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Parliamentary year draws to a close amid speculation Sentor Hill may accept an ambassadorial post.

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Thursday 8 December 2005

Parliamentary year draws to a close amid speculation Sentor Hill may accept an ambassadorial post


MARK COLVIN: The Federal Parliament is scaling d own for the summer holidays, and the Prime Minister appears to have some changes in mind.  


Mr Howard is considering a reshuffle and wants an early answer from the South Australian Senator and Defence Minister Robert Hill about his future.  


Today the Government was emphasising its achievements for the year, with the Prime Minister saying he had not abused what he called his 'slim majority' in the Senate.  


Peter Costello was having a quieter day after his dramatic retreat yesterday. Today his focus was on the improving jobs figures. 


The Opposition is finishing the Parliamentary year arguing that the Government has abused its Senate power and Labor backbenchers modified a Christmas carol to campaign against the industrial relations changes.  


From Canberra, Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: There was some Christmas cheer and some political digs, when rock star turned MP Peter Garrett and some other Labor backbenchers gathered at the doors of Parliament House this morning.  


LABOR SINGERS (to the tune of 12th day of Christmas ): On the 12th day of Christmas my PM gave to me the end of certainty, much longer hours, jail if I… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: It certainly wasn't equal to a Midnight Oil effort, but the political point was being made here.  


LABOR SINGERS (to the tune of 12th day of Christmas ): … no rights at all, no redundancy, no work paid, cuts to overtime… and a chance to trade away leave. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And so the Parliamentary sitting year has started to draw to an end, but elsewhere the cut and thrust of politics continues.  


With the leadership question settled for the moment, the Prime Minister is now considering a Cabinet reshuffle.  


He has asked South Australian Senator Robert Hill to make up his mind, preferably by the end of the year, if he wants to be Ambassador to the UN. That would clear the way for the reorganisation.  


But until now Robert Hill has been reluctant to step down. The Prime Minister now needs his answer quickly. 


Peter Costello wouldn't be expected to move from Treasury if there is a reshuffle. Today in Parliament Peter Costello welcomed the latest job figures. 


PETER COSTELLO: Today's labour force for November came out showing that the unemployment rate fell from 5.2 per cent to 5.1 per cent back around 30-year lows, Mr Speaker. 


The unemployment rate has been below six per cent now for 27 consecutive months, the longest period since the ABS started monthly collections. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And on Radio National this morning John Howard reflected on the passage of key legislation this year, and the achievement of some long held ambitions. There was not only the recent IR bills but also the Telstra legislation.  


JOHN HOWARD: It has been a very good year, but we've done all the things we should have done. There seems to be a strange reluctance to accept that the people of Australia deliberately voted to give the Government a slim majority in the Senate. We have not abused that. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Shadow Industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith picked up on this in Question Time. 


STEPHEN SMITH: I refer the Prime Minister to his assertion on ABC Radio National this morning, that, and I quote, this Government is doing what the people asked us to do in October of last year. 


Prime Minister, where in the Government's 2004 election policy is the commitment which puts at risk working Australians losing their overtime, their penalty rates, their shift rates, their leave loadings, and their redundancy pay? 


JOHN HOWARD: What we are doing is governing well for the future of this country, Mr Speaker, and that is what the Australian people asked us to do in October, and I… and Mr Speaker, we have fulfilled the responsibility and the trust we were given last October, and we will go on governing for the benefit of all of the people of Australia over the remaining two years of our term in office. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Voluntary Student Unionism legislation has stalled because Barnaby Joyce has rejected any deal and is still threatening to cross the floor. This has forced the Government into negotiations with Family First Senator Steve Fielding. Talks there are continuing. 


Education Minister Brendan Nelson. 


BRENDAN NELSON: The Government would not be supporting the amendment which Senator Joyce has proposed. It's very similar, of course, to the Labor Party amendment, it's the situation that currently applies in the State of Victoria. 


That is not something that is supported by the Government, nor is it the policy upon which all of us - me, Senator Joyce, and others - were elected. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And Kim Beazley delivered what is probably his last set-piece speech in Parliament for the year, launching a 'matter of public importance' debate against the Government. 


KIM BEAZLEY: Fairness, honesty and decency - three great Australian values, completely foreign to this government; their drive, Mr Speaker, to create a dog-eat-dog Australia.  


But let's consider the events of the last few weeks, Mr Speaker, starting with the performance of Australia's most arrogant bridesmaid, the Treasurer. The Member for Lilley applies the blowtorch and the Treasurer heads for the hills. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Coalition's response came from the Deputy Leader of Government business in the House of Representatives, Peter McGauran.  


PETER MCGAURAN: Oh dear, oh dear, that's what the leader of the Opposition's got to show for 2005, the last matter of public importance for the parliamentary year - not the parliamentary day, not the parliamentary week, not the parliamentary month, but the parliamentary year - and that's the case he makes against the Government? That is the result of 12 months' endeavour? 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: A short time ago the Prime Minister gave his end of year speech to the Parliament, thanking the Treasurer personally for his contribution and dedication to the Liberal Party.  


And he made a special and unusual mention of his family. 


JOHN HOWARD: Can I just again say therefore to conclude, say thank you and record my love and appreciation to Jeanette and Melanie and her husband Rowan and my two sons, Tim and Richard, for all that they've meant to me and all the support they've given me in public life over the years. I wish you a merry Christmas, all of you. Thank you. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: That sort of comment, and thanking his family for their support over his public life might add some fuel to the view that the Prime Minister is going to step down some time next year. 


MARK COLVIN: Or it might not.  


Catherine McGrath.