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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10082

Member for Dobell

Mr PYNE (SturtManager of Opposition Business) (15:00): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the disparaging remarks she made with respect to the Chief Justice of the High Court when he rejected her failed Malaysia people-swap deal. How does the Prime Minister reconcile her criticism of Chief Justice French for doing his job with her rock-solid support for the member for Dobell, who is alleged to have misused the union funds of the poorest paid workers on personal items of art; restaurant, accommodation and liquor bills; airline tickets for himself and his spouse; election expenses; and escort agencies?

Mr Albanese: Mr Speaker, as you would be fully aware, that question is out of order. It is not in order for a member of parliament to cast aspersions upon another member.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, on the point of order: the question simply juxtaposes the Prime Minister's statements about the Chief Justice of the High Court with her full, expressed confidence in the member for Dobell, and mentions that the items that I read out are allegations.

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mrs Mirabella: Mr Speaker, I ask you to ask the Assistant Treasurer to withdraw his offensive comment.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! Before we proceed can I just ask members to proceed with a great degree of care. We will deal with the matter immediately before me. I did not hear a comment but, given the reaction, as I said earlier this week, I think that it is in order that I ask the Assistant Treasurer to withdraw.

Mr Shorten: I withdraw.

Mr Mitchell interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for McEwen should not take the lead from some of his more senior colleagues during today. I have indicated that the haranguing from either side does not assist, especially at this point in time.

When the question was first asked, whether by juxtaposition or otherwise, the comments made by the member for Sturt about another member appeared to go further than was allowed by the standing orders. His explanation on the point of order is not the way that I characterised the question. But if he is saying that he has only couched the things he has mentioned in the way that they have been couched on other occasions, it would be in order. But what this does illustrate is that there is a fine line.

I have indicated that I am troubled by questions about members, especially members that are not part of executive government. But it has appeared over this parliament and the previous parliament that the House has wished me to give some flexibility. That is the only reason that I have allowed those questions. What I am saying is: people should be very careful in the way that they use material that would go beyond the ability and capacity for this House to make any sort of judgment about the actions of a fellow member. It would be in that context and that context alone that I would allow the Prime Minister to respond to the question. But it is not in any way condoning a form of words that has been used against a member of this place that goes beyond the standard practice.

Mr Albanese: Mr Speaker, with due respect, standing order 90 is very clear:

All imputations of improper motives to a Member and all personal reflections on other Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

And action is allowable under standing order 91. I also refer you, Mr Speaker, to standing order 100(d):

Questions must not contain:

(i) statements of facts or names of persons, unless they can be authenticated and are strictly necessary to make the question intelligible;

It is out of order under standing order 100(d)(ii)—arguments. It is out of order under standing order 100(d)(iii)—inferences. It is out of order under standing order 100(d)(iv)—imputations. It is out of order under standing order 100(d)(v)—insults. It is out of order under standing order 100(d)(vii)—hypothetical matter. I would ask you to rule the question out of order.

The SPEAKER: Well, this is a big change in the game. I have to decide whether I rule out most of the questions from both sides. I am happy to do that if that is the wish of the House. I have tried for four years to get a sensible set of rules for question time. If members want me to implement my version of the rules, I am happy to because I would rule every question about members of the House out of order. I have the dilemma that I have to decide what the House wants me to do. That is an interesting dilemma because the same will apply to responses. If we want to start from now, I am happy to rule the question out of order.