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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 5235

Mr REITH (Leader of the House)(4.31 p.m.) —I move:


(1)   so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the House making one declaration of urgency and moving one motion for the allotment of time in respect of the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1996-97, the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1996-97 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1996-97; and.

(2)   standing order 48A (adjournment and next meeting) be suspended for this sitting.

I move this motion following events in the management of the House in the last 24 hours, and in particular against a background where we had an agreement with the opposition that the appropriation bills, the budget bills, would be sent to the Main Committee so all members would have ample opportunity to make a contribution.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the former government established the Main Committee. In 1995, they themselves took the budget to the Main Committee with our agreement. That provided members with an opportunity to speak on the budget and, in particular, to contribute to consideration in detail in the committee stage.

With the 1996 budget, the first budget of the coalition government, we agreed with the opposition parties to adopt the same practice and procedure. I thought that was quite sensible. They had been at pains to justify and to extol the virtues of the committee process as a means of giving members an opportunity to speak. In a sensible, bipartisan way we agreed with the now opposition, the former government, that that was a fair way to deal with matters.

This week the appropriation bills were sent to the Main Committee with the opposition's agreement. It was a sensible process. Unfortunately, in breach of that agreement, the opposition tactics committee decided to send the budget bills back to the lower house, knowing full well that they had failed to agree to the transmission of some other budget related bills to the Main Committee, thereby leading to even greater pressures on time in the lower house.

So we have the rather absurd position where the Labor Party were instrumental in establishing the Main Committee—they used the Main Committee for debate on the budget, and we agreed with them that we would so follow the precedent this year—but then, in an absolutely clear, black and white case, they have breached the agreement we entered into. Under those circumstances the government is left with absolutely no choice whatsoever but to move this motion this afternoon so that the House can proceed with the business which we otherwise intended to proceed with, and so that we can also ensure the transmission of this legislation to the Senate for further debate.

It is very important that the budget be passed; it is important that members have the opportunity to speak on it. I think members will be interested to know that in fact already we have had very substantial debate on the budget in the second reading stage. Already we have had something in the order of 31 or 32 hours of debate on the budget. All members who put their names on the list to speak on the budget bills in the second reading debate stage have in fact spoken. Therefore, no-one could say in any sense whatsoever that anyone has been denied an opportunity to speak.

When we look at the numbers, as I said, it is interesting to see that this year on the budget we have had something in the order of 32 hours of debate in this chamber and in the Main Committee. Of course, this motion will prevent further debate on the budget, in particular that part of the debate which is consideration in detail of the respective portfolios in the committee stage. That is regrettable, but it is a consequence of the opposition's breach of the agreement.

When we look at the total time allocated to members to speak on the budget this year, 32 hours, and take into account consideration in detail as well as debate in the second reading stage in previous years, this year we have had substantially more debate already on the budget bills than in the last two or three years. For example, in 1995—so I am advised by the Chamber Research Office—we had something like 24 hours total of debate in the second reading and committee stages. In 1994, we had something like 18 hours and 16 minutes, plus six hours and 45 minutes in committee, a total of 25 hours. When we go back to 1993, which was an election year so a comparable year in some regards, we had 18 hours and 55 minutes of debate in the second reading stage and nine hours in the debate on consideration in detail in the committee stage, a total of 28 hours.

So it can be seen that the time we provided for the budget debate on this occasion has in fact exceeded the total time provided for members to speak on the budget in previous years. We think that that is very important. In fact, we would have liked to have provided further time. As I said, we had an agreement with the opposition parties that members would have further opportunity to speak but, unfortunately, as a direct result of their guerilla tactics in the Main Committee, that obviously is not possible.

In my dealings with the opposition parties it is a common thing for them to defend their actions by saying that when we were in opposition we were just as bad as they are now. Particularly for those who are new members, the truth of the matter is that as an opposition we were by and large very reasonable.

Opposition members —Ha, ha!

Mr REITH —It is a fact. You could expect the guffaws but I cannot remember, for example, the opposition, as we then were, getting up and moving an adjournment of the House as they did a few months ago. We even had, a few months ago, the ridiculous situation of the opposition parties moving and voting in favour of the adjournment of the House, and then, an hour or so later, when we moved the adjournment of the House, voting against it. In the whole time I have been here I have never seen behaviour as feral as the behaviour we have had from these people in the last few days.

We will get a tirade from the Manager of Opposition Business (Mr Crean), but when he stands at the dispatch box and addresses us I would like him to explain one simple thing: on what basis did he breach an agreement entered into with the government for the proper management of the proceedings of this chamber so that members could have an opportunity to speak?

I know what he will say. His answer will be that they do not agree with the processes entered into for the handling of the euthanasia debate. In other words, what they are basically running here is a secondary boycott on the Main Committee. There is some aspect of government policy they do not like so therefore they are going to deny their own people the opportunity to speak. We deny our own people the opportunity to speak but we are not doing it because we want to; we are doing it because we are forced to. But the people on that side are denying their own people the opportunity to speak and then the Manager of Opposition Business is going to stand up and say that we have a fall-off in parliamentary standards. How absurd can you get! Yet again I say to you: you justify a breach of an agreement.

I was the Manager of Opposition Business for a couple of years before the last election. In terms of cooperation with the government I would have to say that the number of phone calls I ever had from Kim Beazley when he was the Leader of the House honestly would have been no more than the number you could count on one hand. In terms of cooperation I spend nearly as much time ringing you as I spend talking to the Democrats about the workplace relations bill. You have had more cooperation from us in the management of the House than we ever got from you over 13 years in total. You have had more from us in six months than you ever provided to us in the 13 years we were in opposition.

I say to the honourable member: we are going to put matters back into the Main Committee again next week. We would hope that you do not employ the same guerilla tactics as you did this week. If you do, then you will simply deny people again the opportunity to speak and it will show how hollow your claims are about the importance of giving people an opportunity to speak and the success of the Main Committee. I think it can work but it can work only if you put aside your silly guerilla tactics and apply a bit more commonsense to the procedures of this House. (Time expired)