Sep 23, 2010

Transcript of Interview with Lyndal Curtis, ABC PM Program

Subject: Speakership; parliamentary reform

LYNDAL CURTIS: Anthony Albanese Tony Abbott says the arrangement is fundamentally unsound to pair the Speaker, that it can only be voluntary; that’s hardly solid ground of safe against legal challenge is it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course it is. And he knows that it is. This is just a furphy. What we have here, is an Opposition ripping up conventions, ripping up an agreement that they voluntarily entered into for parliamentary reform just weeks ago.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But do you accept that the arrangement for pairing can only be voluntary; it can’t be codified, it can’t be written down?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course, but every single arrangement for pairing, including every pair in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, is voluntary. Of course that’s the case. That’s what the legal opinion says, and the legal opinion also makes it very clear; not just from the current Solicitor General, but from the solicitor general previously from the Howard Government also says that there is no constitutional issue here.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Should you have sought this legal advice before the document on parliamentary reform was signed?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We did get advice Lyndal. We got advice that this was fine and what every bit of serious legal advice, apart from George Brandis’s advice to himself has shown, is that there is no constitutional issue here whatsoever.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You say that pairing arrangements for MPs have always been unofficial; but the case of the Speaker is different isn’t because he has a role prescribed by the Constitution of the question of his vote?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The legal advice is very clear, that like other pairing arrangements they’re voluntary. The basis of the agreement was that no side of politics should be disadvantaged by who is made Speaker and who is made Deputy Speaker. This is very simple this issue. The Opposition have tried to make it complex, raised furphies.

The Solicitor General’s advice blows that out of the water once and for all, this is simply about Tony Abbott being an opportunist; going from a position whereby he was arguing the parliament should be a gentler place, where there was more cooperation to showing for all of Australia to see, that he’s actually not interested in a constructive, engagement in the national interest in the way that the Parliament conducts itself.

LYNDAL CURTIS: When the Parliament sits on Tuesday will the Government nominate a Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well when the Parliament sits on Tuesday there will be a Speaker that will be nominated through processes.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Will the Government nominate a Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we said Lyndal very clearly was that we needed to know if the Opposition were walking away from the commitments that they gave to the Australian people very publicly, after discussions between the Labor Party, the Coalition and the cross benchers.

Now we have seen today that in spite of the legal advice they’ve walked away from that agreement, so we’re having discussions with members as would be appropriate and we’ll make our announcements at an appropriate time.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Will you nominate a Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we’ll make our announcements at an appropriate time and it’s up to the Prime Minister to speak on behalf of the Labor Party on those issues.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But if you want the Parliament to function in the end doesn’t the Government have to nominate a Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: As I said, the Prime Minister will be speaking for the Labor Party on those issues.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But doesn’t it raise the question in the interim between now and when Parliament sits, if you don’t nominate a Speaker and the Opposition doesn’t, there can be no Speaker chosen?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very confident that there will be a Speaker chosen next Tuesday on the first day of Parliament as has occurred between Federation and the current time.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Have you canvassed the idea of nominating a Coalition MP as Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I’m not going to go into discussions that I’ve had or that anyone else has had. What we know is we had arrangements just hours ago Tony Abbott ripped up those arrangements.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Parliament hasn’t even begun to sit and already the agreement and some of the good will is unravelling. How’s it going to work for three years?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we’ll continue to do is act with honour and integrity and act in a way in which we’ve outlined. We signed up to parliamentary reform. I think that the Australian public will judge Tony Abbott pretty harshly from walking away from an agreement.

MARK COLVIN: The Manager of Government Business, Anthony Albanese speaking to Lyndal Curtis.