May 9, 2007

Speech – Standing orders

Speech – Standing Orders

9 May 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.19 p.m.)—Labor supports this amendment to standing orders, which would allow the Main Committee to sit on Monday until all business before it is concluded instead of requiring a motion to extend. The amendment to standing order 192 clarifies that the priority of the Main Committee on Mondays is committee and delegation reports. It is extraordinary, however, that we have a motion before the House this afternoon to extend the sitting of the Main Committee. Whilst we in the Labor Party are certainly happy to facilitate the use of the Main Committee to consider business, it is surprising because the government has not been prioritising business at all. Indeed, in the last sitting, just six weeks ago, the week before parliament rose, the Main Committee barely had any business to consider at all. On the Wednesday, all we had was a series of three-minute statements from members and on the Thursday it did not sit at all. Nothing could better illustrate the fact that this government is short of ideas, it is short of legislation, it is out of touch and it is out of time. Nothing could better illustrate that fact. The Leader of the House, the member for Warringah, never does his job. He gets other people to do it for him. He cannot be bothered moving motions that are appropriately moved by the Leader of the House in this chamber. He simply gets his colleague—

Ms Macklin—Where is he?

Mr ALBANESE—He’s out jogging. That is where he usually is at this time of the day. This is a government—

Mr Hockey—Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If the Manager of Opposition Business wants to engage in a debate about the fitness of the Leader of the House, I am happy to engage in a debate about that, but I would like to hear him come back to the Main Committee order of business. Standing orders 190(e) and 192—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The minister will resume his seat, and I am sure the member for Grayndler will be relevant to the question before the House.

Mr ALBANESE—I certainly will. It is not surprising that government ministers are embarrassed. They are embarrassed by their own performance—embarrassed about extending the sittings of the Main Committee when there is no legislation before the Main Committee to consider. It is extraordinary. We can remember back to previous times before elections in 2004, 2001 and 1998. The House was full of legislation. There was a battle of ideas. What do we see from this government? This is a government that is out of ideas and out of legislation. Indeed, the only legislation that it has before this House to consider tends to be legislation amending its own legislation, such as Work Choices, because it has got the fundamentals of its legislation wrong. Surely the first step should be ensuring that the Main Committee does not sit vacant like it did during the last session. They are putting the cart before the horse. You actually need some legislation before you expand the sittings of the Main Committee. This is in contrast to the solid legislative agenda that Labor has been outlining all year on climate change, on addressing our water crisis, on broadband and on education. I would encourage the government to actually refer the private member’s bill that we have to ratify the Kyoto protocol, for example, to the Main Committee for full debate and then have a vote on it rather than sitting on this legislation and refusing to allow votes in this chamber or proper debate.

It is very clear, and we saw it again today when asked a question about the future of education, that the prime minister’s response is all about the past. His response was all about the 1990s—when we were talking about the budget here and through the forward estimates years to 2010-11. So we welcome the opportunity to have more debate and we will be engaging in it. But we say to the government: if you are going to increase sitting times and make these changes then let us have more debate on the policy differences, which are stark, in this election year: the policy differences on addressing our skills crisis, on addressing infrastructure, on the education revolution, on providing broadband, on addressing climate change and the water crisis, on addressing all these issues—

Mr Hockey—And industrial relations.

Mr ALBANESE—and on making sure that we have a fair workplace relations system for Australia. What I would like to debate as well is the failure of this government, when it comes to industrial relations, to address the issue of those workers from Tristar in my electorate. This government sat on its hands. I asked questions of the Prime Minister last year. We had a delegation, a busload, of workers from Tristar down here and the government refused to see them. It only noticed that this was an issue when Alan Jones and other people in the media took it up. The minister asked for a debate on these issues but he does not like hearing—

Mr Hockey—I rise on a point of order. Not only is the member factually incorrect but the matter is actually before the courts. I would urge the member to bear in mind that, because the matter is before the courts, we should not prejudice the court proceedings with debate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The chair is in the invidious position of not knowing at what stage the legal proceedings are. If there are matters before the court, I would hope that the member for Grayndler recognises that and couches his words in terms of the House of Representatives Practice.

Mr ALBANESE—I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I certainly do. What is not before the courts is the fact that I asked questions of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister dismissed them out of hand. What is not before the courts is the fact that a busload of workers from Tristar came here last year. I asked a question while they were in the gallery and the government refused to see them. That is a fact. That is not before the courts; that is an absolute fact. The minister opposite said that he wanted more time in the Main Committee and in this chamber to talk about industrial relations. He suggested that. I took it up. The first time I did there were objections, points of order and attempts to shut down debate.

Mr Hockey interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—I will continue to talk about Tristar; as I have been doing now for more than a year.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The honourable member will refer his remarks through the chair. The minister might assist by ceasing to interject.

Mr ALBANESE—I believe that I have a responsibility to represent those people, because they were not going to get any representation from the other side. The fact is that we are prepared to support this motion extending the time of sittings for the Main Committee. We are prepared to facilitate these debates. We are prepared to ensure that every opportunity is taken to talk about the forward-looking agenda that Kevin Rudd and Labor are pursuing. I commend the changes to the House. I suggest to the government and, through the minister, to the absent Leader of the House that to fill in this time in future we would be quite happy to debate the pieces of legislation that we have sitting on the Notice Paper, because that legislation represents the fact that we are ready to govern Australia into the future.