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Tuesday, 13 February 2007
Page: 29

Mr ANDREN (4:00 PM) —I am opposing both of these motions because they are all about the nonaccountability of the government. They continue the trend that has been quite apparent over the last 12 months of truncation of debate on key legislation, including industrial relations, Telstra, security bills and some others I cannot think of just now, particularly when the House has not had the advantage of any proper briefings or proper inquiry results into those most crucial pieces of legislation. And what we have here is again a process where the government is truncating debate and denying opportunities to Independent members. The Leader of the House said on ABC radio this morning that this was targeted at the Independents because in the last 12 months or so the Independents had used much more of their time. In saying this he is creating two classes of representatives in this chamber: one class representing the parties and another, which has a truncated amount of time, representing Independent electorates—which, I agree with the opposition speaker in this debate, will be increasing in spades in the next couple of years.

The Leader of the House says there is one controversial and one non-controversial motion here. I would suggest, firstly, that the one for assistant minister protection from questioning by members of the House is as controversial as the other one because, with all the lurks and perks of public office of all the parliamentary secretaries and now the assistant ministers sitting behind the bench and protected from any scrutiny, we have a continuation of a process that is all about nonaccountability, particularly of people who have carriage of legislation. They can make public statements on behalf of the government and they can enjoy all of the extra privileges of office, yet they cannot be questioned by other members of this House. What could be a more transparent attempt to deny proper scrutiny by members of this place?

They also, I must say, have privileges and entitlements of office which no doubt they will carry over into the election campaign. Their entitlements will become part of the war chest that is being built up through printing and other privileges. No doubt there will be the sending of staff from parliamentary secretaries’ and assistant ministers’ offices and ministers’ offices, as I have experienced during election campaigns, to run the campaigns of candidates for the National Party and others against candidates who may be running for the first time as mere Independents with very limited resources and who will be confronted with this rorting of the entitlements of office. That parliamentary secretaries process is not about just having people who are the gofers and the juniors; it is all about building up the resources of incumbency to favour the incumbent parties and, in some cases, the opposition, but particularly those in government. It is about building up the resources to make it so much more difficult for any Independent candidate to have an honest crack at running for parliament.

Most of the other issues have been covered by the other speakers, but I must say that the controversy is not that Independent MPs are taking too much time; it is that party MPs are not making the most of the opportunities. Why? Because the MPI is mostly about controversial issues, often of some embarrassment to the government. We have seen situations where there is but one speaker on the government side and half-a-dozen speakers on the non-government side because the issue—whether it be climate change or the war on Iraq—is of absolutely vital importance but it is not of importance to the government because they do not want those views aired.

Perhaps this has been shown up by too-active Independents. Perhaps the too-active Independents have been too active around rural issues which have been embarrassing to the government. They want to shut down this debate, to shut down the opportunities in an election year, because it is all getting a little bit hot, particularly in rural and regional areas where the Independents represent such a threat in this election year. The constituents should be asking why their government members are not speaking up on these MPIs and defending positions the government have taken, whether those positions are around climate change, water, the war on Iraq, our energy options or all of the matters of public importance that are going to be so crucial in this election year.