Wednesday, 27 July 2022
Days and Hours of Meeting
I congratulate those members who've just been put on the Speaker's panel. I note that it is, I think, the first time ever that two members of the crossbench have been put on the Speaker's panel. I acknowledge the member for Clark and the member for Mayo. It's a significant change and one that I think very much has the support of the House.
That standing orders 1, 2, 29, 34, 47, 55, 82, 83, 84, 85, 100 and 133 be amended, standing order 50A be adopted, and sessional order 65A be adopted for the remainder of the session, as follows:
1 Maximum speaking times
The maximum time limits that apply to debates, speeches and statements are as follows.
Private Member means a Member other than the Speaker or a Minister. Crossbench Member means a Member who is neither a government Member nor an opposition Member.
29 Set meeting and adjournment times
(a) The House shall meet each year in accordance with the program of sittings for that year agreed to by the House, unless otherwise ordered and subject to standing order 30.
(b) When the House is sitting it shall meet and adjourn at the following times, subject to standing orders 30, 31 and 32:
Figure 2. House order of business
47 Motions for suspension of orders
(a) A Member may move, with or without notice, the suspension of any standing or other order of the House.
(b) If a suspension motion is moved on notice, it shall appear on the Notice Paper and may be carried by a majority of votes.
(c) If a suspension motion is moved without notice it:
(i) must be relevant to any business under discussion and seconded; and
(ii) 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.
(d) Any suspension of orders shall be limited to the particular purpose of the suspension.
(e) If a motion for the suspension of orders is moved during Question Time, after the terms of the motion have been proposed by the mover, a Minister may require that further proceedings in relation to the motion take place at a later hour, as set down by the Minister.
50a Statements on significant matters
(a) A Minister may give notice of his or her intention to make a statement on a significant matter and deliver it in writing to the Clerk at the Table.
(b) The notice shall specify the day proposed for making the statement and must be signed by the Minister.
(c) Statements on significant matters may be made after prayers on a Wednesday or Thursday.
(d) After a Minister has made a statement on a significant matter, the House shall be deemed to have granted leave for the Leader of the Opposition, or Member representing, to speak on the same matter for an equal amount of time.
55 Lack of quorum
(a) When the attention of the Speaker is drawn to the state of the House and the Speaker observes that a quorum is not present, the Speaker shall count the Members present in accordance with standing order 56.
(b) On Mondays, if any Member draws the attention of the Speaker to the state of the House between 10 am and 12 noon, the Speaker shall announce that he or she will count the House at 12 noon, if the Member then so desires.
(c) On Tuesdays, if any Member draws the attention of the Speaker to the state of the House prior to 2 pm, the Speaker shall announce that he or she will count the House after the discussion of the matter of public importance, if the Member then so desires.
(d) On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, if any Member draws the attention of the Speaker to the state of the House between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm, the Speaker shall announce that he or she will count the House at the first opportunity the next sitting day, if the Member then so desires.
(e) If a quorum is in fact present when a Member draws attention to the state of the House, the Speaker may name the Member in accordance with standing order 94(b) (sanctions against disorderly conduct).
Debate of urgent matters
82 Urgent bills
(a) A Minister may declare one or more bills to be urgent at any time.
(b) When one or more bills are declared urgent, the question—
That the bill[s] be considered urgent
must be put immediately and resolved without amendment or debate.
(c) If the question is agreed to, proceedings on the bill[s] shall follow standing order 85 (proceedings on urgent bills).
83 * * *
84 * * *
85 Proceedings on urgent bills
(a) If one or more bills have been declared urgent, the provisions of standing order 31 will not apply and a single second reading debate on the bill[s] may continue from 7.30 pm until 10 pm that sitting, or earlier if no further Members rise to speak, at which time the Speaker shall interrupt the debate and immediately adjourn the House until the time of its next meeting.
(b) After prayers on the next sitting, each bill will be considered in turn. The question on any second reading amendment and the question on the second reading shall be put without further amendment or debate.
(c) If the second reading of a bill is agreed to and any message from the Governor-General announced, the bill then to be taken as a whole during consideration in detail, if required, without debate, with any government amendments to the bill which have been circulated to be treated as if they had been moved together, any opposition amendments which have been circulated to be treated as if they had been moved together, and any amendments by crossbench Members which have been circulated to be treated as if they had been moved as one set per Member, with:
(i) one question to be put on all the government amendments;
(ii) one question then to be put on all opposition amendments;
(iii) separate questions then to be put on any sets of amendments circulated by crossbench Members; and
(iv) any further questions necessary to complete the remaining stages of the bill to be put without delay.
(d) Standing order 81, providing for the closure of a question, shall not apply to any proceedings to which this standing order applies.
(e) Any division called for during the second reading debate from 7.30 pm until 10 pm that sitting shall be deferred until the first opportunity the next sitting day, except for a division called on a motion by a Minister during this period, and, if any Member draws the attention of the Speaker to the state of the House, the Speaker shall announce that he or she will count the House at the first opportunity the next sitting day if the Member then desires.
100 Rules for questions
The following general rules apply to all questions:
(a) Questions must not be debated.
(b) A question fully answered must not be asked again.
