Business Of The House
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Precedence of Business
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Police, and Minister for Emergency Services) [10.01]: I move:
This motion allows Government business to take precedence for the currency of the debate on the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill. I have advised the Opposition Whip of my intention to move this procedural motion. The motion provides for question time, but not for matters of public importance, urgency motions or private members' statements, but only for the currency of the debate on the State Bank. The House is sitting today to debate this matter, which is important not only to the Government but also to the Parliament. The Treasurer's office, in good faith, made every effort to have the Auditor-General's report tabled and distributed on Friday afternoon. It was released immediately to honourable members so that they had access to this information. I seek the concurrence of the House to this motion.
Mr ANDERSON (Liverpool) [10.03]: It seems a somewhat strange process to cut off the business of the House after question time. The House is sitting today to consider the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill; a substantial and important issue. It seems inappropriate to take away from the House - should the motion be adopted - its ability to control its own destiny during the conduct of business today. I understand that this motion would preclude debate on an urgency motion or a matter of public importance. Given the somewhat uncertain situation, as we come to the end of the session, as to how many days we will sit and the enormous number of problems which emerge as each hour goes by in this State, there needs to be a mechanism to discuss such problems.
I believe it would be inappropriate to adopt the motion in its present form and, by doing so, to preclude the opportunity for the House to express a point of view, if it becomes necessary, in the normal course of business. It is all well and good for the business of the House to proceed up to and including questions without notice; that provides an opportunity for us to ask questions. However, it does not provide an opportunity for this august Chamber to consider a motion of urgency or a matter of public importance if it believes that to be necessary. Such debates would not take away from the House the opportunity to consider the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill, which is why we are here today. For those reasons, the Opposition opposes the motion as it is presently framed. We will divide on the issue.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Treasurer, and Minister for the Arts) [10.05]: Surely nothing is more important to the people of New South Wales at this time than the resolution of this issue. As the honourable member for Liverpool said, the House is sitting today specifically to debate the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill. We do not normally sit on Mondays. We are here today to deal with one issue, that is, the sale of the State Bank. It is a monumental financial decision for the people of New South Wales. The Parliament can make no single bigger financial decision than the one now before the House. The State Bank (Privatisation) Bill must take precedence over all other business. The Parliament has already decided to sit today to debate this issue.
The honourable member for Drummoyne said that several Labor members want to speak to this bill. The Independents will also speak to the bill. This debate could be concluded today. When debate on this bill has concluded, we will adopt our usual standing orders. We may be able to do that tomorrow. I strongly urge that common sense prevail; that the priorities for the people of this State prevail; and that the financial weight of this legislation prevail today and until the debate is concluded. We all know that a cut-off point is stipulated in the contract, that is, 24 November, as was referred to by the honourable member for Drummoyne. We are talking about something which has immediate financial consequences, as set out in the terms of the contract. Nothing is more important than the quick resolution of this issue.
Mr J. H. MURRAY (Drummoyne) [10.07]: The Parliament is not sitting today specifically to deal with the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill. On Friday I received a program from the Leader of the House which said that the House would come back to discuss ministerial statements, notices of motion, papers, petitions and questions. This House has not been brought back specifically for one debate; it has been brought back to function as a Parliament, so that the Government, the executive of this State, can be put under scrutiny. We have fought long and hard to debate matters of urgency in this House; we have fought long and hard to debate matters of public interest in this House. When the Government has a chance to knock out the opportunity for free speech in
this House it does so. If there were any logic in what the Treasurer said, we would not have a question time. The Government knows that we have to have question time. Question time, matters of public interest and urgency motions are of equal significance.
The Treasurer said that we have to debate this bill and that the Independents will want to have something to say. On Friday I was told that on Monday the House would debate the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill until 2.15 p.m., and then until 7.00 p.m.; I was told that on Tuesday we would debate the bill from 2.15 p.m. until 11 p.m.; I was told that on Wednesday we would debate the bill until 7.00 p.m.; and that on Thursday it would be off. The Government cannot tell me that it has not put time aside to debate the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill. It cannot tell me that we cannot forgo some of the time set aside so that members can have debates on matters of public importance or urgency motions - we are talking about an hour and a half. The Government claims that there is not enough time to debate the bill, yet on Friday it set aside Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for debate on it. This is nothing but a sham. We have been brought back here to debate the bank bill - as well as to allow the Parliament to scrutinise the actions of the Government. One way of doing that, beside question time - it is a very vital way - is through the discussion of matters of public importance and urgency motions. I believe members should vote against the motion.
