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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17185

Mr LATHAM (3:22 PM) —Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the notice of motion provided by the Leader of the House, Mr Abbott, where he is seeking to amend standing order 45 to severely limit the number of quorums that can be called in the House on any given day. It is another decline in democratic standards and rights in the House of Representatives. Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to page 305 of the House of Representatives Practice second edition, which records as follows:

The quorum of the House was determined by the Constitution to be one-third of Members `until the Parliament otherwise provides'. In 1929 the Attorney-General's Department advised the Stand-ing Orders Committee that a proposal to pre-vent a quorum being called for within a half an hour of the House or committee being constituted would be in conflict with section 39 of the Constitution.

I ask you, Mr Speaker, if the notice of motion provided by the Leader of the House is outside the Australian Constitution which, in other circumstances, he purports to defend and uphold. Can you report back to the House whether this is in fact a constitutional provision?

The SPEAKER —I do not think it is necessary for me to reassure the Manager of Opposition Business that I was unaware of the notice of motion until I read it on the Notice Paper this morning. My reaction to it is not unlike my reaction to his question last week: in common with my predecessors, I am a servant of the House. I did, however, note the notice of motion calls for a good deal of discretion on the part of the occupier of the chair and I intend to raise it at the next meeting of the Speaker's Panel and discuss with them as to how it could most satisfactorily be implemented should it be passed through the House.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I am asking you, as a servant of the House, to serve the chamber by asking the Attorney-General's Department to update the advice they provided in 1929 when they very clearly set an important and impressive precedent that preventing quorums being called in the House is outside the provisions of section 39 of the Constitution. Given that this would negate the work of the House on any given day, it is very important for the House to be within the Constitution in the exercise of our powers and it is very important to update the advice and find out if the Leader of the House is acting within the Australian Constitution.

The SPEAKER —As the member for Werriwa would have noted, the Clerk has reassured me that the edition of the House of Representatives Practice from which the member for Werriwa is quoting is not the current edition. The current edition does not include that specific reference and my earlier answer therefore stands.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —I am still responding to the question!

The SPEAKER —The member for Lingiari is warned! I have indicated to the member for Werriwa that I intend to raise the matter with other members of the Speaker's Panel if the notice of motion were passed by the House. The Speaker's Panel has to agree on a way in which the notice of motion could be implemented that would not disadvantage either side of the House. I have responded; I will not respond to specific references to House of Representatives Practice unless it is the current edition.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I seek clarification on that point. Are you saying that, if something is not mentioned in the current Harris edition of the House of Representatives Practice,it did not take place? It is here in black and white.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. I have indicated the action I intend to take. If the member for Werriwa wants further clarification, he can seek it from the Clerk.