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Thursday, 2 April 1992
Page: 1734

Dr HEWSON (Leader of the Opposition) (3.08 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Speaker no longer possesses the confidence of this House.

The Opposition does not take this step lightly, because this is a very special motion about one of the very special, most important positions in our Parliament, namely, the role of the Speaker.

  Government members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order.

Dr HEWSON —It is absolutely essential that the Speaker performs the role of an independent umpire in the course of the conduct of the Parliament.

  Dr Theophanous interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Calwell will cease interjecting.

Dr HEWSON —So far this year, since this man took over as Prime Minister, this House has just become an absolute shambles.

  Opposition members—Hear, hear!

Dr HEWSON —Mr Speaker, without any exaggeration, you are a national disgrace.

  Opposition members—Hear, hear!

Dr HEWSON —I have never seen in living memory the extent of the blatant bias and manipulation of parliament to the advantage of this Government.

Mr Snowdon —Hypocrite!

  Government members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order!

Dr HEWSON —I have never seen in living memory the extent to which you favour that side, the Government side of the Parliament—

Mr Snowdon —Liar!

Dr HEWSON —at the expense of the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The member for the Northern Territory will withdraw that remark.

Mr Snowdon —I withdraw, Mr Speaker.

Dr HEWSON —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me give you a couple of examples of what has happened in the course of this two-week parliamentary sitting. We have seen Question Time simply used as a device for the Government to bucket the Opposition rather than debate policy issues or to answer detailed policy questions.

Mrs Crosio —You have set this up.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order.

Dr HEWSON —If Question Time is to have any meaning in this Parliament—I suggest it should have some very real meaning in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years—it should provide the Opposition with an opportunity to cross-examine the Government and a reasonable expectation should be that the Government will answer the questions in the best interests of the people of Australia because, after all, we are asking these questions on behalf of the people of Australia. Yet in the last two-week parliamentary sitting, not counting today, of 68 questions 55 were nothing less than a total bucket job on the Opposition with no serious attempt to answer any of the questions that were made.

  Mr Carlton interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Mackellar will cease interjecting.

Dr HEWSON —In fact, if we look at the last six parliamentary sitting days before today, we see that the Speaker has warned or threatened to name 52 members of this Parliament: all of them on this side of the Parliament; none of them on that side of the Parliament.

  Indeed, if we go back over the time between when you became Speaker in August 1989 to the beginning of the current sitting of the Parliament, we find that the honourable member for Grayndler, as Speaker, has warned honourable members of this House on 218 occasions. Of those warnings, 98 per cent were to members on this side of the House and less than 2 per cent affected those on the other side of the House. The Opposition has very limited—

Mr Beazley —You are a disgrace.

Dr HEWSON —The Opposition has very limited scope—

Mr Beazley —You are a disgrace.

Mr SPEAKER —Order!

Dr HEWSON —Don't call me a disgrace, son; you're the disgrace.

Mr Fife —Name him!

Mr SPEAKER —Order!

Mr Chaney —Why don't you name him?

Mr SPEAKER —Order!

Dr Bob Woods —Warn him!

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order!

Mr Fife —Why don't you name him?

Mr Chaney —You are a disgrace.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order. Honourable members on my left are just taking up their allocated time.

Dr HEWSON —Mr Speaker, prove to us once and for all that you can be objective. Name the Leader of the House (Mr Beazley) for what he just said. Just prove that for once in your life you can be objective. Prove that you can be objective.

  In Question Time yesterday we had a situation which was an absolute farce, a total farce, where you called on the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) to withdraw a remark. He did not withdraw that remark. In fact, he gave you the nod that you were not to question or cross-examine him at all. So you went through this unbelievable farce of changing your version of events in a series of explanations in the course of a series of points of order to try to let that Prime Minister off the hook.

  You started out, as soon as the statement was made that I was a fraud and a cheat, by asking the Prime Minister to withdraw those remarks. By the end of the period of time I am describing, you had moved to a position where you had not heard them. That was the next stage. You said that, if the Prime Minister had said something that was unparliamentary, he should withdraw it. You then went on to claim that you had asked the Prime Minister whether that was the case. He said no, so that he did not have to withdraw it. What an amazing farce! You are a national disgrace in the most important institution in this country.

Mr Melham —Who voted for him on your side?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Banks will cease interjecting.

  Opposition members—Name him, name him!

Mr SPEAKER —Order!

Dr HEWSON —Mr Speaker, here is your second test: name that honourable member, too.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I remind honourable members on both sides that they should cease interjecting and, to honourable members on my left who seem to think that an honourable member should be named, I say that on all occasions I have issued a warning before I have named a person. I warned the honourable member for Mayo twice today.

Mr Fife —Not today.

Mr SPEAKER —Twice.

Mr Fife —Not today.

Mr SPEAKER —Twice today. Indeed, if honourable members on my left had not been interjecting so much, the honourable member for Mayo might have heard it. It was certainly heard by everybody else.

