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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 384


Mrs SULLIVAN —Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.


Mr SPEAKER —Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?


Mrs SULLIVAN —I do.


Mr SPEAKER —Please proceed.


Mrs SULLIVAN —I realise that it is not the average circumstance to intervene in a debate in this way in order to make a personal explanation. However, the matter which I wish to raise came to my attention shortly before the dinner recess. The time I would otherwise raise it would be after question time next Monday. For a variety of reasons I think it would be unfortunate to let this subject run for that many days because it involves a number of people and their judgments over the next few days and, as far as I know, even today.


Mr SPEAKER —I think the honourable member is now debating the issue. Can you show where you have been misrepresented?


Mrs SULLIVAN —My concern relates to an article printed in yesterday's Australian Financial Review entitled `Yes, Question Time is back, all of youse great big logs' and written by one Christine Wallace. I will read into the record the paragraphs that misrepresent my position:

Mr Keating's decision to embrace reform is a good one.

  Now comes the fight about what exactly those reforms should be.

  One of the key proposals is to free the prime minister from attending every Question Time and roster groups of ministers to attend it in rotation with Mr Keating facing parliamentary questions once or twice a week.

  It was criticised yesterday by Mr Howard in his incarnation as the manager of Opposition business.

  `If he thinks reforming the House means reducing the accountability of the prime minister and senior ministers to the Parliament, then we're not going to take that laying down,' Mr Howard said.

  He went on to attack the idea `that the prime minister can go swanning around the country on political safaris while Parliament is sitting', describing it as `quite unacceptable to me and to all members of the Liberal Party'.

The article continues:

  However—

in juxtaposition to the statement of the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard)—

three Liberal MPs did sign off on a House of Representatives procedure committee report, About Time: Bills, Questions and Working Hours, last October which recommended the roster system.

  It is the one used by the `Mother of Parliaments', Westminster—and what is good enough for Westminster is generally good enough for Liberal MPs.

I do not intend to debate the situation, but I think I can summarise the article fairly by saying that the message given by those paragraphs I have quoted is that the honourable member for Bennelong, the Manager of Opposition Business in the House, is in conflict with a view subscribed to in the report by the Liberal members of the committee. I am one of the two Liberal members of the committee, together with the honourable member for Moore (Mr Filing); there are only two. So that honourable members can see the juxtaposition of the views ascribed to me and the other Liberal member of the committee, I will read into the record what we actually signed our names to. I refer to pages 26 and 27 of the report:

The committee was unable to reach agreement on a system of rostering which would advance the aims of both the Government and the Opposition in question time. However, the committee does support a limited experiment with a rostered question time, using and extending the Monday question time for this purpose. . .

It is recommended that, as a trial for two sitting periods,

  (a) question time each Monday be in the form of two consecutive 30 minute segments each with a minimum of 8 questions to be asked;

  (b) Ministers be rostered so that Ministers representing each portfolio (except Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury and Finance) and the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs attend to answer questions in one segment per sitting cycle. The grouping of portfolios and allocation of segments to be agreed by the Opposition and the Government;

  (c) the Opposition to be able to request the presence of one additional Minister, other than the Prime Minister, per segment by informing the Speaker in writing prior to the sitting of the House on the Monday to which the request relates.

That makes the point in very brief summary. The recommendation relates only to Mondays of sitting weeks—for a limited period, as an experiment—as against the `once or twice' a week as quoted in the article.