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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1895

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (13:01): On 24 March next month I will have served in this place for 22 years, having been elected with the member for McMillan at the 1990 election. In that time I have served on and off on the Procedures Committee. I was actually a member of the Procedures Committee when Neal Blewett was the then chairman and brought down the report that led to the creation of this chamber, which has subsequently been picked up by the House of Commons. As the member for Ryan has alluded to, this chamber was brought about to make us more efficient and more productive. Non-contentious legislation was to be referred to it, and so it was a better way of managing the affairs of the parliament. The trade-off was better working hours. At that stage we were successful.

I led the charge within the government party room for better working hours in terms of the legislative program. We succeeded in having parliament in the main finish at 8 pm of an evening. Of course, on the last sitting weeks of each session or at Christmas we knew that we would sit longer. Sadly, that structure was abandoned on the election of the Howard government. The then Prime Minister John Howard and Ian Sinclair—there is no dispute about this; it was well intentioned—preferred the older hours. I think that was a mistake. The current sitting practice is a mistake, and I said so at an informal gathering of members of parliament of all political persuasions before the last Procedures Committee report—it has not, as I understand it, been picked up.

The current sitting practice is bad for health. I agree with everything that the honourable member for Moore has said in relation to health, amongst other things. I know why he is adopting the minimalist approach but I do not support the motion because it takes a minimalist approach. I am only speaking for my actions here. I think there should be a complete overhaul. It does not mean less work for members of the parliament. It means better conditions for staff and members of the parliament. It means better productivity. I think all the private members' business that we have as backbenchers is a mistake. We do not need an hour's adjournment every day of a parliamentary sitting. The whips on both sides have to get people out to do the adjournment speeches. There are other ways that we can offset some of this so that government business time is not lost.

I am someone who has always championed private members' business and private members' opportunities, but do not mistake an hour of adjournment debate on a night as quality debate or as providing quality speeches by members of the parliament. When I was shadow minister I was here at five o'clock in the morning and, during the native title debate I was here late at night, night after night, and at seven o'clock in the morning making speeches. We are walking around this place like zombies. That does not serve the parliament well. I think it is high time that the executive, the opposition executive and the backbenchers sit down and have a rational discussion in relation to our hours.

The problem with this particular motion is that an automatic adjournment can create problems for the government of the day. To me the automatic adjournment should be at 7.30 or eight o'clock of an evening, not 11 o'clock, and there should still be that flexibility where, if the government needs to go a little bit further, it should. It is not about working fewer hours.

I was a legal aid solicitor and barrister before I came into this place. On one occasion I had 24 briefs to appear in front of the court on sentences and a mention. I did three trials in three days, three trials in four days. I coped well. In terms of making speeches I was more tired as a shadow minister and sometimes when I was a more active backbencher because of our sitting hours than when I was actually representing people whose liberty depended on my advocacy. Why? Because of the way we have structured our hours. Our hours are Monday to Thursday, then we leave and go home to our electorates where we have different hours. Then we come back, again, to different hours from the weekend hours, to a variation in relation to the way we conduct our business. Then we have two weeks off, when we are in our electorates and we are at functions late at night.

I oppose the honourable member's motion because I do not think the motion goes far enough. This is my personal view; it is not the party's view. I do not think it is productive. I do not think it is good for business. I think that we have made sacrifices in this second chamber. It has worked well. There will be occasions where we need to sit beyond eight o'clock, which everyone can live with. But this automatic 11 o'clock at night adjournment is a joke. It is insane; it is madness. No-one else would cop it. We should not cop it.

Debate adjourned.