Thursday, 3 September 2020
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020; Second Reading
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Watson from moving the following motion immediately—That the House:
(1) allow debate on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020 before the House to continue until every member wishing to speak on the second reading has done so;
(2) notes that this will allow members to explain
(a) the government's attempt to rehash a failed Abbott-era environment bill; and
(b) that the bill is inconsistent with the interim report of the Samuel Review commissioned by the government.
We've got members of parliament on the list wishing to speak. They should be allowed to do so. We're elected by the Australian community. We have a right to speak in this place.
I ask the Manager of Opposition Business to resume his seat and the Leader of the House to resume his seat, because I want to address the substance of what the Manager of Opposition Business is doing. We had a similar, if not identical, circumstance the other night, where the bill was called on and there was a suspension moved between the second and third readings. Really where it's moved is immaterial, but I do want to address the House on this matter and I want to clarify the Practice as it applies. The other night there was a lot happening, and I ruled that out of order. There have been occasions, including one cited by the Manager of Opposition Business where in December 2013—I think 10 December—a motion very similar to the one he has moved now was moved at about this stage of the debate. There was another occasion, which I hadn't recalled, in 2017, when I was in the chair and I immediately said no, until looking at the relevance of it. The relevant standing orders is 47(c). It says:
(c) If a suspension motion is moved without notice it:
(i) must be relevant to any business under discussion and
The difficulty the chair has is in making a decision where they don't have a copy of the motion and all the rest of it. Having heard the Manager of Opposition Business and his motion, which he has put a little bit of time into preparing, I will say that he is entitled to move that motion now but he needs to understand that the House will then make a determination on whether that motion is carried or not, and variations to it won't be considered by the chair afterwards, because otherwise the same-motion rule will come into effect—and I have the Practice here in front of me on that. In layman's terms, if the House decides against the motion being moved, that will be the end of that procedural matter. You've moved it. The Leader of the House had come to the dispatch box. I give the call to the Leader of the House.
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Watson from moving the following motion immediately:
That the House:
(1) affirms the principle of the standing orders that the third reading should happen on a subsequent day and that should occur for the current bill before the House;
(2) acknowledges that environmental laws are crucial to protect the environment and that we're in the middle of an extinction crisis;
(3) notes that environmental laws also affect job creation and investment certainty; and
(4) accordingly asserts that environmental law changes should be properly considered, not rammed through this House.
In the middle of a debate about environmental laws, we have a bulldozer in front of us—a bulldozer that's just wanting to charge through legislation, that doesn't want to have debate.
The Manager of Opposition Business can resume his seat for a second. I appreciate what he's seeking to do, and I've been more tolerant than I was the other night. Again, I don't have all the words in front of me, but I'm going to make a couple of points here: firstly, on the precedents—and it is a big call to call them precedents; I'd rather say on the occasions where suspensions of standing orders have been allowed and are directly relevant during the course of a bill—there's been a single one that has encapsulated the will of the House. He's now seeking a second one.
Mr Burke interjecting—
Just let me finish. I let everyone else here finish—mostly. I'll be as brief as I can, but I'll be brief for me, if I can put it that way. Secondly, on the substance of the motion with respect to the third reading, it might be historic, but it certainly doesn't equate to how we deal with legislation. I think I heard him say 'the third reading on a subsequent day'.
Well, I'm going to refer to the Practice, because if I were to accept that, really, I think I'd be accepting a second motion. I go back to the point that there's a difficulty for the chair when these things are moved on the hop. I'd be really accepting a second motion, when the House has actually said it disagrees with contributions on the second reading—that's the decision the House has made. I think what the Manager of Opposition Business is now seeking to do is to invoke certainly a principle in the standing orders not that Speakers have decided to uphold but that the House for many years has decided to uphold, and that is that the third reading immediately follows the second reading on the day of debate. I'll hear from the Manager of Opposition Business.
Mr Speaker, I'm not asking for a ruling as to whether or not you agree with the principle that is contained in the motion. What I'm asking is for the opportunity for the House to determine whether it agrees with the principle that's contained in the motion. That question, that principle, has not been put to the House. I'm seeking to suspend standing orders so that it can be—no more, no less. The previous suspension dealt with one issue only: whether or not everybody who wanted to speak on the second reading should be allowed to. The government voted the way they did. We've ended up where we are with respect to the second reading.
What would you say to the proposition that, if the House moved to the third reading and the third reading were defeated, that would express a will of the House? If we moved to the third reading and the third reading were accepted, that would express a will of the House, as happens on every other piece of legislation.
That's why I'm asking the House to have a decision. I'm not asking you to rule whether this principle matches your view of the standing orders. I'm asking for the House to decide whether it wants to suspend standing orders to decide whether or not it wants to affirm this principle.
