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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 27

Senator TROETH (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz, Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Minister, you will be aware that early last week the Senate’s Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee—

Senator George Campbell —What’s the question?

Senator TROETH —tabled out of session their report on the Work Choices bill.

Senator George Campbell —What’s the question? That’s a statement.

Senator TROETH —In an inquiry that spanned five days of public hearings—

Senator George Campbell interjecting—


Senator TROETH —and took evidence from 105 witnesses, in addition to—

Senator Carr interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Carr and Senator Campbell!

Senator TROETH —over 200 major written submissions—what is the government’s response to this report?

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on a point of order: as Senator Troeth well knows, the government wrote the report, as she revealed at the press conference. So you ought to rule the question out of order.

The PRESIDENT —The question is in order, but unfortunately a lot of us could not hear it for the noise on my left. Senator Troeth.

Senator TROETH —Would you like to me ask the question again, Mr President? In an inquiry that spanned five days of public hearings—

The PRESIDENT —No, just the question, Senator Troeth.

Senator TROETH —Thank you.

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator TROETH —What is the government’s response to this report?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —Once again, you have got the Australian Labor Party, under the guise of a point of order, deliberately seeking to peddle false information to the Australian community. And, Mr President, we are seeing this happen time and again in this question time.

Senator Faulkner —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Isn’t it the case that the order of business of the Senate outlines a time and a place for government responses to committee reports to be brought down? Is it not the case, Mr President, that this question is out of order and you should rule it out of order?

Senator Hill —I would argue against that, of course, Mr President, because if Senator Faulkner referred to his standing orders he would know that it is not proper to ask questions relating to the detail of the bill, but to ask questions as to the government’s motive or its response is clearly within the standing orders, and it is certainly legitimate for Senator Troeth to ask it and for it to be answered in this place.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on the same point of order, may I say that Senator Hill deliberately misrepresented Senator Faulkner’s point of order. He referred to the fact that a government response to a committee report is provided for in the order of business and it is not appropriate for it to be done in question time. It is provided for under the standing orders—

Senator Ian Campbell —It’s on the bill; it doesn’t have a response.

Senator Chris Evans —Well, if it’s on the bill then it’s clearly out of order also, Senator Campbell. The other point of order, Mr President, is that if it is about the bill then it clearly is out of order, because that is currently on the Notice Paper.

The PRESIDENT —As far as your query goes, Senator Evans, there have been some questions today about the bill and I would just like to—

Senator Conroy —Mr President—

The PRESIDENT —Would you take your seat, Senator Conroy? There have been questions today that—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Do not refer to the bill.

The PRESIDENT —Correct. What I am saying is that, in the past, other presidents, including most recently President Reid, ruled that questions and answers may not directly canvass the merits of a bill, but this does not prevent questions and answers about issues which are involved in a bill being raised, and that is exactly what this comes under.

Senator Faulkner —Mr President, I raised a point of order and I ask you to rule on it. The question that Senator Troeth asked went directly to the issue of a request of Senator Hill to provide the government’s response to the committee report. It would be out of order, Mr President, for you to allow this question, given that the government’s response ought to be presented at another time, in writing—and the order of business of the Senate allows for that to occur. Now, it is quite possible that Senator Troeth, in her incompetence, has wrongly worded the question that was provided to her by Senator Hill and has just read out a piece of nonsense that was given to her, but I would ask you to rule the question she has asked out of order. It is not competent for such a question to be answered in question time.

The PRESIDENT —I rule the question out of order. Rather, I rule this way: there is no set time for government responses to reports. In this particular case, there is nothing on the Notice Paper to stop this from going ahead.

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —With advice like that, you can see where Mark Latham went wrong. I thank Senator Troeth and the coalition senators for the wonderful work that they did in looking at the Work Choices bill. I indicate that the government will be looking at the proposals put forward in the report. Some great work was done by coalition senators, Senators Troeth, Johnston and Barnett and, I understand, Senators Santoro and Nash as well. I thank them for that. I also note some minority reports which, of course, are as hysterical as one would have predicted. It is quite noteworthy that the Labor Party’s minority report relied very heavily on the trade union choirboy, David Peetz, the resident bard of Workers Online. He sought to assert—and the Labor Party do—that somehow he is an independent commentator, when he sings in a trade union choir and is the online bard for a trade union movement.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —I hear some concern from those on the other side as to my attack in this regard. I say that somebody attacked Mr McClintock—a former cabinet secretary, when he gave advice to Mr Howard—and then asserted that somehow this Mr McClintock, later on, could not make certain public comments because it would be in the guise of Mr Howard’s press secretary and, therefore, you should not put too much weight on them.

Senator Forshaw —What are you talking about?

Senator ABETZ —Yes, what am I talking about? Professor David Peetz’s letter to the editor on 30 August last year—that is what I’m talking about—where Professor Peetz condemned himself.

Senator Forshaw —Mr President, on a point of order: there is now about a minute to go. You ruled in order this question from Senator Troeth, who was the chair of the committee. The question was: what is the government’s response to the committee’s report? Senator Abetz is now off on some frolic about certain individuals. If you are going to allow the question then at least try and make sure that he answers the question he was asked.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, on the point of order: part of the committee report includes the minority report. The minority report is peppered with references to this trade union choirboy. I can understand why the Labor Party is sensitive about it but—

The PRESIDENT —The minister will resume his seat. There is no point of order. I remind the minister that there is one minute and 28 seconds left for his answer and I remind him of the question.

Senator Faulkner —On a point of order, Mr President. Perhaps you could explain to the Senate the provisions of standing order 62 in relation to the ruling you have made in relation to government responses and the order of business. Standing order 62 relates to consideration of committee reports, government responses and Auditor-General’s reports. You have made that courageous ruling. Could you please explain it to the Senate?

The PRESIDENT —I will give you a detailed response to that at the end of question time.

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I will give you a response at the end of question time. I have ruled on the question and I will give you a written response after question time.

Senator Faulkner —I don’t believe you should have allowed the question.

The PRESIDENT —I have allowed the question.

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, resume your seat. I will give you a written response on that matter but I have ruled on it—

Senator Conroy interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —I beg your pardon. Are you reflecting on the chair, Senator, because, if you are, I ask you to withdraw.

Senator Conroy interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Would you come to order, Senator! I call Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ —I turn to something in the majority report, this very well documented piece of work. Two criticisms were made of prospective government legislation. This is one quote:

The Howard model is quite simple. It is all about lower wages; it is about worse conditions; it is about a massive rise in industrial disputation; it is about the abolition of safety nets ...

Then there is another quote about the government’s proposals:

Firstly, these changes will be unfair, they’ll be divisive, and they’ll be extreme ... they’ll have the affect of reducing their wages, stripping their entitlements, and removing their safety nets ...

They use virtually identical terminology. And do you know where the rub is? Both those quotes come from the same person, Mr Stephen Smith, the shadow minister for industrial relations. And do you know what? He made those two quotes 10 years apart. So the Australian people can judge the Australian Labor Party’s rhetoric on this by what they said 10 years ago. After that 10 years they have a 14.6 per cent increase in real wages, the lowest rate of industrial disputation ever and they are making exactly the same prediction, 10 years later, that our new wave of reforms is going to deliver exactly the same to the Australian people. Rather than having that negative approach, we have a very positive approach. (Time expired)