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Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Page: 8

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (11:37 AM) —Mr Speaker, on behalf of the coalition, I join with the Prime Minister in extending to you our congratulations and best wishes on your re-election to this high office. I have to say, Mr Speaker, that of all the members of this parliament you are obviously the best suited for the office which you now hold. Mr Speaker, I never wavered in my faith that you were the best person for the job that you hold. There were weeks when others doubted. There were weeks when you must have doubted yourself what was going to emerge from this parliament. But I was with you every step of the way. I was there, I was your true friend and I was the true friend of a genuinely independent speakership in this parliament. I was the true friend and, I would like to think, the author of the beginnings of a Westminster style speakership in this parliament.

Mr Speaker, yes, this is a finely balanced parliament, but the fact that it is a finely balanced parliament does not excuse the government from its duty to keep its election commitments. It does not excuse the government from its duty to be an effective government. It can lower expectations all it likes here, but out there in the country the people of Australia expect a government that keeps its election commitments. It cannot walk away from its election commitments simply because of the closeness of the numbers in this parliament. So, Mr Speaker, this is an opposition which will hold this government to account. This is an opposition which will expect of this government that it honours its commitments. What that means is that this will be a parliament of robust debate. That is what the people expect. They do not expect a false consensus. They do not expect the pretence of agreement when there is none. They expect the values and the principles and the commitments that were brought to this parliament by different members to be vigorously expressed in this place. Mr Speaker, it is precisely because of the qualities that you have previously shown in the chair that you are the right man to hold this job at this time.

It was obvious to all members on this side of the parliament that you were very unhappy with the way the parliament was conducted in the last term. Your impatience with longwinded ministerial answers was palpable. Your unhappiness with irrelevant answers was obvious to all. Well, Mr Speaker, you sought different standing orders; you will soon have different standing orders. Under the new standing orders you will have the opportunity to ensure not only that ministerial answers are brief but that they are directly relevant to the question—that answers are not the answers that ministers wish to give but that they are, at last, directly relevant to the question that has actually been asked.

Mr Speaker, you are the custodian of the traditions of this parliament. You are the custodian of the rights of members. You are no longer a creature of party. You are no longer the creature of the executive. You are now free to be in this parliament everything that a Westminster style Speaker should be. This is your time, Mr Speaker, and I know you will use it in the best interests of this parliament and this nation.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!