Thursday, 14 February 2019
Business of the Day
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: standing order 66(g), which is 'That the business of the day be called on', refers specifically to the only other standing order in the standing orders where that phrase is used, which is standing order 46(e), 'That the business of the day be called on' because it relates specifically to being able to call on business during the matter of public importance and not at any other time of the day.
I'm going to address this issue. You can have a tete-a-tete on the subject behind the chair if you want to. Let me be very clear about this. When it comes to question time and other matters during the day, my responsibility is to call it on; that's why there is a procedure. I'm going to address this in some detail—
Mr Burke interjecting—
No, you can calmly listen. That's a good thing to do. I'm just going to flag exactly my point. That's why I say, 'In accordance with standing order 43, the time for members' statements has expired.' There's no hard finish for question time. The Leader of the House's point is right—that is, when there's a matter of public importance before the House, the Leader of the House can move the motion that was put there. Page 545 of House of Representatives Practice makes it very clear that the end of question time is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. That's always been the case.
Mr Albanese interjecting—
Hang on. No, I'm addressing the House. Page 545 of Practice makes it very clear that ending question time is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. There is no set end time and indeed, as I think the Prime Minister might have indicated, they have gone for various lengths of time. They have over the years, and that's been the case, even though there's a normal period where questions start and end. But they have gone longer. In fact, on 4 February 2009, question time went for 126 minutes. It's in footnote 22 on that page. No-one can call question time to an end other than the Prime Minister or the duty minister. My responsibility as Speaker is to this House. I did that on some complex matters the other day, and I'm not going to have devices to try and end something like question time when the Practice and the convention are very clear indeed.
Thank you for the explanation you've given, Mr Speaker. The issue that I sought to raise and that I seek to simply put before you is that this is a procedural motion that is put in two parts of standing orders. It is put once, as the Leader of the House referred to, with respect to the MPI. It is also put as a procedural motion under standing order 66. Where it appears under standing order 66, that standing order explains that 'a member may only interrupt another member' to do the following. It does not have further limitations on the MPI under that standing order. What I'm seeking to raise as a point of order is that standing orders provide for this to be moved in two different circumstances. I am not raising as a point of order that the Prime Minister doesn't have the right to delay as long as he wants in saying that further questions should be placed on the Notice Paper. What I am putting to you is that the House has the right, just as these other motions can be moved during question time. For example, (e), 'That the member be no longer heard,' is from time to time moved during question time, as is (g), 'That the business of the day be called on.' There are no words under standing order 66 that prevent the House from making that decision if it is so moved, and that's why I wish to move it.
I'm going to hear from the Leader of the House. I'm unmoved on the subject. I'll hear from the Leader of the House, and then I'll address it again. Before I hear from the Leader of the House, I'm reminding members that my role and my responsibility is to allow members to participate in these debates, and question time is not just one of them but an important one. The conventions in this place matter. Before I even hear from the Leader of the House, I'm going to say it is very clear when the business of the day can be called on. It is very clear when it is called on, and I'm going to be as generous as I can. Saying that is a standalone power when it relates to standing order 46 is wrong. It's either, frankly, a misunderstanding of the standing orders—and, if that were the case, you'd be able to walk to the despatch box and give me an example of when it had been done. It's never been done, and I think, frankly, it's not anything the House should even be entertaining. I'm saying that strongly. I upheld the rights of all members the other day. I tell you what: I'm going to do it again today. The Leader of the House has the call.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. You've been very, very clear and I'm sure the House understands your position. Just to the point of order that the Manager of Opposition Business raised: in House of Representatives Practice, it says:
… it is entirely within the discretion of the Prime Minister or the senior Minister present as to whether Question Time will take place and, if so, for how long.
There is absolutely no ambiguity about the length being entirely within the discretion of the Prime Minister. As question time has begun, it can only end when he or the senior minister who is present decides that it is the end. That's very, very clear in House of Representatives Practice, page 545.
Can I just say something. I know what's going on here. I'm not unfamiliar with procedure or what's going on. Can I make it easy? The message you're worried about hasn't even arrived. It hasn't—I'm just telling you.
