Sep 13, 2016

Standing and Sessional Orders

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:59): I do indeed second the amendment. I do so with some level of surprise that the Leader of the House has brought forward such retrograde changes to the standing orders. I remember well, after the 2010 election, the group hug when Christopher Pyne, on behalf of the coalition, signed the document, Agreement for a better parliament: parliamentary reform, on 6 September 2010. That is what our amendments go to with regard to the selection committee.

During the period 2010 to 2013 we had literally hundreds of debates and votes—determinations—by this parliament about what the members of the House of Representatives thought of issues that were relevant to their electorates and issues that were relevant to the nation. At the time, the Leader of the House said this in a media release the day after the event:

The ‘Agreement For A Better Parliament’ negotiated between the Coalition, Labor and the Independents will amend parliamentary standing orders to establish a more independent Speaker, limit the power of the executive, increase the ability of parliament to scrutinise legislation, enhance the role of private member’s business and the committee system and make question time more useful and relevant.

Now, which of those positive enhancements has the Leader of the House decided is not convenient?

As a result of the changes that occurred through the selection committee and through private members business—I quote from the preamble, which was signed by Christopher Pyne, the Leader of the House, on behalf of the then opposition—

… there will be a need for recognition by all to allow more MP’s to be involved in various roles and debates, to allow more community issues to be tested through private members voting …

These were indeed very positive amendments.

They were also amendments that gave respect and standing to the crossbenchers to more fully participate in the activities of the parliament. In my view, that resulted in very good legislation, because you had consultation and you had engagement. As a result of that, we were able to pass some 595 pieces of legislation through this House without losing a single piece of legislation during that period. It was a result of a cooperative approach that respected the fact that each member of this House is representative of their electorate, has a mandate to carry out those duties as the representative of their constituency and should be treated with some respect.

When I was leader of the government in the House of Representatives, with 70 votes on my side on the floor of the House of Representatives, we did not lose a vote. In three years we did not lose a vote. This mob with 76 could not survive three days without losing a vote. That is what this shabby rort of changes to standing orders are designed to do. It is a shabby manipulation of the standing orders, so that, as the Manager of Opposition Business indicated, even if they do lose a vote, they will come back to it at another time. We know, in terms of the wording of that particular standing order, that it refers to a new division in the case of confusion, error or misadventure. We know they are confused about their policy approach; we know that they are committing errors and we know that it is a misadventure when you leave the parliament while parliament is still conducting its business. We saw that on the last sitting Thursday.

I can understand that the Leader of the House, the whip and others who missed out on voting in those procedures on that Thursday are embarrassed and humiliated. I feel their pain. I went through three years being concerned. I needn’t have bothered, because we on this side were organised about how we ran the parliament. People were happy to turn up to work and turn up to vote. We consulted and we organised legislation, but those on the other side have proven themselves to be incapable of doing so.

I do think that the Leader of the House should perhaps reconsider some of the more draconian measures that are being put forward in these standing order propositions. After all, given the Senate performance yesterday, his performance on that Thursday looks good. I am sure he has sent a card and a note to Senator McKenzie, thanking her for taking some of the pressure off him about his performance of his duties.

So I say to the Leader of the House, if you think it is smart to get a political outcome through a manipulation of rules, you should think back to the geniuses who came up with the Senate reform proposals that resulted in there being fewer coalition senators, fewer Greens senators and more crossbench senators and that reinvigorated the One Nation party in the other chamber. Think about what happens when you think you can put in a political fix rather than engage in issues of substance and negotiate your position. You should have the confidence in your position to be able to argue things on their merits; you should have confidence in your own party room, that your members will actually turn up to votes; and you should have confidence in the power of your arguments not to be frightened of having a Selection Committee that operates properly, that chooses private members’ business in an appropriate way, chooses motions to have votes on and allows for a determination in this parliament of issues that have been brought by honourable members. You should not be frightened of being able to test the power of your case, if you actually have an agenda.

For a government that had no business in the Senate and has no sense of purpose—that does not have an agenda—I would have thought that voting on private members motions and bills through a Selection Committee process might help you out. It might give you something to do. You might get that sense of purpose from non-government members. If you do not proceed like this, what people will do, what you will find, very simply—it is not up to me to give advice to the crossbenchers or other members, but I have had a bit to do with them over the years—is that private members’ motions get converted into private members’ bills, and they will end up being just a lot of bills before the parliament. That is what will happen. Whenever you try to do a manipulation and a fix you find that there is always a way around them. I note that my friend the member for Kennedy had two private member’s bills before the parliament this week. He has worked it out—he has been around this place for a while—and other people will work it out too. There are ways of getting the same outcome.

I will conclude with this: so opposed are the government to ideas that they have even knocked off the library committee. I await the reason for knocking off the library committee, but that just shows that this is an attack on the independence of this parliament, because the Library plays a very important role.

(Time expired)

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:59): I do indeed second the amendment moved by the Manager of Opposition Business. We have had barely a week of sittings, and the parliament has been reduced to a shambles by this mob opposite. We had three years of minority government; it functioned well. We were in control not just every day, not just every hour and not just every minute but every second—every second of every sitting day we controlled the agenda in this House. The other mob: three days and it fell apart.

