Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
That in relation to the presentation of, and reply by the Leader of the Opposition to, the 2020-2021 Budget that:
(1) standing order 31 (automatic adjournment of the House) and standing order 33 (limit on business) be suspended for the sitting on Tuesday, 6 October 2020; and
(2) standing order 31 (automatic adjournment of the House) be suspended for the sitting on Thursday 8 October 2020 and at that sitting, after the Leader of the Opposition completes his reply to the Budget speech, the House automatically stand adjourned until 10 am on Monday, 19 October 2020, unless the Speaker or, in the event of the Speaker being unavailable, the Deputy Speaker, fixes an alternative day or hour of meeting.
As advised to the Leader of the House, we will be supporting this resolution. We do seek to move an amendment to it, and will be supporting the resolution whether or not the amendment is carried. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted and substituted with the following words:
"in relation to the Budget sittings of the House from Tuesday, 6 October 2020 to Thursday, 8 October 2020 that:
(1)standing order 31 (automatic adjournment of the House) and standing order 33 (limit on business) be suspended for the sitting on Tuesday, 6 October 2020;
(2)standing order 47(c) (motion for suspension of standing orders without notice must be relevant to any business under discussion and seconded and can be carried only by an absolute majority of Members, or by a majority of Members present if agreed by the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business) be suspended for the sittings from Tuesday, 6 October 2020 to Thursday, 8 October 2020 in relation to any motion for the suspension of standing or other orders without notice relating to the passage of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Ensuring Fair Representation of the Northern Territory) Bill 2020; and
(3)standing order 31 (automatic adjournment of the House) be suspended for the sitting on Thursday, 8 October 2020 and at that sitting, after the Leader of the Opposition completes his reply to the Budget speech, the House automatically stand adjourned until 10 am on Monday, 19 October 2020, unless the Speaker or, in the event of the Speaker being unavailable, the Deputy Speaker, fixes an alternative day or hour of meeting"
Can I proceed with the speech?
Mr Speaker, I have a point of order. Standing order 121, Form of amendments and seconding, states under subsection (c):
The amendment must be relevant to the question it proposes to amend.
The substance of this amendment is to make procedural changes to a procedural amendment for the sole and specific purpose of one bill, which may or may not come from the Senate. This is a very similar issue to the one which we previously raised with you, and that is the contrived nature of pretending that this amendment is relevant to the question that it proposes to amend, when it is specifically, primarily and substantially devoted to one particular bill, which is not the subject of the motion before the House.
On the point of order, Mr Speaker: as you're aware, there's a large amount of precedent with respect to the moving of amendments. The form of the amendment that is before the House now fits under the Practice at pages 310 and 311, dealing with the omission of all words in order to substitute an alternative proposition, which is what this does. In terms of whether or not it is relevant, it is true that what I have moved an amendment that does more than the original motion, but it is certainly relevant to the original motion. Indeed, everything that the original motion does is still there. The motion only seeks to suspend standing orders for the purpose of this week, which is what the original motion did.
What the Leader of the House is proposing is, effectively, that you can word a motion in a way that makes it unamendable. That is a decision for the House. These precedents go back to 1905. This is actually one of my favourite precedents. It was about home rule for Ireland. The whole purpose of the motion was to call on the king to grant home rule for Ireland. The amendment was to not do that at all, and it was viewed as being in order. Similarly, page 311 refers to it as being common practice in this House for a motion whose entire purpose is to censure or condemn a prime minister or a minister to have amendments moved to it, all ruled in order, that say, 'Yet, instead of that, we're going to condemn the Leader of the Opposition.' Those amendments have been determined to be in order, even though they have done none of the things that the original motion has sought to do.
So I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that what the Leader of the House is asking for is something quite different to previous rulings. I accept what he says—there is a way of reading that standing order that would knock this amendment out—but the House hasn't done that since 1905. We have a wealth of precedent that something of this order is, indeed, in order, and I would put it to you that the best course of action is for it to be properly before the House and for the House to make a decision as to whether or not it wants to amend the motion in this way.