Government members interjecting—
No, members on my right, it hasn't arrived and, even if it had arrived, in the ordinary course of events it wouldn't be dealt with today. Let me make a point about the Senate. Sure, they send messages over and they get dealt with, but it's not here—that's the fact. So we can argue about this till 4.30 if you want to. I think a better use of time would allow question time to continue. Why don't we give some of those members that don't usually get a question a go? That's what I think should happen.
If I may, Mr Speaker, I will only raise one aspect of what you've just said, which is the concept of whether or not me moving that motion was unprecedented. We are in an unprecedented situation today, where we are waiting for a message in a situation where the government does not control the majority of the House and is using question time and its length as a way of trying to prevent the House from making a decision. There are a number of things that have happened this term that have happened for the first time in the history of this House. As to the fact that it is without precedent, there is a reason why no-one has sought to move such a motion before.
You're right that there are a lot of things that have happened, but I'll tell you one thing that's not going to happen: we're not going to start inventing standing orders. Another thing that hasn't happened is the absence of an MPI. I think now I've got the attention of the House and everyone's here.
Ms Flint interjecting—
No, Member for Boothby, there's lots of time—I think we've made that point! I'm going to address a couple of points. It is a misunderstanding of the standing orders. I'd forgotten—and I know why—question time going for 126 minutes in 2009. I had. You probably had as well. Another thing that's happened, and I might as well address this now, is the absence of a matter of public importance today. House of Reps Practice also notes that, although members on both sides of the House are entitled to propose the matter and occasionally—very occasionally—a government member's been selected, it's now essentially the convention, since we're talking of conventions, that the opposition lodge the MPI; or, indeed, if a crossbencher lodges it, they do that in consultation with the official opposition. Given there was no MPI lodged today, this has deprived the House of an opportunity and deprived other members of an opportunity to have a matter of public importance. Question time is an important part of the day; so is the matter of public importance. It is meant to be just that: the biggest debate of the day.
I'm very disappointed in that—I have to say that—and what I'm going to do is encourage members from both sides of the House to submit matters to me and I'll consider them. That's how I feel at the moment, but I'm happy to hear from the Manager of Opposition Business.
What has previously occurred with respect to the MPI, on a number of occasions—not a large number—is that, when there has been a compelling reason for debate, the MPI has been withdrawn either by leave or by the person who wrote to you not being in the chamber at the time. It had been pointed out to me that that process was less respectful to you—and, Mr Speaker, you're aware that that had been pointed out to me.
And that is the reason that that advice was followed, and an MPI not being submitted at all, because of the genuine significance of the resolution that was coming from the Senate—because, of course, as you'd be aware, if that resolution were reported at 4.15, the procedures to start to deal with it would be interrupted at 4.30 and it would disappear from the paper and the House would not be given an opportunity to make a decision. So, if there is any sense at all that not submitting an MPI was a breach of convention, I simply remind you of the advice I was given as to what was the most respectful way to deal with your office.
In answer to the Manager of Opposition Business, I respect his intention, but I'm going to point out again—and he and I can have discussions about this, probably not now; it might be better to have them in my office—I don't think it is right for this House, for an official opposition now or into the future, to have hostage of the MPI. If two matters had been submitted to me today, by convention, I would have chosen the opposition one. But, if the opposition didn't put one in and one came before me, we'd have had an MPI. So I think he has to ponder that point. The MPI is not the choice of the opposition; it's in the standing orders of this House. That's my difficulty. I'm just going to leave that thought with him. If I'd had two, of course, the convention would be to pick the opposition. But I'm not going to let the opposition now, or into the future, decide whether or not an MPI occurs. So that's a problem we've got to solve. We don't need to solve it now. I'm aware of your tactical considerations. I'm just aware of what needs to be done in this House, and that's why I was very blunt.
If you're waiting for the message, it hasn't come. Even if it had come by now, it wouldn't be before me through the processes that occur and it wouldn't ordinarily be dealt with today. The Australian Senate can pass messages—of course it can, and it can send them here and the House will deal with them—but processes are not going to be altered to suit what might be a tactical issue of the day. I'm just telling you openly, candidly—I've checked with the Clerk—the message has not come from the Senate. It is not here. So I think all of the issues that you're concerned about are not going to arise today. We're in question time. I think we just should move on. The member for Boothby.