Issues: Parliamentary reform; James Ashby; Westconnex; Robert McClelland’s retirement
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very concerned that someone’s been impersonating Christopher Pyne, either in today’s article speaking about parliamentary reform or in the Parliament over the last two years, because no one who has witnessed the Opposition’s disruptive and destructive tactics on the floor of the House of Representatives each and every day could possibly take the Opposition seriously when they speak about parliamentary standards.
After the last election when there was a hung Parliament, the Opposition determined to disrupt Parliament on each and every day.
But before that they undertook a process on parliamentary reform which they signed up to – Christopher Pyne, Tony Abbott, myself as Leader of the House and Julia Gillard as Prime Minister along with the crossbenchers. Just days after the independents and crossbenchers determined that Labor was in the best position to form government the Opposition tore up that agreement.
Part of that agreement was for an independent Speaker. The pairing of a Speaker with the deputy speaker coming from opposite ends of the political system and agreeing not to sit in their party’s caucus rooms. That was the basis for ensuring that the speakership of the Parliament would not become a political football.
The Opposition threw that out in spite of the fact that they signed up to it. Not only did they do that but Tony Abbott himself declared in December 2010 that he would just renew the attacks and the relentless negativity on the Government.
We’ve seen that carried out each and every day in the Parliament. They’ve suspended Question Time on 72 occasions. As a result of that, we’ve lost 21 hours of Question Time or 409 questions or 18 full Question Times.
Each and every day they’re going to the Parliament, they don’t try to hold the Government to account on policy issues, they just try to disrupt the Parliament, and disrupt proper processes.
We saw last year the farce of Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne running from the Parliament like little school boys, trying to get away from voting in a division that was being held on the floor of the House of Representatives. A farcical position which exposed their contempt for proper processes.
We’ve seen an attempt to move motions on the Parliament in order to just disrupt the policy debates that are occurring.
We’re seeing a record number of divisions held, including divisions on Third Readings of bills, unprecedented, just to take up the Parliament’s time.
We’ve seen them engage in disruptive tactics with record numbers being suspended from the Parliament during Question Time and on other occasions.
And we’ve seen them oppose parliamentary reform.
In spite of all that, this Government has got on with reform.
We’ve shortened the amount of time to ask questions and answer them during Question Time. We’ve ensured that that the independents and crossbenchers get their fair share of questions with a question each and every single day. We’ve introduced supplementary questions for the Government, the Opposition, and the crossbenchers. We’ve ensured the Matter of Public Importance debate occurs immediately after Question Time; that prior to Question Time we have Members’ Statements so that private members can put on the record their views about issues.
We’ve introduced a process whereby in the Federation Chamber you can have questions asked of people while they’re giving speeches to get further information and to encourage a two-way dialogue and debate.
We’ve had record numbers of votes on Private Members’ Business and motions or private members’ bills. In 2005 there were no votes on any Private Members’ Business before the Parliament. Last year there were 57 votes.
We’ve increased the hours that the Parliament sat in total to 1,025 per year, compared with 771 under the Howard years.
We’ve establish a Parliamentary Budget Office so that Government policies, Opposition policies and crossbench or Greens Political Party policies can be costed, something the Opposition have refused to cooperate with.
We’ve introduced the Independent Selection Committee that selects Private Members’ Business and decides what motions should go towards the Parliament.
We’ve overhauled the House committee system and established a Committee for Regional Australia and we’ve got an independent chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts and Audit.
So, when you look at our record of parliamentary reform, it stands in stark contrast in that we’ve achieved all of that in spite of the relentless negativity and destructive attitude of the Opposition.
And I say to the Opposition, they don’t need to write opinion pieces in January and put out policy papers. What they need to do is act and we’ll find out next week whether they go into Parliament and ask questions based upon some allegations and smear campaigns based upon things that happened decades ago. Whether they continue their fear campaigns in terms of the questions that they ask or whether they actually engage in the policy debates; whether they actually allow Question Time to occur without trying to suspend Standing Orders to disrupt it.
They need to be judged on what they do rather than what they say during the Christmas period.
QUESTION: Do you think Morris Iemma would make a good federal candidate?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think Morris Iemma is a very good human being. He’s someone who has a commitment to his local communities, a commitment to the Labor Party. I’ve known Morris a long time. He obviously has a decision to weigh up and that’s a decision for him.
