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Agreement to improve parliamentary standards -

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Agreement to improve parliamentary standards has fallen short
David Mark reported this story on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 12:15:00

ELEANOR HALL: The parliamentary behaviour of our federal politicians is now a hot topic of debate around the country.

Whether it was a low point is debatable.

What is clear is that the last two years have seen a level of political acrimony that's at odds with the promises made by all sides of politics when the leadership of the hung Parliament was being negotiated.

David Mark has our report.

DAVID MARK: There was a time when this Parliament promised so much.

(sound of 'Love is in the Air')

DAVID MARK: In the tumultuous days after the last election and before a government was formed, it seemed anything was possible - including civility.

Even that well-known parliamentary attack-dog, Tony Abbott was making promises to be nice.

TONY ABBOTT: I think we can have a kinder, gentler polity.

DAVID MARK: The Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor leveraged their position to win a concession from both sides on parliamentary reform.

A document was signed and consummated with a famous group hug at Parliament House between Labor's Anthony Albanese, the Coalition's Christopher Pyne as well as Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

TONY WINDSOR: You can just, you can feel the love can't you? It's just something almost emotional.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: After the press conference, we'll be having a group hug over in that corner.

ROB OAKESHOTT: Are we doing the group hug?

TONY WINDSOR: Yeah, group hug.

(Sound of 'Love is in the Air')

DAVID MARK: It didn't last.

The previous two years have been as vicious as the best of them.

Even so, one of the architects of the agreement on parliamentary reform, Rob Oakeshott, says some of its goals have been achieved. But there's still work to be done.

ROB OAKESHOTT: The intent was that in football terms we play the ball, not the man, and by all means on issues of policy that we have good, hard earnest debate in the national interest. But we try as much as possible to put the personality contest and the name calling and the grandstanding to one side.

Now, I can't control what's in the hearts and minds of individual MPs but that was certainly the spirit and the intent of the agreement reached. And the agreement in writing and signed by two major parties and two cross-benchers.

DAVID MARK: Given the intent of that spirit, how would you describe the parliamentary process over the past two years?

ROB OAKESHOTT: Well we've got a good lot of legislation through and things like the committee structures are working better and control and management of how issues come onto the floor of the Parliament does give private members, so individual backbenchers, more opportunities.

There's been record numbers of private members' bills through the Parliament. Record numbers of private members' votes and the committees have a much greater say than what they had in the past in previous majority governments.

But, what's the disappointing part in this Parliament is that there was clearly an agreement reached. There were clearly statements made that we all want a better culture and a better standard and the Parliament is actually focusing on the many, many issues that face us as a nation that actually matter.

Sadly, the adversarial system in my view is still struggling culturally to meet the demands of a modern Australian community and economy.

And I do think structurally we've got something wrong, and even though I was very hopeful that two years ago we might have taken a big step forward, and despite parts of that agreement that went wrong, we still have made steps forward but still the adversarial system is struggling to meet the demands of a modern economy and community.

And I actually think the debate of the last couple of weeks has been a very slap debate. You know, it is, how absurd to we want to be? Julia Gillard isn't a cannibal, she's not a transvestite, she's not a member of the Taliban. And Tony Abbott isn't going to eat the first born child of every Australian family if they're female.

You know, let's get over this gender politics or whatever we want to call it and let's get down to some matters that really matter for the future of Australia. And there are plenty of them.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's the Independent MP for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, ending that report by David Mark.