May 21, 2007

Questions to the Speaker: Parliamentary Behaviour, Budget 2007-08

Questions to the Speaker: Parliamentary Behaviour, Budget 2007-08

21 May 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.30 p.m.)—Mr Speaker, on indulgence, I refer to my letter to you of 14 May, your correspondence back to me of 18 May and your advice that, on 11 May, you had written to the Chair of the Procedure Committee concerning possible changes to the standing orders and House of Representatives Practice in relation to unruly behaviour during the Leader of the Opposition’s budget speech in reply. I also refer to page 521 of Practice which states:

The naming of a Member usually occurs immediately an offence has been committed but this is not always possible. For example, Members have been named at the next sitting as a result of incidents that occurred at the adjournment of the previous sitting of the House.

I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, as to whether it would be appropriate to pursue this issue now or after question time.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.09 p.m.)—Mr Speaker, perhaps you can also ascertain from that tape whether indeed ministers encourage the regular chants from the Leader of the House about Medicare and from the Treasurer.

The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Grayndler will not debate questions.

Mr ALBANESE—Mr Speaker, I was asking a question of you.

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will be well aware that I have already answered that question.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.10 p.m.)—Mr Speaker, I refer to your statement in the parliament on 8 May, which indicated the special circumstances arising from the budget speech and the budget reply. I refer also to your decision on the night of the budget reply to not take disciplinary action against members of the government who were clearly unruly. Further, I refer you to my letter to you of 14 May and your reply on 18 May, which indicated that you had written to the Procedure Committee, asking it to investigate what possible changes to practice could be made which would ‘give the Speaker additional options on such occasions’. I wonder whether you could report to the House on that.

The SPEAKER—I thank the honourable member for Grayndler. I make the observation on his first, I think, close to a reflection on the chair. I think he would be well aware that, on the night of the response of the Leader of the Opposition to the budget speech, I was rather concerned about some of the behaviour in the House. However, it was at the request of the opposition that I did not take action at that time. However, as he would be well aware, during televised presentations, such as the Treasurer’s budget address or an address to the nation by the Prime Minister or in fact the response to the budget by the Leader of the Opposition, the national broadcast does place the chair in a difficult position. Accordingly, what the chair can do in that situation is somewhat different because, as you would be well aware, I am reluctant to intervene during a national televised broadcast. I would, however, say that I have given some consideration and, as the member for Grayndler rightly alludes to, I have decided to write to the Chair of the Procedure Committee asking that the Procedure Committee look at the whole issue of what the chair could do where there is a televised national address. I do not intend to debate what the Procedure Committee may or may not do, but I would make the point to all members that they are of course free to approach the Procedure Committee if they wish to make their own submissions.

Mr ALBANESE—Mr Speaker, to make it clear, when I wrote to you on 14 May, as indicated to you immediately after the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, I agreed with your decision not to disrupt the speech in order to take action. We think that you behaved impeccably. We have no question whatsoever with your ruling on that evening. I do draw your attention, though, to page 521 of the House of Representatives Practice, which states:

The naming of a Member usually occurs immediately an offence has been committed but this is not always possible. For example, Members have been named at the next sitting as a result of incidents that occurred at the adjournment of the previous sitting of the House.

Mr Speaker, I ask whether you have considered or will consider taking such action against people, such as the member for Robertson, who were clearly out of control for the entire half an hour of that speech and whether the House of Representatives Practice leaves it available to you—

Mr Abbott—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Grayndler is making an absolutely scurrilous aspersion on another member of the House, and that should not be done other than by substantive motion. He should withdraw that.

The SPEAKER—I believe that the Leader of the House raises a point that the Manager of Opposition Business is reflecting on a member under the guise of a question, and it would assist if he withdrew that.

Mr ALBANESE—I have no intention of withdrawing that, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler has been requested to withdraw it. The member for Grayndler will withdraw.

Mr ALBANESE—Mr Speaker, nothing I said was anything other than mild. I did not reflect on the member, except to say that the member for Robertson—and he was not alone—interjected for half an hour.

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will withdraw the accusation of scurrilous behaviour.

Mr ALBANESE—But he did interject for half an hour!

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will withdraw the accusation.

Mr ALBANESE—His behaviour was scurrilous.

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will withdraw his accusation or I will take action.

Mr McMullan—Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on this matter. It is perfectly in order—

The SPEAKER—The member for Fraser will resume his seat. The member from Grayndler will withdraw the accusation or I will take action. He will withdraw the accusation against the member for Robertson.

Mr ALBANESE—Mr Speaker, which accusation?

The SPEAKER—The member knows exactly what I am talking about. Either he withdraws or I will take action.

Mr ALBANESE—I will withdraw what I said and say that the member for Robertson interjected consistently for half an hour of the speech.

The SPEAKER—I will accept that.

[Question to the Speaker by the Member for Mackellar]

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, it is understandable that you might not have recognised that you have not answered my question yet, which went to page 321 of Practice, and whether you had considered taking action on the basis of that provision under standing order 94.

The SPEAKER—I thank the Manager of Opposition Business. I think he was actually referring to page 521. He referred to the question of naming. It is a practice that has not been used for a considerable period of time, and it is a practice that has been superseded by the introduction of standing order 94(a). I would not have thought there was a reason to name anyone from the behaviour I saw on the last sitting Thursday. On the question of looking back to a previous session on that basis, I make the point that, under standing order 94(a), it was originally intended as a measure to maintain order. It would be neither appropriate nor warranted to attempt to apply it retrospectively.