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With the sittings for 1991 drawing to a close, business in Parliament has intensified and parliamentary proceedings characterised by censure motions, interjections and lengthy ministerial answers

JENNY HUTCHISON: The pace of events here this week was relentless, almost bewildering. The week began with Tuesday's appearance before the Print Media Inquiry of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal Chairman, Peter Westerway. His promise of an inquiry into the Tourang consortium was followed by Thursday's announcement of Mr Kerry Packer's withdrawal from that group. That prompted a press release from former National Party leader, Ian Sinclair, querying why a Canadian press baron would be preferable to an Australian, and arguing that the selective reporting in Fairfax newspapers of the Opposition's Fightback package demonstrated `the much vaunted charter of journalistic independence to be illusory'.

Then there was the unprecedented Caucus and parliamentary endorsement of a motion condemning the Indonesian military's use of force in East Timor. Foreign Minister Gareth Evans will now visit Indonesia in December, and next year's planned visit by the Prime Minister is on hold. It's been revealed that Defence Minister, Robert Ray, has played a key role in easing tensions between Australia and Malaysia. And this week, Senator Ray announced the details of the transfer to purely Australian hands of the Naval Communication station at North West Cape. The Minister for Resources, Mr Griffiths, signalled major organisational changes to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services, and on Thursday he announced a natural gas strategy.

With the sittings for 1991 drawing to a close, there were also a larger number of reports tabled from parliamentary committees. The Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training tabled a report on adult education, recommending a national approach and increased funding. Then there was the Report on Banking and Deregulation. We'll have the Chairman of that House of Representatives inquiry, Stephen Martin, later on the program. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled a report very critical of the efficiency and operational readiness of the Australian Defence Force Reserves. More positive was the report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, which even foreshadows some future investigative hearings in public. And in the area of company regulation, the House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee tabled its report on Corporate Practices and the Rights of Shareholders, whilst its Senate counterpart at last received a government response to its November 1989 report on the social and fiduciary duties and obligations of company directors.

Finally, the Senate Select Committee tabled its report on the Political Broadcasts and Political Disclosures Bill - a last ditch attempt to get Australian Democrats' support for disclosure of political donations as well as minimising the cost of election campaigning. The report went to Cabinet on Thursday night and has been endorsed in principle, so that Bill is likely to be discussed by the Senate in the near future. However, the promised resource security legislation - officially the Forest Conservation and Development Bill 1991 - which was introduced in the House of Representatives in the early hours of Friday morning, won't be debated in the Upper House until next year. And finally, there was a deluge of annual reports from departments and statutory authorities, and the even greater deluge of press releases relating to the topic of the week - the GST.

Uproar in the Houses. An end of school atmosphere affected Senators and Members this week. In the Lower House, there were censure motions every day, interjections were rife, ministerial answers to questions were lengthy, and both Mr President and Mr Speaker were given a hard time. The Opposition took the initiative from the start, deferring Tuesday afternoon's Question Time in the House of Representatives by proposing suspension of standing and sessional orders so the Treasurer could respond to its Fightback program. After four divisions, Dr Hewson again proposed suspension of standing and sessional orders so the Prime Minister could be censured for not allowing a debate.

After another four divisions, Question Time began finally at ten to three. The Prime Minister's answer to Dr Hewson's opening question was continually interrupted by interjections. The following sample was nine and a half minutes into his reply.

MR SPEAKER: Order.

BOB HAWKE: So that I may give an indication, Mr Speaker, of the background of massive tax reform against which any further changes by this Government would be undertaken, let me, Mr Speaker, make these points about the record of this Government - the real record.

MR SPEAKER: Order. The House will come to order. Order. Prime Minister.

BOB HAWKE: Mr Speaker, when this Government was elected in 1983, we inherited a situation in which the payment of tax, as we've said before, was a matter of discretion and not a matter of requirement under the law.

MR SPEAKER: Member for Dundas.

BOB HAWKE: Now, Mr Speaker...

MR SPEAKER: Order.

BOB HAWKE: Mr Speaker, these are the changes, these are the changes that this Government has made in the area of taxation since we've been in Government. We've broadened, Mr Speaker, we have broadened the income tax base; we've closed down the rorts; we've reduced the reliance, Mr Speaker, on .. the reliance on PAYE taxpayers.

