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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15053

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the House) (4:19 PM) —This dissent motion is not about protecting the rights of the parliament or the rights of parliamentary committees. It is about the further politicisation of parliamentary committees, an attempt to drag the committees into the politicisation of the parliament which has been driven by this opposition since 1996. The executive is accountable to the parliament. That is the way it ought to be. Committee chairmen are accountable to their committees, not to the parliament directly. That is the way it ought to be. Mr Speaker, you ruled quite appropriately, when asked a question—

The SPEAKER —Of all the extraordinary circumstances to find myself in, I find a member of the Speakers Panel who has already been warned not exercising any restraint at all—someone who ought to know the standing orders from cover to cover. The member for Lyons faces the choice of either excusing himself from the chamber or apologising.

Mr Adams —I withdraw what I said.

The SPEAKER —The member for Lyons will apologise.

Mr Leo McLeay —A withdrawal is an apology.

The SPEAKER —I have given a particular instruction to the member for Lyons. I have asked him to apologise.

Mr Adams —Mr Speaker, I am not quite sure, with due regard, what an apology entails. I do not mind withdrawing my interjection, and I will certainly accept that, but I do not believe that apologies are in the standing orders and that an apology is a duty for me to have to perform. I do not mind withdrawing my interjection, and I do that.

The SPEAKER —The member for Lyons is aware that what I was endeavouring to do was minimise the embarrassment he is now going through, by inviting one of two courses of action. One was to excuse himself from the chamber, as the standing orders provide. Had I merely wanted to exercise the standing orders, that is what would have already happened. Instead of that embarrassment, I offered the member for Lyons an alternative. Those two choices now stand. He may choose one of them.

The member for Lyons then left the chamber.

Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order.

The SPEAKER —The member for Lyons has chosen to withdraw from the chamber. The member for Watson on a point of order.

Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Speaker, my point of order is that the standing orders and the practice of the House say that a withdrawal implies an apology. If a member withdraws, he has given an apology. That has always been the arrangement here.

The SPEAKER —The member for Watson is well aware that what he has just witnessed has occurred on previous occasions in this House under the exercise of my role in the chair.

Mr ABBOTT —Mr Speaker, the bad temper that members opposite are displaying in the chamber today is a sign of the frustration that they obviously feel as a result of their increasing political irrelevance. This motion of dissent is not about upholding the dignity of this parliament at all; it is about attempting to politicise the committee and it is about attempting to drag committee chairmen into the highly partisan, highly political processes that take place across the floor of this chamber.

The beauty of our committee system, up until now, has been that members of both political parties have been able to work in a spirit of cooperation and harmony. That is worth preserving, and that is threatened by what the opposition now intends to try: to regularly drag committee chairmen into questioning in this chamber on matters that are not their authority. Mr Speaker, you have quite rightly ruled that a committee chairman, when asked a question, can redirect that question to a minister. It is the long established practice of this House that a question asked of a member can be redirected. What is acceptable for ministers should be acceptable for committee chairmen. Ministers can redirect questions and, Mr Speaker, you have quite rightly ruled that committee chairmen can similarly redirect questions.

For the benefit of members opposite, let me quote the relevant part of House of Representatives Practice. It is on page 524 and it says:

... the chair is responsible to the committee and not to the House.

That surely establishes the point that if members opposite have some issue that is relevant to the chair of the committee, they should raise it in committee and not before the House. This is a very appropriate ruling that you have made. It entirely accords with the long-established practice and procedure of this House; it entirely accords with the principle enunciated in House of Representatives Practice that the chair is responsible to the committee, not the House—

Mr Albanese —To a subcommittee!

The SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler was heard in silence!

Mr ABBOTT —The fact is that the question that was asked by the member for Grayndler the week before last had two elements. It was a long and rambling question but essentially there were two elements to it. First he asked about various matters of government policy which are obviously properly the preserve of the relevant minister, and then he asked about various committee matters. The questions of policy were rightly redirected to the minister, but the questions he asked the chairman of the committee should not, under the standing orders, have been asked and they should not have been answered, because the standing orders provide that committee chairmen cannot speak on behalf of their committees without the authorisation of the committee unless the matters in question have already been fully reported to the House.

Mr Speaker, I think I ought to make it very clear that if the House supports your ruling, as I would certainly urge it to do, this matter will now be finally disposed of. There will certainly be no need for any further reports to the House on this matter, there will be no need for you to come back, and the principle will be plainly established—under the practices, procedures and precedents of this House—that committee chairmen can redirect questions to other members.

I really think that this is a bizarre motion that has been moved by the member for Grayndler. I think it comes very close to wasting the time of the House. Plainly the member for Grayndler is suffering from relevance deprivation syndrome. Plainly he had a speech prepared on budget matters that he submitted to the tactics committee and it was ruled out, so he made what amounts to an MPI speech under the guise of dissent. This is unworthy of the opposition. This dissent should be rejected. Your ruling should be upheld. I move:

That the question be put.

Question agreed to.

Original question put:

That the motion (Mr Albanese's) be agreed to.