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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2468

Mr SWAN (3:36 PM) —I move:

That the Speaker's ruling be dissented from.

Mr Speaker, it is with no pleasure that we move this dissent motion—no pleasure whatsoever—but things have deteriorated in this House to the point that there is one standard for the government, who can do anything they like in this parliament, and entirely another for the opposition. You ruled a perfectly legitimate question out of order. Standing order 142 states:

Questions may be put to a Minister relating to public affairs with which the Minister is officially connected, to proceedings pending in the House, or to any matter of administration for which the Minister is responsible.

Time and again in this House questions have been asked about the party affairs of people in this House who have administrative responsibilities in this House—time and again. Indeed, today we had the minister for industrial relations, Mr Abbott, lecturing the Labor Party about internal affairs of the Labor Party and you thought that was okay. That was fine—that was entirely within standing order 142 or standing order 144. It was fine for that thug across the road there, the Leader of the House, to come into this House and denigrate the Leader of the Opposition and those behind him. That was okay, but the member was ruled out of order. He was ruled out of order on what I regard as a question that was entirely in order. That question could not have been properly ruled out of order when the member had never even completed the question. I can tell you what he may have been saying, Mr Speaker:

Given that you have admitted in this House today that telecommunications services are not up to scratch in the regions, can we take it that the National Party bride will not be wearing white?

That was the question: `Can we take it that the National Party bride will not be wearing white?' because he has admitted that telecommunications in the regions are not up to scratch. What could be more in order in connection with standing orders 142 and 144? As we have said in this House on many occasions, standing order 142 is the cornerstone of question time. It gives a broad responsibility and a broad ambit for you to rule questions in order. The problem, Mr Speaker, is that the practice in this House is now different for one side. Anything is in order from the government and everything from the opposition is now out of order. The orders that are coming from you, Mr Speaker, are now completely out of order, obnoxious to this side of the parliament and completely at variance with the stance of someone who says they are independent in this House. We object to what is being done.

The SPEAKER —Order! I am obliged to remind the member for Lilley that, if I were acting as he alleges, I would in fact have acted earlier to interrupt him. The standing orders still oblige him not to reflect on the chair but to indicate where the chair's ruling has been out of order.

Mr SWAN —Under standing order 142, if you were going to be consistent you would have ruled the Leader of the House out of order. You would have ruled the question out of order and you would have ruled his answer out of order, not just because the question was way away from his responsibilities, but because the answer was offensive to this side of the House. There are standing orders that deal with that. It was only the week before last that the leader of government business in this House came in and put a blanket slur across this side of the House when he said that we are all corrupt. I got up and objected and you said that it was okay. In fact, you said that you would come back and discuss the matter with the opposition and you never did.

Then we had the example of you expunging the Hansard unilaterally, without any reference to this side of the House, because you were offended by some words used by the member for Werriwa. You do not expunge the Hansard because you are offended. You do not eliminate arguments from the Hansard because you are offended. This is the official history of the Australian parliament and it does not go down to one person to decide upon taste and what is in the record of this parliament. That brings me back to standing order 142 and your bizarre ruling that that question was out of order.

Today's events and the events of the week before last have brought to a head matters which have been boiling in this parliament. We have decided for a number of weeks to turn the other cheek, hoping that we would get the sort of fairness that we expected from you when we made the offer to the government, when you were elected, to move towards an independent Speaker. When we put forward to the government the idea of the movement towards an independent Speaker, we did that very genuinely. We did it because we had some respect for your capacities. We did it because we wanted to break the cycle of partisanship in this House. We did it because we wanted the community to believe that we were going to break the cycle, that we were going to be a parliament which was going to work for accountability and fairness, and to do something to restore the standing of this parliament in the eyes of the Australian people. We made a very genuine offer to you, Mr Speaker, and to the government and that was refused.

The day after that was refused, this article appeared in Brisbane's Courier-Mail. It says:

Federal Speaker Neil Andrew has told colleagues he will be tougher on the Opposition in Parliament, after he narrowly survived a strong challenge for his position yesterday.

Mr Speaker, we found that pretty offensive at the time, but I decided, and so did the opposition, to turn the other cheek, that we had put up genuine proposals for parliamentary reform, not just for an independent Speaker but also for a new approach to question time. You are as aware as anybody in this House that it is the image of question time that does this House and all the members in it so much damage. What the people out there get the impression of is just a bin of yelling monkeys. It drags down the reputation of everyone in politics. One of the reasons we have that reputation is that the rules are not being interpreted fairly.

When I am out among the public, people come up to me in the street and say, `Wayne, I'd really like you to ask this question in parliament.' I say, `There's probably not a lot of point because you will not get an answer; there will not be an answer.' Even if there is a valid attempt to ask the question, there will be abuse and denigration instead of information. That is what occurs.

We had hoped, through that offer we made to the leader of government business in the House, that we would have seen some more civility from the government and that maybe for the first time they may have realised that now is the time for reform of the parliament; maybe they would have realised that this Prime Minister—comfortable as he is— might have wanted to leave a legacy of parliamentary reform, but no. What has occurred in this parliament in the last few weeks is simply obnoxious. It is simply repulsive, not just to the people who sit in the parliament, but to the people of Australia. For that reason we have been forced to move this motion today. We have been forced to move it because this parliament is not going to work if we do not get some even-handed behaviour. That is our view. Even-handed behaviour starts with a fair application of the standing orders as they apply in question time—standing order 142 and standing order 144.

Standing order 142 makes it absolutely clear that it is entirely in order for a member to ask the Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister of this country about matters affecting his party and how those matters affecting his party affect policy and, in particular, telecommunications policy. That is entirely what the member was doing, entirely in order. What was so offensive about your action, Mr Speaker, is that he did not get even get to finish the question, and that contrasted markedly with the approach that we saw in the previous answer, when the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations was asked a question in a form which would have been ruled out of order had you been consistent with the next ruling. Not only was the question out of order but the answer was entirely out of order—not in terms of standing orders 142 and 144 but in terms of the standing orders that exist about objectionable behaviour, in terms of the standing orders that exist about denigration of members of parliament. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?