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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview: parliamentary standards.

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SWAN: Today will be the 32nd or 33rd Question time of the

fortieth Parliament. Eight months ago we approached the Government with a comprehensive set of proposals for parliamentary reform. The public are sick of all of the insults. They want ideas debated and their practical concerns addressed. What we see again today is further concrete evidence of how Ministers Abbott, Costello and others have been abusing question time. That’s why our proposals for parliamentary reform are so important. The public of Australia deserves some reform. But the attitude of the Liberal Party is preventing it. Not one positive response publicly from anyone in the Government to a comprehensive set of parliamentary reform proposals put by Simon Crean and myself eight months ago. And now in the Senate you see the real attitude of the Liberal Party and why we aren’t getting any reform. Margaret Reid the Senate President, who is generally acknowledged as having done a very good job, is being axed because she is seen to be soft on Labor - a criticism the Government has continually made in the last Parliament about Speaker Andrew. The Liberal Party has a winner take all mentality. Parliamentary standards get shredded and now we’ve got the additional factor of Ministers Abbott, Costello, Downer and Nelson further shredding parliamentary standards in their contest to show the Liberal Party backbench how big their muscles are. The public have had enough. They deserve better. What we would like to see from the Howard Government - from Mr Howard and Mr Abbott - is a positive response to our comprehensive set of proposals for reform of the Parliament and first and foremost that means reform of question time. Not this constant denigration and name calling that is coming from senior Government Ministers who are simply trying to appeal to the Liberal Party backbench. And what occurs in the middle of all that is parliamentary standards are shredded and the public of this country witness a bin of yelling monkeys rather than the national parliament talking about their issues of concern - issues affecting families on a daily basis and the great national issues affecting the security of the nation. Let’s have some reform. Let’s stop this hypocrisy from Minister Abbott and Mr Howard.

JOURNALIST: How successful are you going to be in getting these reforms?

SWAN: Well I’m not optimistic anymore at all. Minister Abbott

continues in the parliament to shred parliamentary standards. He is the main culprit here. I said before Parliament last rose, putting Mr Abbott in charge of

Wayne Swan MP Manager of Opposition Business Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services

parliamentary affairs for the Howard Government is like putting Chopper Read in charge of a law and order campaign. Now the only way that we can get some real reform is for Minister Abbott to change his ways and for the Prime Minister to stop supporting the approach of Minister Abbott and Minister Costello. There’s no sign of that.

JOURNALIST: What about Mark Latham…. is he waiting for Tony Abbott to tone down?

SWAN: All of those clashes that occurred during the last

session of parliament are clashes that were provoked by the behaviour of Ministers Abbott and Costello. They set the tone and take the lead. It takes two to tango. But we’ve got to have some positive response from this Government to our proposals for reform and then secondly we’ve got to have a change in attitude and behaviour from the leadership of the Government.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott says though, that Dorothy Dixer’s are necessary. It helps them get across criticism. Do you think there are other ways they could do it?

SWAN: Well there are other ways they could do this. They

can do it every day at doorstops like this. You see part of the problem is that when there are important national issues to be debated, the Government runs away from the parliament and makes its announcements elsewhere. But when they want to score a political point they go into the parliament and debauch parliamentary standards. That’s the sort of behaviour that the public are fed up with.

JOURNALIST: Haven’t you just got a case of sour grapes because what you want hasn’t happened?

SWAN: What we want is in the national interest not our

political interest. The set of parliamentary reforms that we have put forward are not necessarily in the political interests of the Australian Labor Party but I can tell you one thing - they are in the national interest. And sooner or later in politics everyone has got to put aside the partisanship and get behind reforms that are for the good of the country.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that Labor has never brought standards down?

SWAN: No I’m not. On many occasions I’ve acknowledged to

your good selves that we bear some responsibility for this as well. We don’t come to this with clean hands. But when Simon Crean put forward those proposals in January he made it very clear that we were attempting to break with the past, to break that twisted partisanship that has dominated the parliament for too long. To do that we needed a bipartisan agreement on parliamentary reform. We put those proposals forward in good faith. Eight months later and after several performances in parliament that most people would rather forget - no response from the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott. Let’s not just confine our criticisms here to Tony Abbott or Peter Costello. The chief culprit here is the Prime Minister. He sits there and watches his senior Ministers debauch parliamentary standards. He sits there and watches the

parade of the gorgons: of Abbott and Costello shredding standards in the parliament; and then pats them on the back. Ultimately responsibility here is in the hands of the Prime Minister. But there’s been no leadership here because he’s put his political interests ahead of the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Labor’s calling for reforms and doing a lot of blaming of the Government, shouldn’t you just lead by example and ignore other people’s insults?

SWAN: Last time I looked we were in Opposition and one of

the features of the Parliamentary system is that the program is run by the Government and the rules are set by the party with the majority in the House. They are the ones with the capacity to change the environment. We have already extended the hand of bipartisanship and they’ve rejected it. And we want to see some response. Thanks.

ENDS Mon 19 Aug 02 Web:

Contact: Wayne Swan on 0418 795 329 Michael Lye on 02 6277 2293