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Opposition moves its first motion of dissent against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Neil Andrew.



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MARK COLVIN: It was Speaker versus former Speaker in the House of Representatives today.  It happened as the new Speaker of the House, Neil Andrew, was drawn into a rowdy conflict with the Federal Opposition.

 

In the process, Speaker Andrew ejected a former Speaker, Labor’s Leo McLeay.  The ALP’s Neil O’Keefe was also thrown out during Question Time after a dispute over several points of order.  The Opposition responded by moving its first motion of dissent against the Speaker and it’s warning that there’s more to follow.  The Manager of Opposition Business, Bob McMullan, told Sally Sara that any honeymoon is now over.

 

BOB McMULLAN: Well, we hope that this was an aberration.  We hope that we won’t see this consistent pattern of behaviour that’s caused us the anxiety that I expressed on behalf of the Opposition today.  We don’t want to have these disruptions.  They don’t suit us;  I don’t think they suit the Australian people;  I know they’re not good for the institution of the Parliament.  So we don’t want to do it.  We will offer co-operation but if that offer is abused and we find that people get threatened with being thrown out of the Parliament if they raise a point of order, well, then we will react again in exactly the same way.

 

SALLY SARA: How much confidence do you have in Neil Andrew as Speaker?

 

BOB McMULLAN: That’s not a fair question to ask - fair to him, I mean.  It’s fair enough to ask me but we’ll give him a bit of time.  We don’t regard him as a person of ill will.  We’re very unhappy with some of the things he has done and particularly today, but let’s give it a bit of time.  He’s quite new.  We’ll give him a chance to be a successful Speaker.  We tried to co-operate with Speaker Halverson.  We didn’t agree with everything he did but we tried to co-operate with him.  Unfortunately, it was the Government that couldn’t cope with him.  We had our differences with Speaker Sinclair but we liked some of the things he did.  And all the initiatives which Speaker Sinclair and Speaker Halverson took seem to have been overturned, so we’re a bit disappointed with that and we’re hoping for an improvement in the new year, but let’s be charitable.  It’s nearly Christmas.

 

SALLY SARA: But if the Speaker is trying to maintain some order in the House and there are a string of points of order which were raised this afternoon, does he have little choice but to throw someone out?

 

BOB McMULLAN: Well, he shouldn’t throw people out about points of order but he’s entitled to keep order and he has, on different occasions - probably no more than other Speakers;  we haven’t done a count - ejected a few people;  all on our side, I might say;  he didn’t seem to have done it to the Government.  But okay, we haven’t made any protest about that.  We may or may not have liked it.  We’ve said a few things about it but there’s been no dissents.  There’s been no dissatisfaction expressed publicly because we’ve tried to make the place work.  But today, a respected member of the House was threatened and then the threat was carried out, and he was thrown out for exercising the most simple and basic right, absolutely in conformity with the standing orders.

 

SALLY SARA: If you’re going to challenge the Speaker on those kinds of issues, could Labor be one of the losers as well if there’s a return to the shouting and the kinds of scenes that we saw in the House of Representatives prior to the election?

 

BOB McMULLAN: I don’t know in whose interest it is in a partisan sense but it’s not good for the Parliament, so we don’t want to see it happen.  That’s why it hasn’t happened until now.  We’ve bitten our tongue;  we have tried to co-operate;  we’ve been tolerant because the Speaker is new;  but we will not allow that spirit of co-operation to be abused as it was today.

 

MARK COLVIN: Bob McMullan, Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives with Sally Sara in Canberra.