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Opposition MPs are angry about Friday sittings without Question Time.

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Thur sday 21 February 2008

Opposition MPs are angry about Friday sittings without Question Time


MARK COLVIN: It was a day for shouting and bickering in the Federal Parliament with rowdy deba te in the House Representatives and the Senate Estimates Committees.  


But why were MPs so fired up? It could be that for the first time tomorrow the Parliament will sit on a Friday.  


Normally, at the close of business this afternoon most members of Parliament would have grabbing their bags and heading for the airport. Not any more.  


There'll be no Question Time tomorrow, but there was one today, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, switched her focus of attack from WorkChoices to the lunching arrangements of the former Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.  


From Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.  


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: At 3.15 yesterday, while Parliamentary Question Time was still underway, Alexander Downer was snapped by a photographer relaxing at Verve, a popular Canberra restaurant in the nearby suburb of Manuka.  


On the menu, according to the former Foreign Minister, now Opposition backbencher.  


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Um, veal, I think it was. What did I have to drink? I had a lemon, lime and bitters. (laughs) I know it's very disappointing. 


JOURNALIST: Any regrets? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Regrets? About lunch? I enjoyed lunch. 


JOURNALIST: Is it rich for people to criticise you over that, Mr Downer? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, I was... for me as an Opposition backbencher to spend one afternoon not listening to Julia Gillard's childish ranting and party politicking in an era when Mr Rudd promised new standards. You know, on reflection, I think I was better having lunch with Greg Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of The Australian, than I was listening to Julia Gillard's ranting and raging and party political point scoring. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Mr Downer, the Member for Mayo, was in Question Time today. So was Julia Gillard.  


COALITION MEMBER: Will the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House of the steps the Government is taking to respond to the skills challenge? 


JULIA GILLARD: Mr Speaker, on tackling skill shortages in this country, the Liberal Party, like the Member for Mayo, were out to lunch. Not much verve being shown there, Mr Speaker, not much verve at all. And apparently it's okay for the Liberal Party to be out to lunch and for the Member for Mayo to be out to lunch. 




SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And so it went on. 


JULIA GILLARD: The out of touch, out to lunch Liberal Party. At least the Member for Higgins comes to Question Time. Even if he looks at for the entire duration. 




SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The former Treasurer, Peter Costello, holds the seat Higgins. 


Earlier in the day they're was similar uproar over the new arrangements for Parliament to sit on Fridays.  


The day will be reserved for private members business, meaning there'll be no Question Time and no divisions and the Prime Minister and Government Ministers won't be required to show up.  


Joe Hockey is the Opposition's leader of Business in the House of Representatives.  


JOE HOCKEY: Not two weeks of this Parliament has passed. The Prime Minister has got time to go and play cricket in his courtyard, but he hasn't got time to come into this place and answer questions from Members of Parliament about how the country is being run. 


Mr Speaker, we stand for accountability, we stand for transparency. The Labor Party stands condemned! 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Kevin Rudd was seen playing cricket with his staff in a Prime Ministerial courtyard this week.  


The Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese, says if members of Parliament object to Friday sittings, they're not being forced to show up.  


ANTHONY ALBANESE: The fact is that some of them are struggling to get here four days a week, let alone five. 


That's a fact, and it was exposed yesterday. And I encourage the Opposition to go to the next election with the slogan: "Kevin Rudd doesn't work hard", "Kevin Rudd doesn't work hard". I encourage you to do that. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It was certainly a day for shouting. On the other side of Parliament, where senators were engaged in Estimates hearings, tensions were high too. 


SENATOR: Minister, I know it is many years since you sat behind this table … 




SENATOR: … in an Estimates Committee, but your obligation is … 






SENATOR: ... to answer questions. 




SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And it's only week two of the parliamentary year.  


MARK COLVIN: Samantha Hawley, and on this non-commercial ABC, I should apologise for Julia Gillard's shameless plugging of a job seeking website. Other websites are available.