I think there is broad agreement, although not consensus, with these propositions, which will allow for questions to be limited to 30 seconds and answers to be limited to three minutes; question time will conclude around 3.10 pm or after questions have been exhausted.
The government is committed to ensuring that question time does portray a transparent view of the workings of the parliament. Indeed, the government has been critical of the fact that question time has been interrupted by so many suspensions of standing orders that have concluded question time during this 43rd Parliament. Nonetheless, I believe the parliament functions extremely effectively. The fact that we have had 257 pieces of legislation carried by the 43rd Parliament is an indication of that.
The amendments before the chair also seek to rename the Main Committee to the Federation Chamber of the House of Representatives, from 27 February 2012. This is a reform which you have advocated, Mr Speaker, and which was recommended in a Procedures Committee report in June 2004—some eight years ago. So there has been a process of consideration of these issues, and for eight years the parliament has been thinking about it. Today we move a step forward to implementing those recommendations which were made. This recognises the importance of the House’s second chamber. The government has certainly given the Main Committee the respect it deserves. In 2011 the Main Committee sat for an average of 21 hours a week and debated 75 bills that had been referred to it by the House. In 2005 it sat for less than 10 hours a week and debated only 27 bills.
It is pretty clear that there is some confusion, even among members of parliament occasionally, from the fact that the Main Committee does not meet in the room that is known as the main committee room. There is also confusion from time to time about the status of the Main Committee. It has been suggested to me, for example, when debating the referral of a bill to the Main Committee, that such a referral somehow gives the bill less status because the Main Committee is not seen as the equal chamber that it is. It is simply this chamber meeting in another place at the same time so as to improve the efficiency of the parliament.
With regard to these changes, there are a range of motions that will be required as well. They have been worked through with the clerks in order to facilitate those changes. They are part of the changes in the motion that I am moving today.
There has been some suggestion that the 30-second time limit could be restrictive for particular members. I am sympathetic to that. With regard to the member for Kennedy, who is in the chamber, I say on behalf of the government—not on behalf of the opposition, as it is the government’s position—that I as Leader of the House will not be interrupting the member for Kennedy to draw attention to the time of 30 seconds. That is because one of the great things about this chamber is that it is made up of characters who bring to the chamber different personalities and different ways of operating. The member for Kennedy is a person who has my utmost respect, particularly for the diligent way in which he goes about representing his electorate. I have had the privilege of visiting that great electorate of Kennedy, which is very different from the electorate of Grayndler, on many an occasion. I know that the member for Kennedy has put forward an objection to the change, which he sees as too restrictive. All I can say is that common sense often applies in the way that rules are implemented, and I see no problem with a bit of common sense being applied to the practical operation of the chamber.
With that, I thank all those who have worked so cooperatively to achieve this further reform. I indicate that, whatever other differences I have with the Manager of Opposition Business and others, we will continue to examine these issues and see how they operate in practice. We would not want to see, for example, fewer questions being asked in the parliament. That is certainly not the government’s intention. Indeed, the government has the opposite view: the government is critical of the fact that there have been fewer questions asked because of the suspensions of question time. The government will continue to take the view that when a suspension of question time is moved it is an indication that there are no further questions requested of the government by those opposite. We have had that view, we have had it consistently and we will continue to have that view about the importance of question time. I commend the motion relating to the amendments to standing orders that I have moved today.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.