This Government have given up – TONY BURKE

I call the [Manager] of Opposition Business. Thanks very much Mr Speaker. If I can first
of all explain what’s in front of us. This year, before the budget, between the houses
of parliament, there were five weeks on the sitting schedule
before we got to budget week. Last year, there were five weeks of parliamentary sittings
before we got to the budget. The year before that, we had—guess
how many weeks?—five weeks of sittings before we got to the
budget. In 2015—quite an exceptional year—we had five weeks of sittings before we got to
the budget. In 2014, we had five weeks. In 2013, we actually had
six weeks. In the sitting schedule that has just been tabled before the
parliament, there will be a fortnight of sittings before the budget. In that fortnight we don’t
even sit on one of the Mondays.
I’m going to quote someone who only last week was described by the Treasurer as a legend:
… what strikes me is that a government that does not have an agenda does not need to sit
… Unfortunately, the sitting pattern gives away what Australians know about this
government, which is that it does not have a plan for the future and it does not
have an agenda … Why doesn’t it have to sit? There are two reasons. Firstly, it does
not have a plan for the future for the Australian people. Secondly, it cannot rely
on its numbers in the House to pass legislation to win a procedural vote.
Be in no doubt: this is a surrender from this government. This is a decision from this government.
The last thing they want to do is govern. So they have decided,
having already explained pretty much that budget week will be
the final week before we go to the polls, that there will be a total of 10 days of parliament
sitting before the next election. They’ve already been in a situation,
from the first day that this parliament sat this week, where they had
to vote for things that they don’t believe in in order to avoid the humiliation of the
fact that what began this term, with the Leader of the House boasting about
it being a strong working majority, had become a hopeless,
dwindling minority. That is all they’ve become. The Leader of the House knows it and those
opposite know it. What’s in front of us now is the surrender
document. They’ve decided they don’t want to risk what democracy
might think of this government. They don’t want to risk the fact that they have 73 votes
on the floor and they don’t know whether or not they have a capacity to
govern. So, with that in mind, I move the following amendment:
That the following words be added— “and the following additional meetings of
the House are specified: Tuesday, 5 March 2019;
Wednesday, 6 March 2019; Thursday, 7 March 2019;
Tuesday, 12 March 2019; Wednesday, 13 March 2019; and
Thursday, 14 March 2019.” By virtue of those extra dates being added
to the calendar, we will get two extra sitting weeks. It will still be
shorter than it has previously been, because of the budget being early, but it will be
four sitting weeks instead of just a fortnight of sittings.
I know it will hurt the government if parliament has to sit, because the Prime Minister won’t
be able to have his face on the outside of a bus that he’s not
inside. He won’t be able to do that incredibly fair dinkum, dinky-di, trueblue
campaigning that is clearly working so well for him! What will happen is that the legislature
will be allowed to legislate. We’ll be able to turn up and
do our jobs here in the parliament. An additional two weeks of sitting
simply brings us into the ordinary parliamentary calendar. I love the way the Leader of the
House was explaining how ‘none of this was anything unusual’. He
said: ‘Look, you just put the dividing line between the second half of
the year and the first half of the year, packing as many weeks as possible into the second
half of the year, when parliament will have been dissolved. Then,
bingo, you’ve suddenly got a first half of the year, because of an
election, that will have only sat for three weeks.’ The concept of an interjection is meant to
be that it helps. To the crossbench, because this will come
to a vote: we have an attempt by the government to render the
crossbench as irrelevant as possible. We have a calculated attempt by the government to
try to make sure that they eliminate the risk of a majority forming against
them. They know already that it’s not going to be a problem for
confidence and supply—enough people have given them that guarantee. What the parliament
will be able to do, though, is debate issues. What the parliament
will be able to do is debate legislation. What the parliament will be
able to do is deal with amendments on a series of issues that this government simply want
to run and hide from. Take, for example, what they have done with
live animal exports. It is legislation that, the moment they thought
they might not win on the floor of the parliament, even though we’d been told the penalties legislation
was urgent, all of a sudden, when there was a risk of
it being amended on the floor, it disappeared, never to be seen again, just
existing on the Notice Paper and nowhere else at all. That won’t be the only issue where
this government are wanting to run and hide. What’s in front of
us now will be an amendment that will very simply allow next year,
because the budget is early, for us sit one week fewer than we ordinarily do. But for
anyone to claim that in the period from the beginning of the year to 2
April we can only turn up for a fortnight— It’s not even a full fortnight; it’s seven
days. It’s a government running and hiding. So I simply put to the House: everyone will
have different views on what we do on these additional sitting
days, but we should turn up. It’s a democratically elected parliament. Our electorates voted
for us to be here and to represent them. The fact that the numbers
on the floor have become inconvenient for the government doesn’t
change our democratically elected duty. I commend the amendment. For those people who
are the reason that the government is suddenly wanting to hide from
the parliament, the outcome of this amendment will rest on their
capacity to make the case for their electorates and their capacity to use the fact that we
are now in a hung parliament. I commend it to the House.

Maurice Vega

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