Sep 26, 2010

Transcript of Interview with Laurie Oakes, Today on Sunday

Subject: Resumption of parliament; parliamentary reform

LAURIE OAKES: Mr Pyne, welcome to the program.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Laurie.

LAURIE OAKES: Mr Albanese, you too. I gather you…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be here.

LAURIE OAKES: I gather you, Mr Albanese, were at the MCG yesterday and saw that drawn AFL match. Can’t you get Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor down there to sort it out?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that certainly is an option I put to the AFL commissioners yesterday. And, given we have some experience in sorting these things out, I offered my services. But I think the AFL are pretty happy to get 100,000 people back at the MCG next week. It was a great day yesterday.

LAURIE OAKES: Well, Mr Pyne, Tony Abbott said on 24 August: I think we can have a kinder, gentler polity. I think we can be a more collegial polity than we’ve been.

What went wrong?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, nothing has gone wrong, Laurie, and we certainly will be. I mean, the numbers in the parliament mean that we are going to have to be much more collegial in how we come up with outcomes but that doesn’t mean that the Opposition lies down and doesn’t do its job of holding the Government to account.

There seems to be some confusion in the Labor Party that apparently being more cooperative means that they have to get their own way all the time. Now, that doesn’t surprise me, coming from the people who executed Kevin Rudd three months ago.

But, let me say this, we will as an Opposition work constructively to have good outcomes for the Australian people but we’ll also hold the Government to account ferociously which is the job of the Opposition to do so.

LAURIE OAKES: But you say you’ve still got to be kinder and gentler. And yet two days after making that statement, Tony Abbott said: The only constructive way to channel our frustration and disappointment is to redouble our attacks on the Labor Party.

That doesn’t sound kinder and gentler.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Laurie, we want to remove the Government. That’s our job. We think this is a bad government. It’s going from bad to worse. Before the election there was going to be no carbon tax. The Government told a bald-faced lie to the Australian people. Now apparently there is going to be a carbon tax, in their alliance with The Greens.

We think this is a worse government than it was even before election day and it must be removed. Now, that’s our job as the Opposition. That doesn’t mean we have to be personal or unpleasant. There certainly will be a more cooperative atmosphere because Anthony and I will have to make the parliament work, and we will. But if you want to equate kinder, gentler politics with the Opposition agreeing with the Government, then I think you’ll be whistling Dixie.

LAURIE OAKES: Well, Mr Albanese, Christopher Pyne is right, isn’t he? There’s no reason for the Opposition to make the Government’s life easier?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there’s absolutely no reason for the Opposition to not engage in constructively putting forward its position. We would expect them to do that.

But what we’ve seen since the Gillard Government was able to be re-formed is the Opposition walking away from commitments that they had made. What we’ve seen on parliamentary reform is Tony Abbott walk away from the commitments that were signed up to, in writing. So it makes it difficult to have agreements if you then are simply someone who will just walk away from them.

But of course Tony Abbott has form. He walked away from his position on the CPRS. He told Australians that you couldn’t believe what he says, get it in writing. Well, we had the commitment in writing about pairing and he walked away from it.

And when it comes to policy issues, we saw when Tony Abbott made the announcement about Malcolm Turnbull being his Communications spokesperson, he didn’t say to make national broadband work more effectively. He said he wanted to wreck and destroy the National Broadband Network.

It’s quite clear that Tony Abbott is a wrecker. And I’d call upon him to engage constructively in the new parliament that we’ve all been given by the Australian people on 21 August.

LAURIE OAKES: Mr Pyne, that’s one of your dangers, isn’t it, that you’re going to be seen as wreckers in the new parliament?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think the Australian people know that we have an adversarial political system and I don’t think they’d buy up to this new Kumbaya politics of the Labor Party and The Greens. I think they expect the Opposition to be hard at the ball.

What the Government and The Greens want is for the – there to be only one team on the paddock that’s actually trying to win. They want the Opposition to acquiesce to broken promises like the promise that Curtin detention centre wouldn’t be expanded; it’s now going to be doubled; or that there’d be no detention centre on Cape York, which is now being built and was in fact being built during the election; or, of course, on the carbon tax which they said they’d never have and they’re now going to have.

