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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 659

Mr ALBANESE (Leader of the House) (4:38 PM) —I rise to close this debate, which has been extensively participated in by members of the government, members of the opposition and the crossbenchers. There has been some debate on the substance of the bill that was moved in the Senate, but we have to remember that the motion that I moved is essentially about the proper procedures of this House. The member for Sturt said, ‘On this occasion, our view is that the government is hiding behind legal technicalities.’ The member for Wide Bay said, ‘The government is hiding behind legal technicalities.’ That was a theme.

Mr Pyne —Why don’t you adopt our bill?

Mr ALBANESE —The Manager of Opposition Business gives it away yet again. He says, ‘Why don’t you adopt our bill?’ Inherent in that is his understanding that the bill is unconstitutional. You simply cannot say that the Australian Constitution does not matter, House of Representatives Practice does not matter, the standing orders do not matter, it does not matter what the view of the Speaker is, it does not matter what the view of the clerks of the House is, and it does not matter what the views of the Attorney-General and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel are. You simply cannot wish that away. That is not a responsible way for this House to act. The only thing missing from the speeches of some of those opposite was: ‘What makes this viable is the vibe,’ as Dennis Denuto said in The Castle. No legal argument has been put forward. Indeed, the Manager of Opposition Business made it very clear, consistent with his views over a long period of time, that it is not within the powers of this House to pass a private member’s bill or a bill that has come from the Senate which seeks to appropriate funds. He made that very clear. We did have a statement from the member for Murray, who, of all people, said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was cited to override the Constitution, House of Representatives Practice, standing orders and appropriate processes.

I want to also say that the government opposes the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne. We do so because that amendment, which suggests that the bill proceed when parliament has agreed to a method to finance the measures contained in the bill, does not override the constitutional concerns under section 53 and section 56 of the Constitution. I appreciate the fact that the member for Melbourne came into this House as a member of a political party that historically has been based in the Senate—therefore, a political party that unashamedly wants to see a shift in power from the House of Representatives to the Senate. That is not my view; that is not the view of this House. This House, under the Westminster system, has the responsibility to be the place where government is formed. That is the role that we play. The executive is derived from a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. That is why the founding fathers constructed the Constitution in the way that they did. For opportunistic reasons, you cannot simply say: ‘We will ignore that.’

I respect the views of the member for Melbourne. I understand why the member for Melbourne has taken the position that he has. But I say to the other crossbenchers and, indeed, to the opposition—who have declared their opposition to this amendment moved by the member for Melbourne—that that opposition is indeed justified. Certainly, a number of members opposite who spoke—

Mr Pyne —I haven’t declared—

Mr ALBANESE —Are you changing your position now, member for Sturt? The member for Sturt is showing what this is all about. This is not about substance or about youth allowance; this is actually about trying to create chaos in this House, trying to make the position unworkable and trying to cause these issues. The member for Melbourne argued that the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) Bill 2010 was the same and was passed by the House, but, if you look at the advice of the Clerk, he makes it clear that this is not a helpful example. In his advice he said: ‘The PBS bill is not a helpful precedent for the regional students bill.’ That is because this bill was sponsored by the government, the expenditure was for agency operating costs, and government lawyers and drafters did not consider the bill an appropriation bill. This is because agency appropriations are separate and specific appropriations agreed by the government. As such, this bill did not need a message from the Governor-General and was not considered to increase an appropriation.

So have been no exceptions since Federation to the way that the government is dealing with this bill. But I say to the House that we should not go down the road of questioning rulings made by the Clerk of the House or the Speaker of the House, or the proper functioning of the House in accordance with the Constitution, House of Representatives Practice and standing orders. In all organisational forms, whether it be the parliament or the local football club or indeed the rules of sporting codes, you have to abide by the rules. Some of that is based upon stipulation, in terms of a strict application of those rules. Some of it is based upon convention—convention that people will stick to the rules that have been established. The standing orders are important and the House of Representatives Practice is important, but nothing is more important than the Australian Constitution. We are a parliamentary democracy. The foundation of the parliament’s functioning is derived from the Australian Constitution. I commend my motion to the House. I ask that the House not support the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne. I ask that we engage in this House in a way which pays due respect to the Constitution and to the rules and practice of this House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs D’Ath)—The original question was that the motion be agreed to. To this the honourable member for Melbourne has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question—in other words, at this point those who support Mr Bandt’s motion should vote no.

Question put.