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Tuesday, 12 February 2002
Page: 8

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (11:38 AM) —Mr Speaker, I believe that you have been a gracious and courteous occupant of the chair of this House and I join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and others in congratulating you on your re-election.

I will respond to a couple of points made by the Leader of the Opposition. First of all, this is not Westminster. As the Prime Minister has said, this parliament inherits many of the Westminster traditions but not all of them. One of the key differences between this parliament and Westminster is that at Westminster speakers are not opposed at election time. It is highly unrealistic for the Leader of the Opposition to expect a Speaker seeking re-election not to be opposed in his election.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Those desperate to reform the parliament might like to consider the fact that the minister has the call.

Mr ABBOTT —The other point I would make is that, as this chamber has evolved, opposition members can ask, more or less, the questions that they like and ministers can give the answers that they think most appropriate under the standing orders. That is the way it should be. What we cannot expect— certainly what the opposition cannot and have no right to expect—is that ministers will give the answer that the opposition wants. Ministers will give the answers that they believe are appropriate; ministers will defend the government's position in the way that they think is appropriate. The opposition has put forward an interesting and, I think, constructive set of proposals. The Manager of Opposition Business and I are more than capable of sitting down and talking them through. I trust the Manager of Opposition Business to speak with authority on these matters. The government will look at those proposals constructively.

The government is concerned not just with a better question time; we are concerned with having a better parliament. We would like the parliament as a whole to work better. We believe that all members of this parliament— not simply members of the executive—have an honoured role and an important place in the national debate. The proposals that we will be putting forward in the next few weeks will be designed to enhance the dignity of the parliament as a whole.