The Greens and the Labor Party would like nothing more than for the Opposition to disappear from the battlefield and not take the fight up to them. But we are going to do that because that’s what our supporters expect. Five and a half million people voted for the Coalition, Laurie, on 21 August. We owe it to them and to the rest of Australia to hold this Government to account and to try and have it removed over the next three years because we think we would be a better government. And that’s the way the Australian politics works and always has.

LAURIE OAKES: Mr Albanese, just getting down to how the new parliament will work, what will happen? The numbers are going to be 75-74, one vote the difference. What happens if one of your members is caught short and misses the boat?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, of course, as part of the better parliamentary reform proposals, was agreed that if there’s an inadvertent absence from the parliament then that vote would be recommitted to the parliament. My understanding is the Coalition aren’t walking away from that. So that’s a system…

LAURIE OAKES: But how would it be recommitted? Would it require a vote and what kind of vote?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It will require a vote of the parliament simply to do that by a majority of the parliament that…

LAURIE OAKES: No, could I interrupt you there. The original agreement that you signed with the Independents and Mr Pyne – and I’ve got it here – specifically says in that situation, it would require a suspension of standing orders, which means an absolute majority; which means 75 votes.

That’s not in your draft that you circulated yesterday. Why have you reneged on this agreement?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I haven’t reneged on the agreement at all, Laurie. The draft that I gave to Christopher Pyne is the draft given in advance by the clerks of the parliament, with advice from the clerks of the parliament; given to him three days in advance so that if there are any issues which he wishes to raise, he can raise them.

LAURIE OAKES: So it will require a suspension of standing orders, all 75 votes that you can muster?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we’ve received advice from the clerks upon that basis. If people wanted to delay votes until such time as it was re-committed, until such time as there was 75 there, then that’s something that people can talk about.

But the advice that I gave to Christopher Pyne – as I also gave to Adam Bandt and to Rob Oakeshott – is a part of our good faith, Laurie. What’s happened in the past, whoever has been in power, is that governments have gone onto the floor of the House of Representatives and moved changes to standing orders. I haven’t done that. I, in good faith, have given the document – untouched – from the clerks to Christopher Pyne as Manager of Opposition Business and we’ve agreed that we’ll have a discussion tomorrow or Tuesday prior to the motions being put on notice on Wednesday on the floor of the parliament. I don’t think that the Australian public want to see the first debate of the parliament be about the intricacies and details of standing orders.

I think that we have an agreement. We’ll put those – that agreement in place. I note that the Opposition has walked away from a key part of that agreement that Christopher Pyne signed up to with regard to having a pairing of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. That’s their decision. They, I think, will be judged on that. But I’m determined…


ANTHONY ALBANESE: …to get a constructive outcome.

LAURIE OAKES: I’ve got to let Mr Pyne reply to that, I think.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Laurie, the agreement very specifically said that for an inadvertent absence of a member, that a vote would be recommitted in the House that day after a successful suspension of standing orders.

Now, the draft standing orders, as circulated yesterday, don’t include the requirement for a successful suspension of standing orders because the Labor Party doesn’t believe that it will have the votes to do that.

That, of course, means that the Labor Party is walking away from that part of the agreement, which is very disappointing. And, of course, the Coalition has said that the reason we’re not continuing with the pairing of the Speaker is because it’s unconstitutional. But there is nothing unconstitutional about requiring a successful suspension of standing orders before a vote is recommitted. And unfortunately the Government seems to be walking away from that part of the agreement this weekend.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: You know that’s not the case, Christopher. You know that you were provided yesterday, in good faith, something that I was never given the courtesy of, ever, and the Labor Party was never during your term in office. It is the clerks’ draft, and you know that I’ll be sitting down with you either tomorrow or on Tuesday to finalise the draft standing orders, as well as having the input, as well as…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the clerks write the standing orders based on the advice that you give them. The clerks…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: As well as – and we gave them the agreement…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …write the standing orders based on that advice. And you’ve obviously given them…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …Christopher. No, we gave them the agreement…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …advice not to include the successful suspension of standing orders.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We gave them the agreement and said, here, draft the standing orders based on it.

LAURIE OAKES: Can I ask you both this question: Why does that magic number 75 matter so much? Is it important that the Government is able to suspend standing orders? Mr Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: During the last parliament we suspended standing orders, I think, once – only once – and that was to have a vote about the abolition of WorkChoices.

