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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13058

The SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Herbert is suspended from the service of the House for 24 hours under standing order 94(b).

The member for Herbert then left the chamber.

The SPEAKER —I now might be able to conclude my remarks. The House would remember I asked the Treasurer and the Manager of Opposition Business to resume their seats. If my recollection is right, I had simply made the comment that, based on previous practice of the House, the Treasurer’s response could have been considered to have been relevant. I then wished to make the further comment—and it could be considered by way of caution to the Treasurer—to indicate to the House that the real problem is the amount of debate that is allowed in the answers. As this has caused this longer break in proceedings, I will now read a couple of relevant sections from House of Representatives Practice, which the House might consider over the break. At page 552 it reads:

… Ministers have not been prevented from introducing argument into their answers. Although it has been argued that the standing order provision that ‘questions cannot be debated’ should be read as meaning a prohibition of debate in answering, as well as in putting, a question, it has not been so interpreted by the Chair.

On page 54 it indicates that a procedure committee in 1992, amongst other things, suggested that the standing orders be amended to read, amongst other things, ‘shall not debate the subject to which the question refers’—that is, the answer. I think that is part of the problem. That is why earlier I tried to be very cautious about the amount of argument we have allowed to creep into questions. In an unlevel playing field it seems a reasonable practice of the House to try to make it more level. It is why I attempt to reduce the amount of argument that is introduced into points of order. On this occasion I might add that the two points of order raised by the member for North Sydney—not that I adjudicated in his favour—were points of order.

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Further to your advice to the House, I would find it impossible to frame a question that was simpler or more direct than asking the Treasurer what the interest repayments were on government debt. It was a simple question. If the standing order relating to relevance has any worth then surely it goes to the point—

The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney might resume his seat. Perhaps he might find some time over the break to really reflect upon these matters. In a fair judgment of proceedings of this place over a long time—over a long time—he would be tested to find that things were as simple as he says by putting the words ‘a simple question’ in a question and not allowing the little bits and pieces of the question then to be picked out by ministers. I could also argue my response to points of order by saying that others who had it in their power to change standing orders over time, through dent of numbers, perhaps will consider that. I am not blaming anybody; I am blaming the House. If you think that I think that this is appropriate, you are wrong. I have tried to indicate a path that the House could consider. The Treasurer has the call.

Mr SWAN —I ran through the figures in MYEFO, but obviously the shadow Treasurer has not even read MYEFO. I ran through the figures and I explained why borrowings were necessary in the first place—that is, there have been revenue write-downs of something like $170 billion. Those revenue write-downs have necessitated borrowings, which has meant that the Commonwealth is paying interest. I then ran through the interest that we are paying on the net debt and he still did not seem to understand it or get it. I can only think that he has not read MYEFO. The truth is that, if we had not borrowed that money, if we were not paying that interest, Australia would be in a deep recession right now. That is the point. That is what those opposite are so embarrassed about. They are embarrassed about the fact that they opposed economic stimulus in this House. Economic stimulus has kept us out of recession. Economic stimulus has supported hundreds of thousands of jobs. Economic stimulus has supported small business. We are paying interest to achieve that very desirable outcome. Those opposite are so embarrassed by their opposition in the House that they simply cannot stand it.

The SPEAKER —Has the Treasurer concluded? Has the Treasurer concluded? Treasurer?

Mr Hockey —Just bring Ken Henry in!

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, that was an outrageous slur on the Secretary of the Treasury, which is now on the record.

An opposition member—He’s an ignorant Treasurer!

A government member—Don’t be so ridiculous!

Mr Anthony Smith —Well, he is an idiot! Put that on the record, too.

The SPEAKER —The member for Casey will withdraw.

Mr Anthony Smith —I withdraw, Mr Speaker.