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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7936

Mr PYNE (Manager of Opposition Business) (12:09 PM) —The opposition lends support to the government’s changes to the standing orders in order to give parliamentary secretaries and ministers greater opportunities in the Main Committee. It was—when I was a minister and a parliamentary secretary—a vexing matter that you could not necessarily speak on the adjournments or in the Main Committee about issues to do with your local electorate. It seemed rather counterintuitive. We do support the opportunity for ministers and parliamentary secretaries to be able to range across issues that are of importance to their constituents, who make up, at least in my electorate, 98,000 voters and about 130,000 people. I am sure that in the electorates of ministers and parliamentary secretaries they would have similar numbers if not quite so great because South Australia has a higher number on average than most electorates across Australia due to a peculiarity in the Constitution, which we have talked about before. We do support the opportunity for parliamentary secretaries and ministers to be given the chance in the Main Committee to talk about their local electorates.

We also believe the change that would give parliamentary secretaries the opportunity to make statements in the Main Committee, which could then be responded to by shadow ministers, is an improvement to the Main Committee. I can think of other improvements to the Main Committee and to the chamber. I see the Chief Government Whip is in the House. He has been a longstanding advocate of change and reform in terms of the standing orders in both this place and the Main Committee. He and I served as chairman and deputy chairman many years ago of the Procedure Committee, my first very important appointment in this place by the former Prime Minister—

Mr Albanese —Last century.

Mr PYNE —Exactly, last century indeed. It took a while to get started. We did report, in fact, into the Main Committee and the improvements that could be made, some of which were adopted, so it is good to see the continuing organic improvement in the standing orders. We do always support more opportunities for members to speak. The Main Committee has provided a forum for private members’ business. It is ironic that on a day when the government is suspending private members’ business in the House of Representatives in order to debate the renewable energy targets bills—

Mr Albanese —We’re not doing that.

Mr PYNE —You are not going to do that? That is good news. We are even more pleased to hear about that because we want private members to get more opportunities to debate. That had been the impression that I had been given, so that is good news. We will be able to debate private members’ business today as well as the renewable energy targets bills late into the night. I am pleased that the Leader of the House has confirmed that.

We would like to see other reforms to the standing orders. We would like to see the oft called for claims of the previous opposition about four-minute answers in question time adhered to. It is embarrassing, in fact, for the Leader of the House that, on most of the occasions that he has answered questions, he has transgressed the four-minute rule—51 per cent of the time in 2008 and getting worse in 2009 at 69 per cent of the time. The Minister for Education transgressed her own four-minute rule in 2008, 61 per cent of the time and she is getting worse too, she is up to 66 per cent—

Mr Albanese interjecting

Mr PYNE —About five I think. Up to 66 per cent of the time she is transgressing the four-minute rule. It was she who put in a submission to the Procedure Committee inquiry into the standing orders in the last parliament that there should be a four-minute rule. The Treasurer on the other hand, who also supports the four-minute rule, is doing much better. In 2008 he only transgressed it nine per cent of the time and in 2009 he has only transgressed it 22 per cent of the time. The Treasurer is actually doing much better in terms of his own self-imposed four-minute rule than the Minister for Education. If only he would actually answer the questions sensibly, that would be a huge improvement. He has probably answered them in such a short space of time because he does not know the answer and no answers are much shorter than longer answers; nevertheless he is doing better than the Minister for Education and much better than the Leader of the House.

Other ministers also transgressing the rule include the Minister for Finance and Deregulation at 72 per cent of the time in 2008 and 71 per cent of the time in 2009. The Prime Minister transgressed it 27 per cent of the time in 2008 and 34 per cent of the time in 2009, and the list goes on. I think, sadly, the worst offender is the Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, who has missed the boat in a few areas but, certainly, he has missed the boat in terms of the four-minute rule. In 2008 he transgressed it 53 per cent of the time and in 2009, 89 per cent of the time. The Leader of the House might like to take him in hand a bit and then the opposition would be able to ensure that democracy is working much more effectively than the farce that question time has become under this government. That said, we support the motion moved by the Leader of the House.