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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop: parliamentary reform, welfare fraud.

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Subjects: Parliamentary reform, welfare fraud

SWAN: As you are all aware, Labor has put forward a significant package of reforms to clean up the Parliament, to clean up the House, so I am disturbed by reports in this morning’s Courier Mail that Speaker Andrew has told colleagues that he’ll be tougher on the Labor Party. We have a once in a century opportunity to clean up the House, to stop it from looking like a bin of monkeys.

People are fed up with the poor performance of the Parliament, and bad parliamentary behaviour. People are fed up with bad parliamentary behaviour, which makes the Parliament look like a bin of monkeys. So I call on Speaker Andrew to repudiate this report so that we can get on with reforming the Parliament. I welcome his remarks in the papers this morning that he is interested in a more independent speaker and interested in our proposal for a rotation system.

JOURNALIST: Is it your contention then that it’s the government men behaving badly that provokes the opposition into bad behaviour?

SWAN: No I think every body’s guilty. What we’ve got to do is clean up the House; stop it from looking like a bin of monkeys. That requires two essential reforms. A more independent speaker and changes to the standing orders. But we require both. That’s why I’m disturbed with the reports this morning that its alleged by sources that Speaker Andrew has said he will be tougher on the Opposition. We need him to be tougher on the Parliament. We need to clean up the House, we’ve got a once in a Century opportunity to break the gridlock of partisanship in the House. That means a more independent speaker and some essential changes to the rules of parliamentary debate.

JOURNALIST: Can you still have vigorous engagement without it degenerating into bad behaviour?

SWAN: We need vigorous engagement without bad behaviour. But you won’t get vigorous engagement without bad behaviour unless you have a Speaker who is seen to be independent, unless you have a fair set of rules for engagement. We don’t have a fair set of rules for engagement and we need to give the Speaker more independence. That’s why we put forward the programme of cleaning up the House, a move to an independent speaker, a rotational basis and new fair rules. If we have new fair rules and a more independent Speaker we’ll clean up the parliament.

Wayne Swan MP Manager of Opposition Business Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services

JOURNALIST: …. It was thought when Speaker Andrew’s position came under threat that it was because he had been soft on the Opposition, that was the view of some of the Government side. Do you think he’s perhaps given some assurances to his supporters that he would be tougher and that’s where its come from?

SWAN: Senior Cabinet Ministers and senior backbenchers were beating the drums right through last year and into this year that Speaker Andrew was too soft on the Opposition. What we need to do is to reform the rules so those reflections cannot be made. If we reform the rules and we make the Speaker more independent and we give him a fairer set of rules no one will be able to reflect on the Speaker.

These reflections in this morning’s paper on the Speaker cast a doubt over his independence. I’m not saying they’re correct, I’m sure he will take the opportunity to repudiate these reports.

JOURNALIST: Mr Andrew basically saying this though to his coalition colleagues

SWAN: No we don’t know Mr Andrew…

JOURNALIST: Allegedly saying…

SWAN: Mr Andrew has allegedly said this to his coalition colleagues.

JOURNALIST: But, it puts paid to any hope of reform?

SWAN: No it doesn’t. It most certainly does not. Labor is genuinely bi-partisan in its call for parliamentary reform. It takes two to tango. We’re on the dance floor. We want the Government to join us and we hope Speaker Andrew is there to have a good look at it.

JOURNALIST: On that issue of reform, will you guarantee that Labor will set an example in the Parliament this term?

SWAN: We will do our best if we get a fair set of rules and a more independent Speaker. We have put our offer on the table. We’ve said we will have a rotational Speaker. We offered to support Speaker Andrew. So we think he has his heart in the right place, but what he needs is a fair set of rules and he needs to be removed from the partisan parliamentary pressures that senior Liberal Party colleagues are putting him under. He needs to be removed from that and that is why our proposals will work - it acts at both levels. It moves towards a more independent Speaker with a fairer set of rules. We want vigorous engagement on the floor of parliament but it is always lop-sided against the Opposition in the absence of fairer rule sand a truly independent Speaker.

Now if I can just say a couple of things about welfare fraud - I know there is a lot around today. I notice that Senator Vanstone is out there claiming $20 million per week saved. The reason Senator Vanstone is out there talking about welfare fraud is very simply this: the Government is slugging up to 200,000 Australian families who have played by the rules but have a debt because of the debt trap in the family payment system. She is erecting once again a giant smoke screen over the Government’s family debt slug hitting up to 200,000 families as we speak - letters which were supposed to go out before the election last year but were cancelled, letters which didn’t go out after the election, letters which are just going out now. Where you have up to 200,000 families finding out for the first time that although

they had done their best to receive correct payments they have a debt in many cases around $850. This so-called crackdown on welfare fraud is a smokescreen for all of that, and in any case the Minister has not detected any more fraud. The Government is doing fewer reviews and at the same time it has introduced more complexity to the system. Throw the book at welfare cheats but lets not demonise welfare recipients and lets not use welfare recipients for a smokescreen for what Senator Vanstone is doing to Australian families. Thank you.

ENDS Tuesday 12 Feb 02 Web:

Contact: Wayne Swan on 0418 795 329 Matt Linden on 0410 643 525