I thank both the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business for their contributions. The Leader of the House makes a reasonable point on the reading of the standing order, and that's certainly the case. I would be ruling in favour of the Leader of the House if the amendment was worded in such a way as to just tack something on to the motion that's there. I think, having apprised myself of some of the precedents, what's clear is that an amendment can't be moved to remove all words. That's out of order. That's been attempted before. In other words, the motion just becomes invisible. If you're seeking to have words removed, they have to be replaced with other words. That's why I wanted to hear the motion. I do have to say to the Leader of the House that when I heard the Manager of Opposition Business say he wanted to move an amendment I wasn't quite sure that that would necessarily be in order. But, in asking that all words be substituted for other words, albeit including some of the words that are there, I think the House is able to make that judgement.
I also think the Leader of the Opposition makes a reasonable point that the subject matter being included is clunky. Procedurally, I don't think that matters as long as the House has been able to consider the motion that's been moved by the Leader of the House and consider a substantial amendment where words are replaced with what's, essentially, an expanded motion. So, I think, on that case, from what I've heard, I'll allow it to proceed. Where we're at now is for the Manager of Opposition Business—you've moved it. Do you wish to speak to it now?
Yes. I've heard that the government's not going to oppose it, so I'll explain the reasons for what's in front of us. For a long time now there has been a question as to whether the Northern Territory would go from two seats to one. The Northern Territory involves, as we would know, some of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia. And there are other parts of Australia that have smaller populations than what there would be if the Northern Territory remained at two seats. I don't know whether there will be support in both houses to keep the Northern Territory at two seats. Previously, there has been.
This amendment says that if a bill to do that makes it through the Senate it will be within our power to make that decision this week and to put the bill through. There's a reason it can only be done in this way. Normally, if you have a majority on the floor on a particular issue—we might, certainly with the government saying they're voting for this; I reckon we've got there. But the only way you can prove that with a suspension of standing orders, normally, is to get to 76. We're not allowed to do that at the moment because of social-distancing rules; we can't get that many people into the room. So the only opportunity from the opposition's perspective to be able to force a suspension of standing orders is on the occasion the government moves a suspension of standing orders, which happens once a year, in budget week. So, for people asking 'Why now?', this is the one opportunity that is there for the House to do this.
I would simply urge all members—for the large number of people who've made speeches in this place on different occasions on their commitment to the regions—this week, the House will get to decide if this is carried—that is, whether or not we are going to reduce the representation of the regions in this parliament. I don't think we should, and I certainly don't think we should be reducing the representation of the Northern Territory in this House. I believe we should fix it this week. So I'd urge all members to vote for this amendment; to vote for the Leader of the House's motion, whether it's amended or not; and to use this week as the opportunity to make sure that we do not reduce the parliament's representation of regional Australia.
I think it is a very hard thing, to support something from the other side of the chamber, but, from a party that represents regional Australia, in circumstances where 80 per cent of our nation is represented by merely four per cent of the members in this chamber, it is vitally important that we not exacerbate that situation by the removal of yet another regional seat. We've tried for regional senators, and we didn't even get debating time in this chamber for it. I was bitterly disappointed by that, considering it was a unanimous resolution of the National Party Federal Conference. The Northern Territory and other regional areas—areas that have a lower life expectancy, higher unemployment, fewer opportunities in education; everything that attests to them needing greater representation in this place—should not be affected by us removing a seat. I want to make it brief, and that's basically where I'll leave it.
I would also concur—unfortunately, there is only one time when a suspension is moved by the government, and that, of course, is in budget week. We also have this absolutely peculiar situation where we wouldn't be able to get an absolute majority because people are just not here. Even today, I'm so-called rostered off. How does that work, in a democracy? So, by reason of the circumstances brought about by this pandemic—which, I must admit, I totally disagree with; we should be passing the standing orders to let people sit in the galleries—and by reason of the fact that my whole time in this parliament has been about regional representation and trying to fight for greater regional representation, I'm not going to be a party to anything that removes regional representation.