(c) For questions regarding persons:
(i) questions must not reflect on or be critical of the character or conduct of a Member, a Senator, the Queen, the Governor-General, a State Governor, or a member of the judiciary: their conduct may only be challenged on a substantive motion; and
(ii) questions critical of the character or conduct of other persons must be in writing.
(d) Questions must not contain:
(i) statements of facts or names of persons, unless they can be authenticated and are strictly necessary to make the question intelligible;
(vi) ironical expressions; or
(vii) hypothetical matter.
(e) Questions must not refer to debates in the current session, or to proceedings of a committee not reported to the House.
(f) The duration of each question is limited to 30 seconds.
133 Deferred divisi ons on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays
(a) On Mondays, any division called for between the hours of 10 am and 12 noon shall be deferred until 12 noon, except for a division called on a motion moved by a Minister during this period.
(b) On Tuesdays, any division called for prior to 2 pm shall be deferred until after the discussion of the matter of public importance, except for a division called on a motion moved by a Minister during this period.
(c) On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, any division called for between the hours of 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm shall be deferred until the first opportunity the next sitting day, except for a division called on a motion moved by a Minister during this period.
(d) The Speaker shall put all questions on which a division has been deferred, successively and without amendment or further debate.
[and see standing order 85 in relation to urgent bills]
65a Opportunities for crossbench Members
Consistent with the principle that the call should alternate between government and non-government Members and to enable crossbench Members to receive the call in accordance with the crossbench proportion of the non-government membership of the House:
(a) During Question Time, priority shall be given to a crossbench Member seeking the call on the fifth, thirteenth and twenty-first questions.
(b) During each period of Members' statements in the House, priority shall be given to at least two crossbench Members seeking the call (standing order 43).
(c) During each period of Members' statements in the Federation Chamber on Mondays, priority shall be given to at least three crossbench Members seeking the call (standing order 43).
(d) During each 30 minute period of Members' constituency statements in the Federation Chamber, priority shall be given to at least one crossbench Member seeking the call (standing order 193).
(e) During the grievance debate in the Federation Chamber, every second Tuesday priority shall be given to a crossbench Member seeking the call as the first speaker (standing order 192b).
(f) During the adjournment debate in the House, on Tuesdays and Thursdays priority shall be given to a crossbench Member seeking the call as the first speaker (standing order 31).
(g) During the adjournment debate in the Federation Chamber, every second Thursday priority shall be given to a crossbench Member seeking the call as the first speaker (standing order 191).
(h) For the matter of public importance discussion, the Speaker shall have regard to the crossbench proportion of the non-government membership of the House in selecting matters proposed (standing order 46).
Every time we come together after an election, the incoming government reviews the standing orders. This time the context is different. This time, we have all had to deal with the issues that were raised in Set the standard, the report from Kate Jenkins. There are a couple of issues there that relate directly to decisions taken yesterday and, I hope, today by the House. The first is a recommendation about the sitting calendar, asking that school holidays be avoided at all times. With the different states, that's a complex thing to do, but we have done that with the sitting plan that was adopted yesterday. The second issue is how we get through the business we need to get through without doing the absurdly late nights, including the really extreme late nights, that we have sometimes had. How do we sort that out? People, including the people we work with, not just each other, have had to be here in working conditions that are neither healthy nor safe. How do we manage to sort that out but still get through all the business and minimise the number of times that we're gagging debate? All of that has been weighed up in what is in front of you. Change is always controversial—I'm not expecting anything different—but I want to explain how we've got to the recommendations that are in front of you.
The first thing is that, if the House agrees—and I reckon I'll do okay on this one particularly—each day from 6.30 pm there will be no further divisions or quorums. This has come principally from caucus members who've brought young families to parliament. Effectively, what they've had to do every afternoon until now is, when it's time for the child to get to bed, check with the whip as to whether or not they could get a pair on that particular day. I think we can be more decent than that, and the 6.30 pm rule means that, obviously, if you're on duty for your party or you're intending to make a speech, you can't make that unless you're here. But, if people have reason to leave at 6.30 pm, there will be no quorums and no divisions each day after that. And we will plan the program to be able to deal with that. The only time it would be different to that would be if there were a suspension of standing orders, and you'd get plenty of notice if something like that were going to happen. And, with the other standing orders you'll see, I'm trying to create a situation where we don't need to suspend standing orders, where we have other ways of effectively getting release valves on different pressures. That's in response to recommendation 27 of the Jenkins review.
The other thing is that today will be the last day on which we start at 9.30. On Wednesdays and Thursdays we will now have 9 am starts. One of the things that has gradually crept up is that there are often times where there are speeches that ought be given the dignity of the House, and the start of question time is the only avenue we have to be able to do that at the moment. So there'll be a new procedure, and we'll see how it goes. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, ministers can put forward an issue—it may be that someone notable has passed away, for example, and you wouldn't normally have speeches at the beginning of question time, but, for the dignity of the House, it's appropriate that a reference be made. There would be a speech from each side, and then there would be the normal resolution sending it to the Federation Chamber, if more people want to be able to speak on that issue. These statements won't always happen, but when they happen they'll be on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And at all times from now on we will start at 9 am rather than 9.30 am on Wednesdays and Thursdays. So those are the statements on significant matters and the changes to sitting times.