So it is very irregular that standing orders are suspended. Normally the attempt to suspend standing orders is actually done by the Opposition which we saw on a pretty regular basis during the last parliament.

So we don’t see that this presents a big issue for the Government. As I said, used once during the last term of office during three years.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, if it doesn’t present any difficulty to the Government, then it should be put back in the draft standing orders which is that a successful suspension of standing orders would be required in order to be able to recommit a motion.

And if a member has inadvertently missed a vote, then you would think the Government would want to explain during the suspension of standing orders why that was inadvertent and therefore have that discipline of being required to get their numbers there.

Now, what the Government is trying to do by sleight of hand is walk away from the agreement that we made with them, with respect to the re-committal of votes because they are concerned that if a member misses a vote and they lose a vote on the floor of the House, they’ll actually have to explain why and they might lose the suspension of standing orders.

And that’s quite perfectly clear to us. I mean, it’s a bit of an arcane debate for the public. But what it means is that far from the Opposition walking away from this agreement, the Labor Party has done so in that respect and potentially other respects.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, this is another furphy…

LAURIE OAKES: Before we finish…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is just another furphy from the Opposition. The fact is that of course if a vote was missed it would have to be explained on the floor of the House of Representatives why that had occurred. Of course that’s the case.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, not according to your draft.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, of course, that’s the case.

LAURIE OAKES: Before we finish, let me ask you about Alex Somlyay.

Mr Albanese, Labor hates people who rat on the Labor Party, so why do you encourage people to rat on the Liberal Party?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Alex Somlyay committed that he would vote for nothing more and nothing less than what had been agreed to by Christopher Pyne and by the Coalition that effectively the Speaker would be paired. In his case, he wound it back so it wasn’t paired for every vote but paired on matters of confidence and supply. He did that in good faith. What occurred was that the Leader of the Opposition’s office put out a statement on his letterhead, on his behalf, that he repudiated and said didn’t represent his position.

He’s now chosen to not contest the position of deputy speakership because of the controversy that he saw himself within his own party. But he indicated certainly to myself, as he has publicly, that he didn’t see that commitment of providing support for the Government on those issues as being betraying the Liberal Party, given that the Liberal Party had signed up to the agreement.

LAURIE OAKES: Mr Pyne, do you agree with that or would you see a Liberal who signed up to the sort of deal Mr Albanese is talking about as the equivalent of the late Senator Mal Colston who sold out for the deputy presidency of the Senate?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Laurie, Anthony is trying to suborn a member of the Coalition to provide support on confidence matters to the Labor Party. And it would be like asking a Collingwood player from yesterday’s grand final to play for St Kilda next week in the grand final on Saturday.

So obviously it’s a very unusual course that he’s tried to pursue.

Alex Somlyay was never going to accept a position where he took the king’s shilling from the Labor Party and, quite rightly, he has said so. And I think Anthony might have been verballing Alex towards the end of last week, and I’m glad that…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: He spoke to a number of journalists himself, Christopher, which you know. He spoke to a number…


ANTHONY ALBANESE: …journalists himself and made his position very clear.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We will, according to the agreement.

Look, Anthony, this isn’t the ALP state conference, okay. Other people get to speak besides you.

We will keep the part of the agreement that says we will provide the Deputy Speaker, assuming Harry Jenkins is the Speaker which we will support on Tuesday. The agreement specifically provides that the Deputy Speaker will come from the other political party. We will provide that Deputy Speaker but of course we won’t be pairing the Speaker because we believe that it is unconstitutional. It’s a very straightforward position and the Government will obviously, I assume, keep their part of the bargain.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, of course, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The reason why the agreement said there would be a Speaker from one side and a Deputy from the other was that…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Oh, so you won’t be supporting a Coalition Deputy Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …they would be paired…


ANTHONY ALBANESE: ….was that they would be paired. And the Coalition has walked away from the written agreement that…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: So you’re breaking your own agreement on national television?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …the written agreement that they signed. The Coalition has walked away from that agreement.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: So you won’t support a Coalition Deputy Speaker?

LAURIE OAKES: I’m sorry…


LAURIE OAKES: …we’re out of time.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …has walked away from the agreement, Christopher, the agreement that you signed.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That’s breaking news.

LAURIE OAKES: Well, we’re out of time. It’s great to see the new gentler polity in action.

We thank you both.