As I said earlier, we're getting to the point where motions are on the border of becoming frivolous when we're trying to deal with the debate before the House. The House has expressed a very clear view with respect to the second reading. I'll allow this motion to go ahead, but I'm being very clear: this is probably the only time. I think the motion is relevant to the discussion. I think—and I do need to say this—that the argument being put is spurious to the extent that it doesn't reflect the practice of the House for many, many decades. I think the Manager of Opposition Business has demonstrated that the examples where it hasn't occurred are rare and do not relate to the motion he's put before the House. In my time here, I have never seen a member rise and say, 'I demand the third reading should be on another day so that I can consider the difference in substance between the second reading debate and the third reading debate.'
Honourable members interjecting—
No, hang on. I'm speaking, okay? That's about the only advantage you have here: having control of the microphones.
Honourable members interjecting—
So I'm saying to the House very clearly now that, in allowing this, I'm allowing a second motion. It is relevant. We would then have had a motion on the second reading and the third reading. Just so everyone's clear, so that no-one's in shock, with these motions to suspend standing orders during a bill—and I've outlined the history of it, the rarity of it and the capacity of the chair to judge these and them being done on the hop—I will not be entertaining another motion to suspend standing orders. The Leader of the House.
If a suspension motion is moved without notice, it must be relevant to the business under discussion. This isn't relevant to the business under discussion; this is relevant to all business that may ever be under discussion. It is, as he puts it, a matter of general principle. There are many times that you might want to debate a motion on matters of general principle, but it is being infinitely elastic to suggest that it falls within the terms of (47)(c)(1).
To that point of order raised by the Leader of the House: I draw his attention to the words in point (1) where, after asking the House to affirm the principle, it concluded with the words 'should occur for the current bill'.
Just so that we're clear—I'll rule on this very quickly—I'm saying very directly to the Manager of Opposition Business: I don't like the fact this motion's been moved, because I think, frankly, everyone knows in this place that we move to the third reading except in rare and unusual circumstances that don't relate to the purpose of this motion. I know, as Speaker, that no private member has ever complained to me that we moved from the second to the third reading immediately.
I'm just going to be really candid here: most people are walking out when the third reading is on because they regard the debate as substantially over after the second reading. So I appreciate what he's trying to do. I don't believe that what is being sought here is genuinely to give members an opportunity to reflect on this overnight tonight—to agonise over it for the next month!—and come back.
An honourable member interjecting—
Well, I think that the Leader of the Opposition is trying to do a good job of keeping a straight face!
That hasn't been the practice of the House. As I said, if I were to allow this motion, this would be the last one. But I am concerned with the argument that has been put. The Manager of Opposition Business has been at that dispatch box and spoken about if something doesn't happen or does happen on the government side. It sets a precedent, and I've got to take that into account as well.
I think we need to move on. I'm inclined not to accept the motion, I have to say, because I think that what you'd be doing then is really saying that every time we get to the third reading you're going to invoke a principle of the practice of this House which doesn't exist. That's my view, and it would be another bill on another day where a member is invoking a principle—a very strongly-held principle—that the third reading must have a gap between for people to consider it. That is not how the House has operated. Having considered the matter—and having the time that I needed to do that in not having had it before me, as I said at the start—and actually having even been prepared to consider that motion going ahead just a few minutes ago, that's certainly not in the interests of the House because it would mean that every piece of legislation could be disrupted in that fashion. So I'm not going to allow the motion. The Leader of the House.
No, I just want to check on this. The Leader of the House has moved the contingent motion. This is what happens when we get into this sort of territory. I've looked at this fairly carefully because we've had a lot of contingent motions to deal with, certainly in the last parliament and some in this parliament. The Manager of Opposition Business is completely right when he implies, if not states, that the contingent motion has been moved when leave for the third reading has been denied. The Leader of the House has moved it now. A contingent motion can be moved immediately when the second reading has been dealt with and that's what he's done. The effect is that it does cut everything else off, that's true.
With consideration in detail: the concept of the rights of any member to be able to move an amendment to legislation, amendments that are flagged in some of the speeches, is just wiped out. It's not like—
I will just say to the Manager of Opposition Business that he needs to resume his seat because I will now reverse the argument that he was making. That has not gone through—the House will now decide that. The House will make a decision on it. And you're speaking.
Yes. The outcome of this will be that amendments that were flagged, and flagged by members of the crossbench as well, won't even be allowed to be voted on. That's what the Leader of the House is saying right now. A member of parliament flags an amendment that they want to move, and the Leader of the House won't even allow it to be voted on. It's not just, 'We'll steamroll your amendments,' but, 'You won't even be allowed to make your case.' That's what the Leader of the House is saying.