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Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Page: 6655

Senator CORMANN (9:33 AM) —Mr President, I seek leave to move a motion that the Senate take note of your statement.

Senator Carr —Is the senator seeking leave to make a short statement, which is, I understand, the convention?

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator Carr —Another gesture, Senator! And if it is for a short statement, the government will agree.

The PRESIDENT —I cannot respond. I can only state what I believe Senator Cormann raised. He sought leave to take note of the statement that I have just made. That is what leave was being sought for.

Senator Carr —I ask if the senator is seeking leave to make a short statement.

Senator CORMANN —I seek leave to make a statement for no more than five minutes.

Leave granted.

Senator CORMANN —I thank you for the statement that you made this morning. If you had not made the statement I would have sought leave to make a personal explanation and to claim that I had been misrepresented because, in making the point of order yesterday, Senator Evans indicated that I had made some gestures at ministers. I did nothing of the sort.

What essentially happened was that I was counting down how many questions Senator Pratt was trying to fit into one minute. The reality is that it has been a habit that government senators asking dorothy dixers, in particular to Minister Carr, go out of their way to fit as many questions into one minute as possible. Indeed, the questions were as long as the minister’s answer. I do not think that that is in the spirit of question time.

I have reviewed the video, as you have, Mr President, and you would have noted that Senator Pratt, in asking her initial question, was actually counting down the number of questions that she was asking. Indeed, even though the clock started a bit late she ran out of time—so many questions had been prepared by the minister’s office for government senators to ask the minister. I made the point during question time yesterday that this is just entirely an abuse of parliamentary process. Question time is about the opposition scrutinising the activities of government.

There is a very clear objective behind all of this. The government is aiming to waste time during question time; it is aiming to run down the clock in order to minimise the number of questions that can be asked by the opposition during question time. As Senator Pratt was running through question after question after question, all of which had been prepared in the minister’s office for her, I was making the point, through counting down the number of questions that were being squeezed into this one minute, that Senator Pratt and the government were engaging in a deliberate strategy to waste time.

There have been suggestions that I made gestures at ministers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the media it was suggested that somehow I was responding to an interjection by Senator Sterle. I can reassure the Senate that I could not hear what Senator Sterle was saying. I had no idea what Senator Sterle was saying. The only thing I knew was that Senator Pratt was running down as many questions that she could squeeze into one minute as possible. The minister then had one minute to answer. Senator Pratt had more questions given to her by the minister’s office than the minister could actually answer in one minute. It is a very obvious attempt by the Rudd Labor government to avoid the scrutiny of the Senate during question time.

I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that, when the Prime Minister makes points, whether it is in the House of Representatives or during press conferences, he is often seen to be doing this. How often have we seen the Prime Minister counting down—one, two, three, four? I bet there is footage of press conference after press conference where exactly that has been happening. Mr President, I do thank you for your statement. But if, through my gestures, and through the point of order that was raised by Senator Evans, I have been able to draw attention to—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Constant interjection is disorderly. Senator Cormann is entitled to be heard.

Senator CORMANN —Thank you, Mr President. If, through my actions yesterday, and through the point of order that was raised by Senator Evans, I have been able to draw attention to a very deliberate practice of the government to avoid scrutiny during question time, if I have been able to draw attention to the fact that they are trying to run down the clock during question time to avoid questions, then I am very happy with what happened yesterday. I think the government should reflect on what the spirit of question time is all about. And I think Senator Carr in particular, and his staff, his hollowmen back in his office, who are preparing the questions for government backbenchers to ask him, should reflect very carefully on whether it is in the spirit of question time for them to prepare 20 questions to be asked to fill out the one minute available, according to the system that is in place.

That was the point I wanted to make this morning. I do thank you, Mr President, for the statement you have made. But I just wanted to clarify: I did not gesture at ministers; I was counting down the questions that Senator Pratt was trying to squeeze into one minute.