Aug 15, 2012

Transcript of doorstop – Senate Courtyard, Parliament House

Issues:  Expert panel report, offshore processing legislation, Parliament, the Opposition

ANTHONY ALBANESE: On Monday the Government received the report of eminent persons chaired by Mr Houston who we asked to come together to produce a report to try and break the parliamentary deadlock.

It’s quite clear that that report has been successful in breaking the parliamentary deadlock after the Government made the decision to adopt in-principle the recommendations put forward in the report, and after the Opposition indicated they would also vote for the amendments that have been worked out in a cooperative manner between the Government and the Opposition.

In spite of that, yesterday we saw the rather bizarre suggestion that 90 minutes of the Parliament’s time should be taken up by a debate on a matter of public importance on asylum-seeker issues which would have led to the deferral of the debate on the actual asylum-seeker legislation.

The House of Representatives of course determined not to do that and to get on with the debate.

Up to now we’ve had 30 Opposition speakers on this legislation and there remains 32 Opposition members to speak on the legislation, in spite of the fact that the Opposition said it would not delay.

What we’re seeing is the Opposition being determined, in spite of the fact that we have a breakthrough, in spite of the fact that they’ve recognised the important work of the expert panel, to engage in debate essentially with themselves, given there are no speakers other than Opposition speakers remaining on the list today. They are engaging in politics, in abuse, in personal character attacks and in vilification.

It’s time the Opposition recognised that what people want, what the Australian people want, and what the expert panel provided a path forward on, is to move on, deal with this issue in the House of Representatives this morning, prior to Question Time as the Opposition have committed, and deal with it in the Senate this week.

QUESTION:  Coalition MPs say that they’ve got a right to talk about this, given their strong views, want to put it on the record about their views on asylum-seekers. Don’t they have a right to do that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’re not talking about the substance of the issues. What I’ve seen of the debate is just more abuse, more negativity, more politics from an Opposition that very rarely talk about any substance or anything other than, ‘why they were robbed of being on the Government benches after the election’ and the ongoing dummy spit about the fact that they sit on the Opposition benches.

QUESTION: Have you met with your opposite number, Christopher Pyne, this morning? Did he give any indication that the Coalition would shorten the debate?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I had a number of discussions with Mr Pyne yesterday. Yesterday, the Opposition said that they would shorten their speeches. They said they would do that. That did not occur. More and more people have been added to the speaking lists. The lists haven’t been shortened. For people looking at the lists, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here.

The Opposition had said that this legislation will be finalised prior to Question Time today, well in advance. So people can now see what’s going on. There’s an opportunity for the Opposition to do what they said they would do.

QUESTION: Boats have arrived since the legislation entered the Parliament. Are the Opposition playing politics with people’s lives?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What the Opposition are doing is what they do with every issue, which is just to be all about the politics, never about the substance and it’s time they moved on.

The best characterisation was yesterday where they sought to have a Matter of Public Importance (MPI) debate about legislation that was before the Parliament and sought to delay the actual legislation. I thought that was pretty embarrassing, frankly, for the Opposition. It exposed the fact that they’re determined to just play politics as usual.

QUESTION: The Opposition says this is parliamentary process though and that they’re entitled to do this. Are you saying that they’re not?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What you’re not entitled to do is to say that we should have a delay on legislation debate so that we can talk about a Matter of Public Importance about why the legislation should be brought on.

I think that, frankly, speaks for itself which is why not a single cross-bench member supported the Opposition on that vote yesterday and why I first made a private entreaty to the Opposition on Monday night, again on Tuesday morning and then in the Parliament, suggesting that we get on with the debate.

QUESTION: [indistinct].

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s the point here. There are processes of the Parliament which for example, in terms of the speaking to consideration in detail amendments, there’s opportunities for unlimited numbers of members to rise an unlimited number of times. So there isn’t a restriction on the time for debate at that period.

Now, what we’ve seen in the past and it’s the usual same suspects who are rolled out – Paul Fletcher, Jamie Briggs – people stand up, they jump for five minutes, they sit down, they stand up, they jump, they rotate it round. On a number of occasions we’ve seen that this year.

I hope that doesn’t occur. The Opposition have said they’ll deal with this legislation and that it will be finalised prior to Question Time. I think that is what people expect. I’m suggesting they should do nothing more and nothing less than do what they said they would do.

And the Government made it very clear yesterday, very clear, that we wouldn’t seek to gag the legislation last night. In return the Opposition suggested that they would cut down the time in which people would speak.

If people want to make a contribution on substance, of course there’s a legitimate point for them to do that but to just engage in politics and personal vilification is not in the spirit of what the Government has done in establishing the expert panel and what the three gentlemen have done in terms of Mr Houston, Mr L’Estrange and Mr Aristotle, in really trying to move the nation beyond the deadlock that I think people were very disappointed with.

QUESTION: Do you think you might guillotine the debate today or gag the debate?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What I’m suggesting is that the Opposition have said that they will conclude the debate by two o’clock. I’m suggesting that that should actually occur, that they should stick with that. I think it’s always far preferable to not guillotine the debate. It’s important that we get onto the amendments. Mr Morrison and others should have a right to speak to those amendments but let’s have a little bit of commonsense and let’s have a little less politics from this Opposition.

Thanks very much.