The next issue is with respect to urgent bills. I've had some conversations this morning about some aspects of this, and I suspect there'll be some debate about it. I'm very keen to hear what members put forward, to see if we can find something that works for as many people as possible, but I'll leave that debate to take its course in a few moments. Up until now the only option that was available, realistically, when a government needed to get a bill across to the Senate was that the Leader of the House walked in here, having made a call, seconds before arriving, to the Manager of Opposition Business, and moved that the question be put. Then everybody who was on the speaking list from then on suddenly discovered their chance to speak had disappeared. Everybody who'd hoped to move an amendment found that their amendment wouldn't ever be moved and that the House wouldn't even get to determine it. That's been the only process that was available when a government needed to send something across to the Senate.
There have been arguments made back and forth, which I made when I was in a different job, as to whether a bill was, in fact, urgent, and no doubt those debates will still happen. But I want there to be another method that effectively allows us to acknowledge that there are times when something is urgent. I don't want the immediate cut-off of debate to be the only option in front of us. So, what I've put forward—and I understand there'll be further discussion on this during the debate—is a concept where the House will vote that a bill be declared urgent, so it will still be a decision of the House. Once it's declared urgent, speaking times go from 15 minutes down to 10. Previously we've asked people, 'Can you shorten your speeches?' and realistically not many of us are good at shortening our speeches unless the time limit changes.
A government member interjecting—
That's right. It's meant to be a limit, not a target, but we're all guilty on this one. So the time limit would immediately go from 15 minutes down to 10, and the second reading debate on the bill would continue until it was finished, up until 10 pm that night. You would only, obviously, stay past 6.30 if you were planning to make a speech, and, because of that, some people may well drop off the list. But at least it means that, instead of it being an immediate cut-off, with no-one getting a chance to speak after that, we would have a situation where as many people as possible would get to speak. So, instead of an immediate gag, it becomes an effective one, with shorter speaking times through to 10 pm that night. The procedure that would then happen is that we would do the votes the next morning.
In terms of how you vote on amendments, the voting proposal that I'm putting forward to the House is the same one that we used some years ago on climate bills. It was used when we were in office previously and it's been used on occasions since then by the previous government. The procedure is that amendments are voted on en bloc. Effectively, if there are government amendments, they're all voted on together. If there are opposition amendments, they're all voted on together. If there are crossbench amendments, you actually can't vote on all of them together. Because they're coming from different perspectives, they could interact in a way that becomes nonsensical. You need to deal with them separately, so that is what would happen the following morning. What I put forward is that those votes happen immediately after the second reading vote on the following morning, but I understand there will be discussion about that; let's see how that debate goes. That's the concept on urgent bills. It won't happen every time, but I'm trying to minimise the number of times that I walk in here and just say, 'We need it through straightaway,' and we're here for half an hour getting angry with each other, with no escape valve where people have had a final chance to make speeches and put their views on the record. I want people to be able to put their views on the record as much as possible.
We then go to the issues relating to question time. First of all, the 45-second rule that was there for crossbench is gone. Everyone goes to 30 seconds. There is one member not here, but the member who's not here does have the status of being the Father of the House, so there are normal nuances that apply there anyway. But all questions go back to 30 seconds, as it used to be. As with all speaking times, often the time will be much briefer than that, just as answers will often be briefer than the three minutes.
We need a new way to be able to deal with the order of who gets to ask questions. The way that it has worked for the last 10 years presumes a much smaller crossbench than we now have. So what I am proposing to the House—and I know this is controversial, because I've read the media comments—is that we go back to the ordinary process of starting with a non-government question, going to a government question and then just going back and forth, but within that there will be three questions that are designated for the crossbench. If more than one crossbencher jumps at a time, it's for the Speaker to judge who jumps first, but if that's organised then obviously it will just be whoever jumps. The standing orders describe where those numbers for crossbench questions are in the total number of questions. I think it's the fifth, 13th and 21st questions in question time. In terms of non-government questions, that effectively means the third question, the seventh question and the 11th question on the non-government side. That's part of the reason why the crossbench question has been pulled back from 45 seconds to 30. It used to be that you had no chance to follow up, whereas now there are later chances. I think the argument for the 45-second question is sort of fixed by having more crossbench questions.
We also have a sessional order here that deals with other forms of the House. In every form of the House—the number of questions, speaking times, the number of speeches for adjournment and things like that—there's nothing that comes out at exactly the percentage or proportion of the crossbench of the non-government benches, so effectively the number of questions in question time is actually a bit more than is proportionate for the size of the crossbench. In return, the number of adjournment speeches and other speeches falls a little bit below the proportion of the crossbench, and that's just because you can't get the percentages coming out in an exact form.
For question time, there is a new issue that we have to deal with, which is what happens when the opposition want—as from time to time they will—to be able to suspend standing orders during question time. Last term that never resulted in speeches being made. Certainly I can say it will sometimes now result in speeches being made, but not every time. You need to do the big dramatic build-up with production values to get that sense of urgency. But, if that happens, there will be times when we allow the debate to flow.
