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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7933


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (12:03 PM) —I move:

That unless otherwise ordered, standing orders 192 and 193 be amended to read as follows:

192 Main Committee’s order of business

The normal order of business for the Main Committee is set out in figure 4.

Figure 4. Main Committee order of business

MONDAY

TUESDAY

WEDNESDAY

THURSDAY

9.30 am

3 min constituency statements

9.30 am

3 min constituency statements

Approx

10.00 am

Government   business and/or committee and delegation reports

Approx

10.00 am

Government business and/or committee and delegation reports

12.30 pm

Adjournment Debate

Approx

1.00 pm

Approx

1.00 pm

4.00 pm

3 min

constituency statements

4.00 pm

3 min constituency statements

4.00 pm

If required

Approx

4.30 pm

Government   business and/or committee and delegation reports

If required

Approx

6.40 pm

90 sec statements

6.55 pm

Committee & delegation reports and private Members’ business

Approx

7.30 pm

8.30 pm

Grievance debate

Approx

8.30 pm

9.30 pm.

The meeting times of the Main Committee are fixed by the Deputy Speaker and are subject to change. Adjournment debates can occur on days other than Thursdays by agreement between the Whips.

193 Members’ three minute constituency statements

The first item of business on any day that the Main Committee meets shall be constituency statements by Members. The Deputy Speaker may call a Member to make a constituency statement for no longer than three minutes. The period for Members’ constituency statements may continue for 30 minutes, irrespective of suspensions for divisions in the House.

The amendment provides for an additional two hours and 40 minutes each sitting week on a Monday for members to debate government business or committee reports and to make three-minute constituency statements. It provides two changes to the existing standing orders: that the first item of business on any day that the Main Committee meets will be constituency statements by members and that, between 4.30 pm and 6.40 pm on a Monday, the Main Committee will allow for government business and committee and delegation reports.

This amendment will provide greater opportunity for members to do two things: firstly, to better represent their electorates with the increased allocation of time allowed for constituency statements and, secondly, to contribute to the legislative debate on issues that are important to their local communities. This will, of course, increase the accountability and transparency of the government’s legislation to the parliament, as additional debate will be allowed on legislation. Appropriately, it restores the proper practices to the Main Committee for which it was established.

The government has provided a great deal of opportunity for members of the House of Representatives to support their concerns and views before the House. Indeed, so far in 2009 the Main Committee has sat for a total of 176 hours, which is more than the entire time of 147 hours that it sat for in 2007. In 2008, the Main Committee sat for a total of 290 hours, more time than in any other year since its creation in 1994 and more than 60 hours more than its previous record in 2006.

I take the opportunity to make the point that, while the House of Representatives is engaged in discussion about legislation and also about issues of concern that members have in their electorates, I think the same, unfortunately, cannot always be said of the other place. The House has carried some 119 bills so far this year. There are 21 packages awaiting passage in the Senate. Of those, three are budget related: the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009, the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 and the Health Insurance Amendment (Extended Medicare Safety Net) Bill 2009. Indeed, last week the Senate only considered four packages, of which three were passed.

Of course the Senate need to give proper scrutiny to legislation, but they also need to recognise that they have a responsibility to deal, in a timely manner, with legislation that is carried by the House of Representatives. Certainly, the Parliamentary Business Committee will continue to monitor the situation re the build-up of legislation in the Senate. It is my understanding that there are a range of bills which the government and the opposition have declared to be non-controversial but because of minor parties opposing that declaration the legislation is unable to be debated on Thursdays.

The fact that the Senate has not extended its sitting hours, unlike the House of Representatives in both this chamber and the Main Committee, is also an issue which needs to be given proper consideration by the Senate. I would certainly ask that they do so.

This is a practical motion which is about maximising the time that both chambers sit. It is also of good financial sense for the parliament to maximise the daytime activity whilst parliamentarians are here in Canberra, given the costs of parliament sitting. I certainly commend the proposed amendments to the House of Representatives and I thank both the Chief Government Whip and the Chief Opposition Whip for their ongoing deliberations on these issues and the cooperative way which, by and large, we operate in this chamber.