MR SPEAKER: Order. Order. The House will come to order. Prime Minister.

BOB HAWKE: Mr Speaker, we have produced a situation where there is now fairness in the taxation system, and Mr Speaker...

MR SPEAKER: The House will come to order.

BOB HAWKE: Well, they won't come to order, Mr Speaker.

MR SPEAKER: Order. Order. Members on my left will cease interjecting. I warn the Member for Corinella; if he interjects again, I will name him.

JENNY HUTCHISON: The sophomore Liberal Member for Corinella, Russell Broadbent, was later suspended. And as for the length of answers, it was fifteen and a half minutes into Question Time on Tuesday when the Prime Minister finally completed his answer to that first Opposition question. A full-scale debate on Fightback did take place after five o'clock.

On Wednesday, Mr McLeay began Question Time with a warning against further disorderly behaviour, but this fell on deaf ears. The President of the Senate was also faced with a lively Chamber. On Tuesday, the public galleries contained demonstrators in Canberra to protest against the Australian International Defence Exhibition.

RICHARD ALSTON: Mr President, I direct a question to Senator Tate, the Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs. I refer to reports of this disturbance at the National Exhibition Centre, yesterday. Can the Minister provide details in relation to the large number of arrests made by the AFP at the AIDEX 91 arms exhibition?

MR PRESIDENT: The Minister for Justice, Senator Tate.

MICHAEL TATE: Mr President, I'm advised that there was a meeting between the AFP operations commander and the leaders of the protest groups to try to ensure that there'd be a minimal level of disturbance of the peace in relation to the protest outside the Natex and the AIDEX 91 exhibition. But in fact there was, as we know, severe disruption, and on 25 November - that's yesterday - demonstrators in fact barricaded the entrance to the Natex exhibition with scaffolding and they positioned themselves behind the barricade. Mr President, the protesters were given a direction to disperse by a senior police officer, who feared that an imminent breach of the peace might occur. The protesters failed to comply with the direction and were individually arrested.

Mr President, Senator Josephine Vallentine was directed to disperse and warned that if she failed to obey the direction she would be arrested. She failed to comply and was given a further direction. Senator Vallentine failed to comply and was subsequently arrested. And I understand, Mr President, that you have been informed of the arrest of Senator Vallentine. Mr President, despite the applause in the public gallery...

MR PRESIDENT: Order. Order. There's too much noise emanating from the galleries. Senator Tate.

MICHAEL TATE: Mr President, despite the applause in the public gallery, it shows great patience on the part of the the police officers concerned, that they asked Senator Vallentine twice to disperse, and she refused twice before they arrested her. It was quite clear that she was intending to be arrested. Mr President, a total of 172 persons were detained or arrested; 163 persons were detained and put before the court. They were asked to keep the peace. They were bound .. asked to agree to be bound over to keep the peace. They refused to be bound over. And I understand that Senator Vallentine also refused to be bound over to keep the peace. One would think that a leading peace activist, Mr President, would agree at least to keep the peace in accordance with our ordinary common law traditions.

JENNY HUTCHISON: After further disturbances during questions about AIDEX, President Sibraa gave a guarantee that cheer squads would not be able to continue to disrupt the Chamber.

On Wednesday, Government Leader John Button described the Opposition as `a bit psyched up by the new hot gospel of Dr Hewson'. Here's an example involving Liberal frontbenchers Jocelyn Newman and Richard Alston, the Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support, Bob Collins, and President Sibraa.

JOCELYN NEWMAN: My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support, Senator Collins. And I refer to the answer given yesterday, an answer to a question by Senator Zakharov concerning the abolition of the excise on aviation gasoline. Is it a fact that the Government will derive $28 million this year from excise imposed on avgas? Is it not a fact that the abolition of excise on avgas has been warmly welcomed by general aviation commuter operators and charter operators alike? If this move is of no use to the tourist industry, as the Minister would claim, why is a Whitsunday charter airline proudly announcing a saving of $67,500 on an annual avgas bill of $217,500? Why did the Minister mislead this House in yesterday's answer?

MR PRESIDENT: The Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support, Senator Collins.

