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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4012

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (12:13): On behalf of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled Interim report: monitoring and review of procedural changes implemented in the 43rd parliament, together with the minutes of proceedings. I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Ms OWENS: The outcome of the federal election on 21 August 2010, and the finely balanced numbers, provided an opportunity for non-aligned members to pursue a more open parliament by seeking to change some of the habits and practices that had been developed over decades of substantial majority governments on both sides. Changes to House practice and procedure to support a new style of parliament were agreed during the negotiations between the political parties and non-aligned members in the period between the election and the formation of government. They were expressed in the Agreement for a better parliament: parliamentary reform and are embodied in procedural changes, many of which were in amendments to the standing orders that were introduced into the House and passed on 29 September 2010, the second sitting day of the current parliament. The agreement was founded on the role of all members being the role of local members and the parliament's institutional role and authority separate from executive government. It sought cultural as well as procedural change. When the changes to standing orders were made, it was contemplated that their impact would be monitored and commented on at an early stage by the Procedure Committee. At the time the committee began this report, the House had sat for just five weeks, enough time to make some early observations but insufficient time to comprehensively review the changes in action. Consequently, this interim report will be followed by a more considered report after there has been more time to observe the impact of the changes.

As part of its initial review, the committee held discussions with the Speaker, the Clerk, party whips and members. On behalf of the committee, I take this opportunity to thank those colleagues who attended for their time and contribution to what were constructive discussions. I also thank those who provided written submissions to the committee's inquiry.

In keeping with the Procedure Committee's responsibility to scrutinise the practices and procedures of the House, this report is principally a technical review. It sets out the various changes agreed to and the means by which they are being implemented. It does not evaluate them as substantive and fulfilling of initial hopes or otherwise. It documents the early days, tells of the initial reactions of members and suggests some initial fine-tuning. The word 'reform' connotes improvement and correction. Whether the 43rd parliament ushered in a period of procedural reform and strengthening of the parliamentary institution or simply a period of change—of a different framework—remains to be seen, as does whether or not the objectives of the changes have been met or will be met.

I would like to take this opportunity to raise one issue that was presented strongly by backbenchers from both sides of parliament, and that is the length of the sitting day and the increased workload of the additional sitting hours. I am not sure that it is ever politically wise to raise the issue of working hours as a member of parliament but I am well aware from the contributions of my colleagues that it is not wise to be silent on this matter, either. Members of parliament recognise that parliamentary work is the central role of representatives, but members of parliament have the same responsibility as all members of the community to consider the balance between their health, their ability to do quality work and a healthy relationship with family. Many members of parliament regularly work 12-hour days both in parliament and in their electorates, but there is a strong view that the new hours, which extend the parliamentary days beyond that, are not sustainable. Consequently, we have asked for a moderation of hours at this early stage of the review process.

I conclude by thanking my colleagues on the committee for their work and the secretariat for their support throughout the course of the inquiry. I commend the report to the House.