|Source||House of Reps
|Interjector||Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)
Mr REITH (Leader of the House)(12.11 p.m.) âI just want to make a couple of remarks in closing the debate, as I believe ministers generally should do in debates before the parliamentâa feature, I must say again, not sufficiently apparent in the previous administration. The government is intent on consulting on changes such as this. For that reason, we have been prepared to have this debate so constructed as to allow as many members possible who were keen and who had been involved in this to speak.
We did, of course, suggest that it would be of assistance if some people declined the opportunity to speak. The reason we have said soâand a number of people on our side very reasonably did not rise in their places to speakâis that we are to have a number of maiden speeches today for which families are awaiting. I am just sorry that my opposite number was unable to cooperate fully.
Mr Crean interjectingâ
Mr REITH âNo. I resist the temptation to play the game as you played it. That is what you do not understand.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) âOrder! The Leader of the House will direct his remarks to the chair, not across the table,
Mr REITH âThe government resists the temptation to play the game as the previous government did. Our complaint is that the previous government did not treat the parliament in the way that it should have done. There has been much talk about consultation from the other side in the contribution to this debate. I can tell the Manager of Opposition Business (Mr Crean) that I have spoken to him more about processes in this place in 24 hours than I spoke with the former Leader of the House in 12 months.
In respect of the changes that we have brought forward for today, we made a public statement of those at the end of March which gave him ample opportunity to put any alternative proposition. We have had no such proposition from him, no conversation with him, no initiative from him whatsoever until todayâand he is the one talking about notice! It would make you choke to hear these people talk about consultation and wanting to develop and accept the basic spirit of the propositions which the government is putting. Therefore, I am going to be very brief.
There has been a lot of conversation about sitting hours. The member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) made a very wise reflection on this: it has been a matter of ongoing debate for many years and there is sure to be continuing debate in the years ahead. That is a very sensible comment, and she put it in proper perspective because the other elements of this package are very significant. It is interesting that the other side basically have been shamed into now endorsing that which they never practised when they were in government; you never heard these members then standing and saying that we should have a more accountable parliament by the nature of the changes we are now proposing.
We are very conscious of occupational health and safety issues, but one has to remember that a few years ago we used to sit four nights a week. Furthermore, with the very poor management we had from those on the other side, at the end of a session we would have sittings until 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock in the morning. That was how those opposite used to run this place. However, there were some changes.
In comparison with what used to be the case, we are now proposing that we sit for two nights until 11 o'clock instead of the four nights that we once had to suffer. Of course, we are also providing further opportunities for party room meetings. These meetings are very important because they give backbenchers a chance to question the executive and the ministers on both sides of the fence. That is a sensible change which has been included in this program.
We have had a lot of overblown rhetoric about late nights. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people work late in this building, regardless of whether we are sitting or not sitting. My view is that when the parliament is sitting we need to do all we can to provide people with as many opportunities to speak in this chamber as we can.
I welcome the number of constructive suggestions made during the debate. The member for Cunningham (Mr Martin) brings a lot of experience to this matter, and I appreciate that. I say to him and to other members who made constructive suggestions on matters which were additional to the standing orders before us today that obviously we will look at them. We welcome the tone in which they were put in the chamber today.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Crean's amendment) stand part of the question.