BOB COLLINS: Mr President, I'm very grateful for this question because it allows me the opportunity to point out another hole in the Opposition's package, which I was about to do later in Question Time today, but you've just accelerated it slightly. The facts are, Mr President - and as much as the Opposition wants to weasel out of it, you can't - is that the Opposition's document claimed, and I quoted from it yesterday, from chapter 16 of the great leap backwards.

MR PRESIDENT: Order. Point of order.

JOCELYN NEWMAN: Point of order. I asked the Minister some very specific questions which he is not attempting in any way to address, and I ask you...

MR PRESIDENT: Order.

JOCELYN NEWMAN: Mr President, as you would be well aware, we are accustomed to diatribes from this Minister, and a failure to address answers to questions, and I asked particularly about his misleading of the Senate.

MR PRESIDENT: Order.

BOB COLLINS: Speaking briefly, to the point of order, Mr President...

MR PRESIDENT: Yes, Senator Collins.

BOB COLLINS: ...as you would have noted, as part of the Senator's question, she accused me of misleading this Senate in Question Time yesterday, and I was responding to that part of the question.

MR PRESIDENT: Order. Order.

NICK BOLKUS: ...get them to shut up.

MR PRESIDENT: Order. There is order, order. There is no point of order, but it's very difficult for the Chair when a point of order is taken after the Minister's been speaking for 15 seconds. Senator Collins.

BOB COLLINS: Mr President, the only misleading that has been done in this...

MR PRESIDENT: Point of order. Senator Alston.

BOB COLLINS: I'll tell you, you're a bunch of sensitive little flowers about this document...

MR PRESIDENT: Order. Senator Alston.

RICHARD ALSTON: Mr President, Senator Bolkus' contribution a moment ago was one of a series from the Government's side which had quite deliberately sought to undermine your position in this place, and I think it's in the interests of the Chair that you make it clear that you will not tolerate people like Senator Bolkus asking you whether you're going to make people shut up. It's a matter for you to run this Chamber, not Senator Bolkus.

MR PRESIDENT: Order. That's no point of order, and I will continue to exercise control over the Chamber and asking people to withdraw from both sides, as I have recently.

JENNY HUTCHISON: The Opposition later criticised Senator Button for cutting Question Time off after only five answers and supplementaries. Manager of Government Business, Bob McMullan, retorted that until this week, the daily average number of questions and answers was 22 and that there had been a deliberate use of interjections and of bogus points of order by the Opposition.

Back to the Lower House on Thursday, when the Government fought back by reversing the direction of that day's Opposition motion censuring the Prime Minister. In the Chair on this occasion was former Labor speaker, Gordon Scholes. Other participants in the debate were the Prime Minister, Mr Fife, a former Coalition leader of the House, Ian Sinclair, and Mr Beazley.

BOB HAWKE: Mr Speaker, I move that all words after `That' be deleted and the following be inserted: `this house censures the Leader of the Opposition for perpetrating a massive fraud on the people of Australia with the launch of his Fightback document...'.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order. Order. The Prime Minister will resume his seat. If Members opposite are not prepared to take seriously a debate which they initiated and which their leader has said is important, then I think they should leave the Chamber. This is an important debate. It is a censure on the Government, and I would think it is incumbent on Members of the Opposition to behave like persons who support the Leader of the Opposition's motion, not like a group of clowns. The Leader of the .. the Prime Minister.

UNIDENTIFIED: What's your problem?

WAL FIFE: Mr Acting Speaker, your comment then is unbecoming of a person who occupies that Chair.

UNIDENTIFIED: Hear, Hear.

WAL WIFE: ...and you should set an example and apologise.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: Well, if the Opposition is prepared to act like Members of the House of Representatives, then I'm prepared to accept that they are Members of the House of Representatives. They are not doing so at the moment. The Prime Minister.

UNIDENTIFIED: ...down, Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED: ...arrogant, absolute arrogance.

BOB HAWKE: Mr Speaker, I repeat, I move that all words after `That' be deleted and the following being inserted: `this House censure the Leader of the Opposition for perpetrating a massive fraud on the people of Australia with the launch of his Fightback document which will increase unemployment, increase inflation, wreck economic recovery and shift the burden of taxation from the very rich to middle and low income Australians'.

Mr Speaker, the Opposition has presented the...

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Member for New England.

