Feb 15, 2007

Question Time – Questions without notice and Speaker’s Ruling

Question Time – Questions without notice and Speaker’s Ruling

15 February 2007

Mr ABBOTT—These days the Leader of the Opposition says that his greatest hero is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or it might have been Keir Hardy, depending upon which journalist he is talking to. In those days the Leader of the Opposition was known as ‘Dr Death’ because he closed 2,200 hospital beds in Queensland.

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order, going to standing order 64.

The SPEAKER—I make the point that, if the member would like that withdrawn, I will ask for it to be withdrawn.

Mr Albanese—Yes, it certainly should be withdrawn, Mr Speaker, obviously.

The SPEAKER—If the member finds it offensive, then the minister will withdraw that last accusation.

Mr ABBOTT—I am a little confused. I simply referred to the Queensland public’s terminology. They called the Leader of the Opposition ‘Dr Death’ because of his record in Queensland public hospitals. If the Leader of the Opposition has an objection, he should raise it and he should let the flunkies sit down and stop fighting this fight for him.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER—Order! If members want to hold up their question time, they will keep interjecting! I call the member for Dawson.

Mrs De-Anne Kelly—Mr Speaker, on a point of order, that term that the minister used was commonly used in the media and in the public in Queensland. He is quoting from the press of the day.

The SPEAKER—That is not a point of order.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER—Order!

Mr Snowdon interjecting—

The SPEAKER—The member for Lingiari will remove himself under standing order 94(a).

The member for Lingiari then left the chamber—

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, on the point of order, three members on this side have been warned for moving points of order, two members have been excluded and you allow this behaviour. He must withdraw it. He must withdraw that statement and withdraw it immediately without reservation.

The SPEAKER—Order! The member will resume his seat and he will not reflect on the chair!

Mr ABBOTT—Mr Speaker, on the point of order, if the Leader of the Opposition asks me to withdraw because he finds it offensive, I will withdraw, but I am not going to withdraw for this one.

The SPEAKER—I say to the Manager of Opposition Business, I heard clearly what the minister said. If the Leader of the Opposition objects to that expression, he will ask for it to be withdrawn.

Mr Albanese—To the point of order, are you suggesting, Mr Speaker, that anyone would not find that offensive?

The SPEAKER—If the Manager of Opposition Business wants to ask me a question, he will do so after question time.

Mr Albanese—Could anyone not find that offensive? It is offensive; it should be withdrawn.

The SPEAKER—I have listened carefully and the Leader of the Opposition has not asked for it to be withdrawn. Therefore he has not found it unparliamentary. I call the minister.

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, you indicated directly to me as Manager of Opposition Business that if there was an objection it would be withdrawn. If you check the Hansard you will see that that is what was said.

Mr McMullan—Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, I know of no precedent where you, having asked the minister to withdraw, allowed him to refuse and did nothing about it. It has never happened before in all the time I have been in the parliament and I do not know how you can stand for it.

The SPEAKER—I remind the member for Fraser that I said if the Leader of the Opposition found it offensive I would ask the minister to withdraw.

Mr McMullan—Mr Speaker, that is neither what you said nor what the standing orders require. You said—

The SPEAKER—The member will not reflect on the chair!

Mr McMullan—With respect, I am reminding you but I am not reflecting. You said: ‘If the member finds it offensive I will ask the minister to withdraw.’ You asked him to withdraw and he refused.

The SPEAKER—The member will resume his seat.

Mr McMullan interjecting—

The SPEAKER—The member is well aware that the time to ask questions of the Speaker is after question time. I said that if the Leader of the Opposition found that expression offensive I would ask for it to be withdrawn. The Leader of the Opposition has not asked for it to be withdrawn.

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, I refer you to standing order 89:

A Member must not use offensive words against:

(a) either House of the Parliament or a Member of the Parliament;

Standing order 90—I am getting straight to the point of order—says:

All imputations of improper motives to a Member and all personal reflections on other Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

Standing order 91 goes to what action you should—

The SPEAKER—I am well aware of the standing orders! As the Manager of Opposition Business is well aware, the occupant of the chair is the determinant of the interpretation of the standing orders. In the specific instance, I have ruled that if the Leader of the Opposition finds that expression offensive he may ask for it to be withdrawn. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: does the Leader of the Opposition wish to have that withdrawn?

Mr Danby—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Under standing order 90, I find the minister’s description of the Leader of the Opposition offensive and I ask that you have him withdraw it.

The SPEAKER—The member will resume his seat. I have just sought the opinion of the person in question, the Leader of the Opposition. He has not asked for it to be withdrawn. I call the minister.

An opposition member—Point of order, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER—I have ruled on that point of order. I call the minister.

Mr ABBOTT—I simply make the point that after the Leader of the Opposition’s record in Queensland, there is a clear message to the Australian people: do not let this man wreck Medicare like he wrecked the Queensland public hospital system.

QUESTIONS TO THE SPEAKER – Speaker’s Rulings

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.21 p.m.)—I refer to your ruling today regarding my request as Manager of Opposition Business that an offensive remark be withdrawn. I draw your attention to the Hansard of 22 June 2006, page 72, where the former Leader of the Opposition stated:

You are better at vilifying refugees, Phil.

The next entry is yours, saying, ‘Order!’ then the Leader of the House rising to his feet saying:

I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. If I may say so, that was a grubby remark and it should be withdrawn. It is offensive and it should be withdrawn.

You then stated:

The Leader of the House will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition has been asked to withdraw that remark. The Leader of the Opposition will stand up and withdraw it.

The former Leader of the Opposition did just that, Mr Speaker, and the House went on in an orderly fashion.

Mr Speaker, I also draw your attention to the Hansard on 8 August 2006, which does not even record what the interjection was—it just says, ‘Opposition members interjecting’. Again, the Leader of the House rose to his feet and said:

Mr Speaker, I heard the Leader of the Opposition use very offensive language against the minister for workplace relations and, under the standing orders which he claims to uphold, he should withdraw it.

You called the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition responded ‘so that you know exactly what I said’. You then intervened and said:

The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw.

That then occurred, Mr Speaker. That is precisely what happened on the floor of this chamber today—precisely.

The SPEAKER—I think the member might come to his question and not debate it.

Mr ALBANESE—I would ask that you examine the precedents that have occurred in the past, including your own rulings, Mr Speaker. Have a look at the tape and examine what occurred today and report back to the House as to what the standards will be in future if we are going to have the sort of orderly debate that I think the people of Australia expect and deserve from this House.

The SPEAKER—I take the question as a serious question that the Manager of Opposition Business has raised. I would make the point that the occupier of the chair is always asked to rule on an issue like that in the context of what was said. On this particular occasion I asked the Leader of the Opposition if he found the words offensive and he indicated that he did not. However, I am happy to discuss the matter further with the opposition—but I will not revisit the particular instance of today.

The SPEAKER—I thank the member for Batman and the spirit in which he raises that point. It might assist if I say to the Leader of the Opposition: would he like that expression withdrawn? Would the Leader of the Opposition like that expression withdrawn?

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, with all due respect, the whole point of my question to you, the question from the member for Fraser and the question from the member for Batman is that this is about your role as Speaker and upholding the standing orders. It is inappropriate now for you to ask the Leader of the Opposition in such a fashion. I would ask that you reflect on the ruling and report back to the House next Monday.

The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Grayndler has made his point. I have raised the point. I am happy to consider this matter further. I have given the opportunity again to the Leader of the Opposition and he has chosen not to take it. I will not take it any further.

Mr RUDD (Griffith) (3.29 p.m.)—Mr Speaker, my simple request is that you uphold the standing orders.