The problem has been that, even if the government of the day decides to not let the debate occur, that then results in a series of four or five divisions—on one occasion it was six or seven because it kept getting the procedure wrong—which effectively knocks out the rest of question time. If an opposition did that and knocked out only their own questions, it would be their own call, but now if they did that it would mean that the crossbench opportunity for later questions would also be knocked out. So I'm proposing a new procedure where there would be a third option. Instead of letting the debate flow or moving that the member be no longer heard, there will be a third option that simply says, 'I require that this motion be moved straight after question time, be moved at a later moment.' So the opportunity to make a speech will still happen, but it won't happen in a way that actually prevents the crossbench from being able to ask their questions. Although, from time to time, if we accept it and we move into the full debate, that will mean that other questions are lost, I want to make sure that that's not the only option in front of us.
So with all of that I hope I have explained both what will happen under what is proposed and is on the Notice Paperand the reasons for it. I'll start with what's behind all of this. I want us to have more debates. I want us to spend less time voting on whether or not we're allowed to debate and more time having the arguments that we are paid to come here and have. There will be moments when it is all agreement and nice—and that's fine—but I am not afraid of when there are moments of disagreement. The government wants that. Those opposite have been elected to represent their constituencies too. The crossbench have been elected to represent theirs. Under these proposals we will get a lot more time for people to be able to represent the people who sent them here than we have had for a very long time in this parliament. I commend the motion to the House.
The opposition has serious concerns with these changes to the standing orders, concerns that are only compounded by the fact that the Leader of the House is using his best reasonable voice. That should always put members of the House on notice. As the great Ronald Reagan said, 'Trust, but verify.' We're very concerned about proposed standing order 85 concerning urgent bills, we're very concerned about the reduction of opposition questions and we're very concerned about the way that this has been handled. With the text of the new standing order changes made available only very late last night, here we are, only some 12 hours later, debating these very detailed provisions. This is an extremely problematic way to proceed, particularly by a government that talks about a new kinder, gentler approach to politics. When we think about the furious protests we had from the Leader of the House on many occasions over the last nine years on these matters, this is really quite extraordinary behaviour.
Let's have a look at how proposed standing order 85 dealing with urgent bills would work. The first point to make is that, if standing order 85 is adopted, if a minister declares a bill to be urgent then that has to be voted on immediately by the parliament. There is no debate by the parliament. Under this proposed standing order a minister needs merely say, 'My bill is urgent'—newsflash: having being a minister, I know that ministers regard every bill as urgent—and then that means that the parliament must immediately vote on that proposition with no debate. The standing order as drafted says specifically there is to be no debate at that time about whether it's urgent or not. There are no criteria stated which need to be satisfied and there is no requirement for the House to turn its mind to whether it's urgent on the basis of reasoned debate—simply 'a minister said so'. And, once a bill is declared urgent—and, of course, with its numbers, the government can ram it through without debate—there is an automatic guillotine on the second reading debate at 10 pm that night. The next morning there is automatically a vote on the second reading amendments and a vote on the second reading of the bill itself. And, most concerningly, there are huge changes to the consideration in detail stage. The normal process is hugely condensed—indeed, effectively gutted.
Under the way it works today, consideration in detail is a very important process. An amendment is moved and there is debate on it. Any member of the House can speak for five minutes on an amendment—that can keep going—so there's an understanding of what is involved. Then you vote on the amendment. Then you move on to the next one. This is a detailed process, along with the process of the second reading debate, in which the merits of a proposition before the House are publicly debated and canvassed and considered. It's the House doing what it ought to do. But, under what the Leader of the House is proposing, these standing orders mean that, on the whim of a minister, executive government overrides the proper function of the House of Representatives as a mechanism of accountability and scrutiny. A bill is guillotined and there is no debate and there is no opportunity for the scrutiny that should properly be the role of this parliament. What is also not at all clear is the provision in the proposed standing orders which says that divisions will be deferred unless it's a division called on a motion by a minister, which means that the government and the crossbench can't have any confidence that a minister won't come in and simply move a motion.
This approach is quite staggering, coming from a government which talks, as it does, about a new approach to politics. We can look back at what the current Prime Minister has said on many occasions in this House. In 2015 he said:
The way that legislation has always operated is for there to be proper scrutiny from all sides of the House in order to assess what the real world implications are …
In 2019 he said:
That's why you have proper parliamentary procedure. It's so you actually have analysis and you improve legislation.
That's exactly the kind of thing that this mechanism will now prevent.
When the Leader of the House, in his best reasonable tone, sounding so innocent, was explaining what he is proposing here, he said that at the moment the way it works is that the Leader of the House comes in and 'there are arguments back and forth as to whether the bill is urgent'. There are arguments back and forth—the House doing its proper job. All that will be gone under the mechanism provided by the government, because a minister need merely declare a bill is urgent. We can have no assurance at all—we can take no comfort at all—in the fine words that this will be used rarely. There's nothing in this standing order which says it will be used rarely. It will be open to the government to do this on a daily basis, and the role of the House of Representatives becomes reduced to being a mere rubber stamp for executive government. The 'rubber stamp Reps' is what this government wants to turn the House of Representatives into. Indeed, with this standing order, we'll be right up there with the Russian Duma as a toothless legislative body, based upon what this government is proposing. This from a new Prime Minister who says he wants 'a new tone for politics'. Well, let's be very clear what this new tone for politics evidently means. It means ramming bills through rapidly with virtually no debate or scrutiny, and that is utterly at odds with the claim that the Prime Minister has been making.
