Thursday, 25 November 2010
Private Members’ Business
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
As a procedure wonk and someone who has a fair bit of skin in the game with the reforms that have happened over the last couple of months, I do want to put on the record the short history of what we have been able to achieve as a House of Representatives collective. In the majority we have done some good work in getting up and running in a relatively short period of time a better parliament than we had before. I thank all members for that, as it is the last sitting day, and take the opportunity to encourage that to continue. In that context, the Standing Committee on Procedure is looking at the changes right now. I would strongly encourage those who might not be getting their way this week to make a submission to the Procedure Committee, because six weeks ago this was the exact reason why the argument that I was putting to the government—for private members to have control over the vote in regard to private members’ time—should have been a principle that was upheld.
If you go back to the record, what I was trying to achieve on behalf of all of us was to have a set period of time—I think the time allocated was a Monday afternoon—for what I called ‘cats and dogs’ votes, for votes to actually take place back to back in private members’ time and that the executive did not control the agenda; the parliament controlled the voting agenda. Unfortunately, though, there was not support from the opposition at that time. The position that the opposition did take was to support the government and say that, no, the executive should have control of when the votes happen. In my view, the continued and prevailing view that hopefully we are culturally changing, and somewhat slowly, is the belief of the opposition six weeks ago that you would not be able to run a government if the parliament had control of when the votes happen. I lost that vote six weeks ago.
We have established a process now, which is that the Selection Committee recommends to the Leader of the House, whoever that may be, that a certain bill or motion is ready to be voted upon. Then, at their discretion but as soon as possible, the Leader of the House and the executive make time for that vote to happen in government business time, as we are seeing this morning. If anyone goes back to when the standing orders were changed, they will see we made sure that the Leader of the House in his speech did verbalise that, and so we at least do have that on the record. To the credit of the Leader of the House, he has not broken that agreement to date, but we are watching closely. We now have a process established where, through the Selection Committee, we refer to the Leader of the House and as soon as possible, depending on the legislative agenda, we then have a vote. That is historic—we are getting votes on private members’ business. That is to everyone’s credit.
As it is the last week of sitting now, I think it would be in breach of the process we have established that we start a process of individual members seeking leave to achieve their own agenda. That would not make for a working parliament during 2011-12 in what are tight numbers. We have established that process; we should commit to that. If there is any reflection about the original suggestion of six weeks ago that we have a set time on a Monday or a Thursday for the ‘cats and dogs’ votes, I would be more than willing to support a submission that suggests that. I only wish that six weeks ago the coalition was supporting that, in which case we would not be having this debate today.
That the words proposed to be added (Mr Pyne’s) be so added.