Monday, 27 November 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. I refer to former Prime Minister Mr Abbott, who said:
You might not always want to go back to Parliament, but you always have to go back to Parliament, because that's your job.
Is Mr Abbott correct?
Senator Wong, although I haven't seen Mr Abbott's statement I accept from you that that's what he said. Of course, we're in parliament right now. The parliament is sitting: the Senate is sitting. I'm sorry to hear from you, Senator Wong, as a distinguished member of the Senate, that you have the view that the parliament comprises only the House of Representatives. The parliament of course comprises two parliamentary chambers, and one of them—the Senate—is sitting today.
Mr Turnbull and the leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Pyne, have explained perfectly clearly to you why it is that the sitting of the House of Representatives this week has been postponed. It is because we want to deal with the reforms to the law to enable same-sex couples to marry. The government has two particular priorities at the moment. One is to do that and one is to sort out the issue of citizenship, which has affected all political parties, although I'm bound to say that some political parties have been a little bit more forthright than others in identifying those of their members who have a problem.
Senator Wong, what we will be doing is dealing with the question of the reform of the Marriage Act, which I know you strongly support, in the Senate this week. As I said on the radio this morning, the Senate is the great deliberative chamber of the Australian parliament. The legislation of the Australian is forged on the anvil of vigorous debate here in the Senate, and we will have a long and thorough and I believe very historically significant debate this week on Senator Smith's bill to enable same-sex couples to marry, in which a variety of points of view will be canvassed. That bill will then be delivered to the House of Representatives for its consideration next week.
It seems like panic. In this game you put on a brave face, you front up and present an air of confidence. This seems like Turnbull is scared of the party room and the Parliament.
Why is Mr Turnbull too scared to front up to his party room and to the parliament?
Senator Wong—honestly and truly!—I must say that I myself am as calm as a cucumber. If you look at my colleagues on the front bench, you will see that all of them are as calm as can be. Senator Wong, you can come in here and you can quote words attributed to anonymous, unsourced coalition backbenchers if you like. But, really, do you think that does anything to advance the interests of the Australian people? It rather reminds me that in the last sitting week of the Senate, famously, the Australian Labor Party here asked not a single question about policy. For four consecutive days, not a single question about policy came from the Australian Labor Party. Every single question was one of those clever, smart-alec, gotcha political questions that excite people who watch Insiders but mean absolutely nothing to the Australian people. If you want to play political games, you go right ahead.
Isn't the reason Mr Turnbull cancelled the sitting of the House of Representatives that he is so concerned by the division and dysfunction in the party room that he can't do what former Prime Minister Abbott recognises is the Prime Minister's job: to front up to the parliament of Australia?
Well, Senator Wong, Mr Turnbull and the members of the ministry in the lower house will be fronting up next week in order to deal with the same-sex marriage legislation, which I know you care a great deal about, as do I, because we want to give this the government's first priority. We also want to deal with the issue that has been bowled up to us by the High Court about section 44(i) of the Constitution. And, if that can't be done during the course of next week, then, as Mr Pyne has indicated, the government will schedule further sitting days of the House of Representatives, not currently part of the calendar, in the week commencing Monday, 11 December. So it may very well be that there will be as many, or possibly even more, sitting days than were originally in the calendar. So, far from running away from the House of Representatives, we are fronting up to the House of Representatives in a way that reflects the government's priorities and, in particular, asking it to deal with the same-sex marriage legislation.