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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1021


Mr BURKE (WatsonManager of Opposition Business) (12:46): I move:

That the Speaker's ruling be dissented from.

Madam Speaker, it is extraordinary for us now to be having a conversation about whether or not the parliament is allowed to debate what has been debated throughout Australia for so long. It is extraordinary, after all the conversation that has happened up until now about the shift to emissions trading and making sure that there is actually a limit on pollution rather than pollution being unlimited that we are now being told in this new parliament that that is a conversation you are not allowed to have. We thought it was bad enough for the debate to be gagged. Now this parliament is not to be allowed to consider these amendments at all. Your ruling, Madam Speaker, is not that the debate gets gagged; it is that the debate is not allowed to occur at all.

If there is a duty of the Speaker in this House, it has to begin with the concept of facilitating debate. If there is a view that you think amendments that have been circulated are in fact contrary to standing orders and you know full well that the debate has already had a gag put on it by the government, you know full well that there might not be time for redrafting to occur unless you provide the opposition with notice.

What would possess you, Madam Speaker, in those circumstances to wait until the commencement of the debate before we were told? In doing so, you guarantee that the debate cannot occur on the floor of this chamber. You guarantee the opposite of what is generally understood to be the role of the Speaker. You guarantee not that a vigorous debate will occur but you guarantee that a vigorous debate will be ruled out.

I have been critical of the Leader of the House for the gag resolutions that he has brought down in this chamber. I have been critical of the Leader of the House for the idea that debate on amendments would be limited to an hour. It never occurred to anyone on this side of the chamber that the Speaker would view one hour of debate as too long and say that the figure of one hour needed to be reduced to zero for the purpose of discussing these amendments.

Madam Speaker, it should be within the remit of this parliament to be able to debate the issues which have been discussed and flagged well in advance with the knowledge of the one-hour deadline already applying to the conduct of this debate. The precedent which you quoted, I have to say, is a real stretch because in that debate, even though as you say it was not brought to your attention until the beginning of the proceedings, I hazard a guess that there was not a one-hour limit on consideration in detail that day. I hazard a guess that we do not have those circumstances.

Most importantly, you refer to standing order 179(a) and (b) as though part (c) is not on the page—just not there. The reason that you will not refer to standing order 179(c) is that it would allow the amendment. That is exactly why we have a circumstance, Madam Speaker, where you are consciously and knowingly ignoring one of the standing orders. If (a) and (b) were the only standing orders which were there, the ruling that you have made would at least be arguable, notwithstanding the fact that the process you have followed restricts debate in an unacceptable way in this chamber. But you ignore the words of 179(c):

A Member who is not a Minister may move an amendment to the proposal which does not increase or extend the scope of the charge proposed beyond the total already existing under any Act of Parliament.

The amendments which are to be before the House, and which have been circulated by the member for Port Adelaide, fall entirely within that standing order. Madam Speaker, you have put the House in a situation where we do not get a written copy of your ruling. I think it would be more helpful if you were provided with a written copy of the standing orders because a written copy of the standing orders, I believe, would have led you to a circumstance where no reasonable person could have made the ruling that you have just made. It cannot be justified under the standing orders and it certainly cannot be justified if you have the slightest part of belief in having debate in this chamber.

I must say it is the first time I can recall that I have had a Speaker refer to the government's position using the pronoun 'we'. That was an extraordinary part of the way you sought to explain yourself to the chamber. If it was not enough for us to have a Speaker physically brought to the chair by a Prime Minister and a Leader of the House, to then have rulings that are governed by the term 'we' referring to yourself and the government as one, changes the role of your chair entirely and changes the role of the high office you occupy entirely.

Madam Speaker, we were told that you would be an independent Speaker. This ruling is entirely inconsistent with that. The timing you have given on this ruling is entirely inconsistent with that. The lack of notice you have given to the opposition is entirely inconsistent with that. We were told that things would be transparent. I have to say, you have delivered on that one because this is entirely transparent! These amendments would force those opposite to actually vote squarely on the question of the tax alone and change it to a circumstance where you could get rid of the tax but pollution could not be unlimited. That is exactly what these amendments would do. Now government members, because of you shielding them from that question, get to avoid that.

The SPEAKER: That is a reflection on the chair and I ask you to withdraw.

Mr BURKE: It is a dissent motion. I have moved the motion because I think your ruling is wrong. I do not resile from that for one moment.

The SPEAKER: I am not referring to that.

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, on a point of order: I think that the point that the Speaker is making is not that you should not be able to dissent from her ruling—

Mr Mitchell interjecting

Mr Pyne: Be quiet, you buffoon.

An opposition member: What is the standing order?

Mr Pyne: Disorderly conduct. Check it out. Look it up. The point is in the member's dissent he is perfectly entitled to disagree with the Speaker's ruling, but he is not allowed to reflect personally on the Speaker and her impartiality. That is what the Speaker is asking you to withdraw, and I would ask you to do so on behalf of the Speaker.

The SPEAKER: I ask you to withdraw the reflection on the chair that was made.

Mr BURKE: I withdraw. On saying that they would be transparent, they have delivered in spades. We have a situation now where all of this means one very simple thing: the government get to avoid a vote and this parliament avoids a debate. What does it say about how they feel about the strength of their arguments when this is where we end up? Had there been early notice, I have no doubt this would have been able to be rectified to your satisfaction, Madam Speaker. I have no doubt there would have been a way. Notwithstanding the interjections opposite and notwithstanding the shaking of your head, Madam Speaker, when I said that this could be rectified, you did refer to the opportunity for things to be redrafted and I take those words of yours in good faith.

In turn, I acknowledge that the timing of this makes it impossible. The timing of it, the manner of delivery, the ruling itself, the ignoring of standing order (c), within the very section you chose to refer to, have put this parliament in a situation where debate is being silenced. And it is not like through the amendments we were about to form a majority of the chamber. It is not like that was about to happen. It is not like they needed to be running scared from the outcome. It should be reasonable that there is never a culture of secrecy here on the floor of the chamber. Madam Speaker, when you ask for things to be withdrawn, when you make different rulings and when you have asked us to quieten down at different points when you get on your feet, we will respect your role. Madam Speaker, but you need to abide by the standing orders—

The SPEAKER: And I am—

Mr BURKE: and on this occasion you have not.

The SPEAKER: Again, that is a reflection on the chair and I ask you to withdraw.

Mr BURKE: May I speak to the point of order?

The SPEAKER: You can disagree with my ruling, but you cannot say that I am not abiding by the standing orders?

Mr BURKE: Then how can I move dissent? I am not presuming any ill will on your part, but I do not know how I can move dissent without saying that you were wrong on the standing orders. I do not know how else a dissent motion can take effect.

The SPEAKER: You are correct to disagree with my ruling on the standing orders. That is not to say, at large, that I do not comply with the standing orders. That is a reflection on the chair.

Mr BURKE: Madam Speaker, your ruling must be dissented from. I presume on this occasion—

The SPEAKER: Your time has elapsed.