House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Federation Chamber

9:57 am

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

For all meetings of the Federation Chamber from Monday 12 September 2022, Members granted leave of absence by the House of Representatives, and not physically present in Parliament House, may participate remotely in proceedings of the Federation Chamber by the official parliamentary video facility, as provided:

(1) Members participating remotely must be present at either an Electorate Office or a Commonwealth Parliament Office;

(2) Members present by the official parliamentary video facility may speak only after being recognised by the Chair for the purposes of making a speech;

(3) Members present by the official parliamentary video facility may not:

(a) be counted for quorum;

(b) move or second any motion; or

(c) move or second any amendment to a motion or bill;

(4) notice is to be provided to the Chair, 15 minutes prior to a Member, who is participating remotely, seeking to make a speech;

(5) the Standing Orders apply except as affected by this resolution;

(6) contributions to proceedings made by Members present by the official parliamentary video facility will be recorded in Hansard; and

(7) the resolution on remote participation in proceedings in the Chamber, adopted by the House on 24 August 2020, applies, to remote participation in proceedings in the Federation Chamber as if they were proceedings in the House, as affected by this resolution.

Mr Speaker, this resolution is the next stage in an issue that I know is very dear to your heart and all members have a concern about, which is making sure that we properly respond to the various principles that were raised in Kate Jenkins' report with respect to the standards in Parliament House. One of those key standards goes to us trying to make the place as family friendly as possible.

One of the issues that the pandemic took us to was, for the first time, starting to acknowledge that there can be quite legitimate reasons that members are not able to physically bring themselves to the chamber, and how do you make sure that you're properly representing your electorate during that time. While the various lockdown reasons that brought TV screens into the chamber have passed, and hopefully don't return, that has raised the question: can we do better when a member is, in particular, on parental leave? Can we do better when a member of parliament is formally given leave for a long period of time, and that leave is because they can't get to Canberra, but there are other ways in which they continue working during that time and the circumstances mean coming this far is not possible? Is there a way for them still being able to formally represent their electorates?

In consultation with members, there has been a suggestion that often the best place to make speeches about your electorate is not, in fact, here but in the Federation Chamber and that that's where those opportunities often arise. I think it's also fair to say that, while we did our best during the lockdown period to find ways for people to make speeches in here, through the screens, it doesn't work as well as ordinary debate in the chamber.

So what's being proposed here is that we have a go, now, of presuming, on a permanent basis, that the screens will remain in the Federation Chamber but they will only be available to members where the House has voted that the people have leave. This is for two reasons. One is that when we vote that someone has leave it's usually for parental leave purposes but sometimes it's because someone's really not well and they just can't travel here but they would be able to travel to their electorate office to advance a speech about their electorate. They will be able to do that in the Federation Chamber.

The concept here is: if someone wants to take a period of time off—and the parliament used to only grant very limited time for people to take time off from sittings, if there was a newborn in the family. We're now being more reasonable than we used to be in making sure it's now a reasonable length of time. The flipside is: during that time, if someone can make a speech about their electorate, advancing the cause of their electorate from their electorate office, using the Federation Chamber, shouldn't we allow it?

This is the next step in parliament opening itself up in a family friendly way. There's been good consultation as I've tested this idea basically since the election both with the opposition and with the crossbench. I want to thank all members, including the Manager of Opposition Business, for their cooperation in this. It may require further tweaking; we'll see how it goes. Effectively, the reason we've limited it to where people formally have leave—I don't want to create a situation where someone really could have made it here but starts to use this as a proxy for not making the trip to Canberra. But, clearly, when the House has voted that someone has leave, we have all voted together—I've never seen a division on one of those votes—saying, 'This is a legitimate reason.' If, within that context, someone now will have an avenue for the first time, even though they are caring for a newborn, to make the trip to their electorate office and make a speech about their electorate to the parliament and get it recorded in Hansard, and their electors get properly represented in that way, I think that's a really good step forward. It's not a huge step but it means that, if someone is taking significant time off to care for a newborn, that time off will still allow them to have speeches recorded in Hansard, representing their electorate. I commend the resolution to the House.

10:02 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise briefly to put on record that the opposition supports the motion moved by the Leader of the House. I want to thank him for his collaborative approach on this issue. As the pandemic showed us, working from home is not necessarily an obstacle to productivity. Workplaces around our nation—indeed, around the world—have adapted to this paradigm shift, and the parliament should be prepared to, too.

Remote participation via video facility in the workings of the parliament is an innovation that began under the previous parliament, under the Morrison government, as we collectively responded to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Before the August sittings of the parliament in 2020, the then Leader of the House developed the Agreement for Members to Contribute Remotely to Parliamentary Proceedings in close consultation with the then Manager of Opposition Business, now the Leader of the House. I'm pleased to see this bipartisan approach continuing in this parliament with respect to remote participation.

I think this change will allow parliamentarians in the narrow and defined circumstances the Leader of the House has outlined to more effectively represent their electorates, even in circumstances where they're unable to come to Canberra. I think the limitation to members who have formally received leave is an effective mechanism, so that this targets members in an appropriate category to use this practice to give effect to their responsibilities to represent their electorate at a time when they may be dealing with other responsibilities such as family responsibilities or may have other reasons why they have needed to obtain leave from the parliament.

The coalition supports sensible efforts to make this parliament more family friendly. We are very alive to the matters raised in the Jenkins report, Set the standard, which outlined ways to improve workplace culture in the parliament. I conclude by confirming the opposition supports this motion.

Question agreed to.