We also have concerns in relation to the changes dealing with question time. Under these proposals, the opposition gets only eight questions. As the Leader of the House has just said, again in his most reasonable voice, question time is a bit more than is proportionate for the crossbench. That's an admission: it is less than proportionate for the opposition. Maybe that's based on high-minded motives, or maybe it's because he has a well-founded suspicion of where there is a capacity for deep and effective scrutiny from experienced shadow ministers, and he is very keen to minimise that scrutiny and accountability. The change in the rhetoric is quite extraordinary.
I make the point that the process has been completely disgraceful. There are many pages of detailed provisions which affect the working of this House and affect the way that we function as a people's house, as a forum for accountability and scrutiny, as a way that we hold a government to account, and as a way that we test legislation, improve it and offer helpful input. But, instead, what we've seen from this government are these lengthy provisions, dropped out very late last night, now being rammed through this morning, only some 12 hours later. It has been over two months since the election. There have been many, many weeks in which the government could have shared with the opposition and the crossbench the terms of these changes to standing orders. Frankly, the sheer conduct of this is a disgrace. But it is the content which is most troubling, in the way that it materially reduces the effectiveness of the work of the House of Representatives on the sheer say-so of a minister.
I acknowledge the Leader of the House in respect to this motion and the work that has gone into it, and the consultation with the crossbench in relation to these changes. It is a sign of positive engagement with the larger crossbench that consideration has been given to the proportion of the opposition that the crossbench now constitutes. That is reflected in the elements of this motion, in particular when it comes to question time and the amendment to standing order 65A, which is set out very clearly. On behalf of Warringah, I welcome the clarification of the opportunity for crossbench members to participate in this chamber. That is good.
On the element around decreased time for questions in question time, whilst I know there is some dispute about the reduction from 45 seconds to 30 seconds by the Father of the House, the clarity is welcomed around the procedure for when questions will be available, for the timing and for ensuring question time proceeds without as many disruptions as occurred in the last parliament. I should note that in fact it was the government whilst in opposition that often disrupted question time with suspensions of standing orders to make their point. It should be noted that disruption in the House has been caused by both major parties.
In relation to the motion, I have an amendment that I understand is being circulated. I move:
(1) Omit proposed standing order 85(c), substitute:
(c) If the second reading of a bill is agreed to and any message from the Governor-General announced, the bill then to be taken as a whole during consideration in detail, if required, with any detail amendments to be moved together and the mover to speak for a maximum of five minutes, without further debate, and any government amendments to the bill which have been circulated to be treated as if they had been moved together, any opposition amendments which have been circulated to be treated as if they had been moved together, and any amendments by crossbench Members which have been circulated to be treated as if they had been moved as one set per Member, with:
(i) one question to be put on all the government amendments;
(ii) one question then to be put on all opposition amendments;
(iii) separate questions then to be put on any sets of amendments circulated by crossbench Members; and
(iv) any further questions necessary to complete the remaining stages of the bill to be put without delay.
I understand that the member for Melbourne will second this amendment. In terms of the substance of this amendment, it addresses the concern that this decision to amend the standing orders for declaring bills urgent bills does in fact have the effect of curtailing the opportunity for consideration in detail amendments. That is not good. It goes against the purpose of this chamber to debate provisions of legislation. That consideration in detail stage is incredibly important.
In fact, in the last parliament when the environmental protection and biodiversity conservation bill was introduced I had circulated amendments, but the now opposition, when in government, chose to suspend the standing orders to curtail that period of debate, to jump across the third reading stage and consideration in detail and to go straight to a vote. I argued at the time that it was incredibly undemocratic in curtailing the purpose of this House. There are concerns about the lack of definition from the government in this motion as to what constitutes an urgent matter. It is taken at the moment from the Manager of Government Business's comments that these are urgent issues of national significance. I would request that greater specificity of urgent matters be provided by way of undertaking.
This amendment provides that consideration in detail is not done away with when matters are considered urgent. Unlike the old procedure of suspending standing orders, it means we retain the ability to move consideration in detail amendments. Debate will simply be curtailed, and opposition members and members of the crossbench must move amendments as a block and have a limit of five minutes speaking time on those amendments. I think that is a fair compromise between urgency of a matter needing to proceed through the House to get to the other place and respecting the purpose of this place, which is that we debate legitimately the effect of a bill and are able to put consideration in detail amendments.
I second the motion. In considering our position on this set of changes to the standing orders being put forward, one of the things we have to consider is: what is the counterfactual? What happens if this change is not passed? What would the standing orders otherwise provide for matters that the government considers urgent? This is where the opposition's argument is pretty disingenuous, if I can use a parliamentary term. What the standing orders provide if these amendments fail is that the government can come in and move that the question be put, and bang, we vote on it. Everyone who's on the speaking list would fall away, and if you were waiting to move amendments in the second reading stage, you would lose your chance to do that. When that happens, as in previous parliaments—and, I have to say, I lost count of the number of times we were ready to move amendments or give second reading speeches, and the people who are now sitting on the opposition benches came in and just said, 'Right, time's up; we're moving on'—we lose the right to even have a say, and we lose the right to explain why we're moving amendments.