QUESTION: Would you be a bit worried though that he has too much of a connection to the New South Wales Labor brand, in particular with the right wing?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think Morris Iemma is a very good human being. I regard him as a friend and we’ll wait and see what he does. That’s a decision for him and his family. He’s already made a contribution to public life. Whether he tries to put himself forward in a rank and file pre-selection to replace Robert McClelland is a matter for him and for other people in the electorate.
I’ll say this about Robert McClelland, he’s been an outstanding local member. It’s a seat next to mine and I wish him and Michelle and his family all the best for the future. I think he can be very proud of the contribution that he’s made, in particular the contribution that he made as Attorney-General of the Commonwealth.
QUESTION: Tony Abbott came out today and said the WestConnex should be extended all the way to the city and that it will be built if he’s elected. Where do you stand on that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Tony Abbott just shows what a policy lightweight he is. Tony Abbott has gone out there and stood up and said we’ve got all this money and we’re going to put it into WestConnex. It seems he only discovered today that it doesn’t take passengers into the city. It also doesn’t take freight to the port, so we’ve expressed concern about that.
We’ve made a contribution in terms of the planning money and the Commonwealth is represented on that committee as a result of that. We’re going to work with New South Wales, but we do want to make sure that they get the plans right and part of that is making sure that the M4, as it exists now, does get extended so that people can go all the way into the city.
It’s pretty clear that there’s more work needed on this project. I’ve said that in the meantime, Tony Abbott once again, talking off the top, hasn’t bothered to examine any detail and that’s the problem. Tony Abbott thinks he can just skate through to the Lodge on the basis of his relentlessly negative campaign.
He doesn’t do the hard policy work. He’s already committed money to this project without even knowing where the project is going.
QUESTION: You say that you agree that it needs to go all the way to the city, will you commit any funds to make that happen?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we’ll do is examine the proposals that are put forward and we’ll examine them constructively if there’s an issue in terms of freight and getting freight to the port; if there’s an issue of getting people to the city.
We’ve sat down and had a proper briefing with Infrastructure New South Wales. We’re working constructively. We’ve put forward $25 million to assist with the planning. We foreshadowed that in last year’s Budget. There’s also the issue of the F3 to the M2 that needs dealing with as well in Sydney.
It’s no good just coming up with figures and then working out what the money’s for afterwards. You have to actually, when it comes to infrastructure, have a considered approach to this. The Government’s doing that. Tony Abbott shows through his comments today that he simply doesn’t do the policy detail.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with Christopher Pyne’s explanations about his dealings with Mr Ashby?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m certainly not satisfied. What Justice Rares said in his judgement last year was damning of the Coalition.
We know that a number of shadow ministers, be it Mal Brough, all had engagement with Ashby prior to this being launched in the way that it was through the media.
We know also that many of those allegations were made, aired in the media and then withdrawn because they had no basis. This has been an extraordinary event and I can’t recall any judge being as damning of a process as Justice Rares was.
After all, the hurdle in terms of getting a case thrown out as an abuse of process is very high indeed and it is very unusual that that has occurred. Christopher Pyne and all of the others, Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott, all have to come clean about what they knew about the Ashby accusations and the campaign that was conducted in such an extraordinary manner whereby it was launched on the Saturday through the front page of the Daily Telegraph. Tony Abbott was lined up to do media interviews. Other Coalition members lined up to do media interviews all weekend about those issues and they can’t hide behind the term no specific knowledge as they do.
Every time they say no specific knowledge, what they’re really confirming is that they’re in it up to their necks.
QUESTION: Just one final question, you’ve been accused of sitting on a report into a site for a second Sydney airport at Wilton and Richmond by the Tourism Infrastructure Council. Your response to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s a silly comment. I haven’t received the report. I can’t release a report that I haven’t received that hasn’t been completed yet.
QUESTION: Has there been a delay in that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It hasn’t been completed yet. I made it very clear it would be received in the beginning of this year. It’s January. It’s not surprising that like other things they slow down over the Christmas period. So too, do people who do reports for governments.
It is very silly indeed for the council to say that a report should be released that doesn’t exist at this point. So the work’s being done. The work’s being done properly. I’ve said that we’ll release it after the Government has considered it but the Government hasn’t even received the report yet. And that could have been told to the body if they’d bothered to pick up the phone and ask.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.