Thursday, 1 November 2012
Days and Hours of Meeting
I present a chart showing the program of sittings for 2013. Copies of the program have been placed on the table. I ask leave of the House to move that the program be agreed to.
That the program of sittings for 2013 be agreed to.
The 2013 sitting pattern reflects a similar sitting pattern to this year—17 weeks. We are ensuring also that, in the first session, the Senate sits an extra week. I think something we can all agree on as House of Representatives members is that we want to ensure that the other place works as efficiently as this place does. So far in this parliament we have passed 436 pieces of legislation, including 182 this year. We have sat for just over 800 hours in 2012. On average, under Labor we have sat for 1,005 hours compared with an average of 771 hours under the coalition. This will enable members to plan appropriately. In the past, sitting timetables were often put on the table in mid-December. Under this government, that is not the case. I commend the sitting pattern to the House.
I commend the Leader of the House on one of his better speeches! I do not wish to delay the House at great length on the matter of the sitting schedule for 2013, particularly since most members of the House realise they will not be coming back to this place at all next year. So, rather than giving a very long speech on a schedule that is unlikely to ever sit or meet, I will simply note again that there are 17 sitting weeks. When I came into the parliament two decades ago there were more like 20 sitting weeks a year. Unfortunately, the government does not want the parliament to sit. When the parliament sits it is held to account, particularly in question time, and the government does not like being held to account in question time.
I note that the Senate will sit for seven weeks in the first half of the year. While the Leader of the House has said that we have added one sitting week for the Senate, which we know they will use very wisely, I still feel that seven sitting weeks in the first half of the year is not exactly knocking themselves out. I would have thought the government would have the Senate sit a great deal more so that we can get through the business of the government.
I would also make the point that it has become very commonplace for the Leader of the House to require that legislation be introduced into the parliament and then debated and passed the next day. In the last few weeks this has been very common, with things like the implementation of the report of the expert panel on asylum seekers; the unclaimed money and other measures bill, which is being debated today, the fair work amendment; the social community services pay equity special account bill, which was about pay increases for community sector workers; and of course the revoking of the supertrawler licences. Some of these bills we have supported and some of them we have opposed, but the point is that we have not had the correct treatment that an opposition should. The convention has always been that the bill should be introduced and then debated the following sitting week, not the next day. Only in the rarest circumstances is the parliament required to have a bill introduced and then debated the next day.
And then there is the new paradigm, as my colleague indicates, which suggested that this would be a parliament where there was more respect for the opposition and the crossbench from a government without majority, without legitimacy. Unfortunately, because of the short number of sitting weeks, the 17 sitting weeks that the Leader of the House has committed us to again next year, I assume that the government will continue to try and push legislation through that is rushed. We saw it with the carbon tax legislation. All of it had to be put back into the parliament. Many, many amendments had to be moved and dealt with because of the massive number of mistakes the government made because of its general incompetence.
So I make the point that the parliament is not sitting enough next year. The public expect us to sit a lot more than 17 weeks. We did not sit enough this year because of the short time frames for the government's agenda.
Therefore they have broken the conventions of the past, where we have proper notice given to us for examining and deliberating on legislation and amendments to legislation, and for that reason the parliament's work has not been nearly as good in the last two years of this parliament as it was in previous parliaments. But, as I have said, we will probably never sit next year because the government will call an election over the summer break and try to capitalise on the summer break. If they call an election tomorrow—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
The Leader of the House has said they are going to call an election tomorrow! I had better get my corflutes out. I have my A-frames ready.
I do love an election, as does the member for Wentworth. So, if the government wants to have an election, we will have one. We would love to have one.
Mr Turnbull interjecting—
As the member for Wentworth says, he often campaigns with me in his electorate because of the capacity we have to win votes for the member for Wentworth. I have increased his margin dramatically over the years. With that, we do of course support the sitting schedule as presented.
In conclusion, can I say to the member for Sturt that was not one of his better speeches. The fact is that this sitting pattern is appropriate. Once again it has unanimous support of this House. The member for Wentworth is very excited to get the sitting pattern this early. He will remember the dark days of the Howard era—or the dark years, as they are known—when we often got the schedule in mid-December. That is when we got the schedule.
The fact is that under this parliament 436 pieces of legislation have been carried. This is a parliament that at the same time has had a record number of debates on private members' business, including votes at regular intervals. Indeed, 16 items were dealt with during the last parliament. We have also operated efficiently in most cases with the Main Committee, which we have renamed the Federation Chamber. The Federation Chamber is not sitting today, apart from some minor business, because those opposite will not put any legislation into the Federation Chamber, therefore meaning that perhaps we might have to stay back later, after five o'clock this evening.
Last night we had to negate the adjournment in order to conclude debate. Once again we had an unnecessary division that denied the member for Wentworth the chance to make what I am sure would have been a much-anticipated contribution to the adjournment debate. When contributions are made in a constructive way, this parliament can function all the better.
The fact is that we have introduced a number of reforms, including to question time, as the Manager of Opposition Business raised. The Manager of Opposition Business suggests that they want to have question time to hold the government to account. Maybe today the test for them is whether we will actually have question time or yet another waste of time through a failed suspension of standing orders, which has now occurred on more than 70 separate occasions in the 43rd Parliament. It has occurred under this parliament more times than under the entire period of the Howard government, because the opposition do not have a plan for the future. They just have a strategy of wrecking the parliament day in and day out, which is why we see their negativity not just in policy terms but in the way that they conduct themselves in the operation of the chamber.
The fact is that the Manager of Opposition Business also gave it up when he said we will not be coming back next year because there will be an election. They have since 2010 had this fantasy that the government would somehow fall over. Each and every day that is what they have hoped for. The problem with that is they have therefore not had a plan for anything other than the next day. They have not done the hard work that you need to do in opposition to present alternative policies to the Australian people. That is why this week we have seen three question times and not a single question about the Asian century white paper, a major discussion paper on the future of our nation and the opportunities from the growth in our region. There have been no questions from the opposition about that and no questions from the opposition about Gonski. The minister for education is in the chamber here and the shadow minister does not ask any questions about education. The shadow health minister does not ask any questions of the Minister for Health. There is allegedly a shadow minister for infrastructure and transport. I am not sure that he is, because I never get a question from the Leader of the National Party, who happens to allegedly be my shadow minister, on the issues of nation building, infrastructure or transport policy.
I commend the sitting pattern to the House. I note that one of the reforms we have introduced because of the changes to question time with shorter questions and answers is the digital clocks. Perhaps we could have a digital indicator up in the chamber as well that could tick over every time a piece of legislation is carried. If there were a digital indicator up there it would show the government on 436, the opposition on zip, zero. Over the entire period of this government they have failed and last night they could not even keep their own people on the same side of the chamber on the wheat deregulation bill. They were characterised by their level of negativity. They said, 'We support deregulation, but we support it in a couple of years time, not now,' and they voted against legislation that is actually their policy.
It is no wonder Tony Crook sat on this side of the House and no wonder that there were two Liberal members from Western Australia who voted, in accordance with Liberal Party policy in Western Australia, to not support the opposition's negativity on that issue.
Just maybe today in question time—a challenge to the opposition—see if you can ask some questions about policy, just for one single day, and you might go out of this place over the next few weeks with a little bit, just a smidgen, of credibility.
Question agreed to.