Whilst I share a lot of the concerns about this proposal's potential for abuse, at least it gives a chance that we might be able to have a say in the second reading debate. If the amendment is accepted, it also gives us a chance to move our amendments and explain why we're moving those amendments, and then there will be a vote on that. That's not perfect, because when governments come in, as the last coalition government did, and say, 'I move that the question be put', nine times out of ten—if not more—you find the crossbenchers saying, 'No, we're going to oppose that.' I suspect that one of the things this will do is kick the can a bit further up the chain, and you might find people saying, 'Perhaps that bill is urgent, but I'm not going to vote that it's urgent, because I might lose my slot.' There's still going to be that fight. But, because it probably leaves open a slightly greater window for us to be able to have a say than we might otherwise have had—as we found out during the coalition—there's some merit in it.
I want to say two things. Firstly, it will not be guaranteed that everyone gets to have a say. There's still only until 10 pm the night before. Whilst the shortening of the speeches to 10 minutes increases the chance that everyone will get to have a go, given that we're now in a situation where there are lots of crossbenchers coming from different parts of the country and different parts of the political spectrum, who are not in a position on the government or the opposition, where one speaker could put their respective side, I would hope that, firstly, this is never used during the course of this parliament, but, if it is used, there's an understanding that that should not be at the cost of crossbenchers, who don't get a chance to put their position on the record. That's probably not something that can be built into the standing orders right now, given that we're debating these very quickly, but I hope that's something that the government and the opposition take on notice.
If we are going to be moving to this situation where there is now a limited time to speak—albeit with more speaking opportunities than if there were a gag, which is why, on balance, this is better than just moving that the question be put—there has to be some understanding that that should not come at the expense of the crossbench, especially Independents, who will each want to put their own independent position about things and may not have the chance to do that if the speaking list cuts off at 10 o'clock and they are the ones who fall behind. I speak on behalf of the Greens. I don't know if I speak on behalf of others on the crossbench; I expect I might speak on behalf of at least some. I place that there squarely now, because I think that is going to be critical to determining whether this is ultimately used in a successful way or in a way that truncates debate.
Secondly, I support the amendment moved by the member for Warringah because, otherwise, you'd have moved your amendments but, if you hadn't got the chance to speak during the second reading speech, you wouldn't have had a chance to explain why you're moving those amendments. Even though we may not get to have a debate about it, which is unfortunate, the ability to, at a minimum, say, 'This is why I want to move the amendments,' is better than what would happen if we don't pass this. Because if we don't pass this all that happens is the question is put. To that extent, I support that amendment from the member for Warringah.
It merited about 20 seconds of the Manager of Opposition Business's speech, and it came at about the eight-minute mark, but I think the opposition's real concern is that the crossbench is now going to get more questions, in recognition of the voice we have in this parliament. To that extent, we welcome the move from the government to recognise that this parliament—chosen by the Australian people—is a very different-looking parliament than we have seen before and one where crossbenchers representing different parts of the political spectrum and different parts of the country have a guaranteed right to ask questions. We should have a guaranteed right to ask questions. Question time is a critical place to hold the government to account, and one of the very clear messages from the last election is that there are other voices that want to be heard in holding the government to account and to have their issues aired. To that extent—and I appreciate that the government is moving these as a block, which I know will cause the opposition some concern—that just reflects the numbers in this parliament. All it does is it reflects the numbers in this parliament. Many people on the crossbench have sat through parliaments where our ability to interrogate the government and to have the issues that matter—not just to our constituency, but to people who voted for alternative voices right across the country—has been curtailed in the past. We have not had the opportunity in previous parliaments to ask the kinds of questions of the government that we need and to that extent I support the thrust of what is being done here, but I ask the government to take those concerns that we've raised on notice.
I'll start by saying something positive. I applaud the government for being open to amending standing orders to better reflect the numbers in this House. It is an undeniable fact that about a third of people who cast a vote in May cast their primary vote for someone other than the Labor Party or the Liberal and National parties, so I think these standing orders go some very positive way to reflecting that in the parliament, in particular with things such as questions. I would hope that with all the other areas of parliamentary business we also have our fair share of the action, so to speak.
I would also like to applaud the government for their oral undertaking this morning to further amend the matter of urgent motions to make it more workable and fairer. I think the member for Warringah has done a sterling job by getting that amendment sorted very, very quickly and I support it. If the amendment is in fact carried by the House that will go some considerable way to fixing the problems we're identifying with dealing with urgent motions and matters before the House.
I would like to take this opportunity to say I still have some outstanding concerns about how we go about dealing with urgent matters. Of course there will be urgent matters, for example, national security—perhaps some very urgent legislation to do with counterterrorism measures. Of course, there will be genuinely urgent matters. But I think it is very, very important, perhaps even more important now with this proposed amendment to standing orders, that the government—the minister or the Prime Minister or the manager of the House—comes in and makes the case for it being an urgent matter. I think it should be enshrined in the standing orders that someone from the government will always come in here and make the case and explain why something is urgent and not just simply walk in and declare something urgent. I think that will give some comfort to all members of the House.
