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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 581

Mr YOUNG (Leader of the House) —Madam Speaker, I take it that you are prepared to grant precedence to a motion under standing order 96.

Madam SPEAKER —I am.

Mr YOUNG —I move:

That this House--

Mr Sinclair —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. Before the motion which the Leader of the House is about to put is moved, in accordance with requests made by the honourable member for O'Connor that it would be appropriate for you and the House to hear the remarks that he seeks to make, I suggest that it would be more appropriate that that be done than for peremptory judgment to be made. Above all, it is important that the quality of justice within this place should in no way be in question. I suggest that it is appropriate, irrespective of feelings on this matter, that the honourable member for O'Connor be allowed the proper right to make, as he has requested, whatever statement he might wish to make and to give whatever apology he wishes to give.

Madam SPEAKER —I have read the letter from the honourable member for O'Connor and have also heard it on the radio and read it in newspapers, where it was discussed. I consider this matter so serious and the comments made such an attack upon my office that I believe the House should support me in this matter.

Mr Howard —Madam Speaker, on the point of order--

Madam SPEAKER —I have resolved the point of order. Do you have another point of order?

Mr Howard —Madam Speaker, are you denying me, as Leader of the Opposition, the indulgence normally extended to say something about a matter which we on this side of the House believe touches the rights and privileges of members?

Madam SPEAKER —I am saying that I have made a statement. I consider the remarks made by the honourable member for O'Connor outside this House to be an attack on me, on the Speaker and on the House. I call the Leader of the House and I will not hear any further--

Mr Howard —You do not grant me the normal indulgence?

Madam SPEAKER —I will not hear any further points of order. I have called the Leader of the House.

Mr YOUNG —I move:

That this House finds that remarks made by the honourable member for O'Connor yesterday are a serious reflection on the character of the Speaker; contain an accusation of partiality in the discharge of her duty, and therefore constitute a contempt of the House; and suspends the honourable member for O'Connor from the service of the House for seven sitting days, including today.

Madam Speaker, it is obvious from the comments that you have made to the House that you are seriously offended by what occurred outside it after Question Time yesterday. All honourable members know that this House would cease to function if every honourable member were to take upon his shoulders the right to go outside this chamber and say things along the lines of the things that were said by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) about the Speaker yesterday.

We all suffer our frustrations with the rulings that are given from time to time by the Speaker and some of us have had occasion to vent those against various Speakers who have been the custodian of that office at certain times during our period in this House. However, on those occasions each of us, depending on what we have said, has been asked either to apologise or to withdraw. In some cases honourable members have been suspended. Not only was the honourable member for O'Connor suspended yesterday, but if he had remained in the House and said inside it what he had said outside he obviously would have been named again and the penalty would have been suspension for seven days, which is the period now included in the motion I have put before the House.

All honourable members must realise that if the Chair is brought into disrespect, irrespective of who is in government, this chamber will not function at all. It is our system that the government of the day elects the Speaker. It is part of the frustrations which may be imposed upon people, particularly in opposition; and we have had more experience of that than those opposite. Nevertheless, we have had to abide by the rulings of Speakers who have been elected by the conservative parties over a long period of years, irrespective of our views about the rulings that have been given from time to time. It has not been the intent of previous parliaments to bring the speakership into such disrepute that the Speaker can no longer carry out his or her job.

I am in no doubt at all that the honourable member for O'Connor was sincere when he put his words together last night in a letter to you, Madam Speaker; but the damage is done. He told everybody in Australia that you are a political animal and that you are subject to intimidation from this side of the House. All the damage is done. The 16 million Australians who witness the events of this Parliament are told that you are not fit to hold office. It is little wonder, Madam Speaker, that you take such offence at the words that have been expressed outside by the honourable member for O'Connor.

As Leader of Government Business, this is not a task that one looks forward to but we all know that if your position in particular falls into the disrepute which was placed upon it yesterday outside this chamber, we will have to change the rules altogether-and there will be no respect left for this Parliament, let alone for the position you hold, Madam Speaker. The fact that you have expressed yourself so strongly should make every member of this chamber-on both sides-realise that now we have a larger parliament of 148 members you have a very difficult task indeed. You are new to the Chair. You have done your best to treat the chamber and every member of it fairly.

Unless the Parliament is prepared to protect you, Madam Speaker, when you are under attack, no one will want to take the position of Speaker of this chamber. There are rules that guide our behaviour in this chamber and nearly all of us have had times when we have been called to court to behave ourselves, lower our voices, withdraw, apologise or be suspended from the House. But there is a limit to what any Speaker should tolerate. Madam Speaker, you are quite right. You reached your limit when you heard the tapes, read the newspapers, watched the television and saw and felt that every citizen of this country was being told that you are not a fit and proper person to hold the post of Speaker. The only way to deal with that is to give a very loud voice of endorsement today to your position. There is no way of doing it other than with the motion I have moved.