Mr HATTON (South Coast) [10.11]: I understood that today Government business would take precedence. I did not understand that this would also apply to tomorrow and therefore wipe out the opportunity for other business, in the form of discussions of matters of public importance or urgency motions, to be dealt with tomorrow. That was my understanding. I think it was fair enough for the bill to take precedence today. Suspensions of standing orders are possible only by leave and I take it that the Government would not agree to that procedure. Therefore hours of debate could not be used up. Dealing with an MPI and an urgency motion tomorrow would take up at most 1½ hours, even if we debated both types of matters. I would be in favour of Government business taking precedence today but not tomorrow as well.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield) [10.12]: First I would like to thank the Leader of the House for the courtesy he gave me in notifying me that he was going to -
Mr West: You ask the Whip. I gave him -
Mr WHELAN: It is all right to tell the Whip.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the Minister for Police and the honourable member for Ashfield do not observe the procedures of the House, I will have them removed from the Chamber. The honourable member for Ashfield will direct his remarks through the Chair.
Mr WHELAN: What the Government is attempting to achieve by adopting this procedure is to ensure that the Treasurer's handling of the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill and the handling by the Minister for Police of the resolution passed by the House on Thursday requiring him to direct the Commissioner of Police to provide all the necessary information about staffing and actual numbers in the police force cannot be the subject of a motion. There would be no possibility of a motion of censure or no confidence being moved against a Minister of the Crown. So if we found - I am not suggesting for one minute that this is the case - that the State's Treasurer was implicated criminally in the sale of the State Bank, this procedure would prevent any Opposition member from moving a motion of censure or no confidence in the Treasurer. I repeat, I am not suggesting for one minute that he is involved in that respect. However, there may be some other matter in relation to the sale of this State's important asset that would warrant the House dealing with the actions of a person involved as a matter for urgent consideration. A motion of censure or no confidence in the Government or the Premier could not be moved. The whole purpose of the motion is to put a gag on the Parliament. The Government wants a Monday without examination in the Parliament, a free Monday so that -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Eastwood to order for the third time.
Mr WHELAN: The Government does not want anyone to scrutinise its actions or to make the it accountable for what it has done. The Government wants a free Monday so that it can peddle the stories about the State Bank and ignore everything else. That would allow no accountability in relation to the Minister for Police. He said that the New South Wales Police Department cannot comply with the will of the Parliament. With the passage of this motion, I would not be able to move a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Police. He claims that the Police department cannot provide the information; but it could whenever it wanted to. He has been dudded by his department and he knows full well that is the case.
What is the Government afraid of that would make it seek to take away the rights of members to move urgency motions or discuss matter of public importance? By changing the motion to permit MPIs and urgency motions only 1½ hours would be added to the session of the Parliament. It would enable the Parliament to operate successfully. I would agree to that procedure. The motion moved by the Leader of the House provides that the proposed procedures will apply to any subsequent sitting. So it will apply tomorrow and on Wednesday and Thursday. The Government does not want the ban on MPIs and urgency motions to apply only to today; it wants it for the next three or four days of sitting of the Parliament. I was asked about the State Bank legislation. I gave an indication to the Treasurer of the number of speakers we had on the bill.
Mr Fahey: How many?
Mr WHELAN: Ask the Treasurer. I told him.
Mr Fahey: Put it on the record.
Mr WHELAN: Excluding Independents, because I do not know whether they are going to speak, there are nine. So if the three Independents speak there would be 12 speakers. Eleven speakers at 20 minutes each is about 3¾ hours - less than four hours of parliamentary debate spent in dealing with the sale of a major asset. Is that a filibuster? Of course it is not. I told the Treasurer that this morning across the table. Whatever the numbers are the numbers will be. The Government cannot stop the Opposition from criticising the Government on the sale of an asset, a massive financial resource. The Treasurer is now saying to the people of New South Wales -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Drummoyne to order.