I'm also still concerned about the amount of time for honourable members to contribute to debate. Debate will finish at 10 pm on the night of the day that something is declared urgent. It will finish at 10 pm no matter what. Even with the reduced speaking slots of 10 minutes that means there will almost certainly be some honourable members who will not get an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I see no reason why we can't be prepared to sit after 10 pm if the matter is genuinely attracting that sort of level of interest from members and other people want to speak. Sure, we should make this place more user-friendly but it should not be at the expense of this place operating properly. When something is urgent almost by definition it's a big deal. Maybe we need to sit after 10 pm and not be more concerned about getting back to a hotel for a bit of kip.
I'd also make the point that while the change which is contained within the member for Warringah's amendment—that anyone moving an amendment will be given five minutes to speak to that amendment—is good, I still think it's lamentable that other members won't be allowed to contribute to a debate about that amendment, or, in fact, to speak about matters more broadly and the bill before the House. I would ask that consideration be given on a few things: (1) that the standing orders include a mandatory requirement for an appropriate member of the government to make the case for why something is urgent. Furthermore, that somehow there be some open-mindedness in the standing orders that we might need to sit after 10 pm, and also that the matter be reviewed with an open mind to allowing other members to contribute during the third reading debate—presumably, the following morning. I would warn the government that if this change to standing orders is misused in any way, if the new government starts declaring things urgent that are not genuinely urgent, then it will stand accused of being just an echo of the previous government, which all too often—all too often!—would gag debate to bring matters on when they weren't urgent at all.
I would also take this opportunity to make the point that this idea that there won't be divisions after 6.30, unless a division is called by a minister—I think I have that right—is flawed. Particularly for us on the crossbench, how can we be sure that a minister won't walk in here and put the question unexpectedly on some matter which we might want to call a division on? Sure the division might be deferred, but we may not be here in the House to call a division that will be deferred to the next day anyway. So while that 6.30 rule is good in principle, while it's attractive at first blush, I think it is flawed in some ways, particularly as far as the crossbench goes.
The other point I would make, while I have the opportunity, is I received these amendments at approximately 8.30 this morning. I don't know what happened. I understand the opposition received them yesterday afternoon, as they should have. But what I saw this morning, on the first day of substantive business in this House, was a repeat of something that happened time and time again for the last nine years, which the then opposition railed against, the crossbench railed against and I'm railing against now. It's not good enough. We can't be given one hour to have a quick look at something and then come in here and debate it, and perhaps to divide on it. It's not how this place should work. We all know that. So let's hope it was a little administrative slip-up this morning and it doesn't happen again.
Mr Speaker, congratulations on your appointment as Speaker. I won't speak for too long in the House this morning, but I do have a couple of concerns. Largely the government amendments proposed to the standing orders have merit; however, I echo the comments by the member for Clark that we only received these this morning, which is deeply disappointing.
I would like to go to the matter of urgent bills, and some of these comments have been made by honourable members before me. I'm concerned that a minister is able to come into this place, declare something urgent and then the whole situation changes and the capacity for all of us to speak is somewhat limited. Some of us will not have the opportunity. I think that a minister, if they intend for this to be an urgent bill, should have to prosecute that argument to us.
This is my third parliament; I'm very fortunate to be returned. I do remember the previous government coming in, gagging debate and then supposedly urgent bills languishing between here and the Senate. In many cases they were never even debated or voted on in the Senate. What that did was diminish the role of all of us here. All of us have a right to speak on every piece of legislation on behalf of our communities in this place.
I do appreciate what the government is trying to do here, but I would make a couple of points. Firstly, that the minister should prosecute why it is an urgent bill. The gagging of the EPBC Act in the previous parliament showed that it wasn't an urgent bill because the bill never went anywhere in the Senate. There were members who had put forward some very good amendments who didn't even have the opportunity to prosecute their cases with respect to those amendments.
The other point I would make is that if something is considered an urgent bill and is something that would naturally be passed by the government, having the majority of votes in here, then the government members as a whole should forgo their place on the speaking list to allow the time to be given to those on the crossbench and the opposition. If it is so urgent, then just one of you should be able to speak for all of you. Otherwise, we could have a case where the government then fills their speaking spot and we're taken up to 10 pm, largely with the government all repeating each other's words. I would argue that, in those two cases, that would be somewhat of a compromise with respect to this matter.
Moreover, I would like to say to the government, thank you for many of the amendments in here, particularly recognising the size and diversity of the crossbench—for us to have our questions. But I am particularly concerned with respect to how urgent bills are declared—that it could be open for abuse; essentially every bill could be urgent in the eyes of this government, and we don't want to see that in this parliament.
Thanks to everybody for the contributions to this debate. I'm going to do something that hasn't happened in this House for a while—I'm actually going to respond to them and go through the different issues, which isn't how we've worked for a while.
First of all, with respect to the issue of when the motion is moved, before it being moved—the minister giving reasons and making the case to the House—the minister overwhelmingly will be me, and I'm very happy to give that undertaking to the House. So, I hear that point.