IAN SINCLAIR: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, the practice in the last few years, in the House, has been that we should reverse the standard meeting procedure and allow a motion that is totally contradictory to the original to be accepted. I put to you that his motion is against the standard meeting procedure which denies the opportunity for any amendment to take exact reverse course of the original motion. The original motion, if you look at it, was censuring the Prime Minister. It is a motion which I would suggest to you, in it's form the negates the amendment which the...

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order. Order. The honourable gentleman has made his point of order.

IAN SINCLAIR: Mr Speaker, I'm speaking on a point of order.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable gentleman has made his point of order.

IAN SINCLAIR: I believe I have a right to speak to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: I warn the Member for New England.

IAN SINCLAIR: It's fundamental to the proceedings of this place.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: I name the Member for New England.

IAN SINCLAIR: You are a...

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: ...New England, you are suspended from the service of the House.

IAN SINCLAIR: It's outrageous behaviour by the Opposition which is running away from this debate.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question is that the Member for New England be suspended from the services of the House.

UNIDENTIFIED: The Leader of the House reflected on you sir.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: If there is any way in which I could have heard anything that was said during that uproar, I would like the honourable gentleman to tell me. If the Honourable Member for New England is prepared to apologise to the Chair, I will withdraw the naming.

IAN SINCLAIR: I can't understand what I'm apologising for. If you seek my apology, I apologise. May now I proceed with my point of order?

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: I've told the honourable gentleman that his point of order has been made, and I asked him to resume his seat. He didn't resume his seat, and I named him for that reason.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: Well, I confess that I haven't heard that....

IAN SINCLAIR: Oh, Mr Speaker, I apologise that I did not...

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.

IAN SINCLAIR: ...your request.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: There are ample precedents for the motion which is being moved by the Prime Minister. It has been moved on several occasions, including by governments of which the honourable gentleman is the Leader of the House.

JENNY HUTCHISON: The debate on Thursday's censure motion was an extensive discussion of the merits of the Coalition's new package and covered six and a half hours. There had also been extensive debate on the GST, during continued discussion of the Prime Minister's recent statement on the economy and employment. Labor MPs came up with some catchy descriptions. Colin Hollis referred to the `Fright packet'; his colleague, Rod Sawford, talked of `doing the dirty on the jobless'; and Minister Dawkins said the Opposition had `identified the working men and women of Australia as the enemy'. Senator Graham Richardson commented: `we are returning to the politics of misery, of trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the lame and the sick'. And Senator John Button referred to: `miserable politics of the worst kind', and said the GST was `a curate's egg which will go bad'. And at the close of the censure debate in the House of Representatives, at 11 on Thursday night, Labor's Arch Bevis warned:

ARCH BEVIS: As the next 18 months unfold, you are going to rue the day you decided to pursue this policy, because whilst you might bask in the glory of what you perceive as a good response in the first couple of days, you will come back here next year wondering whether or not you ever wanted to hear the word GST. But you will, you will, and you won't hear it so much inside this Chamber, you'll hear it out there in the electorate where the constituents will be clamouring at your doors and where they will be saying to you: `We won't wear it. We're going to return a Labor Government because at least we know they've got some compassion and care for us'.

JENNY HUTCHISON: But such criticisms were only to be expected in the light of the Opposition's descriptions of the Government as `tired and discredited' and `a government which is on its last legs' - both of those from Shadow Treasurer Mr Reith. `A Prime Minister and Treasurer wandering around in a daze' was Neil Andrews' contribution, and this gem came from Bob Charles: `The stench of decay from a dying government is already evident, even as the body twitches'.

Consideration of Fightback is hampered through lack of access to the documents. The Coalition refused for several days to give a copy to the Australian Democrats. And Dr Hewson's grandstanding gesture of tabling Fightback in the House of Representatives on Tuesday has provided a major headache for the Bills and Papers office. Given only one copy, they're faced with constant requests for it from Members but have no way of satisfying these, given the size of the document and the costs in both time and dollars of duplication. The Opposition hasn't responded to the Speaker's suggestion that it provide more copies.

Finally, The Sydney Morning Herald, on Thursday, made reference to a youngster who had settled down to watch Sesame Street on Tuesday afternoon, and was first treated to Question Time in the House. For the rest of the day she delighted in saying: `Order, order'.