Transcript of doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra
Tuesday, 13 February 2007
E & OE – PROOF ONLY
Subject: $10 billion water announcement; Government plan to cut MPIs and cut debate in Parliament.
ALBANESE: The national water crisis is too important to be dealt with using a cobbled together plan with a lack of detail.
Last night’s Senate Estimates revelation that Cabinet wasn’t consulted on a $10 billion plan is stunning.
It shows that the plan was put together at the last minute. Treasury and Finance were brought in only in the week leading up to the putting together of John Howard’s speech on 25 January.
It’s quite clear that the Howard Government put more effort into crafting John Howard’s political speech than it did into developing detailed funding, timelines and governance arrangements for this plan.
On another issue, this afternoon we will see in the Parliament yet another action by the Howard Government to stifle democratic debate on the floor of the Parliament.
The proposal to reduce the Matter of Public Importance debate to just one hour is unnecessary and is once again an example of the Howard Government being determined, in an election year, to stomp on any democratic debate, and to stomp on accountability.
Last year, there were 50 MPI debates. Of those, only 13 went for more than hour. Of those 13, six went over one hour by less than 90 seconds.
The Matter of Public Importance debate provisions have been in the Standing Orders since 1901. It’s served this Parliament for 106 years to have an opportunity for individual members to hold the Government to account on the issue of the day.
The Government will also be changing provisions so that the new designation of Assistant Ministers, which are, in effect, Parliamentary Secretaries, can’t be asked questions in the Parliament.
One’s got to ask, what is the difference between a Parliamentary Secretary and an Assistant Minister?
The only reason why these designations were created was to hide the fact that John Cobb was demoted, and Christopher Pyne wasn’t promoted.
Christopher Pyne was a Shadow Minister from 1994 to 1996. Under the Howard regime, he hasn’t made the position that he made way back in 1994.
That might be sad for Christopher Pyne, but it doesn’t justify the creation of an entirely new position. And John Cobb has said that his appointment as Assistant Minister to the Minister for Environment and Water Resources is a promotion.
Well, if it’s a promotion, why can’t the Parliament hold John Cobb accountable?
We all know why the Howard Government wouldn’t want John Cobb answering questions on the floor of the Parliament. But if that’s the case, then he shouldn’t be given this title.
REPORTER: If most MPIs only go for about 50 minutes, what’s the problem with limiting them to an hour?
ALBANESE: Because on very important issues such as the war in Iraq, such as the drought, such as taking action to address climate change, it’s important that members have an opportunity to contribute.
This is an attack on the independents, on members of the Opposition, and from time to time, on members of the Government who may wish to contribute to the debate of the day.
We all know that the Government controls the agenda on the floor of the Parliament. Matters of Public Importance were put in place in 1901 to provide some accountability mechanisms. The winding back of that is extraordinary, it’s unnecessary, and it’s symptomatic of a Government that’s out of control.
REPORTER: Is it possible that this might actually see a tightening up of debate and better debate because people will be forced into better forming their ideas before getting up there in the despatch box?
ALBANESE: No, they won’t get up there at the despatch box, that’s the whole point.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.