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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 221


Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (10:43): I do not want to keep the House for any great length of time in this debate on amendments to the standing orders, but I think this is an opportunity to say something about the style of how the parliament is run and how the niceties of parliamentary practice should be maintained. I do not mean that they should be either snobby or unduly obsequious. I am not suggesting that for a minute. I have noticed over the years I have been here that a lot of members do not perform the courtesy of bowing to the Speaker when coming in and out of the chamber or when approaching the chair—or they do it in a very superficial way. I remember that when John Howard, who was a parliamentarian in every sense of the word, came in or went out or crossed from one side of the chamber to speak to the other side on some matter he would always acknowledge the chair. I also note that some of the members—and the clerks also do this, in particular Bernard Wright, our senior Clerk, when he breaks the line of sight between the Speaker and a member on his or her feet—always bow to go under a symbolic line of sight between the Speaker and a member. Inherent in that is that, as you speak from your place in the parliament and address the Speaker, you are, in effect, speaking through the Speaker to the parliament and, if we are in broadcast mode, to the wider nation. I think such niceties should be maintained.

One that always sticks in my craw is the finish of the second chamber, that being the Main Committee or the Federation Chamber, whatever you want to call it. Most deputy speakers certainly start with the ritual bow to both sides of the House but at the end—and I think this always looks like Brown's cows—there is no sort of finishing aspect, because there is no door through which the Deputy Speaker can escape, as we have here in this House of Representatives chamber. Sometimes the Deputy Speaker goes out one of the doors at each end of the room, at the back, and sometimes he or she walks across and goes out with the members. I think that chamber's proceedings should finish with a bow from the Deputy Speaker to all the members, signifying that he or she has vacated the chair and the proceedings are finished and then people can talk or walk around and do what they like. Otherwise you stand around for about 30 seconds, like a stale sav, wondering whether you should say anything, until the Deputy Speaker has left the room. I think that is something that we could polish and it probably does not need any formal regulation.

I have some sympathy with one of the ideas that the member for Kennedy was talking about, and what follows is not said with criticism of either side of the House. We all know today that a lot of questions, if not all of them, are scripted. They are scripted for tactical and policy reasons. I think to some extent that has taken a lot of the spontaneity out of the House. I propose that perhaps time every day or perhaps one afternoon a week be devoted to unscripted questions by individual members. I do not agree with the member for Kennedy that you should send a prior notice to a minister. In saying that, I note that it is not to catch the minister out but rather to maintain spontaneity. I suppose that, if it were a question that required the minister to bring in some data, that courtesy might be extended with: 'I'm going to ask a question about so-and-so and you may need to have some data available.' But I think spontaneity is important, because in our electorates sometimes something happens which can be a state or a significant regional issue and, while it may not be particularly germane to our individual political parties, it can be very important to the constituents in our area and might even have national significance. So I think people should be able to ask a question and have an unscripted, spontaneous answer from the minister. That may involve the minister giving a commitment to do something. If you are going to give advance notice of your question, you might as well put in a written question because inevitably in that circumstance it is going to become the work of some bureaucrat. As I said before, it is not to catch the minister out; it is to get a spontaneous response to something that is germane to your electorate or, in your opinion, is of some state or national significance. So I would recommend that in any ongoing reforms, Mr Speaker, you might look, in conjunction with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of government and opposition business, at what a great thing it would be if we did have some time each day or each week that was devoted to unscripted questions.

Finally, I would like to return to the Federation Chamber, or the second chamber, as we sometimes call it, or the Main Committee, as we sometimes call it. I am not altogether sure that Federation Chamber is the right name, but if that is the will of the Committee and the parliament I will go along with it. There was some ambivalence towards it when it started but it is now well established, and I think both sides would recognise that it has become a successful mechanism for non-controversial legislation, for eulogies that would take up too much of the time of the House of Representatives chamber and for other measures such as extended debates on reports. I think it does serve a very valuable purpose, and the fact that other parliaments—including the UK parliament, using Westminster Hall—are picking it up and running with it proves that we have developed a very good model.

Of its nature, the chamber that we have is temporary. We have had meetings with the clerks, previous speakers and the whips—and I am one of the whips—where we have talked about what we might do there and we were consulted when some of the draft planning documents for a more elaborate chamber were discussed. So what I would like to put to you today, Mr Speaker, in the context of this debate about procedures and of the coming next year of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Canberra—of its foundation, not of its completion—is that that would be a great opportunity to do something significant with that chamber. What are we in this parliament going to do? After all, the city of Canberra and the ACT were put together specifically for there to be a national, neutral seat of government. It had to be a minimum of 160 kilometres away from Sydney, it had to be between Sydney and Melbourne and it had to be on neutral turf, like the District of Columbia in the United States is. The genesis of that was in the year 1913, and we celebrate the hundredth anniversary—the centenary—next year. What are we in this parliament going to do? Wouldn't it be a great thing if we could complete that chamber? Yes, there would be a few million dollars involved. I am not suggesting that there would not be an expense involved, and I recognise that we are in fairly tough economic times, but there is sometimes never a right time to do these things. If you waited for the right time to build this building it would probably have never been built. Sometimes, the government and the opposition of the day just have to seize the initiative.

I would recommend, through you, Mr Speaker, that the next time you are in consultation with the Clerk and the leaders of both sides of the House you canvass the question of what we are going to do for 2013 to celebrate the formation in 1913 of what went on to become the national capital. I understand the ACT will do quite a bit of celebrating. What are we going to do here? My suggestion to you is that the completion, in its new designated position, of the Federation Chamber would be a fitting adjunct to that significant anniversary.

The SPEAKER: I am actually ahead of the honourable member for Hinkler insofar as I have already asked that those plans be updated and shown to me. The honourable member's suggestion is something that the parliament should seriously consider.