Opposition members interjecting—
And I hear those opposite interjecting. Don't forget that up until now all that's happened is that the entire justification has been the words 'that the question be put'. That's the entire justification that we've had. Everything in front of us now is a significant improvement on where we've been for a very long time. But I'm happy to give that undertaking.
The member for Clark also raised the 10 pm finish time. I will tell you that I originally had it unlimited when I started consultation with the crossbench on this issue and the Jenkins issues were raised with me, and the concerns about that. That's why we've landed at 10 pm. I'm just very conscious that we start taking as much heed of that report as possible, and let's see how we go. But I'm very hopeful about the 10 pm cut-off—I wanted a process that meant everyone could have their speeches, and hopefully overwhelmingly that is what will happen. You usually find in these situations that you get fewer government members; I don't think it's reasonable to expect none, but you usually do find that you get fewer government members in these situations. That's the story behind how the 10 pm cut-off came into the standing orders.
In terms of the amendment from the member for Warringah, I hear the arguments that have been made. It's not my starting point, to be honest, because I'd like to think that when we get to the next morning we just have all of the votes. But I do believe that a reasonable case has been made in the speeches that have come from the crossbench about making sure that at least the mover gets to speak. Effectively the full in-detail stage, if we had that, can go for as long as people want to keep jumping, because everyone gets more than one speech, and then we're undoing the concept of something being urgent. So, in the terms in which the amendment is being moved, I'm happy to indicate that the government will be voting in favour of that amendment.
I would also say that the added advantage of the amendment is that there will be a reporting to the House of what people are about to vote on. Given that last term we had two occasions where ministers gave speeches on the wrong bill, I think that having people being reminded of what they're about to vote on by the mover, giving the reasons, is a pretty healthy thing for the House.
An honourable member interjecting—
They rewarded him with the Treasury portfolio!
Going to the comments that were made in the debate by Manager of Opposition Business: wow! Men in Black ends with that 'Neuralyzer' thing, which lets you forget the entire movie! You didn't have the sunglasses on, clearly, because the entire nine years apparently didn't happen: the entire nine years of coming in, steamrolling debate, stopping people—with the speaking list cutting off immediately and with no-one being allowed to move any amendments whatsoever—so that a bill could then be sent to the Senate and never brought on for debate there. That was the way this place ran. So I can understand why the Manager of Opposition Business is becoming passionate about this—'How dare the situation improve in terms of debate!'—because it is about to improve. That's what these standing order changes will do.
He said, 'There'll be no debate in the House about whether or not it's urgent.' Let's just unpack that. First of all, he's saying he wants a situation where we decide something's urgent, spend an hour deciding whether or not it's urgent and, as a result of that, take an hour of debate away from the bill that the House decided is urgent. On the second thing he's suggesting there, in saying there'll be no debate on whether it's urgent—how much debate do you reckon there is when you move that the question be put? How much debate happens then? The mover doesn't give a reason; no-one's allowed to say a word, under standing orders; and then the entire debate on the bill stops. But apparently that was fine for all that time. What happens to the in-detail process? 'Oh, there won't be enough argument on the in-detail process.' There used to be none! That was how you ran the parliament. This stopped being a debating chamber. This stopped being a situation where the arguments would go back and forth—and, can I say, this length of debate on standing orders was never allowed to happen either, because by now you would have moved that the question be put! That's what would have happened.
And then he raised opposition questions. How outrageous is it that, if there are more people on the crossbench, they get more questions. Part of what he said was that I'd made an admission, where I'd said that, in proportion, it's a bit more than the exact percentage of the crossbench. I'd like to know—you can let us know—exactly how do you give the crossbench 21.62 per cent of questions? Exactly how do you do that without rounding? It's an interesting argument. I'm on to discovering how you can do that. If there's a formula you've come up with, where you take away the number you first thought of and there's an answer to it, then we can look at that at a later time. Of course, it was always going to involve rounding, and what he's really saying is that rounding up is outrageous but that rounding down would have been fine. That's exactly what he's saying here. There's no objection to any of the areas in the sessional order where the opposition gets more than its proportion of speeches, on the non-government benches, but there's outrage about questions being rounded in any way.
But I am pleased to hear that apparently we are terrified of the high quality of their questions. Just hold this thought for 2.00 pm today, because apparently by three o'clock the government will have been destroyed. It's all going to be over and it's all on the Manager of Opposition Business. That's great expectation setting, and I'm glad he's done that, but the expectations for this House have been set in a bad way for nine years. For nine years this stopped being a debating chamber. Standing orders will always be imperfect, because you're dealing with what the rules will be for debates that have not yet occurred. They'll always be imperfect. But what I can guarantee is that what's in front of us now is so much better than nine years of spending hour after hour in here voting on whether or not people were allowed to talk. That's what happened. It wasn't fair in terms of this being a debating chamber, and it certainly wasn't fair on the millions of Australians who hadn't voted for the Liberal or National parties. So now, yes, there's going to be debate, and there'll be times when the opposition make speeches that I won't particularly enjoy hearing—that's fine. That's the way this place is meant to work. I commend both the amendment and the resolution to the House.