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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6661

Carbon Pricing


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (14:36): My question is directed to the member for Cunningham in her capacity as chair of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. I refer the member to the likelihood that a carbon tax would lead to shutdowns of coalmines and steelworks in the Illawarra. I ask her has the infrastructure committee been requested by the government or does it intend to ask the government—

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Nationals will resume his seat. Many people do not get to finish things and other people rise and I invite them to raise a point of order. The Leader of the House on a point of order.

Mr Albanese: Questions can indeed be asked of chairs of committees about inquiries they have been the chair of. There is precedent in the House for it occurring. What cannot be asked of chairs of committees is general policy outcomes. They can only talk about specific inquiries that the committee is undertaking.

The SPEAKER: I thank the Leader of the House. I will keep that in mind in adjudicating on whether this question is in order.

Mr TRUSS: I ask the member for Cunningham: has the infrastructure committee been requested by the governĀ­ment, or does it intend to ask the government for a reference, to inquire into the impact of the carbon tax on the infrastructure needs of the Illawarra? If not, why not?

The SPEAKER: Order! The honourable members time has expired. Given that it is not a question about a matter before the committee, I rule it out of order.

Mr Truss: Mr Speaker, I draw your attention—

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Nationals, who is usually a bit better behaved, will wait until I give him the call. He has risen in his place. The Leader of the Nationals on a point of order.

Mr Truss: Mr Speaker, I refer you to House of Representatives Practice (5th Edition), page 536, where it states that 'a question to a committee chair asking if the committee intended to inquire into a certain matter' has been permitted by a previous speaker. The case refers to a question by the member for Warringah at the time to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee about whether or not an inquiry would be held. I submit, sir, that this question is indeed in order.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the House will resume his seat. I have ruled that the question is out of order for multiple reasons, even beyond the fact that there is not a matter before the committee. The question was replete with argument. The member for Shortland has the call.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Oxley. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, on the ruling that you have made in relation to the Leader of the Nationals' question, I direct you to the question that was asked on 16 October 1957 by Clyde Cameron.

Government members interjecting

Mr Pyne: What is so funny about a precedent. Don't you understand what precedents are?

The SPEAKER: The member for Sturt will resume his seat and the member for Shortland will resume her seat. The Manager of Opposition Business with his point of order.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, again, I refer you to the precedent that was established in 1957 by a question from Clyde Cameron, the then member for Hindmarsh. The opposition today asked a question that is almost exactly in the same terms, without argument and without debate, about an intention to inquire into a matter by the relevant committee, in this case the infrastructure committee. Clyde Cameron's question was in exactly the same terms as the one that we have put. Therefore I put it to you that it is within order and I ask you to call the member for Cunningham.

Mr Truss: If I may add to that point, if you look closely at the question asked by Mr Cameron you will also note that it includes quite a lot of preamble and reasons why an inquiry should in fact be held. I submit, therefore, that it is on very similar terms, though on a different subject, to the question I have just asked.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: I hope that comment was not directed at the chair. People should be very careful if they are conversing with their colleagues that they do it in a much lower sotto voce, because sometimes it can be taken inappropriately. I have ruled on the question, because it goes beyond the intent of the standing order. By people's own admissions the fact that the last two words were 'why not' is not something that a chair could be asked.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! If you want to read your precedents and you want to listen carefully to what I have now added—and I am not, given the circumstances, offering an opportunity to rephrase the question—if people go away and, based on what they believe to be precedents, they will understand that a question to a chair of a committee is a very narrow question. Regrettably—and I am not having a go at the Leader of the Nationals—like questioners and responders, they now think that the 45 seconds and the four minutes are the space to be filled. Often it would be much better if, in both cases, they were much shorter than those time periods.