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No Deal -

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Minutes before a news conference today called by Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott
called the Prime Minister to say he could no longer honour a deal to allow the speaker of the House
of Representatives to be paired as part of parliamentary reform.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Not much sweetness and light back home in Canberra today either. So much
for the group hug two weeks ago when the two major parties and independents signed their deal
promising parliamentary reform, including the Opposition's promise to provide a pair for the
Speaker. The Prime Minister had called a press conference to outline the Government's legislative
schedule for the new Parliament, which meets next week, but a few minutes before she was due to
appear, a call from the Opposition Leader changed the equation. Political editor Heather Ewart.

HEATHER EWART, REPORTER: It didn't last long; the days of the group hug to seal parliamentary
reforms brokered by the independents are over and it's back to normal. The gloves are off.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: I have literally minutes ago put the phone down from a telephone
conversation with the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. He has said to me in that telephone
conversation that he and the Opposition will not abide by the parliamentary reform agreement that
they signed.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: The Coalition cannot accept the proposed arrangement for the
pairing of the Speaker, because after careful consideration of the matter, we believe that it is
constitutionally unsound.

HEATHER EWART: What Labor and the independents thought was a deal to have the Speaker paired with
an opposing MP during votes in the House of Representatives apparently wasn't a deal after all.

JULIA GILLARD: The Government entered into discussions with the Opposition and with Mr Rob
Oakeshott representing the independents in good faith. We gave our word. Our intention was always
been to honour our word. I would have thought it was a reasonable expectation that the Leader of
the Opposition would also honour his word. He has now said to me, and effectively to the Australian
people, that his word is worth absolutely nothing.

ROB OAKESHOTT, INDEPENDENT MP: What is clear and what I've also said previously is there's quite
obviously not the goodwill on that particular item in the reform document that I thought there was.

HEATHER EWART: The independent Rob Oakeshott is still smarting over his failed attempt to become
Speaker himself. The man who was going to back him for the job, Tony Windsor, went even further
this afternoon. He said Tony Abbott could not be trusted.

It's hardly a great start to the new era of the so-called new paradigm and what's supposed to be a
new way of operating in the Parliament. Tony Abbott explains his shift this way:

TONY ABBOTT: We've carefully looked at the Solicitor-General's opinion and it's clear from a close
reading of the Solicitor-General's opinion that the only basis on which the Speaker can be paired
is an informal arrangement. Now, the Government of the country, legislation that passes the
Parliament, is too important to be based on an informal arrangement.

JULIA GILLARD: And what that advice provides to us is very clear indication that the arrangement
for pairing was constitutional. The Solicitor-General, in his written advice, made that absolutely
clear. So Mr Abbott is not in a position to use yesterday's Solicitor-General's advice as an excuse
and indeed in his telephone conversation with me he did not seek to do so.

GEORGE WILLIAMS, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, UNSW: The Prime Minister and Tony Abbott could play chicken
here, each trying to hold off supplying a Speaker, but ultimately the Prime Minister would lose.
She's got no choice but to supply a Speaker, because without a Speaker Parliament can't function,
and without a viable Parliament she simply can't govern the country.

HEATHER EWART: It's a point the Prime Minister full well, but for now she's reserving a decision.
Who's right and who's wrong in their interpretation of the Solicitor-General's opinion is a
political game that's not the key point. What this argy-bargy over the speakership shows is that
the divide between Labor and the Coalition is alive and well, especially when Julia Gillard clings
to power with just a two-seat majority.

GEORGE WILLIAMS: Well, this is a pretty clear signal that we're in for some difficult times ahead.
That's not surprising given we have a hung Parliament.

JULIA GILLARD: Obviously, I am concerned that the spirit that Mr Abbott is bringing to this
Parliament is one of what can he wreck?, rather than what can he achieve?

TONY ABBOTT: If the Government is unable or unwilling to provide a Speaker for the Parliament,
well, then the Prime Minister should not have accepted the Governor-General's commission.

HEATHER EWART: Tony Abbott is basing his latest position on correspondence to Julia Gillard more
than three weeks ago asking for a committee of party elders and past and present parliamentary
clerks to examine reform proposals. This was declined. It doesn't really explain why he signed onto
the deal in the first place. By the time Parliament resumes next Tuesday, there will be a Speaker,
but for now, Harry Jenkins remains in limbo, still unsure whether it will be him. In the meantime,
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott trade blows over issues like the carbon tax, which is now back on the
table.

TONY ABBOTT: The carbon tax is the first product of the secret deal between the Labor Party and the
Greens.

JULIA GILLARD: I've agreed with the Australian Greens and also with the other independents that we
will have an inclusive climate change committee to discuss questions of best tackling climate
change.

HEATHER EWART: The Government has 40 bills to introduce in the Parliament next week and this will
be the first test of many on how the new minority government and the Parliament function.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Heather Ewart.