Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Days and Hours of Meeting
When the Liberals couldn't decide who they wanted to be the Prime Minister they shut the parliament down for six hours. Now that they've decided who he is they're going to shut it down for six months! They don't want the capacity for him to be questioned in here.
I have been through a parliament where that government did not have the majority. What can happen in that sort of parliament is that you get things done that the Australian people want. And when the government has goodwill, it will work with the crossbenchers to make that parliament effective. When we had the minority government in 2010, we sat for the full allocation of sitting weeks and we got things done. Yes, it was the case that during that time there were some motions and proposals that got put through the parliament that didn't necessarily have the government's support at the beginning. But they got there because people across the political spectrum worked together. That's what happened.
If you have goodwill and if you have the interests of the people at heart you can make a minority government work. But this is a calendar from a government that wants to hide—that wants to hide as much as possible between now and the next election. They've brought on an early budget; it's their right to do that. But it is not their right to say that everyone else who sits here in this parliament, representing people from across Australia, has no capacity to hold the government to account just because the government wants to have an early budget because they want to go to an election at the time of their own choosing.
One of the things that's particularly egregious about this sitting calendar is what it means for the role of the Senate. I understand why the government is scared of the Senate. We've already seen, on the first day back in this parliament, the Senate expressing its will that we need a national integrity commission—a national commission against corruption—bringing that down to the House and the House supporting that. That's because the Senate is a place that has a greater diversity of opinion in it, probably, than the House of Representatives does because of the different electoral systems. And there are many more things that the Senate could do to hold this government to account—just like it did with the national ICAC and just like it did with the royal commission into the banks.
I suspect there is a reason that the government is basically saying that the Senate will only sit for six days next year before we go to an election. And then after the election is called we may not resume until August, meaning that the Senate in this country will only sit for six days in the first six months of next year. That is an outrageous attempt to hide from accountability. One of the purposes of the Senate is to be a house of review, and the Senate is there to hold the government to account, just as the opposition and the crossbenchers have the right to do here. The Senate is there to scrutinise what the government does and, increasingly, the Senate is standing up to this government.
The answer is not to cancel the Senate sittings; the answer is to come up with better legislation. The answer is to come up with a climate policy. The answer is to say, 'We will go ahead with an integrity commission.' But to simply say, 'We are not going to allow the Senate to sit for more than six days before the election next year,' is outrageous. When most people in this country realise that this government is attempting to hide from scrutiny, this is going to come back to bite the government at the election.
The Senate and the House have voted, as we did yesterday, to say trust in government and trust in politicians is at an all-time low, which is one of the reasons why we need a national integrity commission. The message from that should be loud and clear: people do not want governments hiding from accountability; people want governments to be held to account for the decisions that they make. So it would actually be in the government's interests, if they have any interest at all in improving their own electoral stocks—I hope they don't, but if they do—for them to say: 'Yes, we're quite happy to have the Senate sit the usual allocation of weeks. We're quite happy to be held to account by the opposition and the crossbenchers.' You would imagine the government would say: 'We've got a wonderful program. Let's bring it to parliament to test it.' But, no. This is the most cowardly calendar I have seen. This is a calendar written by cowards. This is a calendar that is attempting to hide the government from the scrutiny of the crossbench, the scrutiny of the Senate.
I support the amendment to have the House and the Senate sitting for those additional weeks so that before we go to an election we don't have a situation where the government just drops a budget on us and we have no time to scrutinise it, and so we're asked to take them on trust. No. No. We should have the capacity, before the government are put to the test of the Australian people, which is likely to be in May—in May—to scrutinise them. The Senate should have the right to sit for more than six days before May to be able to hold this government to account and to make its case. The House of Representatives should have the capacity to sit for—it will sit for less than three full weeks before the government will call an election. To go to an election next year with a parliament, and this House of Representatives, having sat for fewer than 10 days—no; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10. It is 10 days. That is all the scrutiny that we're going to be able to put on them in here before an election. It speaks volumes about the cowardice of this government and it's why the amendment should be supported.