Dr HEWSON —That was yesterday. We have seen evidence in recent days that you have trouble with your hearing. But I am trying to make the point that you are one-eyed when it comes to the conduct of this Parliament.

  The Opposition has very limited power in this Parliament to encourage you to take a sense of balance in the proceedings of this House. The only standing order that relates to answers is standing order 145 on the issue of relevance. That is the only way in which we can urge you to try to exert some balance in this Parliament and to pull a Government Minister into line when that person is absolutely flouting the procedures of this House.

  Yet consistently, almost without exception, you have allowed Ministers to ramble on for whatever length of time they have wanted to take and to make policy announcements when they should be doing so by way of ministerial statement. Yet, on every occasion when we on this side of the House try to stand up to take a point of order under standing order 145 on relevance, you have not even let us finish the point of order. I do not know how you can do it. I have no idea how you can conclude what our point of order will be before you have heard it.

  That has been a characteristic of your performance in recent days. That is a part of the disgrace that we are debating today: the fact that you draw conclusions about what we are trying to do in terms of raising a point of order before you have even bothered to listen. You snarl and yell; you break up the debate; you single us out, if you like, for disrupting Parliament. In the same week as you did that, for example, you allowed the Prime Minister to stand up and do bird calls in this House. If that is not disrupting Parliament, I do not know what is. The fact is, Mr Speaker, that you have consistently failed in your duty to provide a fair go for both sides of this Parliament in the conduct of the daily proceedings of this House.

  We need to step back and ask ourselves why this Speaker behaves the way he does. We work on the principle that the Speaker takes on a responsibility to be independent and objective. When we look into the reasons why, we find that they have nothing to do with the interests of Australia but have to do with the interests of a couple of mates, the mateship between you and the Prime Minister.

  Mr Speaker, you can probably remember back to 1986 when there was an incident in this House and the Prime Minister, the then Treasurer, had you down to his office and—I forget the press description—

Mr McGauran —Bounced him around the walls.

Dr HEWSON —Bounced you around the walls—I think that is probably the way it was described—because you had not offered him sufficient protection in this Parliament. I have never seen anybody offered the extent of protection you offer this Prime Minister. He stands up here on a daily basis and flouts every conceivable sense of propriety in this Parliament, and you allow him to get away with it. Indeed, he dictates to you how you should conduct this House. You see the nod, you see the wink, you see the twitch, you see the direct instructions—things like, `It is a frivolous point of order; name him', and all this sort of thing, coming from the Prime Minister to you on a regular basis.

  We have sat here and noticed how on many occasions you have sat there and waited until you received that instruction before you moved in relation to this side of the Parliament. This has been a consistent feature of your performance, and it has heightened in the last few weeks as the pressure in Wills has built up and the uncertainty of your personal preselection has come to a head.

  The Prime Minister has become—what were the words used yesterday?—subject to violent mood swings, of course under the pressure of what is happening in Wills, and you, Mr Speaker, have started to feel the real pressure concerning your preselection and the fact that the Left has control of the seat of Grayndler and you are about to be a lame duck Speaker. Today I am giving the Left a very real opportunity not to wait for preselection. The members of the Left can express their point today in support of getting rid of this man by voting with us on this motion of no confidence in the Speaker. I ask them to think seriously about that. It is a unique opportunity that they can take to express a view. I know that there are some very sensible, measured and honest people on the other side of this Parliament, and I know that they too have been totally offended by the behaviour of this man in the course of the last few months as Speaker.

  I return, though, to the mateship. It is the mateship with the New South Wales Right that has taken control of this Parliament. That mateship has never been in the interests of the people of Australia. I do not think you have ever focused on what is in the best interests of the people of Australia. As we have gone out of our way in recent days to establish, you will say or do anything, you will distort or misrepresent anything, you will bend any principle—it does not matter what it takes—in order to save your own political hide.

  Right now, when your own political hide is at risk and you desperately need the support of the Prime Minister and the other members of the New South Wales Right, you have blatantly and overtly bowed in favour of the Government in all your rulings in the course of the conduct of this Parliament, to the point where the Parliament is no more than a total shambles and an embarrassment to the people of Australia, who sit back and watch the televised proceedings of the Parliament every night and cannot understand how, in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years, with one million people unemployed, you have no interest in those issues. The Government has no interest in those issues; you have no interest in ensuring that Ministers answer questions about those issues.

  It is little wonder that the standing of both sides of this Parliament has been called into disrespect in the eyes of the Australian people—and a substantial part of the responsibility for that goes right to you. You are the one who has the unique position, despite the extent to which you try from time to time to hide behind Standing Orders, and the power to actually make the rulings you want to make in the interpretation of Standing Orders to maintain control of this Parliament. There is nothing to stop you actually exercising the power that is necessary to maintain a sense of order and a sense of balance in this Parliament. I have no better authority for that than the ex-Clerk of the House, Mr Browning, who has gone out of his way on several occasions to make that particular point.