So upset were they with each other, they were running for the doors just to get away from each other. I thought to myself, ‘What is the precedent of people running from parliament?’ I say this in the hope that those brilliant producers at Insiders will be listening and will get out the footage of the gazelle who ran away from a division to try to avoid voting during that parliament. They ran away from the parliament.

Yesterday we had scenes in the Senate where people were not running anywhere, but perhaps they should have been. I think Senator McKenzie regrets not running from the parliament. That embarrassing performance—the depiction of a government without an agenda and whose senior members were incapable of giving a stump speech about their achievements one year into the government—said it all.

The real problem here is that the Leader of the House and the Government Whip and the people who missed the vote missed the vote. They missed a vote. What should have happened then? Should there have been some punishment for the Leader of the House? Perhaps. Should there have been some punishment or penalty against the Chief Government Whip? That has happened. That is a rotating door. She is the third one they have had during their first term of office, so we know there are lots of precedents for that. No, they have not done that. There was no action against the Leader of the House, no action against the Chief Government Whip, no action against the ministers who missed the vote and no action against the backbenchers who missed the vote. The action is against the parliament itself. They come in here and they say, ‘We know the way to avoid missing a vote in parliament: we will stop the parliament sitting!’

This year we will sit for 51 days in total. We sat for three days—one day of which was ceremonial, and the second day of the actual sittings did not work out too well. So we are back here this week and then we are off again for another three weeks. This is a government in search of an agenda and in search of a reason for existence. ‘What is the purpose of Malcolm Turnbull?’ is what people are asking.

The SPEAKER: The member for Grayndler will refer to members by their correct titles.

Mr ALBANESE: The current Prime Minister. They are asking: what is the purpose of a change in prime ministers if the agenda is exactly the same as the former Prime Minister’s and if there is nothing new coming through?

During the last parliament we sat here and had debate after debate about the unprecedented, so-called proroguing of the parliament. We came in here and we had speeches, just to fill time, about the Governor-General’s speech in this chamber. The Federation Chamber, which is usually used for such purposes, was not even used. We have this pretence of a new government, to the extent of having had that proroguing of the parliament. But the Leader of the House has had very different views. This is what he used to say:

The people of Australia expect us to serve our electorates and legislate, not to spend 18 weeks here when we should be spending 20 or 21 or 22 weeks.

That was the Leader of the House, the member for Sturt. There are too many things he said, really, to go through. One of them was:

… the first point to be made is that, yet again, this government is squibbing on transparency and accountability and trying to avoid the parliament.

Well, it is all coming back now, just like, in the past, when he said:

Why doesn’t it have to sit? There are two reasons. Firstly, it does not have a plan for the future for the Australian people. Secondly, it cannot rely on its numbers in the House.

That was the member for Sturt. Well, we did all right starting at 70. They start at 76. Imagine how bad it would be—just imagine it! They would struggle to get through prayers in the morning.

The Leader of the House is a big supporter of reform when he does not have to do anything about it. This is what he said to that esteemed institution, the Institute of Public Affairs. Now, you would not say something that was untrue to the Institute of Public Affairs, because they would pick you up on it. On 30 January 2013, he said:

I have long articulated the need for the creation of a ‘take note’ session to follow Question Time. The session would consist of a thirty minute period following Question Time which would allow a number of Members to speak on the significant matter of the day.

That is what he had to say at that time. He made it very clear, and he spoke about it complementing the matter of public importance.

So, I say: today is an opportunity to make that vision of the member for Sturt a reality. He can do it. He can do it by voting for it—voting for what he said very clearly on the record. He, of course, has also backed other reforms such as supplementary questions. He has backed a range of reforms. We are not putting them all forward here, but we are putting forward the best ones. He should take up this opportunity.

What is good about it is that he can even claim credit for it. He can say, ‘I thought of it first.’ This is an opportunity, member for Sturt, to be in the vanguard of reform because the truth is that this is a parliament that is in need of some proper reform. We have got the Seinfeld Senate over there—a Senate about nothing, meeting about nothing, with no business. We have got an agenda here one sitting week after we dealt with standing orders to change the sitting times and introduce reforms so that people could essentially leave and there would not be votes, divisions or quorums called after 7.30 on Mondays and Tuesdays—something that was not controversial and something that has been welcomed. Probably government members are not aware that that change actually took place.

If you are going to fix the problem, the position of the Leader of the House does not really fix it, because it is 8 o’clock and the problem you have got is that you cannot keep people till 5 o’clock. So, if you are going to solve the problem, we really should be knocking off straight after question time! I have got a bit of Italian heritage and the concept of a nap in the afternoon in Mediterranean countries is very civilised. La dolce vita. Get on board, member for Sturt. I challenge him to actually go the full hog—do what is necessary. You then will not lose a vote. But your heart is not in this half-hearted measure. Be a reformer. Be a visionary. Have some ticker and vote for the Pyne vision.