Consideration of Urgent Motions
|About this Item||Subjects||Asbestos; Fire Brigades; Industrial Relations; Law and Legislation: Federal; Planning and Development; Rescue and Emergency Services
||Speakers||Keneally Ms Kristina; Humpherson Mr Andrew; Speaker
||Business||Consideration of Urgent Motion, Division, Motion
||Commentary|| Procedural Debate to determine precedence
Federal Government Industrial Relations Legislation
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY (Heffron) [3.33 p.m.]: This matter is urgent because the rights of workers are under attack by the Howard Government's WorkChoices industrial relations system. WorkChoices is a direct attack on the working conditions and living standards of ordinary Australians. WorkChoices is really no choices and no protection, and will only produce confusion and complexity for both employers and employees. Up till now the Opposition has supported WorkChoices and its attack on the lives of people in New South Wales. This motion is urgent because this is the day the Opposition can decide whether it stands with us in standing up for New South Wales workers or whether it stands with John Howard and his destructive industrial relations system.
This matter is urgent because we expect today the New South Wales Government's legislation, the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill and the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill, to protect front-line workers in this State, will come back to the Legislative Assembly from the other place. It will be time for the Opposition to say where it stands. Does it stand with the front-line workers in New South Wales or does it kowtow to Howard and Heffernan in Canberra? This matter is urgent because this morning the New South Wales Government took its challenge to the WorkChoices legislation before the High Court. The matter has been set down for 4 May and the New South Wales Government will take the lead submission in the case. Today is the day the Opposition can tell the people if it will stand with the Iemma Government and challenge the legislation or if it will stand with Howard and the WorkChoices attack on the people of New South Wales.
This matter is urgent because the people of New South Wales need to know if the member for Vaucluse's latest policy reversal on industrial relations is genuine. The High Court challenge is about to start, the WorkChoices system is looming. Today we hear reports that the member for Vaucluse will support the industrial relations legislation that will shield New South Wales front-line workers. The question is: will the member for Vaucluse join with the Iemma Government, stand up for the rights of all workers in New South Wales, completely reject the Howard Government's WorkChoices package and support our High Court challenge?
Holsworthy Army Barracks Asbestos Contamination
Mr ANDREW HUMPHERSON (Davidson) [3.36 p.m.]: I urge members of the House to support the following urgent motion:
That this House condemns the Iemma Government for withholding information on asbestos risks for six months and allowing firefighters, media and officials to be exposed to asbestos at the Holsworthy training site.
There could be nothing more urgent than to consider the impact on over 700 emergency services personnel who were exposed at least six months ago to asbestos. This Government knew about the asbestos at least six months ago and did nothing about it. It did not address the risk and it did not even tell those personnel and their families that their health had been compromised. Nothing could be more urgent than that.
This Government failed completely in its duty of care. It was completely negligent in failing to ensure that it protected and preserved the interests of those personnel. There is a whole range of questions which the Government has failed to respond to or explain over the past 48 hours. Many people have been exposed to the risk of asbestos at the Holsworthy site and the Government has hidden behind some brief statements that said, among other things, the level of risk was minimal and that the matter was being investigated. We know this site has been used for 18 months. Clearly insufficient checks and tests were done before training commenced at the site. We do not know exactly when concerns were first raised but it must have been early in that period. Why was action not taken earlier? Why were reports not called for earlier?
Mr Tony Stewart: Point of order: the member is putting forward a substantive argument. In contradiction of the standing orders, he is not arguing the merits of urgency. I request that you ask him to argue urgency and not a substantive debate on the issue. This is not the time for it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Davidson well knows the standing orders. I draw his attention to them.
Mr ANDREW HUMPHERSON: I would refer to the member opposite as a halfwit but I would exaggerate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Davidson also knows that his language is unparliamentary.
Mr ANDREW HUMPHERSON: There can be nothing more urgent than to discuss the failure of this Government to protect the health interests of over 700 personnel and their families. Everybody knows the risk that asbestos poses and that there is an enormously long incubation period before anyone knows that they have been affected. Those volunteers who trained at Holsworthy and their families will not know for sure if they have been affected by asbestos for 10, 20 or 30 years. The Government has not even had the decency to apologise.
Mr Tony Stewart: Point of order: I do not wish to argue the cognitive skills of the honourable member for Davidson, but he must argue why his motion is urgent; he must not debate the substantive motion. I remind the honourable member that he is in contravention of the standing orders.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Once again I draw the attention of the honourable member for Davidson to the standing orders of the House and ask him to comply with them.
Mr ANDREW HUMPHERSON: There is nothing more urgent than for this House to debate the issue and ensure that the Government comes clean on everything it knew, not just when reports were received but when various senior personnel were given verbal advice and why action was not taken earlier. Why was advice not given to those personnel six months ago? Why was action not taken to ensure that nobody accessed the site? Why was remediation work not carried out at a much earlier stage? All these questions should be answered today. People are entitled to answers because they and their families have been affected. They are entitled to be given more information than they have received so far. It is not good enough to say that there is an ongoing investigation. These issues should have been addressed much earlier. It is not good enough for the Premier, Ministers or senior personnel to say that they were not told. They have a duty of care to ensure appropriate procedures are in place to ensure that they are advised when such matters occur. Failure to do so means they have failed in their obligations. No matter could be more urgent than the health and welfare of those personnel. [Time expired.]
Mr Andrew Fraser: Point of order: I draw your attention, and that of the House to Standing Order No. 120. I raised this matter with you yesterday, at your chair. Standing Order No. 120 (4) (a) states:
The Members giving the notices shall each be permitted to make statements of up to 5 minutes so the House may establish the priority of such matters.
Nothing in the standing order refers to urgency. Both motions are for urgent consideration. According to the standing orders of the House, honourable members are not required to establish the urgency of the motion; they are required to establish priority. It is laughable that Government members regularly ask us to decide whether a motion is urgent. It is not about urgency. The standing orders clearly state "priority" not "urgency". Mr Speaker, you accepted both motions prior to question time as urgent motions. Government members waste Opposition members' speaking time. On every occasion that we argue priority, Government members take spurious points of order about urgency. Mr Speaker, I ask you to make a ruling as to whether this standing order is to be accepted as read_that is, as "priority"—and not accepted the way Government members put it on every possible occasion to prevent Opposition members from putting forward a case as to why their matter should receive priority. Both matters are urgent motions. I ask you to make a clear, definitive ruling to stop time-wasters on the Government side taking points of order on matters that we consider should be given priority.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have listened intently to the remarks of the honourable member for Coffs Harbour. I will consult with the Clerks and make a deliberative ruling. However, I do not believe that the point of order affects the debate that has just taken place.
Question—That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Heffron be proceeded with—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Question resolved in the affirmative.