Subject: 2008 Parliamentary Sittings
JOURNALIST: What are the basic changes to next year?
MINISTER: Under the Rudd Government Federal Parliament will sit five days a week. This will be the first time since federation that Parliament has been scheduled to sit, on most weeks, between Monday and Friday.
We will be shifting Private Members Business from Monday to Friday – that will allow extra government business to be undertaken during the Monday to Thursday sittings.
Parliament will sit for 82 days. That is up from an average of 67 under the Howard years. The Rudd Government believes very strongly in increasing Parliamentary accountability. We have a big agenda for this year and we want to make sure that Parliament is sitting appropriately so that we can get those changes which we have a mandate from the Australian public to put through.
JOURNALIST: Will there be any changes to the hours? Will they be shorter at all?
MINISTER: There will be a slight reduction on Monday and Tuesday night of half an hour each so that the adjournment debate will be brought forward to 8:30pm. This will allow for an extra one hour and thirty five minutes of Private Members Business, thereby allowing Members to raise issues for their constituents, and an extra three hours and twenty five minutes of government business. We have a big agenda this coming year. We want to make sure we get to work in 2008 and pursue that agenda which we have a mandate from the Australian public for.
JOURNALIST: Obviously it is the Members who have to be there a bit longer each week. What has the reaction been from Members?
MINISTER: Well we made this decision at the Ministry meeting yesterday afternoon. There are efficiencies involved in sitting for the five days. It potentially means that if you want Parliament to sit for longer you had a choice of either sitting for the five days or sitting extra weeks and this is far more efficient. There are of course cost savings compared with sitting extra weeks involved and I believe that the Australian public will receive this well. Members will have a greater opportunity to raise issues of concern to their electorate, but there will also be additional government business time for the Parliament from Monday to Thursday.
JOURNALIST: Will there be any additional cost because of this?
MINISTER: Compared with sitting extra weeks, our advice is that this will cost less than had we chosen to sit for extra weeks.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea of how much more it will cost?
MINISTER: If you sit for 82 days as we will in 2008, that will cost more than sitting for 67 days. But this is after all to conduct the business of the nation and I think the Australian public have got very clearly the message that the Rudd Government has started work from day one, that we are busy pursuing the agenda that we took to the Australian people, and which we received support for on the 24th of November. I think the idea that Parliament will sit 5 days during sitting weeks will be extremely well received.
JOURNALIST: So is there any concern on work and family balance for politicians?
MINISTER: Well there is of course the extra Friday sitting to be conducted between 9:00 and 2:30pm. This does enable a slight shortening, bringing forward of the adjournment debate from 9 to 8:30pm (on Monday and Tuesday). The other thing that the extra hours of government will do we would hope that as long as the Opposition and the Senate are constructive, is that it will avoid those late night, sometimes all night sittings of Parliament. There is now plenty of time, in 2008 for the extra sittings to ensure that government business can be achieved. We have a very big reform agenda and we intend in pursuing that agenda in 2008.
JOURNALIST: Are there any other changes that are being canvassed at the moment about how parliament runs?
MINISTER: We will have further announcements in the lead up to the Parliament, but we believe that this is an issue of constant review. We’ll be asking the procedures committee to examine how the five day sittings are working in practice. We think it will be a very positive initiative. It is something that no government has done before and the Australian public, who after all most of whom go to work from Monday to Friday, would expect that it is reasonable that the Parliament also sits from Monday to Friday during sitting weeks.
JOURNALIST: So no talk about maybe getting rid of Dorothy dixers?
MINISTER: We want to take a very constructive attitude towards the Parliament. We are very concerned at some of the decision making processes that weren’t transparent. We want to make sure that this is an open and accountable government and we’ll be addressing the way Parliament functions in that light. Kevin Rudd has made it clear with the statements that he has announced already on issues such as freedom of information, that this will be a transparent and accountable government. It is a government with a big agenda for the future. It is a government with a very strong work ethic. We are working very hard in the lead up to Christmas and 2008 will be a year of working hard for the Rudd Government.
JOURNALIST: Is that what this is really about? You always hear people whinging about politicians earning nice salaries but not spending much time in Canberra. Is addressing public concern about the time that politicians do spend in parliament?
MINISTER: I think that people who know politicians know that regardless of their political characteristic, one characteristic that is common is that they work hard, with very few exceptions.
JOURNALIST: Most people out there don’t know politicians though?
MINISTER: Well this certainly sends a message about how determined the Rudd government is to work hard in 2008, to make sure that we pursue our agenda for the future. We’ve got a big agenda and in order to have that agenda endorsed by the Parliament. The Parliament is going to have to sit extra days. It makes common sense to sit Monday to Friday, rather than sit extra sitting weeks. That is what we have done and I believe it will be extremely well received by the public.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.