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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9124

Mr BURKE (WatsonManager of Opposition Business) (12:38): I would like to speak in the second reading debate we are now in for the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2014. We just had the most extraordinary display from the parliamentary secretary. He has just—for the first time I can think of—introduced a bill, given the second reading speech to explain what is in it and told the parliament nothing. We have a situation where he will not read to the parliament any of the words that are involved. You cannot simply table speeches—read Practice. That is not how this parliament works.

In the most arrogant fashion, the government expect the parliament to debate a bill that none of us can have a copy of for reasons that none of us can hear. What they are expecting to do now—on the mining tax, of all things—is to say to the parliament and therefore to the people of Australia, 'Just trust us. We will lock down a deal with someone in another place, but, like lemmings, everybody here can be expected to just vote for it.' Let us not forget what the first round of this legislation did. The first round of this legislation was going to abolish the schoolkids bonus—and apparently it is still there. I know that it is still there because members of the opposition frontbench are now working through details that the parliamentary secretary sought to hide from the parliament.

We have a situation where the government—I suspect for possibly the first time ever known in this parliament—has decided that we should be debating legislation that we are not allowed to see. We have a situation where the parliamentary secretary introducing the legislation does not even have the courage to put his own voice to the words that would back this bill. We have a situation now where those opposite clearly did not know what was going to be in front of the parliament—because the parliamentary secretary moving it did not even know what was going to be in front of the parliament. It is one thing for members of the backbench on the other side to be expected to wander in here like lemmings; it is another thing when the lead lemming is the parliamentary secretary. Not even a member of the cabinet was willing to introduce this bill. No-one sitting in the front row on their side was willing to introduce this bill. But, in a stroke of utter humiliation, the parliamentary secretary comes in here and gets told, 'Do not read the words out loud.' The government is that ashamed of it.

Talk about a government losing control of their own agenda! Talk about a government on something that they wanted to claim was an important election promise! Talk about a government that claimed the 'adults', of all things, were going to be in charge! What do we get instead? Instead, what we get is a parliamentary secretary who is running out right now. I would be doing the same if I were him—if I had succumbed to the same sort of humiliation that he has had to endure right now.

For the purposes of law, for the purposes of the Acts Interpretation Act, whenever there is doubt cast as to the interpretation of a bill, within the meaning of the words of the legislation themselves, the courts will go to what was said during the second reading speech. And what was said? What was said was, 'That the bill be read a second time'. That was it. That is all that was said. On tax law and the different issues that are contained within here, you are in a realm where court cases do get run. And people will now go and discover that the government did this for, apparently, no reason whatsoever; that the government did this for no reasons that had anything to do with the parliamentary debate; and that the member of the executive who introduced the legislation did not have a clue why he was introducing it and did not have a clue what the bill would contain—or worse, if he did know, he was ashamed of what he was being asked to do. If he did know, he did not want to go back to his constituents and let them know the harm he had brought them within the parliament of Australia.

We all know that there have been occasions when debate moves quickly through this House—but usually the person they gag is not the one introducing it. Normally the person who is subject to the gag resolution is not the parliamentary secretary who is legally responsible for the bill. Normally, when we are dealing with legislation in this parliament, when the government bring on gag motions the reason is to shut up members opposing. On this occasion, not only have they shut up their own member, their parliamentary secretary, but he has also gone along with it. He has gone along with it without a resolution. He has gone along with it simply because someone said to him, 'To save time, why don't you just table a few documents rather than say a word'. We have a bill with no speech attached. We have a bill where, as far as this parliament and the traditions of this House are concerned, when weighing up whether or not we should support the bill, there are absolutely no reasons given from the government as to why this should be supported.

When they first introduced the legislation to the parliament, we had one copy in the room. No-one was able to see what was in it. Then we went immediately to full debate on the issue! As responsible members of parliament, whether in the opposition or on the crossbench, the people we represent have a right to know how we have deliberated over these issues, how we have weighed things up and how we have arrived at a conclusion. Those on the government back bench, I would have thought, would want to know what they were voting for, but I am yet to see a government backbencher rush up here and get a copy of the bill. I am yet to see anyone from the government side pay the slightest bit of interest in what we are now going to be asked to vote for. We have a situation where they could have sat here for the entire debate, where they could have been here for the entire speech from the parliamentary secretary and still be none the wiser.

In the first round of this legislation, it was only set aside a few moments ago. Up until a few moments ago, that legislation, we had been told, was a core commitment from the government. Then we get into this chamber and we discover that they have moved not that it be set aside for a later date but that it be laid aside altogether. So all those opposite voted that the mining tax bills not be proceeded with at all. Now we have the parliamentary secretary introducing legislation and none of us know what it says, none of us know what is in it. The parliamentary secretary, if he does know what is in it, does not want to let on. Instead, we have humiliation of the parliamentary secretary by not putting voice to any arguments in favour of this bill. But when you do that, when someone plays that sort of humiliation of themselves, be in no doubt that it reflects on the entire parliament.

When people come here who have an interest in what is going on in this parliament, even when we have the first conversation with school children about what parliament does, we start with saying that we talk about laws. On this occasion, the law is being kept secret. On this occasion, the parliamentary secretary is the first member of the executive in living memory to come here with a new law but not to tell us what is in it, to come here with a new law and say, 'I'd really love you to vote for it, but I've just got to keep it a secret until after the vote.'

It may well be the case that the contents of the bill are an operational matter. It may well be the case that the contents of the bill have some deep, dark secret, and there are countries that function that way. There are countries on earth, there are countries in our world which do have a system where people do not get told what the law is, where members of the executive are silenced. Those nations are not known as democracies and yet Australia's parliament today has been humiliated and abused. Australia's parliament today has been treated with absolute contempt by the parliamentary secretary and by whoever gave him the dumbest of dumb advice. I suspect whoever gave that really dumb advice is still in the room, but that is the only act of loyalty offered to the parliamentary secretary for the humiliation. Earlier, I was interjecting across the floor saying, 'Why isn't he on the front bench?' I am embarrassed now for asking why he does not sit on the front bench. We have a situation which has never, in living memory, occurred in this parliament, where in a second reading debate the first speech is given by the opposition. We have a second reading debate where we start talking about the reasons to oppose the bill before we hear the reasons to support it, and the reasons to oppose it are being given by someone who has not read!

This is a farce. This is a government in chaos. This government has lost control of any semblance of its own agenda. This government is being run by children. Anyone who thought those opposite were going to deliver a government with adults in charge should not forget the day this government decided to give not even a single reason for their own legislation but to keep it secret and expected the entire parliament to follow blindly. Those sitting behind them will follow blindly. They will find out in their party room tomorrow what they did today.

Those of us on this side of the House have a very simple view on these matters. We will not see this parliament being abused and we will not allow a circumstance where those opposite are willing to defy ever single tradition of this House, every core fundamental tenet. I do not know how you have a democratic debate without knowing the substance of the motion. I just do not know how you are meant to do that. I do not know how on earth you are meant to have a sensible discussion with, 'Oh, it’s a mystery, oh, it's a secret. We'll just deal with the debate on the vibe of the issue'—The Castle finds its way all the way to Canberra! The circumstance we have here is a complete humiliation for those opposite. We have children—

Mr Pyne: Have you run out of material?

Mr BURKE: Isn't that brilliant? We do not have any material. There is no bill from those opposite that we can be told about. There is nothing in front of us other than complete humiliation and chaos and a government without an agenda.