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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4354

Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (15:14): Gross debt has crashed through half a trillion dollars for the first time in Australian history and will remain above that mark for the next decade. Net debt for the coming year is double what it was when the Liberals came to office. The deficit for this year is more than six times larger than it was forecast to be in the 2014 budget. Wages growth is at record lows, barely keeping up with inflation as electricity prices rise and private health insurance costs go up. Economic growth remains well below trend at a time when growth is picking up all around the world. We are seeing 120 economies experiencing economic growth—the first time we've seen that in years—and yet our economic growth remains below trend. Our unemployment rate, which during the global financial crisis was one of the lowest in the OECD, is now higher than the OECD average and higher than in many comparable countries like the US, the UK, New Zealand and Germany.

There's no doubt that this economic plan is failing, but there is the small matter of whose plan it is, the small matter of who actually writes the economic plans which get implemented in this country. We're discovering more and more that the economic plan is not written by the Treasurer. You might think that's a good thing, knowing the Treasurer, but you have to think of the counterfactual: who is writing the economic plan? One of the few people I can think of worse to write an economic plan than the Treasurer would be Pauline Hanson.

When the government announced they had a deal with One Nation to pass their big-business tax cuts there were a few surprising elements about it. I thought One Nation claimed to be on the side of the little guy, but they were voting for these tax cuts. Then they announced that they'd done a deal for an apprenticeship program in return for the big-business tax cuts. I will make a confession. I thought, 'Geez, maybe the government are better negotiators than I gave them credit for, because they've got a very modest, very small—

An opposition member: There's no-one here.

Mr BOWEN: Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, there's no member of the executive present. The House is not in order; it must be shut down immediately. The standing orders are very clear.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): I'll refer to the clerk.

Mr BOWEN: There's no member of the executive present. The Assistant Minister to the Treasurer wasn't here, Mr Deputy Speaker. He was not here. Mr Deputy Speaker, I made a point of order several moments ago. There was no member of the executive present. He was outside. The House should have been shut down at that moment—at that very moment. You can't buy time to allow the member to wander back into the House. You were not here, Assistant Minister. You were outside. Everybody saw it. You were not present. You wandered away.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for McMahon will be seated for a second. I've referred to the clerk. The clerk has advised me to continue with proceedings.

Mr BOWEN: A point of order: there was no member of the executive present. It was very clear. We all saw him outside. He was not in the chamber. He cannot now claim he was magically here the whole time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for McMahon will be seated again. I've referred to the clerk. The clerk has advised me to continue with proceedings.

Mr BOWEN: I raised a point of order. I have great respect for the clerk. I did not make the point of order to the clerk; I made it to you. You should have ruled on my point of order at that moment. You did not.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for McMahon will be seated.

Mr BOWEN: You gave the honourable member time to wander back into the chamber when he was not physically present.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for McMahon will be seated. I did seek advice and I have made my ruling.

Mr Burke: Mr Deputy Speaker, a point of order: one of the most serious parts of the entire system of how this House operates is that we have representative government. That means that, unlike the systems in many other countries, the executive must be present when the House is sitting. The last thing we want to do is not have an MPI, but the reality is if there was a moment here when there was no member of the executive present in the House then it is your obligation to collapse the chamber, because the government did not turn up. Government backbenchers are not technically part of the government as far as the standing orders are concerned. Only members of the executive form the government. If we had a moment today when the House sat when no member of the executive of the Australian government was present then it is your personal responsibility in that chair to collapse the House, because we do not have a parliament if we don't have a government willing to show.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Manager of Opposition Business, I take your point of order. I referred to the Clerk and I've made my ruling. Manager of Opposition Business, I refer you to page 262 of House of Representatives Practice, 'Absence of a minister', which states:

It is of course desirable from the Government's point of view, and expected by Members, that there should be a Member present able to react with authority on behalf of the Government to any unexpected development.

While it's desirable, I have referred to the Clerk and I've made my ruling.

Mr Burke: Mr Deputy Speaker, on the point of order, I'd simply ask you to read to the end of the paragraph which you quoted, which refers to your predecessors on occasion—this happens very rarely—ringing the bells to secure a minister's attendance, which means stopping the parliament. You chose to allow the parliament to continue without someone present. That ought not to have happened.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I also refer the Manager of Opposition Business to the statement there:

A short absence of a Minister may go unremarked …

I call the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer

Mr Sukkar: Thanks very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. You've clearly made a ruling. Unless the Manager of Opposition Business wants to continue to argue the point at the dispatch box, I think the MPI must continue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I call the Manager of Opposition Business.

Mr Burke: I simply ask what that was. He didn't raise a point of order. He didn't seek indulgence. You simply gave him the call during someone else's time. If you're not willing to chair the House—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will repeat my ruling that I referred to the Clerk. I've called it, and I call the member for McMahon if he wants to continue with the MPI.

Mr BOWEN: What an incompetent government! House duty is not that complicated. You sit in a chair and, when you're not here, you admit you weren't here. This is a minister who couldn't even admit he wasn't here. He couldn't even admit it. He couldn't even have the decency and the honour to say: 'Sorry, I got it wrong. I forgot to sit in the chair. That was such a complicated task I had at hand, I didn't know what to do.' That says it all about this government. One-job Michael over here is one of the economic team. No wonder the economic plan of the government is failing! One of the government's economic team—one of the so-called brains trust—can't even get House duty right! That's what we see more and more: the fact that this government is incompetent at every level. No wonder Pauline Hanson's running the show!

As I was saying before I was interrupted by the absence of a government minister, I confess I was surprised when the government allegedly got a deal with Pauline Hanson's One Nation party to pass the big business tax cuts for the price of a small apprenticeship program. It turns out I should have been surprised, because it wasn't the case. They had billions of dollars worth of deals; they just won't tell us what they are. (Time expired)