  You duck and weave and hide behind particular interpretations of the Standing Orders which favour the Government side of the House. You do not try to strike a balance or to maintain any sense of decorum and decency in this Parliament. You allow conduct which is totally unbecoming in this Parliament and which has brought us all into total disrepute. This mateship is the central element of what dominates this Parliament today. We should not forget that the New South Wales Right is the nearest thing this country has had to the Mafia in decades.

Mr Bevis —Look at the blokes in Boggo Road gaol.

Dr HEWSON —The New South Wales Right stretches from our gaols, in certain parts of Australia, right through to the top office in this land—the Prime Minister.

  Honourable members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order.

Mr Costello —Ask Peter Baldwin!

  Mr SPEAKER—Order!

  Honourable members—Name him!

Mr SPEAKER —I am not going to name the honourable member for Higgins.

Mr Costello —You do every other day.

Mr SPEAKER —I will now, if he wants me to.

Dr HEWSON —To members of the New South Wales Right, their particular end justifies the means. They see everything as a political game, a political power play. The characteristics of the behaviour of the New South Wales Right are now manifested in the Speaker of this Parliament.

  The basic attitudes and values that you people have pursued in the course of your own political efforts over the years go all the way from when you used to sit in Paul Keating's front yard and discuss political tactics through to today. Those same basic values, those same basic attitudes and that same basic focus on your own particular interests at the expense of everybody else is what dominates your behaviour in this House, and it is what dominates the conduct of the daily business in this Parliament. That is another element of why you, sir, are a national disgrace.

  I have heard you on many occasions stand up and say how proud you are that a Telecom linesman could rise to the position of Speaker of this Parliament. I think you should just stop and think what the responsibilities really are in relation to the position of Speaker of this Parliament. It is not just a personal grab for power; it is just not an opportunity to wallow in the trappings of the office; it is a very special position in this Parliament. You will go down in history as probably one of the worst Speakers of all time.

  Since 1901 only about 10 speakers have been censured by this Parliament, and you have got up there three times. Three of the 10 have been you and today is the fourth: four out of 11. That is a clear-cut statement that you do not perform the duties that have been entrusted in you as the central element of the conduct of our system of parliamentary democracy. As I make these points to you, Mr Speaker, I ask you to think about your own personal position. You are so very conscious and so very proud of what you have achieved. You just think of how history will record your time as Speaker. History will record you as one of the worst Speakers that this Parliament has seen.

Dr Bob Woods —The worst.

Dr HEWSON —If, indeed, not the worst Speaker that this Parliament has seen. We come here today on a very important issue when we censure the Speaker. We are very concerned about the fact that the reputation of this institution, which is the centrepiece of our whole system, has been dragged so far down into disrepute.

  I have seen recent examples of where we as politicians are ranked in the eyes of the electorate. We are ranked below the press gallery, to give you some idea of how low we have been dragged. But I should be fair: the television media are ranked above us and the print media are ranked below us in the last survey that I saw, but we are down near the bottom.

  People in the community, in Wills, for example, or in other parts of Australia, who are queuing up to get their unemployment benefits, who are going into various welfare agencies to get assistance or who are facing the cold, hard reality of financial crisis as a result of the worst recession in 60 years—one inflicted on them by a government and by one particular individual who pursued his own political ends, in the same way as you have, at the expense of everyone else—cannot understand why this Parliament has been dragged down as far as it has been.

  I believe that we all now have a very serious responsibility, and I hope that today is a turning point in this respect. We face the need to significantly upgrade the standards and performance in this Parliament. I make the very simple point that there are three people that can actually make the change in the Parliament that has to be made and who are essential to making that change. They are the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker. We are quite happy to do our part, and we have been doing our part in the course of the last two years. We have pursued many opportunities to raise parliamentary standards, only to see them dragged down in the pursuit of particular personal political ends by the Speaker and the Prime Minister—

  Government members interjecting—

Mr Crean —You?

Mr Gibson —You have got to be joking.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is far too much noise. The honourable member for Moreton will cease interjecting.

Dr HEWSON —to the point now where the people of Australia justifiably hold us in total disrespect. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that your behaviour in the course of the last few months in particular has pulled this Parliament down to those depths. This is at a time when the electorate is crying out for leadership and crying out for us to deal with the problems that beset this economy. It is fundamentally important that we face the reality of where we have arrived in terms of this Parliament.

  I challenge you, Mr Speaker, to significantly lift your game and I challenge the Government to think about the ridiculous extent to which it has gone in recent days to grossly distort and misrepresent what should be a very genuine and very important policy debate. We have led the way; we have put detailed policy proposals on the record; we have been prepared to debate those as genuine issues. All we have seen has been a policy, facilitated by the Speaker, of gross misrepresentation and distortion, and we have seen a couple of examples by the Prime Minister in the course of this particular Question Time. It is a ridiculous situation where the issues are not being addressed and where the people of Australia simply cannot understand it. (Time expired)

Mr SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?