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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23735

Mr QUICK (12:23 PM) —It is pleasing to note not only that you are in the chair today, Mr Deputy Speaker Price, being a member of the Procedure Committee, but also that the delightful member for McPherson, Margaret May, is here as well. I would like publicly to commend the Procedure Committee on bringing forward this issue. One of the sad things about debates in the Main Committee and, more importantly, in the House is that on almost every occasion, apart from the clerks and the minister or shadow minister at the dispatch box, there are usually only two people in the chamber: the person who is speaking and the next person in line. There is very little interaction at all. In fact, the only interaction is usually the occasional interjection. Members on both sides, across all parties, fall into the trap of bringing in a 10- to 15-page speech, which in some cases was written by their staffers or, in most cases, written by themselves, and standing up and reading it—boring stuff indeed.

The Procedure Committee has come up with a recommendation which hopefully will be implemented early in the new year, when we come back in February, whereby three-quarters of the 20-minute speech will be your dissertation—and hopefully we will move away from written speeches—and the last five minutes, the exciting bit, will be a question-and-answer session. Much as they do in the interventions here in the Main Committee, people will have to know what they are talking about; they will have to justify their ideological position on a variety of issues, rather than just putting out a diatribe and blaming this side or that side about what is wrong with the world in the particular bill that is before the House. People will be questioned and will be asked to justify exactly where they are coming from. I think this is a delightful thing. When you stand up and talk about an issue that is close to your heart, this will embellish your speech—in the nicest way—because you will be able to draw together the threads of the speech. Also, when you are questioned, you will be able to use examples to reinforce the arguments that you are elucidating in the House.

There are speakers on both sides of this chamber whom people admire and respect. I know for a fact that, when people are speaking both in this committee and in the main chamber, people actually listen to the monitors and listen to what they are saying. In some cases, they even write nice little notes saying: `I enjoyed your speech today' or `That was an excellent dissertation' or `I did not realise that things were as bad as you stated in your speech'. One thing about this huge place is that it has become impersonal. The beauty of this chamber is that there is interaction—for example, as there was with the last speaker, the chair of the bushfire committee. There seems to be a camaraderie in this place where you can interject in the nicest way. In the other place, as soon as you open your mouth the Deputy Speaker on duty assumes an almost pontifical authority—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. L.R.S. Price)—Order!

Mr QUICK —and discourages interaction in the chamber. This change of procedure, whereby we will have a 15-minute section and a five-minute section, will encourage people to think more seriously about what they are going to say in the chamber. But it will also give a lot of people the opportunity to come in and, in some cases, ask dorothy dix questions—even the people in opposition.

One of the good things about this place is that we work on committees—for example, the bushfire committee. It has been interesting to listen to the members who have spoken on the bushfire report, because they are complimenting each other, they are elucidating recommendations and there is camaraderie. It happens whether you are on the ATSIA committee or on the foreign affairs and trade committee—for example, it happens when the honourable member for Mackellar stands up and talks about particular issues that are of deep concern to her. I know that she spoke in this committee room about the wonderful things she did when she was the minister for ageing and seniors. So when a minister speaks on ageing issues, those of us who are involved in that can stand up in that last five minutes and ask, `What do you see happening in relation to senior citizens, the young and the old?' That will encourage more members to be in the chamber. I think it will develop that bipartisan spirit on issues that happens as a matter of course within the committee structure. I think that if we can carry that into the House there will be less, `I am right and you are wrong,' and, `It's all your fault'—`No, it's not.' There will be less trotting out of ideological speeches that do not have any real passion. The best speeches in this place come from the heart and when people believe in things.

When the honourable member for Mackellar was speaking and I was sitting here as the deputy opposition whip, I was able to relate to what she said, because I had been to some of the functions and had seen the generosity of spirit about what was happening. Yet, when she stands up in the main chamber, the House of Representatives, and talks about it, there seems to be an aloofness and not that camaraderie that exists in this place. I think this has been a wonderful chamber for experimentation. We do have interventions in the nicest way, and people are getting used to being able to respond, which I think is great. So I congratulate the committee—including the honourable member for McPherson and Deputy Speaker Price, who is in the chair—on being keen to implement changes.

I have been lucky enough in my wanderings around the world to see other chambers working. I remember being, just before the last election, in the French national parliament, and question time was a real eye opener. Here was the Prime Minister and the minister responsible over here and over there backbenchers had available to them two great big screens in the chamber. A person was asking a question about health services of the minister for health and the Prime Minister, and she was able to put up on a screen examples of neglect in the health area in her constituency and say, `This is what's happening. Minister, why is that so? You allocated X amount of money in the budget but here are examples.' That would be revolutionary in our chamber. I know, for example, that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs actually did a report in video format so we could then send the report back to remote Indigenous communities. We had segments of that report in their own language with English subtitles so that they could have some ownership of it.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the committee. I look forward to it. I think it will be a challenge. It will frighten the pants off a lot of members who feel safe reading their 20-minute speeches but I think there will be more informality and more spontaneity, so I congratulate the committee.