Mr WHELAN: - that he will not be cross-examined by the Parliament on the sale. He is going to carry that legacy because we will make sure that he carries it. The Parliament is being stifled; it is being muzzled. If the Treasurer thinks he has a great story, I have news for him: Opposition members will get out on the highways and byways, and the airwaves, to tell everybody in New South Wales that the State's Treasurer will not be cross-examined on the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill and he has wilfully colluded with the Leader of the House to curb the right of everyone to speak to the debate.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [10.18]: This is the classic sort of polarisation in debate that occurs in this place. On the one hand the Government is arguing that the House should debate nothing but the State Bank legislation for the rest of the week, it seems, and on the other hand the Opposition is arguing that we should debate urgency motions and matters of public importance and so on today. I make my contribution on the basis of how I understood the position when we left this place on Thursday: that today should be used in an attempt to mop up a number of speakers on the State Bank issue and we should then resume normal business tomorrow. Therefore, I wish to amend the motion by moving:
That at the sitting on Monday, 21 November, 1994, and at any subsequent sitting the Order of the Day for the consideration of the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill shall have precedence of all other business until finally concluded, provided that the House shall consider the routine of business at each sitting up to and including Questions without Notice.
The effect of the amendment would be that today would be devoted to the State Bank and, as I understand, question time, and tomorrow we would resume normal business. There may have been some confusion in communication or the Government may be trying to do a frolic, as the Opposition is good at doing frolics. The understanding of the Independents - I think I speak on behalf of them - is that, rather than the matter going on towards Christmas, we agreed to extend the week's sitting for an extra day to debate this very important issue and then resume normal business.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I advise the honourable member that I need the amendment in writing signed by the mover.
Dr MACDONALD: I have received advice from the Clerk. My amendment is to delete the words, "and at any subsequent sitting" and "until finally concluded". Therefore, I move:
Leave out the words "and at any subsequent sitting" and "until finally concluded".
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will not proceed with the debate on the amendment until I have had handed to me a copy of the amendment in writing, signed by the mover.
Dr MACDONALD: I now hand to the Clerk a written copy of my amendment, which I have signed.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield) [10.20]: The effect of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Manly is to cure half the ill - that the motion moved by the Government will not apply for the future and that debate on the State Bank (Privatisation) Bill be able to conclude, to which the Opposition will agree. I indicated in private conference and to the House that the Opposition agreed to that procedure. I am happy to name the Opposition members who propose to speak in the debate. This amendment will enable the House to critically examine a Minister in relation to matters raised for urgent consideration or matters of public importance. For those reasons I foreshadow a further amendment: to add the words, "and permit matters of public importance and matters for urgent consideration". If agreed to, that would add only approximately 1½ hours to the parliamentary session. Instead of finishing at 7.00 p.m. we would finish at 8.30 p.m. That is the drama. The plain fact of the matter is that Government members are afraid of the critical analysis of the performance of Ministers and of the Treasurer.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the motion as amended be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
That the motion be amended by deleting the words "and at any subsequent sitting" and the words "until finally concluded".
Mr Armstrong Ms Machin
Mr Baird Ms Moore
Mr Beck Mr Morris
Mr Blackmore Mr W. T. J. Murray
Mr Causley Mr O'Doherty
Mr Chappell Mr D. L. Page
Mr Cochran Mr Peacocke
Mrs Cohen Mr Petch
Mr Collins Mr Phillips
Mr Cruickshank Mr Richardson
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Mr Downy Mr Schultz
Mr Fahey Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Small
Mr Glachan Mr Smith
Mr Griffiths Mr Souris
Mr Hartcher Mr Tink
Mr Hatton Mr West
Mr Hazzard Mr Windsor
Mr Humpherson Mr Zammit
Mr Kinross Tellers,
Mr Longley Mr Jeffery
Dr Macdonald Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Mr A. S. Aquilina Mr Mills
Mr J. J. Aquilina Mr Moss
Mr Bowman Mr J. H. Murray
Mr Carr Mr Neilly
Mr Clough Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Doyle Dr Refshauge
Mr Face Mr Rogan
Mr Gaudry Mr Rumble
Mr Gibson Mr Scully
Mrs Grusovin Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Sullivan
Ms Harrison Mr Thompson
Mr Hunter Mr Whelan
Mr Iemma Mr Yeadon
Mr Knowles Tellers,
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Davoren
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Knight
Mr Merton Mr Langton
Mr Photios Mr McBride
Mr Rixon Mr Nagle
Mr Turner Mr Price
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion as amended agreed to.